Seeing Yourself Through Others’ Eyes

I See You!

Not long ago, I was at a Women’s’ retreat in Napa Valley. I was with some amazing, accomplished, Godly women whom I did not know well, or at all, before that weekend. Over the course of our weekend of activities and self-reflection, various members of the group allowed me to see their perceptions of me. Because they are kind and positive people, those perceptions were flattering. I felt honored and seen. A few of the ladies also shared their visions of what they thought I could achieve in the future and what impact I could possible have. I have to admit, their vision far outreached the dreams I have dared to dream for myself. It really made me reevaluate as to whether I sell myself (and my God) short by not setting higher goals.

I have generally been a proponent of not paying too much attention to what others think of me. I certainly don’t want to allow myself to be limited by the skepticism of others or brought down by the haters. However, sometimes it may be beneficial to at least listen to what others are saying. Maybe they will see me better than I see myself. The flip side (and the side requiring more bravery) is that we might learn some hard, but true, facts about ourselves. Maybe we say or do things that, unbeknownst to us, hurt or offend others. Maybe our view of ourselves is overinflated. The tricky part is being able to gain perspective. In seeing ourselves as others see us, we gets a different perspective. The next step is to honestly and bravely examine that other perspective. Is it valid? Is it partially valid? Or is it just empty flattery or hateful lashing out? To discern the difference requires introspection and some knowledge and understanding of the source. If we can make that distinction, a lot can be learned from seeing ourselves through the lenses of others.

It’s O.K. to be Cheesy…Sometimes

Michael Buble’ at Canterbury

Not too long ago, while visiting Canterbury, England, my husband surprised me by announcing he had purchased us tickets to see Michael Bubble’ in concert. “But you don’t like Michael Buble’,” I replied. “You say he’s cheesy.” My spouse then admitted he, in fact, likes the singer, but was heretofore embarrassed to admit it. We went to the concert and had a fabulous time with hundreds of other people — from parents with their children, to young singles, to middle-aged and even old folks. We were all celebrating feel-good things like love, and relationships, and family, and birds and butterflies. And no one seemed embarrassed.
Somehow people have come to be of the opinion that it is only O.K. to like entertainment that is cynical and negative. Smart is equated with jaded and edgy. We are afraid to admit we like something that is positive or affirming, lest we be thought to be not intellectual. I fear that the negative, louder, members of society are silencing the optimists.

Not that I am encouraging being shallow; heaven knows TikTok and Instagram are flooded with the demonstration of a lack of thinking or depth. But, maybe, we should not be afraid to embrace a little positivity — listen to happy music, read a feel-good book or life-affirming biography, or (gasp) bask in a good romantic comedy. Take a picnic lunch, put on some Michael Buble’, and watch the bees, birds and butterflies. Life can be good!

Fear No Evil

Napa Wilderness

Earlier this summer I was at a women’s retreat in Napa Valley, California. One afternoon we were directed to go on a “meditative hike” in a wilderness area nearby. The task was to walk, think, pray, and write down my reflections or responses in my journal. After walking for awhile, I sat down at a picnic table. I was meditating and writing in my journal, lost in my thoughts when, in my periphery vision, I saw something move on the ground. Just as I looked down, a snake slithered over my left foot. He was about 3 feet long, with alternating brown and off-white rings. I gasped and quickly jumped up on top of the picnic table. My heart was beating a bit faster and my breath had quickened. I peered down at the ground under and around the table, but could not see the snake. I had no idea where he had gone. After a few minutes, I jumped from the table to the dirt path nearby and continued on my walk. Later on, when I had cellular reception again, I did some internet research on the snake, based on my recollection of its markings. I determined what I had seen was probably a California King Snake who, according to, is “Not Dangerous to Humans.”

Later that day, I processed this encounter and discussed it with the other ladies. I found it somewhat curious that my reaction upon seeing the snake was less extreme than I would have thought. The snake surprised me, and I was concerned enough to move out of its path, but I was not terrified and did not scream or otherwise react in an extreme manner. It was almost as if I instinctively knew that, although the snake looked exotic and was not known to me, it posed no threat of harm.

Of course, the snake or serpent is, in Western culture, often representative of Evil, or Satan, or the Devil. In the book of Genesis in the Bible, Satan appears to Eve in the form of a serpent and tempts her into committing the first act of disobedience to God (sin). Genesis 3. In mythology, snakes were often portrayed as coming from the underworld, the purveyors of evil. Think of Medusa, whose gaze would turn people into stone. Shakespeare also used the snake to represent evil or treachery. Lady Macbeth tells her husband to be deceitful like a serpent. Macbeth later calls Banquo and his son snakes because they are an evil threat. Most Westerners are, on some level, afraid of snakes.

Although I am wary of Satan, or the Evil One, like the California king snake, I am not in danger of any real harm from him. The reason for this is that I am a follower of Christ; I have accepted Him as my Savior and have surrendered my life to Him. As a result, I wear a cloak of protection against the Evil One. The outcome of the battle between Good and Evil is already known; God will always triumph. The Bible is very clear on this point. Though evil may sometimes win the battle, God will win the war. As a follower of Christ, I rest assured that “the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.” 2 Thessalonians 3:3. I have seen and experienced this truth on many occasions. Although I may be tried, and may go through hard times, God has repeatedly protected me from real, lasting harm. I know this in my heart and I feel it in my soul. Because of this, I can remain calm in the face of danger and in the midst of the storm.

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…” Psalm 23:4

Renaissance Attitude

In preparation for a trip to Florence, I have been doing some reading on the Renaissance. Not to try to give a history lesson, but the early to mid-1400’s was an exciting time. Prior to that the European world was pretty much in the mindset of doing things the same old way, like they always had done. To be fair, the 1300’s were pretty challenging, with a lot of wars and the bubonic plague. But then, mainly in Florence, Italy, some people started to think that maybe things– like poetry, writing, art, architecture, and engineering– could be improve on. Dante, for example, decided to write a giant poem in the vernacular Latin (a form that the common man, not just the aristocrats, could understand). Brunelleschi promised he could build his famous giant dome, even though no one had ever built a dome so large and at the time of his bid he had no idea he could do it. Ghiberti, Donatello, Botticelli, and Michelangelo took painting and sculpture to a whole new level of realism, emotion, and perspective. And then there’s Leonardo da Vinci, in my opinion, probably the smartest man to ever have lived. He was an artist, mathematician, engineer and architect.

What I really like about all of these Renaissance innovators is that they didn’t just decide to go out and do something different or off the wall; they started first by looking backward. They studied the ancient Arab writings, the Greek philosophers and sculptors. Much of the advances in banking and accounting made by the Medici’s had its roots in Arab mathematics. Renaissance sculpture sort of picks up where the Greeks left off. Also, most of the Renaissance rock stars, while pushing back against the Church and established religion, didn’t entirely reject it or try to burn it down. Instead, much of their art incorporated religious themes, was commissioned for display in churches, and/or financially supported by the Church.

So, I want to have a “Renaissance attitude.” I want to learn from and emulate the great thinkers and artists and other creatives of the past while, at the same time, strive to innovate and improve on those ideas. In this way, we can honor the past and acknowledge those upon whose shoulders we stand and, yet, also keep evolving toward the future.

Accepting Loss

Me just before being pickpocketed

I was on vacation in Florence, Italy. I was relaxed. I was having a good time, taking in the sights, taking photos, posting to my Instagram. So I had my smartphone handy in the side pocket of my purse, ready to pull it out upon spying a good photo opportunity. The Point Vecchio Bridge, lined with jewelry shops, was busy and crowded. Vendors were hawking their wares, street performers were vying for attention, people were packed in close. And then I went to reach for my phone and realized it wasn’t there. I checked my pockets, searched my purse. Gone. In the press of the crowd, with all the distractions, someone had lifted my iPhone.

When I got back to my computer, I performed the “Find My” operation. The phone had been on the bridge at the time I had crossed it and then gone offline. The thief had cleverly immediately turned the phone off so it could not be tracked. Fortunately, I had it locked with a passcode. I very sadly gave the command to have all data on the phone erased.

It is shocking to realize how much we have come to rely on our smartphones. I felt lost, untethered. I felt I had lost an appendage. How would I take photos? Oh, yeah, I also have a Nikon camera. How would I check my email? I have an iPad and laptop. What about my past photos? They are in the cloud. What about all the notes and other information I keep on my phone? Well, those are lost. I will have to stretch my memory and recall. So, I came to realize that, in reality, I hadn’t lost much more than my physical phone. Because I need a new SIM card from my U.S. carrier, I wouldn’t be able to get a new phone until I returned to the U.S., but I would be able to replace the phone and keep the same number.

However, I still felt a little traumatized. First of all, I was pretty angry with myself. I know better than to leave my personal belongings exposed when in crowds. I think of myself as having pretty good situational awareness, but I had no clue when my phone was stolen. Someone was that close to me and had their hand inside my purse and I had no idea. I felt very stupid. I also felt violated. What right does anyone have to take my property? Also, I had to face the next ten days phone-less. How was that possible? What would I do? How would I function? My husband had three phone with him, so we managed.

But this experience made me think — am I too attached to material things? The loss of this one material thing really upset me. Some people have catastrophes like fires or floods or war that cause them to lose all their material goods. That is unimaginable to me. But, somehow, those people manage to go on. They rebuild their lives. They say these events made them realize that what was really important was that they and their family members were alive. And yet, I was pretty upset to lose one material item. After thinking about it, I chose to take stock of all the blessings I have (I had the means to vacation in Italy, for starters) and of the things in life that really matter — my health, my faith, my relationships with family and friends. No thief or disaster can ever take those things away from me.