Well, That Was Awkward

Beth Foof    I am, perhaps, one of the most awkward people on the planet. I trip when I walk. I drop stuff. And my dancing is a thing of nightmares – just ask my children. But one of the worst things is my mouth. I talk too much and at inappropriate times, and my words come out tangled and wrong and sounding completely moronic.

I’m still tempted to cringe over a party we attended a few weeks ago. Most of the people there were friends we hadn’t seen in several years, and life has changed a lot for all of us. I’m not sure what my problem was, exactly. I was tired; my guard was down. I was anxious for these old friends to see how much I’ve changed since God’s grace grabbed hold of me and shook me loose of my need for applause. (How’s that for irony?) Whatever the reason, I talked and babbled and the wiser woman inside me cast a hopeful eye about for duct tape to slap over my own mouth. I even almost got in an argument with a woman who unintentionally insulted a friend. (The only thing that kept me civil is that she was extremely pregnant. And that’s a good thing, because she turned out to be very nice.)

This isn’t a new problem. I’ve been getting in my own way for a long, long time…

We just got back from Orlando, where we helped lead a conference for missionary families who are transitioning, for a time, from life overseas to living in the U.S. Talking with the teens about loss, grief, expectations, and culture shock brought to the surface painful memories of my own move from the Philippines to Ohio when I was in the eighth grade. I was a blond jungle child, feet cramped into unfamiliar shoes, lost in a world of paved roads and public schools and people who thought I was an American. So I did what came naturally and ran my mouth, blustering and bragging and posturing until very little of my heart showed. That whole first year, I made only one real friend.

I was convinced people were watching me, noticing me, examining my every word and expression. So I tried hard, as hard as I could, to be likable and witty and attractive. The result was more gruesome than winsome.

What I didn’t understand then is that it is impossible to move with natural grace, to make others feel comfortable, when my attention is on myself.

I would like to say that I as grew out of my teen years and into adulthood, that my focus shifted automatically, but it didn’t. The awkwardness just changed forms.

When Mike and I were first married, I believed hospitality required a nice, clean house. We lived in a tiny, disorganized apartment with threadbare furniture and not much beyond macaroni and cheese to offer. Embarrassed by our meager means, I was never willing to invite anyone over, and we missed out on many opportunities to build relationships. Even when we moved and began to open our doors to friends, I would buzz around like a caffeinated honeybee, fussing and rearranging and worrying that people would notice that that house wasn’t perfect. I hadn’t realized yet that hospitality has far less to do with a welcoming home than a welcoming heart. I wasn’t focused on our friends or their needs. If I wasn’t relaxed in my own home, how could I expect our guests to feel comfortable?

When he was asked to name the most important of all commandments, Jesus responded, “And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength… Love your neighbor as yourself.” (from Mark 12:30-31, NLT) If we take him at his word and really do it, this turns our focus inside out and places it squarely on others – on God first and then on the people around us.

    Maybe he meant what he said.

Maybe what others think about me is truly unimportant. Maybe I can be a stumbling, bumbling goofball, because what really matters is how well I love.

Thankfully, little by freedom-giving little, I’m learning to love God, to love others, to live in the “unforced rhythms of grace”. (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message)

So, come on over. Put your feet up on the couch. The piano will probably be dusty and the kitchen unmopped. I might snort when I laugh, but laugh we will. We’ll have coffee and cookies and real conversation, and chances are we’ll enjoy our time so much we’ll forget to feel awkward.

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