Thursday, 12 June 2014

The WhyNotSmile Guide To The World Cup

After the raging success of the WhyNotSmile Guide To The Elections (which went what I call "viral", receiving upwards of 19 hits), it has been requested that I produce a Guide to the World Cup, which is a football thing that starts today. So here goes.

Football
We need to begin by understanding the concept of football. Essentially, football is a sport which involves 2 teams battling it out to see who can get a ball into a net the most often. To make it twice as easy, they have a net at each end of the 'pitch', but they also allow you to keep one of your team members in the net at all times, to try to stop the ball from going in.

Things get more advanced than this, of course. For instance, if you kick someone else and they fall down, then they get to have a special attempt at kicking the back into the net, called a penalty. Sometimes you're allowed to line up all your players between them and the net, to try to block the ball, but this doesn't always happen, and I'm not sure why. Also, at the end of the allotted time, if both teams have got the back into the net the same number of times, then they get to do a penalty shoot-out, and then Germany win. I'm not sure why this happens either.

Then there is the offside rule, which I'm not supposed to be able to understand because I'm a girl. In reality, of course, I understand many things which are much more complex than the offside rule, like the rules of social engagement, which appear to pass many footballers by; the reason I don't understand the offside rule is that I just don't give a fiddler's fart.

In addition to the two teams, there is also a chap called the 'referee' who runs about and tries to make them stick to the rules. Fans have lots of chants about referees, many of whom appear to be "bankers".  I assume this is why football is often played on bank holidays.

The Teams
Now, for the World Cup, there is a team from every country who want to send one, but of course they can't all play each other in a fortnight because there are, like, 200* countries who have football teams, so if they were all going to play a sort of knockout tournament where the winner of each match progresses to the next round, then there would have to be 8 rounds, but the first one would have, like, 100 matches going on, and in total you would have 255 matches, and the wallchart would just be too big for the wall.
* I don't know. I made that up.

And even worse, if you had to insist that each team played every other team, then there would be, like, 200! matches happening, where 200! means "200 factorial", and not just 200 said with a gasp, and since 200! is too big for my calculator to even work it out, we would basically be watching football forever.

So instead they have matches ahead of time to see who is good enough to qualify for the finals, and teams like Northern Ireland fluke their way through every now and then, but mostly it's teams who are actually good, and also England. I think they let England play every time because they invented football or something.
It's always important to establish who's actually still in the thing if you want to sound competent in work when the topic comes up; I once spent a fortnight supporting Republic of Ireland before being taken to one side and told they hadn't qualified that time. In some workplaces, of course, they'd just have given me Ireland in the office sweepstake (of which more later) and been done with it.

So if someone asks you which team you're supporting, you want to say the name of a country; preferably one that's good at football, or England.

The 2014 World Cup
Now, each time they have the thing (which is every 4 years), they have it in a different place. This is decided by some manner of corruption or something, rather than by my preferred method of keeping it like Eurovision, where the place that won last time gets to host it this time round. Anyway, this year it's in Brazil, and if you fancy going over to it you should probably take a paintbrush and be ready to give them hand with painting the lines on, for it is widely believed that things Aren't Quite Ready Yet. Next time round it's in Qatar, which is a real place and is too hot to play football in.

World Cup Traditions
Now, regardless of whether you like football or not, you can still get into the spirit of things by involving yourself in one of the many time-honoured traditions which have sprung up around it. These include:
  • Sticker albums: produced by Panini, these are like scrapbooks, but with spaces for stickers with footballers on them. You can often get the album for free, and then spend approximately £3800 on stickers, in a futile bid to collect them all. The stickers come in little packets, and the idea is that you swap them with your friends in school until everybody has all of them; naturally, the people who make the stickers ensure that a chosen few are really rare, and these become valuable currency in playgrounds across the country. It used to be that sticker albums were the preserve of the pre-teen boy, but now with EBay and everything, access to stickers for "swapsies" is wider, thus restoring the dream to adults as well. Note to adult males: women do not generally consider this to be impressive behaviour.
  • The Office Sweepstake: this happens in every office in the land when the World Cup is on.  Basically, you get a list of all the teams who are playing, and then throw them in a box (except usually you can't find a box, so someone cups their hands and you put them in there), and then you allocate everyone in the office a team or a number of teams. Everyone pays a pound and whoever's team wins gets to keep all the money at the end.  More advanced systems involve 'seeding' the teams, or having first, second and third prizes, but this really makes no difference, because there's always one person in the office who always wins, every. freaking. time. (yes, Alex, I'm looking at you). Obviously a challenge is presented if you have more people in your office than there are teams playing, but this can be resolved by sub-dividing the office into more manageable groups.
  • Wallcharts: a staple of every World Cup, ever, the Wallchart usually comes free with The Mirror about a fortnight before it all kicks off. Even I have been known to end up with a World Cup wallchart, and take great delight in filling it all in.  The essential components are: lots of pictures of flags; some enlightening commentary on each of the teams; and the actual Chart bit.  The Chart bit lists the various 'pools', and the scheduled matches, and there's a little space for you to write in the score for each match. Then when it all progresses to the quarter finals and so on, you get to write in the matches and the winners and stuff.  For some reason, it's all completely glorious fun.
  • Anthems: every time, some trendy band are asked to write a World Cup anthem for everyone to sing when they cheer on England to their certain victory.  It's usually crap, so then some band that no one has heard of comes out with something much better and unofficial, and everyone sings that instead. The vital ingredients are references to: 1966 (the last time England won), the hurt which has engulfed the nation ever since, curry, beer and a lot of cheering because this will be Our Year.
So the World Cup kicks off tonight, and you can now prepare yourself for every conversation you will have between now and July 13th.  I trust this helps.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

The WhyNotSmile Guide To The Upcoming Elections

Now, we have elections coming up here in Belfast on 22nd May, and a number of people* have asked for guidance on how the process works, who to vote for, and so on. So it is as a Public Service that I hereby present The WhyNotSmile Guide To The Upcoming Elections.
* 1 person, plus my husband, who didn't actually ask but got told anyway

How The Process Works
Now, there are various types of election, and they require voting in different ways. This can be confusing for the amateur voter, but is easily resolved by reading the instructions at the top of the voting form, or by asking the person who hands you the form to start with. There are generally 2 methods:

1. The one where you put an X beside one person's name
This is quite simple, so long as you're careful not to accidentally write your name or draw a smiley face or something in any of the other boxes or on the rest of the page. 30 seconds of self-control and you're grand.

2. The one where you put all the people in order of how much you like them
This is Voting For The More Advanced Citizen. You put a 1 beside the person you like the most. Then you put a 2 beside the person you like the next most, and so on, until you get to all the people you don't like at all, at which point you stop. It's a bit like in school when you got to be team captain and choose who you wanted in order of how much you wanted them, except that this time you can stop when you get down to the riff-raff, and not be stuck with the likes of me on your team, all over-enthusiasm and skill-less-ness. It also means I get to sit on the sidelines and read my book, rather than accidentally ending up elected to something, so everyone's happy.

What You're Voting For
The next question must be: what are we voting for? What are these people going to do? There are essentially 5 possibilities here:

1. Local Councils
These are the people who collect the bins and get rid of dog poo. For this you want your basic Responsible Type, who can sit through a meeting without stabbing annoying people in the face, and who understands how dumps work and that sort of thing. These are Details People. If they call at your door looking for votes, you should quiz them on things like what can go in the recycling bins, and where to catch the bus into town on a Saturday.

2. The Northern Ireland Assembly
This is Where It All Happens, or so the occupants like to think. This lot decide how we spend all the money that we get from England, and whether The Gays can get married or not, so it's Quite The Place. Mostly, of course, the DUP and Sinn Fein spend the time shouting at each other, so for this you want someone who's not too easily wound up by twits. It's probably going to be a choice between a series of people who think they're quite important, and then one or two who might actually Make Stuff Happen; contrary to historical practice, it might be worth trying to identify one of the latter, and giving them a shot at it.

3. Westminster
This is the person who gets to fly to London and claim duck houses from the taxpayers. Now, generally this will end up being the same person who's been doing it for the last 50 years (or, if they have recently retired, their son), but I urge you all to follow the example of East Belfast from last time around and vote for someone who'll actually Do Stuff, and not just fanny about naming leisure centres after themselves. But, of course, it's up to you.

4. Europe
Every now and then we get to send people to Europe. I'm not entirely sure what they do; I think it's mostly about organising fishing. Anyway, for this one we want to send someone nice, rather than someone who's going to make us look like we couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery without first separating the brewery into 'themuns' and 'usuns', drawing flags all over the place and then parading past each other singing about how we beat you 3000 years ago so NAH! Seriously, nobody in Europe cares. Let's try and not look like idiots in front of Angela Merkel.

5. Some sort of referendum
From time to time you'll get an election paper where the options are just 'yes' and 'no' instead of being people's names. This is a referendum, and you just have to say what you think is the right answer to the question. It's sort of like a survey, but there's no prize draw for completing it.

So we see that it is important to establish what the election is all about and what sort of person we require before we move on to the next step.

Who To Vote For
Now we come to the more important question: who to vote for. There are a series of steps involved in this decision.

1. If you have the option of voting for Naomi Long, always vote for Naomi Long.
She has personally promised Mr Smile that she will reduce tax on crisps when she becomes Prime Minister. And also, she's not a twit, which is Quite New for Northern Irish politics. She organises debates in parliament and has not yet named anything in the constituency after herself. I'm thinking of getting her to cut the ribbon on my new living room once the decorating is done.

2. If you do not have the option of voting for Naomi Long, try moving house, preferably to East Belfast.
I appreciate that this is not an option for everyone: some of you, for instance, will have to stay in the likes of Fermanagh to milk the cows and so on. But it's worth a shot if you're able to try it.

3. If you have moved to East Belfast and still do not have the option of voting for Naomi Long, it may be that it's Not That Type Of Election.
You should probably have had the foresight to look into this before you went to all the effort of moving house, but East Belfast is nice and we're glad you're here anyway. Please familiarise yourself with the recycling regulations.

If you do end up unable to vote for Naomi Long, then you may have to decide for yourself. At this point, it is useful to know a bit about the various parties.

The Unionists
These will generally have a name containing the letter 'U', and a logo with a British flag on it. The exceptions to this are the New Kid on the Block, NI21, because they're trying to be all cool and stuff, and UKIP, who have a 'U', but not in the Northern Irish sense (and are only Unionist in the technical sense, not in true Northern Irish fashion). We can summarise the Unionists as follows:

Ulster Unionists
Bonkers level: moderate
Key facts: led by Mike who used to read the news, the UUP is the party of choice for those who want to keep Sinn Fein out, but think the DUP are a bit mental. All in favour of the traditional bastions of life, such as parades and flags, but think it's a bit undignified to come out on the streets about it.

Democratic Unionists
Bonkers level: high
Key facts: the DUP have many years of experience of getting very odd people into highly unsuitable jobs. Like the health minister who thinks The Gays are all contaminated and won't let them give blood in case they spread Gay to the rest of us. Or the one who kicked up a big fuss because he wanted creationist displays alongside the Finn McCool displays at the Giant's Causeway. They're all terribly, terribly earnest, of course, but if you met any of them in the back of a pub (which you wouldn't), you'd feel inclined to back away slowly and in as heterosexual a way as you could manage.

Traditional Unionist Voice
Bonkers level: off the scale
Key facts: formed by people who left the DUP because it was too wishy-washy, these guys mean business. They rarely achieve it, due to all being completely mental.

NI21
Bonkers level: unclear, but initially not, apparently, too bad
Key facts: formed not that long ago, they haven't really got themselves together yet. You probably still have time to sign up as their Euro candidate. Policies appear to depend on what will get them lots of votes, and I don't think even they have high expectations of winning much. Still, they all seem quite nice.

PUP
Bit scary.

Sort-of Unionists

UKIP
Bonkers level: they're either very very bonkers or extremely cunning. Quite possibly both
Key facts: you can cost them money by sending stuff to their Freepost address, but only up to Large Letter size. You can also not vote for them, and you can improve things further by voting for someone else instead.

NI Conservatives
Bonkers level: no idea
Key facts: no idea. They all look very earnest on their posters though, and are clearly wearing their best suits.

The Nationalists
Generally these have logos featuring lots of green (although so do the Greens and Conservatives). There are two kinds:

Sinn Fein
Bonkers level: more scary than bonkers
Key facts: they are very keen to stress that violence is not the way forward. Any more.

SDLP
Bonkers level: not at all bonkers in any way. Also not very interesting.
Key facts: they still exist.

The Others
There are a few parties out there who are not really all that fussed about The Border, and prefer to concentrate on things like the economy and making it easier to cycle. They are:

Alliance
Bonkers level: not generally bonkers at all, though I'd say David Ford could liven up a party if you filled him with whiskey
Key facts: people argue that they can't vote Alliance because they sit on the fence too much, without recognising that the fence is fine; it can give you a commanding view of the surrounding area, and you can maybe sort out the economy and healthcare and stuff while you're up there, instead of arsing about on the ground yapping about parades. Also, flegs.

The Greens
Bonkers level: highly variable
Key facts: the sort of people you meet in the pub, with fabulous big ideas that are completely implausible but also brilliant. If they actually got put in charge, the place would be in pieces by lunchtime, but you definitely want a few of them about to keep everything grounded.

Independents
Bonkers level: suspect
Key facts: I'm always suspicious of people who don't belong to a party but stand for election. It's like people who are self-employed; you sort of assume they're lazy and don't like being told what to do.

So those are your options, and it is important to choose wisely. I trust this helps.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

The Sam Thompson Bridge: WhyNotSmile Investigates

So they opened a whole new bridge in Belfast, and, since I would basically go to the opening of an envelope, you can imagine my excitement. Even better, this bridge is part of a scheme to connect my house to The Dock Café*, thus joining up my two favourite places and enabling me to cycle between them with ease.
* This may not be the actual aim of the scheme

So naturally, I had to be there. I got off to a shaky start when crossing the road over to the bridge, as I was joined on the crossing by a lady with a microphone headset thing, and a lady wearing the sort of coat you wear if you're about to open a bridge, and I figured they were probably Something To Do With It, until the lady in the coat said "Is this the bridge?", and then I thought maybe this was just the sort of event you're supposed to wear a posh coat to. Particularly as this was roughly the view we had at this point:



Yes, love, this is the bridge.

Anyway, I got to the start of the bridge and was generally in the way, because I had my bike and it was quite a tight squeeze, but on the other hand I didn't want to chain it up because then I might Miss All The Fun. Some local dignitaries arrived, plus the First Minister and Minister for Local Development (I think that's what he is; anyway, I later heard him say nasty things about the Lord Mayor, so I don't like him, because that's just not a Nice Thing To Do). So they all got sent onto the bridge, and then the rest of us were ushered forwards. All the other cyclists pushed their bikes, but I cycled because then I got to be the first person to cycle across it, and it's not like there's much else in my life I can boast about.

We stopped in the middle for Speeches And A Poem, and then they declared the bridge open, and the fire brigade from the airport squirted a big jet of water across the river, which was exciting but also a bit "Ha ha we can make a bridge too".



Then we got given wristbands, so they could keep count, and I asked for an extra one for my unborn child* and got one, and then my wristband had a red spot which meant I had won a prize, so I got quite excited. At some point I also got given some keyrings. So we carried on to the far side of the bridge, where lots of people had gathered to come across from the other direction, and I annoyed quite a few of them by ramming them with my bike. Anyway, the atmosphere was very jolly, so I just kept smiling and walking.

(* Yes. For those of you who haven't heard, Baby Smile is due to make an appearance in September. I would post a scan photo, but, while my child is undoubtedly exceptionally talented in many ways, those ways do not include "Looking any different from any other baby in an ultrasound scan". Feel free to imagine any baby scan photo you've ever had to fake-smile at, and that's basically close enough.)

Next step was to track down The Former Housemate Formerly Known As Dozavtra, which I did by standing completely still until she phoned me to see where I was, and then came to find me. So we crossed back over the bridge because she hadn't crossed it yet, and then back over to get back to her starting point, and then we claimed my prize, which was tickets to a play. I was one wristband away from winning an iPod Shuffle, but still.

Then Former Housemate Formerly etc went off to go back to her car, and I cycled back across the bridge, panicking slightly because they were closing it off to let a fun run through, and much as the park that the bridge goes to is very nice, I didn't really want to be trapped in it forever, or even for as long as the fun run was going to take.

So all in all, it was very pleasant and we had a nice time, and I recommend going to see the bridge if you're in the area.

Monday, 9 December 2013

On Why I Need Christ During Christmas

So the Atheists are back, and they have a new billboard (because all the best-spirited debate happens when billboards get involved) in Times Square. It's animated (because why should Jesus have all the tacky adverts?); it starts off by saying "Who needs Christ during Christmas?", and then there's a bit of CGI whizziness and it changes to "Nobody needs Christ during Xmas".

Now, first of all, I appreciate that there are plenty of atheists out there who are facepalming at this; the ones who mocked the atheist bus campaign, and who hide under cushions when Richard Dawkins goes off on one again. And secondly, if they have the money and want to buy screentime, who am I to stop them?

But mainly I want to discuss their key point, that nobody needs Christ at Christmas. Firstly, this is a stupid argument to make, because, as any student of logic will tell you, you can't prove that something doesn't exist, whether that something is God, or a blue elephant, or "a person who needs Christ at Christmas"*. I'm being pedantic here, but a certain brand of atheist would go nuts if this was the other way around, so I'm not going to feel bad about it.

* It's a bit more complex than this, but still.

But secondly, and this is my main point today, I'm going to disagree with them, put my hands up, and say "I do. I need Christ this Christmas". I can't prove it to you, or use logic to persuade you, because I don't have a logical, rational argument (mainly because my life insists on being illogical and irrational). And I know that for some, only the logical and rational will suffice, but for me, I need there to be something else.

I need Christ because Christmas fills me with dread. At the darkest, coldest, most difficult time of the year, I'm expected to be merry and bright; I'm expected to go to parties; when all I want is the safety of bed and quiet and warm, I have to organise, plan, attend, pretend to enjoy, and I need Christ because I need to hear "You're enough, as you are. You're loved and accepted on the bad, grumpy, teary days as much as you are on the happy, excited, joyful days. You don't need to do more or be more. You're enough, and you're loved".

I need Christ because I often don't like myself; I hear criticism where none is meant; I hear sarcasm and anger when I need gentle words and compassion; and every time the fear rises and the anxiety comes and I need Christ because, Oh God, I don't want to cut again, but I need to let the feelings out and I need to hear the still, small voice saying "I know. I understand", and I need to let the tears run hot without judgement.

I need Christ because I don't always love my husband as well as I could; because love is not a feeling, but a series of choices, and a lot of the time I need help to make the right one.

I need Christ because I've made mistakes this year. I've hurt, I've lied, I've let down, I've judged, I've condemned. My best efforts have missed the mark. I need Christ because I need to hear "You're forgiven. You will always be forgiven. And you will overcome."

I need Christ because I've been lied to, I've been let down, I've been betrayed and abandoned, and I need to hear "I am with you always".

I need Christ because my friends have been beaten, abused, raped, cheated, widowed; they've had miscarriages and cancer and depression; they've been hurt and belittled and seen their dreams ripped up and their stories trampled. I need Christ because I need to be able to say "There is healing; there is hope; there is peace and joy and love for those who cannot even dare to imagine it".

I need Christ because my friends have cheated, lied, stolen; they've had affairs, fought, and gossiped, and I need Christ because I need to be able to say "There is redemption and restoration, and there is forgiveness and there is reconciliation, and sin is never the most powerful thing".

I need Christ because all the willpower in the world can't make me less afraid or more patient or give me any hope of transformation. As Robbie Williams sang, "You can't manufacture a miracle", and yet, a miracle is exactly what I need to hope for, in my life, and in my friends' lives, and it would be nice to have a machine to churn out miracles on demand, but instead I can only hope and pray and hold on to the promises with the tiny grain of faith that keeps living when it should have died.

So I respect the atheists' opinion, but I respectfully exercise my right to disagree; I know that others will say they don't need Christ for any of this, but I can only say that I do, and why don't we all just get on with things that matter and not be twerps about it?

Friday, 15 November 2013

This Post Is A Bit Serious And Contains A Smattering Of Religion. I'm also not really sure why I'm telling you it, except that it's in my head and I want to get it out.

Well, over 2 people thought the "Here's-a-headline-and-I-wrote-a-better-article" thing was a good idea, so I'll be doing that forthwith.  In the meantime, I've been Thinking Thinks, and decided to share some of them, for no real reason except that sometimes Thinks make more sense when they're written down and you can have a good look at them.

Recently I was looking through old diaries and journals, and came upon some stuff from about 2000-2001, when I did a Thing called "Encounter" - a kind of discipleship / Sonship course, which involved about 20-25 Irish people and some Americans all meeting in a little village south of Dublin and Learning Stuff for a fortnight, before being sent to far-flung places like Galway to work with churches for a week (that was a whole other experience, which we'll save for a time when I have the emotional strength to dig it all up again).

Anyway, part of this was that you got stuck in a "discipleship group" with a few others, and you talked about your problems*.  So I was with 2 others, who we'll call Lorraine and Christine, since that's what they're actually called.  I like to describe the three of us as "The discipleship group from Hell", because, while we're all very nice people, in general, we all arrived on the Thing refusing to talk about ourselves or share experiences or generally do any of the things that make a discipleship group actually work and not just be really awkward.

*I'm not sure that that was really what we were meant to do, but it sounded more doom-laden when we put it that way, and we liked that.

I remember being asked things like "What are you struggling with at the moment?" and it wasn't just that I was being awkward (I mean, I WAS also being awkward, but even if I hadn't been, that wasn't even close to the main issue), it was more that I really honestly couldn't have told you what I struggled with, because I didn't like Thinking Of Such Things.  If you'd asked me whether I was happy with who I was, I'd immediately have laughed and said "no" (well, I might have said "yes", but that would have been to stop you asking any more awkward questions), but if you asked me for specifics, I'd have been at a total loss.

During that time, I was keeping a journal fairly regularly, and one of the Bible verses I wrote that week was "Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from you and give you a heart of flesh." (Ezekiel 36:26), and I remember feeling that I had a heart of stone because it didn't seem to really do "feelings" and stuff very well, so I prayed that God would soften it and put feelings in it and that, even though I had a notion that I might not like That Sort of Thing, but I figured I could always throw them back out if I had to.

The thing is, I'm not an especially good person.  This is not me-bashing.  I'm not an especially bad person either.  I'm just a regular person, and I have good points and bad points.  But I've always loved an excuse.  Like, when I read stuff about how I should love other people, I liked to be able to say "Ah, yes, but that command is for people who can do stuff like that.  Not for me.  I just exist to facilitate everyone else doing that."  In the great mosaic of life, where everyone adds their own little bit of colour, I liked to think of myself as the grouting.  I'm there, I show up, you can see me if you look, things wouldn't go well without me, but I don't actually add anything much.  I liked to think that stuff that happened in the past meant that I had a sort of free pass to skip bits of the Bible.  I didn't have the capacity to love other people, I told myself, so therefore I was exempt.  I didn't have a ton of people in my life who loved me or did stuff for me, so it was ok to not love people all that much.

Don't get me wrong; I was all for compassion and goodness and kindness and things like that happening, and if I was able to do the dishes afterwards then I could feel ok about myself, but I didn't like to think that I could actually DO anything to make myself more compassionate or loving or generous or whatever, because then I'd have to actually DO something involving feelings.

I liked to be liked, though.  We all do, I think.  I liked to be nice to people, and to help out where I could, and to listen to problems and be all sympathetic about them.  And I was aware that sometimes sympathy wasn't the best course of action, but if I tried to suggest that perhaps plotting to kill the person who'd annoyed you wasn't the best course of action*, then you might not like me, so I'd go back to sympathy.

* Dear Police, this never actually happened

But then stuff started to change.  Our little group started the fortnight by spending our hour (or whatever it was) of discipleship group time studying the daisies and making jokes to break the tension, and ended it by actually talking about stuff.  Like, not major stuff.  But stuff.  At some point someone even cried a little. Then we went to Galway and we all came back exhausted and ill, and suddenly all the feelings inside me exploded all over the place one night.  The leader of the Thing was summonsed, and I sobbed on her shoulder for about half an hour, howling out the most random sentences known to mankind before or since, and she very patiently held me tight and then pointed out that maybe I was a self-centered, people-pleasing ball of anger and confusion who used excuses to stop having to move on or let God work* and suddenly I realised that maybe that was true, and maybe I couldn't just excuse it away, and maybe it might be ok to deal with it.

* I think she said it nicer than that, though.  But I wouldn't swear to it.

So suddenly the heart of stone started to crack a little, and let stuff happen.  Not much stuff, and not very fast, but I could stop blaming myself and my past and my fundamentally flawed personality for not being able to say hello to a new person who'd just come into the room, and I'd start going over to chat.  Awkwardly, of course.  It is a merciful thing that I don't remember my early attempts at being a Normal Sociable Person.  But I started to discover that people weren't really looking at me and thinking "Why is this girl with the weird facial expressions and weird voice who looks all weird having a weird conversation with me?", but really they were thinking "Does she think I'm weird? At least she's talking to me so I don't have to stand here like a weird freak on my own.", because really, I'm not the centre of everyone else's universe, and that's probably ok.

And then after a little while I could open myself up to being generous and taking little risks like giving people stuff and risking that they might give me something back and then I'd be stuck in some sort of viscious cycle of gift-giving, or else I'd look bad for not saying Thank You loudly enough, or else they wouldn't like what I gave them or they'd just think it was weird.  And I started to stop giving things just to make people like me, and started giving them just because I thought they might make the other person happy.  And I stopped really noticing whether the things I did for people made them like me or not, and I just went on doing things because there was joy in it.

And after a while that got to be ok, and, to cut a long story short, I started to open myself up to the idea that maybe I could try to love people properly, and focus on them instead of on myself, but in an encouraging way and not in a comparing myself to them way.  And maybe I could be honest and say "I know you want to kill that person, but maybe you shouldn't" and maybe they'd reject me and not talk to me again, but maybe that wasn't the end of the world, and maybe it was even better than just encouraging them to kill the person so I didn't look like a party pooper.  And maybe I could let them love me too, and I could be vulnerable sometimes, and accept help and allow other people to give it and not have to immediately make it up to them, and not be obssessed with what it would make them think of me.

And after another while, I realised that it was actually ok to obey what God said and to love other people, because it's not about me anyway, and if I screw it up, I have a couple of friends who were in that discipleship staring at daisies who have seen the bad and the good and who love me anyway, and then I thought that maybe that's a bit like what God is like, only he's even better, and then I started to get more friends like that, and then I think maybe I started to be that kind of friend for other people sometimes too.  And it turned out that other people actually thought that being secure in Christ as a child of God was more important than being good and right all the time, and that I could drop the pretence and not have to be perfect, and actually that was much better and safer and more exciting than always trying to be good and right and then having to run away and hide and never speak to people again when I messed up or gave in to temptation or couldn't be bothered or decided to have fun doing things my way.

So I'm thinking that somewhere along the way, quite a lot of what was stony and scared has been replaced with flesh and confidence, and even though that sometimes means that I care too much and probably annoy the feck out of people (especially the people who just want to block things out and stare at daisies), and even though there are still a lot of stony bits that I probably don't even know about, and a lot of the good bits are messed up in some ways, and there could be a lot more good bits and a lot less bad bits, I think I find much more joy and freedom in being this way, and overall, I think I would recommend it.