Tuesday, January 13, 2015

What Not to Say

When Landen was 5, we were shopping and he saw a woman whose torso indicated she may or may not have been expecting a baby.

With no social filters in place, he pointed and exclaimed, "Wow! Look how big her belly is!"

Heavens to sunshine, I was mortified. One minute later and two aisles over - in hushed tones - I tried to explain that we never, ever point our fingers at people. And we only say words that encourage.

Cut to the following week's grocery run. Cue extra-large person numero two.

Landen smiles up at me with a self-imposed sense of skill-mastery and finesse. He extends his closed fist toward our fellow shopper of girth, and cheers: "His belly is AWESOME!!"

Just Please.
I know.

Don't.

Anyway ...
Not long ago, I found myself in a similarly awkward encounter. But this time I was painfully trapped in a downward spiral of verbal inquisition that had no good end in sight.

I was finishing up a wonderful chat with my sweet friend when her husband passed through the room.

"Hey, Cari! Have you lost weight?"

[wanting to remain distinctly honest in all my ways]
"Um. No, not really."

"Oh ... but you got your hair cut, right?"

[again, with deep appreciation for accurate information]
"Well ... several weeks ago."

[are we done here? 
where are some interrupting kids when you wish for them?
nope. round three. ding.ding.]

"Well, you look great! Is that a new shirt?"

[vintage 2008, dude.  *I realize the fact that I do not look forgettable or even mildly repulsive today is coming as an absolute shock to you, you are dazed and confused, searching for a logical explanation ... but please, pretty please, write it in your journal because I cannot deal with this right now.]

"Thanks." I said through a forced grin, then slowly turned to leave.

Along the way home, I pondered the exchange. (His carefree curiosity for my over-analyzed self-esteem.)

At first, I mentally beat myself up for being over-sensitive and reactive. Then I picked myself up with questions of propriety and couth. THEN I started throwing reflective punches again ... for the inability to lose weight, keep a coif, and exude any hint of contemporary stylishness.

I thought a trip through the drive-through might inappropriately soothe my angst.
Fries and a shake and he can kiss my quinoa.

I wisely chose to keep calm and keep driving straight toward home as I continued to process my emotions.

I have since reached a few conclusions that I'd like to share.

1. He gets a pass. He's a male friend - a brother of sorts - who felt familiar enough with me to offer encouragement on what must have been that month's token good hair day. Bless him.

2. We all say unnecessary things. Remarks that range from clueless to careless to cruel. 
Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure I've joked (mainly out of insecurity & pride) and mocked health-conscious runner-type people: 
"Take a day off, you're making the rest of us look bad." 
"Come to the dark side, have a donut." 
"You rode your bike across the county on purpose?!?" 

Regrettably, those comments weren't helpful. 
Henceforth, I shall speak blessings.
You have my word.

3. However.
Nevertheless.
But. Still.
Nonetheless.
In whatever way.
Regardless of how.

I wish he had NOT asked me about my weight.

Think with me. There are ZERO happy ways out of that inquiry.

Have you lost weight? No. But I guess I looked a lot fatter last time you saw me.
Have you lost weight? Yes. And I guess since I looked a lot fatter last time you saw me, it's noticeable today.
Have you lost weight? No idea, but now I'm wondering if I looked a lot fatter last time you saw me.

Ugh.

4. If I could write a column, (oh, wait) I would sincerely request that the kind people of the planet not EVER ask anyone about their weight. (Unless that person has brought it up for discussion ... and that's a whole 'nother blog, y'all.) Don't ask about weight - Even if you think you're being sweet and encouraging.

I mean if you're in kindergarten and don't know better, then cool. But seriously.

On behalf of ...
no one really.

This is just me. Hear me out. Chalk it up. Change your ways. 
Or don't. But here's my perspective. 
And perhaps I'm just a crazy-head. 
But surely you have other crazy-heads in your life. Be advised;)

I struggle with maintaining a healthy balance of nutrition, exercise, and indulgences. Every day. 
No ... not everyday. Honestly, some days I couldn't even try to care less: "Bring on the sugary-coffee-sofa-time followed by salted starchy snacks for a sedentary sit-a-while!"

But on most days, some of my first thoughts involve frail hope for a healthier future, mustering motivation for a bright and active day, and rediscovering resolve to be victorious in the struggle.  I have been oscillating between variations of fluffy and firm since the 2nd grade. It is real, people.

So if I am losing weight this week. I welcome encouragement.
And if I've recently found the five pounds I lost last month, I need encouragement.

If I spent a precious quarter-hour styling my hair, (loosely ... using that term loose.ly.) 
I welcome affirmation.
And if I am in a ball cap or hallelujah-bun (for possibly the 2nd or third time this week), 
I need affirmation.

And if I wear a store-bought blouse made of anything other than cotton, and I seem - for all the world - halfway put together, I welcome kind words.
But if I choose a boxy, beefy-T from kids camp 3 summers ago that covers a multitude of sin and offers comfort on as many levels, I need kind words.

Encouragement. Affirmation. Kindness.
My needs are consistent, regardless of my appearance.

My inner, soul-level needs are remarkably consistent, regardless of my outward, ever-changing appearance.

Remarkably consistent.

I need to hear that I am beautiful. No matter what.

Because I believe that I am. I just don't believe it a lot of times. 
Philip tells me daily -in his own words and ways - that I am "altogether lovely" and he "sees no flaw in me". And God's Word tells me that I am wonderfully made by a loving Creator who cares very much about the holy stewardship of my body, but ultimately He places a premium on beauty that comes from within.

"The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." 1 Samuel 16:7
God and Philip. They're on board. But I typically lag behind, wondering if I'm enough.
And that's my bad.
You know? I know.

In this tension of trusting truth; beholding and becoming ...
What wording could we use to encourage, affirm beauty, and show kindness without asking about weight loss? (or weight gain for my friends who battle eating disorders?) 
You can probably think of many more examples - that I hope you'll share with us in order to better equip the masses.
But here are a few for starters.

"I was hoping to see you today!"
"You are so fun!"
"I like how you think!"
"You have the best smile!"
"I like your sense of style."
"You are a super-great ______ (friend, mom, cook, teacher, gardener etc)
"That color brings out your pretty eyes!"
"I admire your strength."
"You do good work!"
"You really know how to brighten a room!"
"I'm sure glad I got to visit with you!"
"What a pleasant surprise ... you're one of my favorite people."

And if you're brave and not the slightest bit creeperish, just go ahead and say what so many are longing to hear: "You are truly beautiful!"

Sidebar: For you "very funny people" who like to prove you've read my stuff by throwing it back at me ... the above phrasing is subject to copyright standards and any infringement delivered with mockery or condescending tone shall be ignored or summarily dismissed with a swift kick of brotherly love. K, Pumpkin?

AND if you 
simply 
cannot 
quiet the compulsion 
to offer commentary 
regarding a person's external presentation ... however shrinking/expanding it may seem to you on a given day...

Can we just stick to "You look great." and move it along? 
Thanks.

"Gracious words are like a honeycomb - 
sweetness to the soul and health to the body."
Proverbs 16:24