Say What’s On Your Heart

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A few months ago, I went out to dinner with a friend of mine. This friend had helped me during some tough times at college, and she always had a positive, upbeat attitude. She helped balance out the somewhat morbid and pessimistic outlook I had at that time. Since we hadn’t seen each other in a (relatively) long time, we spent the meal catching up on what was going on in our lives. It occurred to me as we were eating that we had both changed quite a bit since we had last seen each other.

Her voice used to sound so happy, like a bird, and she was able to lift my spirits. Yet on this particular evening, her voice sounded like it was weighed down, and I noticed the spark of life was gone from her eyes. Conversely, my voice sounded lighter and happier, compared to the way it sounded a few years ago. The conversation began to feel like I was treading through mud, and I couldn’t pick her up. I figured she was probably tired from work, and I knew she had some stressful situations going on back home, and yet I regret that I didn’t ask her, “Hey–you sound kind of sad. Is everything okay?”

There’s a chance she would’ve said, “Sure, everything’s fine,” but I still feel like I should have asked that question. I think we often try to give people the highlights of our lives and present a positive image of ourselves, so much so that even when we have face-to-face conversations, we keep up that facade that we use online. It’s easier to hide behind a screen, but you can’t hide in person. You shouldn’t have to, either. I wanted to help my friend the same way that she had been able to help me, and I wonder if maybe I failed by not pausing and asking that tough question.

I say it’s a “tough question” because I think on the whole, most people don’t want to talk about pain. Pain is an inconvenience, sorrow is a nag, and anger is a deterrent. We don’t want people to know when we feel those “bad feelings.” I’m guilty of this as well, because there were–and are–plenty of times when someone has asked me “how are you?” and I would respond with an enthusiastic “good!”, when in reality, I felt pretty crummy.  Why do we do this? I know sometimes I do it because I don’t want to hear people’s advice, but then it’s wrong for me to go to bed at night crying because “nobody knows what I’m going through.” If I had the opportunity to share earlier, then it’s on me.

You can be a positive person and still admit that you’re having a bad day–it doesn’t make you any less positive. It makes you more genuine. When you’re willing to be sincere and put yourself out there, you will find that there are people who not only want to help you–they can also empathize with you because they might be going through the same thing. This leads to healing and freedom–when you’re able to share your burdens with other people and uplift one another, and pray for each other. I know not all of you are Christians, but this idea is found in the Bible. No man is an island, and we were made for companionship, not isolation.

Next time I speak with my friend, I will ask her if everything’s okay. But also, I need to learn to stop “good-ing” when people ask me if everything is okay. Both asking and answering can be intimidating, but ultimately, it is liberating.

~Nikita

Don’t Settle for Less

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A pair of shoes I regret buying

I hate shoe shopping.

Just the phrase “shoe shopping” makes me cringe slightly on the inside. I dislike stores such as Nine West, Aldo, and Payless. Are the shoes the problem? No–it’s my feet. This is why I wear the same pairs of shoes over and over until they fall apart beyond repair. Then I have to go shoe shopping.

However, once I’m in a shoe store, I try to be as open-minded as possible in my selection process. I’ll try on heels, flats, sandals, boots–I get to a point where I’ll take almost anything. Occasionally I will fall in love with a beautifully designed shoe, and this is where the trouble begins.

I’ll pick out three sizes–7, 7.5, and 8. I’ll try all three sizes on. By process of elimination, I’ll narrow the selection down to that one size that sort of fits right–but not quite. It pinches my toes in the front. It slips off my heel in the back. It’s too wide in the middle where my arch is. So I think, Okay, I can still make this work. I can use a shoe tree to widen the front. I can try to alter the shoes to suit me. And I can wear socks with this pair. I can try to make myself fit well with these shoes. I can put a heel guard in the back. This way there’s a boundary between me and the shoe, but I still don’t have to fully accept what the shoe truly is.

I spend time in the store staring at the not-quite-perfect pair of shoes, trying them on again, walking around with them, dancing in them, and debating with myself whether these shoes are really worth the investment.

I don’t want to leave the store empty-handed, so I end up settling for the shoes that don’t quite fit.

In the end, I don’t even bother wearing the shoes. I wasted my time and money on something that was aesthetically pleasing at best but dysfunctional at worst.

I was speaking on the phone to a dear friend of mine recently. She was telling me how she had been dating this guy from her church for awhile, but she was thinking about ending the relationship. He had some anger and insecurity issues because of what had happened during his childhood and teenage years. He never dealt with these conflicts, so he carried this baggage into his relationship with my friend–along with the aftereffects. He would get defensive for no reason, he would blow up at my friend and later forget what he even said, and whenever she was busy and couldn’t pick up her phone, he would ask where she was and why she wasn’t answering him.

He even said himself that he should probably go for therapy–and yet, he didn’t make any effort to take that course of action.

As I listened to my friend tell me all this, I knew for certain that this guy was the wrong match for her. She’s such a happy, sweet, calm person, I told her–why would she want to put herself through a relationship like this? She deserves better.

Our chat on the phone probably confirmed what she already knew, so she broke up with him not long afterward.

She did tell me, though, that “the pickings are so slim!” And oh sweet goodness, they are. I mean, the dating pool is shallow enough regardless, but when you’re a Christian, it’s even more so.

But I just want to say for the people reading this–Christian or not–do not settle for less than what would be best for you. Do not date someone because you’re lonely, or because you’re in a rush to get married and start a family, or because you’re bored and just want something fun to do.

If you’re dating someone who has the potential to be abusive–or if he’s already abusive–then please, please, GET OUT WHILE YOU STILL CAN. It’s better to be single forever than to marry an abuser.

For my brothers and sisters in Christ, trust God. There’s a reason why you’re single right now. Maybe there’s some personal conflicts you need to resolve. Maybe there’s something you need to accomplish now that will be difficult to do once you’re married. Maybe you just need some more time to grow. Regardless, make marriage a matter of prayer.

Back to the shoe analogy, these are 3 lessons I’ve learned about relationships: 1) The same way you cannot change a pair of shoes to truly fit you, you cannot change a person to become what you really want them to be. Besides, that’s not fair to them or to you. 2) Don’t compromise who you are to be more like them. You will be unhappy and they will be deceived. 3) Don’t flirt if you know you cannot follow through on having a real relationship. Don’t lead someone on, even if it’s unintentional. You may think you’re just friends, but they may not see it that way.

Don’t settle. Know your worth, and know that you don’t need another person to affirm your worth.

~Nikita

ENVY.

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Facepalm.

Envy is a sin I’ve always struggled with. I can tell you my origins story for this, tell you all the ways I felt like I had the short end of the stick throughout my life while others had it easier, but that would be a waste of time and energy–both for me and for you.

A religion teacher in high school once told my class that envy is the only sin which cannot bring a person pleasure. Really, where is the fun in envy? How can envy feel good? My teacher made a valid point, but I think he forgot something.

If a sin does not feel good, people would not keep returning to it.

So there has to be something I get out of envy. But what is it?

Now, I’m not a theologian or anything, but I think envy is rooted in a lack of contentment with your own life. There is a reason why the apostle Paul said this in Phillipians 4:12–

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

I’ve been reading the book of Acts during my morning commute, and I’ve been reminded of how many atrocities Paul had to endure while he was preaching the Gospel. Entire towns turned against him. He was loved and despised by both Jews and Gentiles, slaves and authority figures. He was flogged, imprisoned, shipwrecked, stoned–Paul had a rough time. Perhaps some would say that this was God’s retribution for the time Paul spent persecuting Christians before he became one himself.

But I wouldn’t say so.

I think life happened to Paul. Reading through Acts feels almost like reading the book of Job. There are times when I’m reading it and I think to myself, but why would God allow so many bad things to happen to His servants? They’re preaching the Gospel for His namesake, so why is He allowing so many tragedies to befall His people? Why????

Peter had an easier time with his ministry than Paul did, based on my feeble human reasoning. In reality, it’s senseless to compare one person’s suffering to another’s, because pain is a very personal thing and we all experience it differently. Again, though, based on a mental tally mark chart of how many things Paul went through versus how many things Peter went through, as it is recorded in the book of Acts, I think Paul had a lot more difficulty in his life.

Interestingly enough, though, Paul never has a pity party in his letters to the various churches. He could have reminded the Thessalonians about the mob that had ensued after he preached about Messiah. If Paul wanted to, he could have written “We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. Except for those people who forced me out of the city. We don’t pray for them. Remember them? How are they doing now, eh?”

Paul didn’t write that, though. Nor did he waste time comparing his hardships to those of Peter’s.

In the end, both men were martyred. Any earthly gain they had–or didn’t have–did not matter. Both men were going to spend eternity in God’s presence.

Put in this perspective, my complaints are irrelevant. Obsessively looking at the lives of other people prevents me from seeing how [strangely?] wonderful my own life is. Has it always been easy? No. But I don’t need to walk three miles a day to fetch water from a well, so I can be grateful for that. I have a job that I love, I live close to the sea, my home is peaceful, I have friends who care about me, I’m young and free in NYC, and, above all, I have a Savior who loves me.

So, what pleasure does envy derive? The only pleasure I can think of is the happiness I feel when I see something go wrong in someone’s seemingly perfect life. That sounds absolutely horrible, but don’t pretend you haven’t felt that way before, too. We all like to see celebrities get humiliated on TMZ.

As a sidenote, if I envy someone because of something I could have if I work for it, then that is just plain stupidity. I am to blame for my own mediocrity.

Oh, and the downside to envy–why it’s wrong–is ingratitude. Being envious tells God that you think He made a mistake, or that He hasn’t been a good provider. If God wants you to have something, He will make a way. Ultimately, though, He knows what’s best.

Shalom. Peace.

~Nikita

Losing Loved Ones (Who Are Still Alive)

A few people in this photo are still with us. My sister is actually the girl standing behind me.

When my sister was in her senior year of high school, she had to take a class called “Death & Dying.” I don’t think I need to explain what the class is about, but when I took that same class at that same high school six years later, they had changed the name of the course to “Alpha & Omega.” The school did this renaming for two reasons:

1) “Death & Dying” was apparently too morbid.

2) They wanted to talk about beginnings as well as endings.

Still, death was very prominent in this course, and I remember reading an essay about mourning the various “deaths” we encounter throughout our lives. Some deaths are concrete–the death of a loved one, or confronting our own mortality. However, some deaths are more abstract–the death of our childhood, the death of a marriage.

Over the past 4 years, I did grieve the deaths of several family members and friends. These deaths are difficult to think about, because when I do I am reminded that I didn’t get to know some of my relatives very well before they died, and vice versa. Now I can’t visit any of these people and talk to them.

Those were not my only losses, though, because over the past 4 years I’ve mourned many friendships. Some of these friendships disintegrated, some were cut down at my own hand, and some just…evaporated. I mourned the loss of the youth group at my church. We went from having 25 members to having almost no one. And yes, I lost these friendships, too. Sure, sometimes a few keep in touch. I’ll give someone a life on Candy Crush Saga, or they’ll wish me a happy birthday when it’s that time of the year. But otherwise, we do not confide, we do not converse, we do not pray for one another, we do not call each other, we do not hang out. At all.

Everyone left for different reasons. Some left on bad terms. Some wanted to go to a different church. Some simply left without a trace. And some wanted to walk away from God.

Most of these people who left did not say goodbye to me. And you see, when somebody dies, that’s usually one of the first complaints of the person who grieves–“I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye! I didn’t get to tell them that I love them! I didn’t get to make peace with them before they passed on!” But when the person is still alive and they exit your life, and you don’t get any closure–it just stings. Can I track some of these people down? For sure. I know where some of them live, I’m friends with many of them on Facebook, I even still have some of their phone numbers. What’s the point of it, though, if chances are they won’t be receptive? After all, they haven’t bothered reaching out to me, so why should I reach out to them?

That’s when I realize, though–maybe they’re thinking the same thing. Maybe they get sentimental for the good old days, too. Maybe they want to contact me, or contact someone else who left, but they’re afraid to because we’re all afraid of the same thing–

Rejection.

For those of us who still follow Christ, though, we have no excuse. If we truly are brothers and sisters, why can’t we get along? If my mom or my sister moved to a different house, I wouldn’t disown them. So why do we, as Christians, get into such an uproar when someone leaves our church to go to another?

It partly has to do with how they left, and why they left. What did they leave behind? Did they cause division? Do they speak badly of us now that they’ve left? Did they get into a fight with someone prior to their leaving?

I took some of it personally in the beginning. In my mind, I kept making the situation about me–why didn’t they say goodbye to me? What did I do wrong? We were working on the same ministry team–why didn’t they tell me they were going to jump ship? After awhile, though, I tried to understand their story, their side. Some of these people were abandoned themselves, and maybe they don’t know how to respectfully leave a person or a place. Some of these people had serious issues and needed help. Some of these people felt humiliated and didn’t want to make the situation any bigger.

Now, I can understand these things. I forgive those who have left and I still love them all. I still mourn from time to time, but as time passes by, I can relive the memories without crying. 

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

~Nikita