Correct . . . but wrong

file (1)

Recently, I’ve been re-reading the book of Job. I’ve read it before–that’s what happens when you attend Christians schools, church, and Sunday school for several decades–but I hadn’t picked it apart and thoroughly examined it. So now, instead of skimming through the rather tedious speeches of Job’s self-righteous friends, I’m stopping, pondering, and making connections between Job’s assertions and his friends’ arguments. And something struck me that I hadn’t taken note of before:

The friends’ theology is correct. Mostly. They recite some creeds and share ideas that, taken out of context, are beautiful. Uplifting, even. True. (For example, in chapter 20, Zophar speaks of the wicked’s future punishment and how they will pay for what they have done wrong; in the light of eternity and future justice from God, yes, that is true.)

Yet at the end of the book, God commands Job to make sacrifices for these three men’s sins. To the eldest man, he says, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:7) Not sacrifices for Job, who argued with God, or his wife, who angrily told him to curse God and die. But the ones with the good theology . . . and the wrong application.

Here’s what stood out to me:

We can get our theology completely right but miss the most important thing: relationships. A relationship with God, yes, but also relationships with other people. The friends speak callously. They apply their good theology in the most unloving, uncompassionate ways to Job’s situation. They’d sat with him for seven days in silence; one wonders why they couldn’t have continued to stay silent and listen lovingly while Job grieved and argued with God. Here’s my theory:

Because humans like to correct other people.

We love being right and we think we’re always right.  

It’s not only our theology. Our ideas, our political alignments, our opinions on anything and everything from national security to proper push-up form to the stuffing versus dressing debate each Thanksgiving. Other people must agree with us!

All of our arguments can be completely correct: convincing, eloquent, and designed to drag, kick, slam, or carry the enemy to our side.  Or at least whack them upside the head for standing on the wrong side. For being the enemy. Our enemy.

Once we view the other person as an enemy, we forget that they are human, like us. 

In the past few months, I’ve tried to develop my reasoning and logic skills. I read a book by the late Robert Gula titled Nonsense. After several chapters on various types of nonsense (and why they are nonsensical), he writes about how to argue well. One of his final points was this: the other person is human. Treat them as such. 

I realized that I often forget that. I forget that all people are made in God’s image, not only the ones I find sympathetic.  While that image is a broken and shattered one, warped and distorted by evil, it is still there because God made that person.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that the person is guiltless of wrongdoing and shouldn’t be brought to justice, whatever form that needs to be. It doesn’t mean that we can’t judge another’s actions as wrong. It doesn’t mean that we can’t stand with the victims or fight unjust systems wherever they are found. We can and should.

It does mean that we don’t treat that guilty person with contempt or scorn. Granted, this is very difficult to do. It’s much easier to ridicule and stereotype people we disagree with. To turn them into caricatures. To treat them as an enemy. To see them as less human than I am. I do it far too often.

This summer, I read lots of great novels and one horrible one. It will remain nameless, as there were multiple problems with the story. One of the worst was this: the villain was two-dimensional. He was your standard, run-of-the-mill serial killer. A stereotype. The kind of creep who’s easy to hate and view as inhuman.

We never got a deep view into his perspective, nor did we get a good explanation for his actions. It was all stereotypical explanations: he’s got this weird physical disfigurement (hypertrichosis, aka, werewolf syndrome), a bad childhood, a low IQ, and an evil (but wealthy) family. That didn’t explain his motivation. Not for this reader, anyway.

It was the easy way to create a villain: rely on stereotypes and the readers’ presumed preconceived ideas of how the “bad guys” act and why.

Even as I write about the book, I’m rolling my eyes. Why, oh, why, I think, did a bestselling author resort to this? C’mon, couldn’t she have dug deeper into her antagonist’s internal state and seen him as something more than an object of ridicule and scorn?  

Yet isn’t that what I often do when I interact with others?

I see only the wrong-headed views or the external appearance or their words. I read their arguments and think how laughable they are. Sometimes the arguments are truly laughable.

It would be far better to ask deeper questions.

  • Why does that person hold that view?
  • What informed their position? Who are they listening to?
  • What life experiences have they had that made them think this way?
  • How can I disagree with them while still treating that person with respect, dignity, and kindness?
  • Even as I disagree, take a stand, or fight for justice, how can I respond to those in disagreement without contempt?
  • In this disagreement, how can I hold in tension these two principles: loving others who are wrong and upholding goodness?
  • How can I see this person as God sees them?

Deeper questions. Challenging questions. Ones that sometimes I hesitate to ask from fear of what might happen. But maybe that’s exactly why I need to ask them: something good may happen. Like Job, we never know exactly what God’s doing or why or how or who or when. But he is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

A Twitter dilemma

fileIf you’re on social media, maybe you can relate to my experience.

I was on Twitter and ran across a series of tweets by someone I follow. Let’s call this person Q, and assume Q is female. Q is extreme in her views. I’ve never had any issues with her; sometimes I agree with her (and say so), sometimes not. (That seems to be the case for me more often than not; sometimes I don’t even agree with myself.)

She wrote a thread that started with one church-song-related observation. Then she took her original idea and extended that idea to an extreme that would’ve shocked the original songwriter. I thought her thread was faulty on several points.

One, the premise was faulty. It was taking the lyrics way, way too far into ideas that belied the songwriter’s intentions. The song is intended to praise God and remind the singers of God’s character, not be fodder for theological spats, political divisions, and rhetorical games.  But in criticizing the song lyrics, I thought she was dangerously close to misrepresenting God’s character.

Second, the thread’s logic wasn’t logical at all; it was full of straw men arguments, over-generalizations about groups of people, undefined evaluative terms, and non sequiturs. I’ve observed this tendency on her part multiple times since I followed her. Her arguments are emotionally-based, not grounded in logic, wisdom, and good sense. She’s young, though, and now that I’m (almost) 40, I’m inclined to give younger, more impetuous people the benefit of the doubt. (Or maybe it’s having a teenager and remembering all my teenage foolishness that accounts for this.)

Third, it lacked compassion; there appeared to be no understanding or consideration of any other viewpoint.  Instead, the argument appeared arrogant and close-minded. (It may not have been intended that way.) It lost sight of the fact that she was talking about other people, not only theology and politics. I rather wanted to cyber-wave my hands and yell, “Hey, you know you’re talking about your fellow Christians, right? You know, those people you’ll be spending eternity in heaven with?”

But I didn’t. I wanted to say something, but I didn’t. And that’s where I’m puzzled.

Do I reply? Should I have tried to gently correct some of the more extreme aspects of the argument?  Should I have tweeted something rather than nothing, hoping that I’d be able to get my point across in 140 characters?

Do I let it go? Keep scrolling, click likes on kitty photos and funny memes, ignore this thread entirely. I follow this person, I like this person, I don’t want to unfollow her, but I wouldn’t consider her a “close friend” on Twitter. Nor do I know much about her beyond the words of her tweets. Nor do I share many of her theological presuppositions. Nor was I in my best frame of mind for a theological discussion via tweets: it had been a rough week, I was depressed, and my brain was sloth-like as it moved from one thought to the next. (I probably should’ve stayed offline entirely.) Nor do I know if she was in the best frame of mind for disagreement; maybe she’d had a tough week, too, and felt crappy and ignored and invisible. But are those good enough reasons not to say anything?

I’m still wondering, several days later, and it’s niggling at my brain while I’m trying to work on my novel. So that’s why I’m blogging.

When do you speak up? When do you stay silent?

I’ve run into this type of situation multiple times recently, so this scenario could apply to at least two other incidents. It doesn’t have to be a theological disagreement. It could be about politics or parenting or the pantser-vs-plotter debate in writing circles. It doesn’t matter. Any topic you pick, someone can hold a strong, deeply felt, possibly illogical opinion about. And that person might share on Twitter/Instagram/Snapchat/Whatever-the-newest-media-outlet-is about it. And you might disagree.

But I don’t think it’s wise to always argue with that person, or, depending on the circumstances, even try to engage them in discussion. But in what circumstances would that be? I’m wondering what other people’s thoughts are and how you handle issues like this online.

Thoughts?

 

 

 

Thoughts on American Girls: Social Media & the Secret Lives of Teenagers

contentThis will be short because I haven’t had a chance to consider this as deeply as I’d prefer. But my husband and I are reading American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers, by Nancy Jo Sales. Sales traveled the country, talking to teen girls (and boys) about the social media use. The topic that came up, over and over, could be summed up in two words: sex and porn.

I was already aware of much of what Sales discusses but my husband? He hadn’t realized what types of apps are out there, nor what types of sites teens frequent. Slut pages? Oh my. This ain’t your mama’s Facebook feed, y’all.

In the first chapter, Sales quotes a professor of comparative literature from Princeton, April Alliston:

“Historically, a spike in interest in pornography is also associated with advancement in women’s rights,” Alliston says. “What happened at the time of the invention of the printing press was very similar to what’s happening now with the Internet.”

The printing press made porn readily available. About this time, women were getting more rights, and literacy rates among women increased. From what I understand, people (that’d be men) were anxious about women gaining knowledge through reading: what might happen? Porn, typically images of female prostitutes, was shared between men as both a way of excluding women (who weren’t looking at the images) and putting them back in their “proper place” (existing only to please and serve men).

Alliston again:

I see the spread of porn in part as a backlash to women’s increased independence,” Alliston asserts. “I believe that porn has gone mainstream now because women have been gaining power . . . Rather than being about sexual liberation, I see in porn a form of control over sex and sexuality.”

–quote from Nancy Jo Sales, American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers, published in 2016, p. 38 (emphasis mine)

Interesting.

I know there are many issues surrounding pornography: censorship, free speech, addiction, gender dynamics, sexuality, violence, trafficking. It’d be hard to untangle this knotted up mess even if we knew where one thread started and the others ended. I’m sure that most (if not all) of my regular blog readers would agree that porn consumption is bad for teens, whose minds are both more vulnerable to addiction and less likely to break free from addictive behavior. (The Teenage Brain, by neuroscientist Frances E. Jensen and science writer Amy Ellis Nutt, is a fascinating read on this point.)

  • For girls, it hurts their body image, their sense of self-worth and self-respect, and puts tremendous pressure on them to look and act like the women in porn do.
  • For boys, it hurts their ability to connect intimately (rather than simply sexually) with another human. More than one commentator has recommended that if young men want to get married and have a family, they need to quit porn first. (Easier said than done, I know.) Sex in an intimate, loving marriage isn’t like sex in a porn movie; it’s better

But now that these sites are out there, available, and now that kids know how to access them, how do we adults stop the damage from continuing?

And if reasonable, like-minded adults can’t decide how to stop what’s been started, how are our children to do that? Certainly not alone.

I know God is in control. I also know that he gave me a brain and the ability to learn and apply what I learn. The better educated on the issue that I am, the better I can help my daughters navigate this difficult territory.

I’m sure I’ll learn more about what dangers lurk within my teen daughter’s phone as I continue reading Sales’ thorough and sometimes difficult-to-stomach book. Next week, I’m going to a lunch & learn seminar (given through my kids’ Christian school) on the “eight most dangerous apps on your kids phones.” If I find out anything interesting, I’ll be sure to share.

Any thoughts?

Being busy, rescue dogs, and hearing from God

 

b156b88d0b2e4bb0aac33bc1a7e8629aAll I was doing was sitting at Bruegger’s, reading a blog post. And choosing my top twenty short story contest selections. And eating lunch. That’s all I was doing.

Then I heard the woman in the booth next to me. As she talked on her cell phone, her voice was obviously upset. With my mind deep in my choosing and eating and reading (not to mention the clatter-chatter of employees and customers), I couldn’t hear all her words. What I did hear sounded ominous: death, casket. But the tone was clear. This woman was distraught.

That’s when the blog post I was reading slapped me upside the head. Not literally. Not even literarily. Laura Martin is a gracious writer. But she was writing about the epidemic of busyness that plagues our lives.  Everyone claims to be busy, some legitimately so, but some have become too busy doing unproductive-but-oh-so-important “stuff.”

Call it life clutter. It’s all the things we feel we must do to have a fulfilled life that really, from an eternal perspective, are time-sucking, energy-draining vampires. You know this vampire’s sunk its teeth in your neck if you have to pencil in a night with friends . . . six months from now. It may take the form of noble tasks (volunteer work) or inane time wasters (fill in the blank). But if you don’t have some room for other people, particularly when they are in need, then it’s time to rethink how many commitments you’ve taken.

By the time I finished my first comment on her post, I felt that kick in my heart. Go talk to this woman. I thought of all the reasons I shouldn’t, which amounted to she’ll think I’m creepy and don’t I have to finish painting that piece of furniture in the garage? Cue the eyeroll.

She finished the phone call. I finished my work. Do it, do it, don’t think about it too much—

I walked over and started talking to her.

She owns two rescue dogs, both large, exuberant animals who have become too much for her to handle on her own. “They’re man-dogs,” she said. “You know, the type that guys have in their truck when they go hunting and fishing.” They can knock her over, and as a middle-aged woman, she’s afraid that she’ll break a bone one of these days.

She’s cared for them, loved them, and tried to find new homes for both. She couldn’t bear to keep them at the humane society, where the conditions are so overcrowded that the previously no-kill shelter has started to euthanize healthy dogs. They’ve had their photos on the news, when the shelter pleaded for people to adopt some of these animals. She’s tried every animal rescue group in our area.

No one wanted these two big dogs.

Finally, she decided that the most humane thing would be to have them put down. Or thought she decided. As an animal lover, her heart was broken. She needed comfort and help deciding what was the right thing to do. The vet had said that he would do it, but he didn’t want to. It was her decision, and he needed to know by a certain time that afternoon if it was to happen that day.

I’m not an animal lover. I am allergic to dogs, as is my husband, and our yard isn’t large enough for these beloved animals. I don’t know anyone who wants a dog. So this was not a problem that I could solve.

But I could listen.

I listened. I did my best to show comfort. And even though she said she wasn’t religious or spiritual, when I asked if I could pray for her, she let me.

When we parted, forty-five minutes later, she still hadn’t decided what to do. I’m going to call her and see what she’s decided.

 

The obvious takeaway lesson should be this: God used this to remind me to take time for others! That’s the obvious one, and a reminder that I needed.

But the less obvious takeaway wasn’t a lesson at all. It was God’s reassurance that I’m still hearing him. I’m going through one of those moments in life when prayer feels like talking to a wall, the Bible feels like the most familiar thing I’ve ever read, and church feels like a time waster. (When you walk out of the sanctuary and think, I could’ve had a V8, then there’s a problem.) I don’t go to Sunday school anymore and I dread the worship service. It’s all the same old issues that I’ve blogged about, plus some.

It has the effect of making me think I’m never going to hear from God again. A lie, but  . . .

Go talk to her. That kick in my heart was so obviously God’s voice (to mix the metaphor) that I walked away feeling renewed.

At one point in our conversation, the woman looked at me. “I wonder if God or the universe or whoever sent you here to stop me from putting the dogs down?”

I don’t know.  But I know that God sent her to stop me from believing a lie. I’m still hearing from him.

Now I have to make time to listen. 

 

 

 

Feeling like an Impostor

A few weeks ago, my editor at Ruminate asked if I’d be interested in reading submissions for their annual non-fiction contest.

Anyway, I agreed. Reading fiction submissions has been beneficial, so I looked forward to learning more about non-fiction writing. What I didn’t anticipate was this:

Feeling like an impostor.

Who was I to say what’s good non-fiction? What if a piece is simply not to my taste? What if I cut a strong essay that some other, more knowledgeable judge would put on their top ten list? What if I’m not a good enough judge? I know fiction so much better.

d649534bfc2341d2a847a9f7a91ac1c5
Sometimes I think I came from the this factory!

I knew exactly where this sense of inadequacy was rooted. Years ago, someone (let’s call her Gretchen) used to pal around with me. When people heard that I was a writer and Gretchen was there, she would say,

“Laura’s a good fiction writer.”

That sounds complimentary.

But there was this slight emphasis on the word fiction, a delicate inflection of tone, one that conveyed a different message. Yes, Laura may be a good fiction writer but she’s not good at non-fiction. In her unstated but clear opinion, non-fiction was harder to write; writing a novel was all very well and good, but writing a scholarly book was harder and more important.

(Incidentally, both types of writing are difficult to do well. One is not inherently harder or easier than the other, though they require different skills. What’s easy is writing badly.)

I resented that. I wanted to grab the attention away from her—pluck the megaphone from her hands—and yell,

“I’m a damned good writer. Period. Scratch that, exclamation point. I can write anything I jolly well please!”

(Except poetry. It’s a beast of a different species. Anyone who can tame that wild creature has my admiration.)

Gretchen probably didn’t even realize there was an inflection in her voice. I also don’t think she ever read much of my non-fiction: not my blog, and certainly not my narrative essays, nor my master’s thesis or other academic works.

(One paper was published in an online undergraduate journal. The journal is defunct, but I believe my paper survives as a resource on a site that sells academic papers “for research purposes.” Yes, for $29.99, you too can download my paper on feminine identity in Sophocles’ Antigone and turn it in to your professor. I hope she gives me an A and flunks you. Just sayin’.)

My professors liked my work. And if writing a 100-page thesis (roughly 25,000 words, or one-third of my current novel) on annihilation in Moby-Dick couldn’t be considered difficult, then I’m not certain our definitions of “difficult” are the same, and maybe you haven’t read Melville’s masterpiece, either. Whales are scary.

In regard to her statement, I think I’ve gotten over the resentment—mostly—but the insecurity has remained. The fact that I had to prove my non-fiction credentials to you, my loyal readers, by citing a paper I wrote 16 years ago shows that I’m still dealing with it.

So when I began reading non-fiction submissions, I doubted myself. I read all of the assigned submissions, took notes on each one, intending to sort them into Yesses and Nos later. It was tough. But yesterday, as I was compiling my final top ten picks, I realized something.

Most of the essays were narrative. They told a story.

What makes a piece of narrative writing compelling is the same for both fiction and non-fiction. Polished writing. Original ideas. Emotional depth. Strong voice. A hook, a conflict, a turning point, a resolution (in tone, if not in the conflict).

The same problems in a weak short story were present in the weak essays. Misspellings. Odd punctuation. Confusion. Clichés. A sense that the piece wasn’t quite finished at the end; the last line didn’t have a finality to its tone.

Realizing this gave me a boost of confidence. I’m still more comfortable in the realm of fiction, but I’m not feeling quite so much like an impostor.           

Don’t run on air

In Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, homicide investigator Landsman has just informed a rabbi’s wife that her son has been murdered. The rabbi is powerful and corrupt man and has driven his son away, into a lifestyle of poverty and heroin abuse. Now the rabbi’s wife asks Landsman if he is married. Landsman is divorced. Then she says:

My marriage is a complete success,” she says without a trace of boastfulness or pride.

Landsman is skeptical. The wife asks if he remembers the old cartoon where a wolf chases another animal off a cliff.

51f8a92b22724c5cb64f303d22761b87“Then you know,” she says, “how that wolf can run in the middle of the air. He knows how to fly, but only so long as he still thinks he’s touching the ground. As soon as he looks down, and sees where he is, and understands what’s going on, then he falls and smashes into the ground. (. . . ) That’s how it is in a successful marriage,” says the rabbi’s wife. “I have spent the last fifty years running in the middle of the air. Not looking down.”

–Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, pages 209-210

A delusion. But a powerful delusion and one that many people share. How many of us claim to have success because we refuse to look down?

The success can be in relationships, in business, in other endeavors. We’re a success only in our own minds.

Ignore the cracks in the foundation, the shaky ground, the lack of solid matter underfoot. It’s easier to pretend, like the rabbi’s wife pretends. It’s easier in the short run to ignore the problems than to look down and face a calamitous fall. 

A church friend was relating why her job situation is stressful. In their small company, only she and another man are full-time employees in the regional branch. The company has grown too rapidly and it is apparent that their current systems and organization cannot handle the growth, both present and future.

At least, it’s apparent to her. The manager is doing a marvelous job of running in the air and not looking down. He won’t stop travelling long enough to reorganize and restructure, and she doesn’t have the authority or the knowledge of the entire system to do it herself. So she’s frustrated, knowing that this cannot work, that collapse is almost inevitable.

I’ve written four novels. In writing novels two and four, I had glaring problems from the start. The less said about Novel #2 the better; I learned a lot about writing prose in the year I spent running in the air, but once I looked down and admitted the truth–this will not work–the book fell apart.

In my current work in progress, there was a particular character who didn’t belong in the story. I knew it or had an inkling of the truth all throughout the writing of the first draft; I continually had to make excuses for the protagonist’s father to be absent during the story’s events, and his off-the-page presence detracted from the tension between the protagonist and antagonist. After all, dear Daddy could always swoop in at the end and save the day, take the power away from big bad grandpa, and the girl protagonist would have done nothing to change her own situation, a deus ex machina. The character had to go.

But I did a terrific job of refusing to acknowledge the problems with having the father as a character. Then one day, I looked down and saw the problems.

It could’ve killed the manuscript, but it didn’t. Why? Because once I acknowledged that there was a problem, I began working (thinking, ruminating, talking to myself) on a solution. (Oddly enough, I found it through an off-hand comment of my pastor’s during a sermon illustration.) Unlike the rabbi’s wife, I looked down.

So there’s the challenge: be willing to look at reality and be willing to do what it takes to work on problems that are within your control. Does anyone have any experiences they’d like to share? I’d love to hear them!

Beginnings: daunting, difficult, and doable

It seems all wrong to write about beginnings in the middle of August. Beginning conjures up images of new years, calendars flipped to pristine white January pages, with strains of Auld Lang Syne coming from the stereos. Alternately, beginnings smells of spring and warmth and blossoming trees and pollen. Spring cleaning, short sleeves, and the need to buy Zyrtec and its kissing cousins.

So, August? Beginnings?

But it is the beginning of many things.

d3557dd7b9104b72b7fe04ddfa5996ceSchool started for my children. (Another thing that seems wrong: starting school when it is still 100 degrees outside.) New school supplies, new uniforms, new teachers, all that. We had our annual ladies’ association breakfast; the weekly Tuesday workdays were announced; the rush toward Southern Tradition has already begun. Overwhelming.

I’m starting draft #2 on novel #4. It’s overwhelming. Was it like this the last time I started a second draft? Did I read the first draft and shake my head and think, “what a load of crap”? Did I doubt that I’d be able to bring it into a cohesive form?

I’m reading submissions for Ruminate’s short story contest again. That is overwhelming, too. Was it like this last year? I strain to remember reading the 2014 entries. Was I impressed? Did I know which I wanted to pick as my top twenty favorites, or did I hesitate over the final selection, dither between a handful of great stories?

Beginnings can be hard. Bertie Wooster, bumbling hero of P. G. Wodehouse’s series, agrees:

I don’t know if you have had the same experience, but the snag I always come up against when I’m telling a story is this dashed difficult problem of where to begin it. It’s a thing you don’t want to go wrong over, because one false step and you’re sunk. I mean, if you fool about to long  at the start, trying to establish atmosphere, as they call it, and all that sort of rot, you fail to grip and the customers walk out on you.

Get off the mark, on the other hand, like a scalded cat, and your public is at a loss. It simply raises its eyebrows, and can’t make out what you’re talking about.

–P. G. Wodehouse, Right Ho, Jeeves

I’m betting that every slush pile reader who’s stumbled onto this passage nods in agreement. Doesn’t matter if they adore Wodehouse or not, snort with laughter at his comic stories or chunk the book against the wall. We’ve all read novels that fool about too long or read like a scalded cat.

All writers recognize this feeling of being snagged at the start of our story. (And we’ve had drooling with envy feeling when we read another writer’s wonderful metaphor. “Scalded cat.” Love it.) The advice we read can further snag us: no prologues, start with action, raise a story question, establish an atmosphere, no weather forecasts, ditch the backstory, cut the first three pages, dialogue is okay but potentially problematic . . .

Anything can be made into a problem. Even something as simple as typing the first word on a blank page.

Now I remember. I did feel this snagged when I started my second draft. I did wonder how to tackle the story. I did feel this way—and I got unsnagged and wrote more drafts.

I began reading the short stories for the contest, and now I remember: I did struggle with narrowing my choices down to twenty. I did like some immediately, but others took a few more readings until I was confident that they were solid choices. I did feel this way—and I plowed through and was thrilled with the finalists and the winner.

This morning, as I stood in the school library chatting with fellow ladies, I noticed a woman standing by the wall. She had a dazed, overwhelmed expression on her face. A newcomer, I guessed, and introduced myself. I was right. Her family is new to the school; they don’t know anyone. In a school like ours, with people who have attended church, ball games, school functions, and raised children together, it’s tempting to look around and see others who are at ease and think, “I’ll never fit in. I’ll never know what they know or who they know or where anything is.”

That was me last year. I did wonder if I’d ever find my place. I probably had a similar expression on my face at the first ladies’ association breakfast. I did feel that way—and I worked hard and got involved and met people.

Beginnings are difficult, but they don’t stay beginnings. They morph into middles. We learn, we grow, we don’t stay beginners forever. But when you’re at a beginning, it can feel that way. It’s only when we look back that we can see just how far we’ve come.