Week 9: Self-Control

Sorry, this post is even later than it was going to be because WordPress kindly deleted the 800+ word draft I was in the process of publishing.  Grrr.

When I was in elementary school, self-control was one of the items on our report cards in the “behavioral/social” category, along with things like “respectful”, “works cooperatively with others”, and “waits his/her turn”, each to be graded with a +, ✓+, ✓, ✓-, or -.  I usually got a ✓ or ✓- for self-control (teachers rarely gave out -‘s, except in cases of blatantly egregious behavior.)

It’s funny; I have extremely good self-control about some things but rather terrible self-control about others.  For example, I never drink soda, almost never skip my workouts, and always do my homework on time.  On the other hand, I spend too much time on the computer, don’t practice the piano enough, and have not-so-great eating habits.

I think part of this issue may stem from my background as an infant in China.  I’ve been told that when I was a toddler, I would clutch food in my hands and not let go until my muscles relaxed as I fell asleep, leaving little caches of Cheerios in my crib.  Even now, after living in a land of plenty for almost two decades, I still have a slight tendency to hoard food.  I almost never leave food on my plate, even if I dislike it.  A little voice still emerges in my head, saying, “But you don’t know when you’re going to eat next,” even though, in reality, I can say with 95 percent certainty that it will be within a few hours.

People think I’m incredibly healthy, but they only see me when I’m coming back from a workout or eating dinner in the cafeteria.  They don’t see me when I’m at my worst–eating a whole box of cereal in one night or going though a twelve-ounce jar of peanut butter in three days.  I eat healthy foods–in unhealthy quantities.

It’s difficult as a runner.  For one, I don’t really fit the stereotypical distance runner profile.  I feel awkward working out in sports bra, and probably not for the reasons I ought to feel awkward being seeing in a sports bra.  I know some of my increase in weight is due to muscle mass, but even that I struggle with.  For runners, though, a pound is a pound is a pound, whether it’s fat or bone or muscle. Don’t believe me?  Consider the difference in body type between competitive swimmers and runners.

Even in “normal” life, I let people think that I don’t care about clothing or appearances, but in reality, I’m pretty sure I just tell them that so that they don’t look to closely.  It’s like hiding behind the bulwarks of uniqueness and individuality, when in reality, you just don’t know how to fit in.

Perhaps even more than appearances, though, is the effect of weight on performance.  I know what you’re thinking now: flashing lights and alarms are going off in your head, screaming, “EATING DISORDER!”  I recognize that, and understand all too profoundly the risks.  I know far too many competitive runners, mostly female, but some male, who have felt the need to be faster and seen losing weight as a quick fix.  The hardest part is that it is.  It’s estimated that one pound lost translates to between five and nine seconds faster in a 5k, assuming no changes in aerobic capacity, etc., with times improving logarithmically with distance (and, presumably, with the amount of weight lost), for all you math-type folks.  (Unfortunately, I can’t find the Runnersworld article where I originally read this, but I’m sure there are studies out there, considering there are studies saying pretty much anything you might want to be said.)  And that’s where the temptation for so many lies.  Lose one pound and drop from 19:05 to 18:57?  That’s a good deal, especially for only 3500 calories–a great deal when it means going from league champion to state qualifier, or from decent high school runner to Division III athlete.  What about another, and another, and another?  Most runners do not set out with the goal, “I’m going to get an eating disorder!”–they just want that edge.  And I’ll be the first to admit, it’s a strong temptation, even for those of us who are fairly mediocre runners.

At the same time, I don’t want weight, appearance, or even performance to become an idol.  Eating disorders and idols aren’t the same thing: you can have an idol without the eating disorder, and though I suppose the opposite could also apply, it seems less likely.  Over the past eighteen months or so, I’ve come more and more to see how inconsequential I am and how great God is, and why all that matters is who He is and what He’s done.  I stood in church this Sunday so incredibly grateful for His grace, my life, and His Church–a place I am so glad to find myself.  In everything, I want to remember what is important.

I was talking with one of my best friends yesterday, and I mentioned that in college, I can go days without saying more than a few words (e.g., “Do you mind if I take a shower now?” or “Do you want coffee in the morning?”).  To this she responded, “Silence is good, in moderation–kind of like speaking.”  I think the same is true of eating.


Week 8: Gentleness

Two days late, I know.  I was trying to focus on studying until I finished my last exam, which I did about ninety minutes ago.  Last exam until…two days after break…anyhow.  But until then, I’m free!  (Minus all the studying that will might should occur between now and then).

This is only obtusely related to gentleness, but I ran across this article about a student at my university who was killed last summer by a drunk driver while running.  I think her story resonates with me because we both ran cross country and track, and in a lot of ways, I see similarities between us, even though I never had the opportunity to meet her.

This entire article written by Abbott Koloff for The Record last autumn is worth reading, but I’d especially like to highlight the last section, which describes letters people wrote about her after her death:

The author of one of those letters, Austin Vanbastelaer, 21, said in a telephone interview that he was withdrawn and having trouble making friends when he got to college, and had buried the pain of anti-gay bullying he endured at his Indiana high school. He said he had been threatened with physical harm by a group of boys on one occasion, and on another someone spray-painted anti-gay slurs on his lawn. Two years ago, he said, Gabrielle was the first person he told in detail about the bullying. He said she responded by crying with him and encouraging him to be true to himself.

“I never had that response,” he said.

In his letter to the Reuvenis, Vanbastelaer said Gabrielle taught him to be open about his sexual orientation. Once private and shy, he wrote, he began to date openly, is now in a relationship and has become a gay-rights activist, often quoted in the school newspaper.

“I had always been uncomfortable with myself, but then I finally found someone who cared enough about me to encourage me to live life the way I need to,” he wrote. “It was an absolutely life-changing realization. … With her help and support, I can truly say I am the happiest that I have ever been in my life.”

William Freeman Jr., former principal at West Brook Middle School in Paramus, described Gabrielle as having a “special blend of compassion and kindness” in an email, copied to the Reuvenis, to Pennsylvania authorities encouraging them to file charges in the case. Gabrielle and other students wrote a skit about girls bullying other girls that they presented at schools around the state, he wrote. He recalled being loudly challenged during a meeting with parents after he proposed barring students from saving lunchroom seats for their friends — a practice that he said kept some children from sitting where they pleased.

“Look at you,” Gabrielle, then in the seventh grade, said to the parent, according to Freeman. “You are bullying our principal.”

A Washington University schoolmate wrote that Gabrielle’s positive and caring nature helped her through depression and the death of a cousin. The letter was written to Gabrielle: “You had a way of fixing things that were broken. … You fixed me, Gab, you really did. … Please know that you made me a better person, just by knowing you, just by receiving some of your love.”

Another young man wrote that he was “miserable” as he struggled with “who I was, what I wanted” as a freshman and was considering leaving Washington University. He wrote that he confided in Gabrielle, who smiled, listened and told him everything would be all right, convincing him to stay at the school.

“She impacted my life in such a positive manner,” he wrote.

A young woman, Hadley Burns, wrote that she was lonely during her freshman year at college until she opened up to Gabrielle about something she had been keeping to herself at her new school: the death, years before, of her brother.

“I can see her face now; it was like she was sharing my pain,” Burns wrote. “She didn’t even say anything. She didn’t have to. She just held me. … She had the purest soul.”

When I was little, I think I thought that being gentle meant being meek and not speaking up for yourself and generally not having fun.  These examples speak differently.  Gabby was bold and kind, outspoken and listening, strong and gentle,

Week 7: Faithfulness

Yeah, so I’m a day late with this post.  I feel like the first three weeks of this series went really well, but since then, not so much.  Fittingly enough, this week’s fruit is Faithfulness–yet another reason to try to hang on for the next couple of weeks.

I actually wrote this post a while ago, but hadn’t gotten up the nerve to post until a couple weeks ago, at which point I decided I might as well wait until the Faithfulness week, since it was sorta-kinda-vaguely-not-really related.

Yes, I know the pronouns they, their, and them should not be used to refer to singular entities.  I’m going to use them anyhow to protect the identities of the innocent.

The first thing I did when I saw my friend was look at their finger.  The ring was gone.

I’d had my suspicions over the past few months, but I couldn’t know for sure.  There were lots of dots, and lots of potential connections, but I was trying to restrain myself from jumping to conclusions–almost as hard as reining in a horse already jumping over a steeplechase.  I dearly hoped I was wrong (how often does that happen?); I hoped I was just being a woman and over-analyzing everything.  In the depths of my heart, I knew I wasn’t.  I don’t really know how I figured it out, but some combination of strange comments, apparently random changes, and slightly odd behavioral patterns led me to my theories.

I awkwardly spent the whole time we were at the coffee shop glancing at their ring finger.  I don’t know if they noticed.  In a way, I hope they did.  It might be less awkward if we both knew that I knew.  On the other hand, I hope they didn’t.  It would be incredibly awkward if we both knew that I knew, but didn’t know how I knew.

The oddest thing is that somehow, I think I started to see this coming maybe two years ago.  I can’t explain it–it was just an odd premonition of sorts that I brushed aside into the corner of my brain labeled “Absurd Drifting Thoughts,” or something like that.  Maybe I’m just crazy.

To be clear, I have no idea what the circumstances of this situation are.  All I have are hypotheses.  For all I know, the ring could be gone because they were using stucco and got chemical burns on their hands and had to have their ring cut off in the emergency room (That’s a real, albeit remote, possibility–I know a guy to whom that happened.)  Still, unlikely.  Even more unlikely than the horse-and-steeplechase scenario.

You’d think that after twenty-five-plus years of marriage, things would work themselves out.  But time and time again, my assumption is proved wrong.  Throughout my life, I’ve gone through periods where I wished I had a dad, but when s*** like this happens, it sort of makes me glad I don’t.  Sort of.

Over Thanksgiving break, I visited a Christian studies class at my old school, and the teacher (actually the head of the school) was talking about Mere Christianity, where C.S. Lewis describes evil not as its own entity, but merely a perversion of good.  This is how I tend to view divorce/separation.  Not as a state in and of itself, but rather as the breaking of the state of marriage.  I am very hesitant to label it “sin,” or even a state resulting from sin.  Instead, I see it as a state resulting from Fallen-ness.  Sure, there are circumstances when divorce can be a sin or be the direct result of a specific sin, but it seems that much more often, it’s the result of our sinful nature.  I suppose that’s why it frustrates me so much.  We can, to an extent, remedy sins.  We can’t remedy the Fall.

In all this, I see so little hope for my future.  How the heck do people make marriage work?  If marriages fail after multiple decades and children, what’s the point?

[Update: I mentioned this situation as in an offhanded comment to a college minister I know, and he had some good insights.  He’s at about the same stage of life as the person this situation concerns, which made his comments all the more interesting.  I think what stood out to me the most, what I had never really considered before, was that, “People change, and after you’ve had kids and they’ve grown up and gone to college, all of a sudden you can realize that you don’t even know the person you’re living with anymore because they’re not the same person you married twenty years ago.  Think about it–how different are you now than you were five years ago?  Because it’s still the same when you’re older.”]

I’m not quite sure what to make of all this, but I thought I’d share anyways.

Right now, I’m madly cramming for a biology exam.  Right now, I’m liking my math major a lot more than my biology major.  As if I needed any more proof, my brand new TI-89 Titanium just arrived in the mail.  Perhaps I should have timed my new toy to arrive after the biology exam.

Week 6: Goodness

As you may have noticed, my enthusiasm for the eight weeks of the fruit of the Spirit has waned a bit.  I’m sure this change is due partly to the fact that I am increasingly busy (Three exams in seven days?  Story of my life.  But at least I’m not BME.), but I think it’s also partly due to the fact that I’ve had a hard time generating related content the past couple weeks.  This, I think, may be due to the fact that I just don’t really understand things like Kindness and Goodness outside of the context of Love, which I was the first fruit I addressed.

Instead of me aimlessly rambling, I’d like to share this trailer with you.  It’s a preview of a documentary produced by a USC undergraduate about the plight of abandoned infants in South Korea and what one pastor has done to change those lives.  This encapsulates goodness.  I appreciate in particular as one who was adopted from China as an infant; every day, I am more and more in awe of the Hand that brought me to where I am.  It gives me hope.

“”They’re not the unnecessary ones on earth.  God sent them to the Earth to use them.”

Week 5: Kindness

Well, we’re halfway there (cue Bon Jovi).  In my journey through the Fruit of the Spirit, anyhow.  I must admit, I’ve lost my focus a bit.  I find myself thinking of the fruit of the week less and less as time goes on.  Unfortunate this past week, because I really do need to work on patience.  I think I’m better at it than I was, say, a year ago, but in no way am I a patient person.

But as for this week, I think I’ll define the trait in terms of other people’s kindness to me.  Kindness is the people who hold doors open, the people who ask how you are and really mean it, the people who listen not because they have to but because they care, the people who love people they don’t like, the people who give spontaneous hugs, the people who are slow to anger, the people who are willing to give themselves to help others.  I think the thing that differentiates love and kindness is that love is the innate characteristic, while kindness is one expression of love, both for people to whom we are close and for humanity as a whole.

One tangible example: today, one of my friends at church got baptized, and his parents drove over from Chicago.  The college students went out for lunch after the service, as we usually do, except there were about twice as many people since a number came to see the baptism.  The parents covered the whole meal: dim sum (Yeah, smart, going to a dim sum restaurant on Lunar New Year, right?) for at least twenty people.  His parents were twenty people’s favorite people in the world.  They had no reason to do that–I don’t even know their son that well, and I’ve certainly never met them before.  But that’s one thing I like about the Asian culture.

But yeah.  This post is kind of rambling because I stayed up until 4:00 am on Friday night at my other church’s women’s retreat, I had two exams last week and one this week, and I want to go to bed.

Week 3: Peace

So, I’d sort of been puzzling over what to say for this week’s post.  I was contemplating writing about how I’m looking at transferring to an in-state school next year for financial and personal concerns, how it’s like doing last year all over again, how I’m trying to seek God’s wisdom, will, and peace through the process.  Funny thing, though, the past couple days are the first time I’ve really started to feel at home in St. Louis.

But this afternoon, I realized what I needed to talk about.  I’ve been contemplating quitting my job as a ref for intramural sports since December.  In the fall, I reffed women’s soccer, which was fine, but right now I’m doing men’s basketball, which poses some respect issues, to put it lightly.  In addition, I’m working ten to fifteen hours a week in a lab (unpaid until March, but I love the lab, the people in the lab, and everything I’m learning), which makes it difficult to schedule ref shifts.  I’m also not a very good ref (or scorekeeper), which makes it more difficult to overcome the respect problem.  Another important aspect is that I feel that I can do a better job if I pour myself fully into just a few things, rather than spreading myself out so much.  Some people can multitask very effectively, but for me, I need to dedicate large chunks of time to focusing intensely on just one thing to be most efficient.  Essentially, the only thing that was holding me back from quitting was the fact that having money at any given time is rather useful, especially when pursuing moderately expensive hobbies, like running/racing.  (Then again, at least it’s not skiing, or hockey, or golf, or something like that.)

God reminded me that He has everything in control.  Earlier this week, I discovered that I’d been refunded twice by an online company for a return of a Christmas present I’d bought for someone.  Normally, I would call customer service and get everything straightened out, but this particular transaction is already so messy that I have no desire to touch it again.  It was a little more than forty dollars–not a lot in the grand scheme of things, but for me, in the short term, that’s a lot of money.  I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to do with the money: perhaps keep it, perhaps give it to my church back home or some charitable organization if I was feeling particularly ethical.  Then, today, I was helping at a carnival after church that benefits one of the college ministries in which I participate.  I was standing with about five of my friends getting ready to go back to campus, when I looked down and saw a ten dollar bill on the floor.  I asked all my friends if they had dropped it, but they all denied it.  I said out loud, “What the heck?  Why does money literally keep falling into my lap?”  My friends asked what I meant, and I explained about the refund.  One of my friends–and I honestly don’t remember who–said, in an only slightly trite tone, “Maybe it’s God taking care of you because He knows you don’t have work for the next four weeks.”  (I’d mentioned my conundrum to them earlier).  And it’s crazy, but I think they’re right.  Through these two incidents, God has given me peace about my decision to quit my job reffing.

I don’t intend on needing the money, but if I do, I know it’s there.  It’s like an interest-free loan from God.  (Well, everything we have is a loan from God, but this just seems…different.)  And this afternoon, that’s how I decided to treat it.  If I need to spend it, I will.  But if I don’t, when I go back home for church over spring break, I will give it back to God via the “fifth Sunday”/deacons’ fund.  I’m not saying this to boast about how ethical or generous I am–the Bible is explicit about not doing that.  I’m saying this so that I may be held accountable, and because I want to share how amazing God’s providence and care is.  The verse that comes to mind is that which talks about how God cares for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field–and how much more He cares for us, even in our tiniest, most inconsequential “needs”.

There’s an old hymn my mother used to sing to me (she would read one Bible story, sing one hymn, and read the background story of the hymn every night before I went to bed, up until I was about twelve) that also comes to mind.

Be not dismayed whate’er betide,
God will take care of you;
Beneath His wings of love abide,
God will take care of you.

God will take care of you,
Through every day, over all the way;
He will take care of you,
God will take care of you.

Through days of toil when heart doth fail,
God will take care of you;
When dangers fierce your path assail,
God will take care of you.

All you may need He will provide,
God will take care of you;
Nothing you ask will be denied,
God will take care of you.

No matter what may be the test,
God will take care of you;
Lean, weary one, upon His breast,
God will take care of you.

I pray that God would give me His peace not only when the signs are clear and life is good, but also when the waters are murky and life is dark.

Week 2: Joy

Yes, that’s my name.  People always tell me, “Oh, your name suits you so well!”  I just smile and nod.

I had never thought of it before, but a couple of weeks ago, I was messing around with online personality tests to see if I could trick them into saying contradictory things about me, and one of the questions said something to the effect of, “You find some enjoyment in probing the depths of sadness.”  It makes me sound like an emo thirteen year old, but in a way, I do.  It’s odd.  Outwardly, I’m not at all an emotional person (I haven’t cried in three and a half years, a fact of which I’m quite proud…for better or for worse), which makes it seem even more strange.  But that’s the way it is.

But moving on, I’ve been thinking about what brings me joy, trying to be thankful.  A lot of things right now don’t bring me joy.  It’s not pervasive depression–and I am thankful for that–but more of a cynicism about my surroundings.  Anyways, I was listening to a sermon online, and one of the things the pastor talked about was truly delighting in God (it was the same sermon in which he spoke about how we ought to love God).  Thus, my list:

  • God.  And I mean this for real, not just because it’s the politically correct thing to say.  I’m trying to make Him the center of my life: and I need to.  In these surroundings, filled with cynicism and skepticism, which are my natural states, I have to turn to something(One) greater.
  • The Church.  This is a big change from a year ago.  Sure, I still disagree with what a lot of churches say/do.  But I found a church back home that radically restored my faith in the institution as it is meant to be.
  • My friends.  I don’t have a lot of them, but the ones I have are amazing people.
  • Running.  I am so grateful for Mr. M., my coach in high school who got me into running in the first place.  I was originally going to play basketball in high school; I’m so glad I went with cross country and track.  I met incredible people along the way, but I could have done that in basketball, too.  More important, I can bring running with me wherever I go, whenever.  Even though I’m not in prime racing condition right now, there is still so much joy.
  • The sunshine.
  • Home.  Good food.  Fire in the woodstove.  Peace and quiet.  My favorite running routes.
  • My job.  It can be tiring, but I am so blessed to have been offered a job in an incredible laboratory on the medical school.  The people I work with are geniuses, but not the annoying type of geniuses.  They’re not at all arrogant and honestly, the lab is like one big family (full of PhDs…).