Liz loves to set people up on blind dates. I am the opposite. Setting people up on blind dates is a phobia of mine.
“It’s a phobia of yours?” Liz asked.
“Because what if it doesn’t work out?” I pointed out.
“I don’t want to be responsible for that.”
“How are you (she points at me) responsible for them (she points at imaginary people) not wanting to date?”
I shrugged. “I just am. Right?”
“No. Not right.”
Partly this phobia is because the idea for me of getting set up on a blind date when I was single was my worst nightmare. Seriously. Because I’m such a people-pleaser that I would have no choice but to marry that blind date, just so I didn’t disappoint the friend who set me up.
This past weekend helped me get a little more perspective on this whole phobia.
The photo at the top is of Finn’s first day at a week-long sleep-away camp (his first ever!) up at Camp Brookwoods, a Christian camp for boys up in New Hampshire. But more on how this photo gave me that perspective in a minute.
First, back to the phobia.
Having-to-marry-your-blind-date-to-avoid-disappointing-your-friend-ophobia is an extreme example of this phobia of mine. There are, you will see, more pedestrian examples:
For example, you know how people send you articles that they recommend you read? I never do that. Because now your friend has to read some dumb article! Or at least I would have to read it if somebody sent it to me, because I would hate to disappoint them, and I would also have to tell them it was the best article I ever read so that they (I imagine) wouldn’t fall into a deep depression when I said I didn’t like it.
You can imagine how reluctant I am to give book recommendations.
The version of this on steroids, of course, is when people introduce me and then say “Conor wrote a memoir!” Ask Liz about this – my immediate reaction is “You don’t have to read it!” I practically shout it at them, as their hand is still extended in greeting. “It’s nothing, it’s stupid, it’s a nothing book! Please, don’t feel obligated to read about it.”
Which immediately backfires because they were probably going to just nod politely and move on but now they have to to ask about it. At which point I pretend to twist my ankle.
“Aarrrggh!” I grab my ankle. “Aaargh, my ankle!”
So working our way back up the spectrum of Conor Crazy, you can see that if I’m not recommending articles, I sure ain’t setting people up with a potential life partner.
Which brings me to this photo at the top.
You see that woman in the green shirt, talking to Liz? That’s Melissa. She’s the Director of Alumni Relations at Camp Brookwoods (where we just dropped Finn off for camp).
Liz actually knew Melissa before. They were in a bible study together back in DC, many years ago.
About twelve years ago, Liz read an article about a UVA alum who was working with trafficked kids in Nepal. A friend of hers emailed her the article. (Unafraid. Just willy-nilly, emailed it.)
As it happened, Liz was heading off in a few months to India, looking to volunteer in an orphanage there over Christmas. So Liz then emailed me, asking if my organization did any work in India.
That was September 30, 2006. Liz and I met at the end of December, 2006.
Here’s the thing:
When Liz returned, one of the people she turned to was Melissa. The woman in the green shirt. Melissa, who was always finding little ways to take care of Liz. This is who Liz turned to, because she trusted her. When so many friends were telling Liz not to try to start a relationship with a guy in Kathmandu, Melissa urged her not to give up on trying to make it work. She encouraged her. And Liz listened, because Melissa had, over the course of their friendship, earned that trust.
Fast forward to today. When Liz and I, ten years married, take Finn to Camp Brookwoods, where Finn and Lucy meet Melissa: One of the women responsible for their parents being together. (Also, Lucy photobombs the picture.)
I believe every single person on this earth is here for not just a reason, but many reasons. God created Melissa for a whole slate of things, no doubt. But one of those things, I believe, was so that she could encourage her friend to do something that everyone else was telling her was crazy – to date a guy on the other side of the world. A guy who, at the time, didn’t share her faith.
I posted this photo of Melissa and Liz and my kids because it reminds me that we are not here just for ourselves. We are not here even just for our spouses and children. We are here, I believe, to love the people around us. Which sometimes feels pretty hard, at least to me. It can feel exhausting, that responsibility.
And when it feels exhausting, like a big responsibility, I remember the story of Lucy and the soup.
If you ask Lucy about her favorite memories, one pops up: She was sick and was at her Grandad’s and Gran’s house and Gran made her soup and fresh bread with butter and brought it to her in bed. Lucy mentions that ahead of vacations and birthday parties and presents she’s gotten.
Bringing that soup to Lucy wasn’t exhausting for Gran. It probably didn’t feel like a responsibility. And yet its Lucy’s favorite memory.
Melissa didn’t plan to change her friend’s life. She walked through something with her. She didn’t feel any responsibility for how Liz would receive any of it, she didn’t worry if the relationship would work out or not. She’s probably walked through hundreds of little things like that for dozens of people.
That is the curiously asymmetric power of relational generosity.
With relational generosity, you never know when something is going to hit just the right person at just the right moment and change their life.
It’s odd and extraordinary and wildly fulfilling.
This photo reminds me how grateful I am for the relational generosity of others. A moment of that generosity, of Melissa’s time and encouragement, almost twelve years ago, gave me everything I care about. It makes me want to pass those moments on to others.
Speaking of first meeting Liz – here are…
The Top Five Things Liz Needed to Know Before Meeting me/Deciding to Marry me:
1. Did I Have a Squeaky Voice?
We had only talked over email. Liz had read my blog. Everything was in writing. She later told me she was concerned that, for some unknown reason, I may sound squeaky, like a cartoon mouse. (I do not.)
2. Did I Smell Bad?
Liz has a fear of bad smells. Like, she covers her nose and looks for emergency exits. And it’s not like I was blogging about how I smelled. But I had lived in Kathmandu in an orphanage and so her expectations had been, at best, adjusted downwards.
3. Was I Going to be a Raving Liberal Lunatic?
We came from pretty different backgrounds, Liz and I, so there was an expectation that politics might come up in some fashion. Not that she was especially conservative, nor was I especially liberal. But it didn’t come up, because we just liked each other. And yes, I can be a raving liberal lunatic sometimes, as well as a conservative Christian, so I don’t know what you do with that.
4. Did I Drink?
Liz’s father is a retired four-star Admiral in the Navy, a man of recent Irish descent, and hugely protective of daughter. He raised questions about me immediately: “Does he drink? Because I don’t trust a man who doesn’t drink.” So Liz emailed me: “Do you drink?” And I wrote back: “Do you want me to drink?” And she wrote: “It’s okay if you do.” And I wrote back: “I drink!” Which is true, even though we have maybe one drink a week, Liz and I. But I passed the early test.
5. Would I Ever Believe in God?
This was a big one. When Liz visited Kathmandu, we had epic, day-long talks about life, the universe and everything. I mentioned, over the course of days, that I didn’t believe in God, that I would live abroad forever and that I would probably never get married. Within six months I had bought a Bible, proposed to her, and moved back to the US to be with her.
I’m grateful, and I’m blessed. That’s all.