What I learned

Oh my word.

There are a LOT of SCARED PEOPLE out there.

This is probably the most flattering selfie I’ve ever taken, so I thought I would share it with you.

One of my regrets with this experiment is that it veered toward “What do you like about my blog and why haven’t you been commenting, hmmmm?” Please know that as I have peace with God and my fellowman I was not trying to solicit compliments or scold you for not appearing sooner. Please.

I was hoping for two comments on that post, and preparing myself for none.

*

Now listen, here’s a little story.

Once upon a time, I sat in a Bible school class taught by my father. He was talking about how people view other people, and the various inaccuracies and pitholes into which we fall in our assessments of each other.

(Wait, is the word pitfalls? Okay, whatever. ‘Pitfalls into which we hole’ does not. sound. right. Of that I am sure.)

He said, “On a scale of 1-5, where would you rate ME for talkativeness? One is withdrawn, five is gregarious.” The students voted right in class, and every one of them picked four or five. He turned to me. “Shari, how about you?”

I said, “Um. One? maybe two?”

The other students burst out laughing. They knew him only as their professor, and he talked all the time.

*

What I heard in the past few days very clearly, whether you meant to say it or not, is that

  1. I have been taking you too much for granted. Thank you again for reading and responding to me. I am blessed by your kindness.
  2. We all have fears with putting stuff out there for everyone to see. This was an excellent point and one that I had failed to feel the full weight of. Which takes me back to a) again.
  3. You like it when I reply to your comments. When I do, it relieves some of the pressure you feel from b).

So I hear these things and I’m willing to learn and work with you.

But I also have a few problems. One being that I am that professor’s daughter. I’m actually not a schmoozing kind of person who enjoys working the crowd and being the belle and scattering largess to the populace. I am deeply uncomfortable in that role. At the worst level I feel like I’m – actually, there is no inoffensive word for kissing up to people so that they will like you and flock around you and give you stuff.

I have to live with myself, folks.

I also, sometime, have to spend time living the life that I am blogging about.

It would be an unbearable burden if I needed to comment on all your comments. You do see that, don’t you? Just as if you needed to comment on all my posts. And then if I comment on some, others feel they are being overlooked and what’s wrong with what they said…? I stayed up until midnight last night determined for this once to reply to Every Comment and finally I went to bed in tears because THEY JUST KEPT COMING. It is funny now, but then it was like a panicky game of Whack-a-Mole: reply to one and receive three more. You peoples had a lot to say.

(Please don’t take that wrong. I do not actually see you as moles, and I am quite sure I would like most of you very much. Individually.)

I have to live with myself, folks.

I also have a sense of humor, and when I offer too many replies too kindly I can hear my local people, who are very smart, thinking (not saying, just thinking) “Dude, get over yourself already! What is this, a touch-the-hem-of-your-garment meeting?”

The more I care what you think and say about me, the harder it is to keep my heart fixed on what is true: I am the small and rather foolish property of the Lord Jesus, safe and beloved in Him. How the crowd views me matters very little, and meanwhile my house needs cleaning. If I am going to receive your stars I must also receive your dots: But where I really stand is before the Lord Jesus and my own dearest people, and a few of them are watching anxiously to make sure I am not ruined by admiring strangers.

I am really grateful for your courage in commenting. You sound like lovely people. I will try to show up more, but if I do not reply personally to your comment, can you assume the best? Which is that you spoke like the valuable person you are and I am grateful for your contribution. Thank you.

In the grand scheme of things, it matters very little whether or not you comment on my blog. What does matter is if you are the kind of person who has resolved (by default or by choice) not to open your mouth – to be a consumer and not a producer, to avoid the beauty for fear of the burns, and to admire honesty that you would never imitate.

I am trying to shake you out of silence for that reason.

You are brave kids, now get out there and act like it.

Love,

Shari

For first-timers only

This post is for readers who have never commented in this space before. If you can’t remember whether or not you have – you’re fine. Stop being so conscientious.

If you are a regular commenter and leave a note here, I will take it down. Sorry. If you want to speak, leave a comment on the preceding post and I will personally reply to it. This one time.


Hello.

My name is Shari Zook, and I’ve been reading and writing in this space for five years. It’s easier to be silent, but I try to say something now and then, because I believe that words need to get out of our heads and into the world so they can do their job, communicating with other humans.

What is your name, and how long have you been here?

You don’t have to answer if you’re shy. I’m the shyest of the shy. You wouldn’t always know it to look at me, but I promise it’s true.

I love springtime, this time of year when all my perennials are pushing and the wind pounces on my house like a wild and living thing. It’s invigorating to be out and cozy to be in. For now I am in. My cat is curled sleeping on the rocking chair and I hear traffic going by on the road.

What do you hear? What do you love?

Oh look. She moved.

Do you know the first comment is the hardest? After that, it’s a little easier because you’re present, and visible.

This is just a quiet spot to say hi, and join the conversation.

Hugs,
(unless you’re male)
(in which case I offer a firm handshake) –
Shari

On comments

Hi. I try not to write logistical posts, but I’ve wanted to say a few things about my comment section for a long time, and now seems as good a time as any.

First, thank you.

Thank you for talking to me when I write. I’m grateful every time. Did you know there’s a small hold-your-breath moment of panic entailed in hitting Publish on anything? I’m s.o. r.e.l.i.e.v.e.d. when you say something back; the first two comments on any post enable me to breathe again. Especially if they’re nice.

Second, I try to get to know you.

If I don’t know you as a commenter, I try to place you just a smidge – did I go to Bible school with your sister? what are your interests? do we have a mutual friend? You develop a little personality in my mind, and if you leave a URL I look you up. I don’t stalk, I promise; I just prefer to know who I’m talking to. I like when you show up often enough for me to recognize your name. Some of you have been reading for years, and I consider you friends. Thank you.

Third, if I know you in real life, my interest in your comment roughly triples.

Several groups here mean the most to me…

  • I have some prized friends and family reading this blog: my parents, siblings, in-laws, and friends from childhood or teenage years. Sometimes this group is shy, and prefers a private response to a public comment. (I’m slightly mad at the rest of you for scaring them away.) If you are in this group – listen up now, I’m talking to you – your words mean the world to me, because they come from someone who’s known me for years, and I love you that much.
  • If you live within twenty miles of me, your words are incredibly important to me because you are part of my real-life community: my fellow church mates and local friends. I care more than I should about your opinion. If you are in this category, say more. {grin} The names Amy and Marie and Shaunda and Carla and Anita and Irene and Kayla and GrandmaKitty Brown and Gladys, among others I could list, make my world light up. Your voice matters to me. Don’t stop.
  • As far as I can tell, I am writing mostly to Mennonite women between the ages of 20 and 50, and I’m happy there. But if you fall outside that demographic – if you are teenage, white-haired, male, or not Mennonite – your comment means a great deal to me. I prefer writing to a diverse group. You can see with fresh eyes and I’m glad for your perspective.
  • Then of course if you’re The Boss, who fits into every VIP camp and then some, you make my spine tingle. Especially if at the moment, you’re Not The Boss. That’s even better.

Fourth, I love when you are thoughtful and creative, even if you disagree with me.

My favorite comments add something meaningful to the conversation – they connect to me personally, respond to another commenter, or offer a new angle of thought. My least favorite comments (don’t laugh) praise my writing style and say nothing else. If you did that I forgive you. To me it means I’m still an amateur and I distracted you from the real thing by the way I presented it.

But it’s okay. It may lower my opinion of your brainpower but I don’t hate you for it.

(I threw that in just for fun. I’m sorry.)

Fifth, I almost never remove a comment.

I’ve taken down a guest comment only two or three times in my five years of blogging, and only when I followed up with private dialogue to explain why.

Except – If you add a correction to your own comment, I often make the edit you requested or join your second thought onto your first, removing the second comment which is then redundant.

Sixth, I don’t offer a personal reply as often as I could.

Honestly, I prefer to stay out of my own comment section. It feels like I already had my chance to talk, and this is yours. I don’t want to interrupt, interrogate, or micromanage. But does that bother you? Is it frustrating or disappointing if you say something to me and I don’t reply directly? I really want to know.

I try to reply to your comment if it asks a specific question. I also give priority in responding to close friends, and to especially brave comments—people who risk something, in disagreement with me or in honesty with themselves. And people who comment for the first time, and take a moment to introduce themselves.

I like that last item a lot. In fact I like it so much that I’m going to try an experiment. Tomorrow I am going to publish a post to which only first-time commenters may reply. So if you’ve been dithering and tempted… Won’t that be fun? It will be a very quiet space, and no one will hurt you. I hope.


Thanks for listening.
What do you wish for in the comment section?
What intimidates you? What do you enjoy?

My mother

Confession: There is a whole new level of pain and beauty involved in seeing your mother without her hair. It was such pretty hair, long and thick and shining white. I miss it, and I miss the part of her that is not the same without it.

The first time she took off her hat to show me her shorn head, it was a jolt and a sickness, a thing wrong with the world that could never be made right.

But I also got a good look at her face. It seemed revealed, as though a skin had been pulled away, giving a glimpse of personality I’d never seen before. I’m a face reader, but I had missed a whole layer in my mother.

Once I went to a ladies’ seminar where each attendee was asked to bring along a sheet and a pillowcase, no explanations given. When I arrived at the registration table, I was told to wrap the sheet all around my clothes and put the pillowcase on my head, covering all of my body but my face. Every lady at the seminar wore that absurd disguise for half the day, and I was a little sulky about it and let some of my hair show. But the point was (and I liked it afterwards) to see how you felt about yourself, and how you viewed other people, if all you could see was a face.

Gone were the quick summaries – Oh, she goes to that kind of church – She has gray hair, so she must be over this age – Wow, nice dress – Okay, I’d never wear that together – She’s a trendsetter – That one’s Amish – All of it was gone. All you had were the faces, and what nice, friendly faces they were! Separated from all other impressions, they were more visible, more speaking, more important.

So with my mom.

She has common sense and grit and earthy wisdom and not-quite-kosher humor in that face.

And she is not well right now. But she is well cared for. It’s a team effort, loving a cancer fighter, and I am a small cog in the wheel with my four kids and my multi-faceted sickness germs to steer away.

But family and friends are offering incredible support. My siblings and their spouses send up love and texts and beautiful gift packages – my two nurse brothers stay tuned to her numbers and vitals – my remarkable sister with a cancer history of her own used her furlough to offer in-home support for a whole month – and my dad is doing everything else singlehandedly. Okay, not quite. There are many, many other givers: You know who you are. Thanks so much for doing this for my mom.

On the right is my mom with my baby, last summer. On the left is my mom’s mom with me!

We are very proud of her. And God is in the redeeming business.

Shari

Three stories – and #payitforward

Well, I won’t lie – it’s been a hard week, for reasons I don’t want to explain to you. Would you like to be entertained? Here are three snippets that made me laugh.


First

Dear Stranger in the Thrift Store:

I do not usually bum a diaper off someone I do not know. Thank you for being gracious.

You see, I had moved all of my baby’s diapers and wipes to a different purse, to give to the babysitter on the night I had a date—and I forgot to return them to my shopping purse. So that day in the store when I was smelling whiffs of diaper trouble, and whisked my girl off to the bathroom for a change, I got as far as unfastening everything and assessing the damages when I realized I was completely, entirely, 100% fresh out of options.

Several ideas flashed through my mind, none of them pretty.

Then I remembered you and your little girl playing by the toy section, and how we’d smiled at each other. Thank you for letting me come beg from you, and for refusing my money, and for offering me your wipes too as I turned away. I’m sorry that I smiled and clung to my pride and said I was okay, I’d use the paper towels in the bathroom. They were not as helpful as I’d hoped.

But I will remember you and your kindness. If you ever need one, you know where to come.

#payitforward
Shari


Second

I’ve been trying to find new coping strategies for worry.

The other day when something was eating at me I thought I would text it to The Boss, but suddenly wished I could text it to Jesus instead – as a way of forgetting about it and letting it go. So just for the kick of it I typed Jesus into the address line (53787) and wrote my little worries and hit send. I knew the message would bounce right back to me, but I didn’t care. What I didn’t anticipate was what my phone said – in large letters on the left side, JESUS, and on the right side, FAILED.

Not quite the sensation I was going for, but it cracked me straight up.

Since then my husband outfitted me with an extra number by which I can text to Jesus, that only he will ever see. I have been keeping it hot.


Third

I do not usually write here about my speaking engagements, for two reasons. First, it feels like showing off, and second, I don’t have many of them. So if you come here hoping for my opinion of your event, I’m sorry – you’re logging up the wrong tree.

But.

Last year about this time I was preparing to speak at an unusually stressful venue, for me. It was going to be a large audience, both men and women, in a Christian setting so conservative-minded that I figured if I mis-dressed or mis-spoke I might as well build my own coffin and go lie down in it, cuz it was all over.

While packing to go, I dithered about what shoes to wear. I’m not a big shoe person, so it came down to a choice of two pairs: snappy black dress shoes with inordinately high heels, which I had not worn for months – having a faint memory of discomfort associated with them – or black flats with big cream fabric flowers on the toes. I thought with a long skirt, the heels would be the less offensive of the two, so I picked them.

All went well, and I wore those shoes for two long days without mishap, until a week or so after the event when I developed shooting pains in my big toes. Both sides.

Cough.

So, if you were at the event or if you come from a church that has Opinions on such matters, I thought it would comfort you to learn that I lost two toenails to that wretched experience, and everything your pastor tells you about high heels is true. They are from the devil.

I can’t remember just now if I threw them vindictively into the trash can, or donated them to the thrift store to ensnare a new owner.

Like I said,

#payitforward
Shari