Winning & Losing

You can’t win every day; some days you’re just going to lose.

I remember saying that to one of my roommates while I was in Thailand for student teaching. We were struggling through culture shock and adaptation and we came face to face with the reality that mistakes and disappointments were bound to happen. That vocabulary stayed with me as I moved and changed jobs and living situations. Last summer, I started referring to experiences or even entire days as “winning” or “losing.” It was a humorous way to document the initial struggles of real life after college graduation.

I’ve been learning that life is composed of both “winning” days and “losing” days. At my current stage of life, winning days are comprised of finding extra coupons, developing superb navigational skills, and getting ahead on work. Losing days might resemble the bills being due before the paycheck, experiencing crazy coworkers, or making stupid mistakes.

When we experience the phenomenon known as “winning” and “losing,” we are experiencing real life. Perhaps we have days or weeks or even months of “losing,” and that’s normal. Usually, however, winning and losing days are interspersed with regular quality days, which is also normal. I would caution that months and months of feeling like you’re losing might be an indication that good Christian counseling could be a good next step for you.

I feel strongly that there are at least two reasons we should not let “winning” or “losing” days define us.

Losing Days Do Not a “Loser” Make

When was the last time you called yourself a failure? Remember it. Well, let that be the last time.

See, a problem we often face (and I have seen this in my life and in the lives of others) is when we take the winning and losing days as indications of who we are. One week I experienced “a week of Mondays” in which every day was bad enough to be a Monday. I took that experience and said to myself something along these lines: “I am a failure. I can’t do this. I can’t be a teacher. Nothing is working right. No one understands me. I’m not good enough.” And then I took that different work at work and applied it to my other roles in life: “I’m failing as a daughter, a friend, a sister, a girlfriend…”

Okay, before you give me heat, think about the times you’ve said something similar to yourself. Negative self-talk is a beast. And listening to Satan is a death sentence. Give that guy a foothold, and you’re done for.

None of what I told myself was true. I was doubting in the dark what God had told me in the light. God has already made it very clear that I’m supposed to be a teacher. He has already proven his goodness and graciousness to me. I know it’s difficult to move from college to the “real world,” but God has already told me that he is with me and will be with me through anything. In fact, I may have been struggling that week, but it did not change who I was.

Everyone Has Them

The end of Matthew chapter five tells us to love our enemies. God gives to them even the general grace he gives to us. Similarly, God allows the general pain to befall both believers and the enemies of believers. In the NIV, Matthew 5:45 reads…

He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Everyone gets the sunshine and the rain. One reason I think God gives us all both sunshine and rain is because his desire is that all people come to know him. By using the sun and rain to provide for everyone’s needs for food and to show Himself through creation, he is giving those who do not know him even more opportunities to see him and his power and goodness.

Therefore, our response to losing days should not be self-pity (“Why am I such a loser?”) but acknowledgement of the pain that sin has caused and an awareness that maybe God might just use the losing days to bring about something great. He’s in the habit of redeeming and restoring things like that. I’ve seen God take horrific circumstances and turn them into great and wonderful expressions of his love and rescue and power. (I have been writing about redemption and restoration for a while now. Ironically, I tend to write most about those themes in the month of April!)

When unbelievers see us responding to difficult circumstances and “losing days” with gratitude and hope in God’s providence and provision, they’ll know that something is up, and they just might start asking questions.

I’m writing this post as I’m working through Ann Voskamp‘s One Thousand Gifts. She compares learning the language of gratitude to learning a second language. In the book, she explains that she is writing down a list of things she is grateful for, adding to the list each day, as if she were copying vocabulary in a second language.

As a English as a Second Language teacher who has spent time with Spanish, Cantonese, Lao, and Thai, I connect with that comparison. What if gratitude is a language we must practice using in order to get better at it? What if we must practice listening to, reading, speaking, and writing gratefulness before it will stick? Perhaps being thankful in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18) is something that must be learned, Ann writes.

To this end, my challenge now becomes: What if we were thankful on “losing” days, too? It’s easy to be thankful on “winning” days, especially if our attitudes are in the right place. But we are not called to be grateful only in some circumstances. We are actually specifically called to be grateful even in troubles.

I have a sneaky feeling that if we named specific things, whether tangible or otherwise, and thanked God for them, even on “losing” days, we would feel less and less like “losers” and more and more like the children of God we really are. See, we aren’t “losers.” God didn’t give us that name when he called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. God calls us chosenset apartholybelonging to GodGod’s delight, and God’s bride (2 Peter 2:9, Psalm 18:19, Isaiah 62:4).

We will have losing days. We will have winning days. Do not let either day define you. Let gratitude for who God is and what God has done for you be your definition. Circumstances will change, but God does not.

Tears and Comfort Food

It happened this morning. My eyes started “leaking” again.

It felt just like it did two years ago when God called me to Asia for a summer

I had just finished my online Bible Study for the day. The passage for today is Philippians 2:1-5, and I reflected on the study group Facebook page: “True fellowship and true compassion happen when I take an interest in other people and consider their needs before my own.” I read up through verse 11, and basked in Christ’s humility, even unto death, that brought about life and hope for me. What a beautiful act of sacrifice.

Then I checked the blogs I read often to see what had been updated over the weekend. A Deeper Story author, Velynn, wrote a deep and meaningful post on an experience in which she felt judged and how she sought solace through her comfort foods. She titled the post “A Fried Chicken Kind of Day.” Velynn, an African American woman, wrote regarding the post’s title:

I was reluctant to title the post this way but it would have been untruthful [if I had not. I was] afraid of projecting a stereotype, but the truth is soul food is where I’m from. And those days when I experience racism subtle and/or overt I reach out quickly and grab those things that comfort and restore my place in this world.

I understand this.

Although my first lunch choice is a sliced turkey, tomato, and Duke’s mayonnaise sandwich on wheat bread with a Dr. Pepper, I have found myself in many different food circumstances based on the different financial situations, people, cultures, and countries I’ve experienced. I’m the kind of person who would enjoy a fancy dinner in a nice dress with multiple forks and cloth tablecloths just as much as I would enjoy licking my fingers after eating pulled pork barbecue on a paper plate. I have spent some special occasions at a Japanese steakhouse and some at a small town Hardee’s. I have sat on the floor with my feet tucked under me until they fell asleep eating spicy duck larp in lettuce wraps. I have guzzled down guoy tee-ow and khao soi with a soup spoon in my left hand and chopsticks in my right hand in a Thai shopping mall. I have eaten fried chicken legs and wings with sticky rice and sweet chili sauce. I have unwrapped homemade corn tortillas alongside Mexican brothers and sisters. I’ve eaten pork and mushroom satays with peanut dipping sauce. I’ve had Dim Sum with jasmine tea in Hong Kong twice. I have eaten pizza in three different countries. I can cook salmon patties and fried squash one day and then turn around and whip up vegetarian Pad Thai the next.

Food is one of the easiest ways for me to talk about cultural differences. I understand the desire for comfort food when you’re feeling different, uncomfortable, or judged. I missed my sliced turkey sandwiches in Thailand. Interestingly, I now miss guoy tee-ow in America!

Ironically, the next blog post on my feed was by Rachel Pieh Jones, who lives in Djibouti in Africa with her family. She is posting on culture shock in pictures this week, including clothing and my personal favorite, grocery stores. Again, the issue of food came up. I thought back to Lao markets on the side of a dirt road, Hong Kong Wellcome stores with basement produce and meat sections, Thai shopping malls, that convenience store in my muu bann in Chiang Mai, the mae-hia market where we bought fresh fruit and flowers… 

That’s when my eyes started leaking, because I realized that I want to go overseas again. What a terrifying and exciting realization. I enjoy learning new cultures, clothing, cooking, and dialects. I am fascinated by the different ways people use language: spoken, written, and non-verbal. I like seeing the way cultures affect people. I like the feel of new languages on my tongue. I am terribly fearful of the unknown, but also terribly excited for new things. I long to listen to people who are different from me, to hear their stories, to teach them and learn from them. 

When I talk about going overseas, I much more aware of Philippians chapter two. New cultures are difficult to adjust to, and always make me realize that other people will not change their culture for me. Whatever rights I think I have as an American are not “something to cling to,” but rather something to give up. In any culture, albeit difficult, I am called to “look out not only for my own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” Whenever I go into a new situation, I am tempted to assert my authority, knowledge, and power, but instead I am called to go in with humility and an attempt to understand. I am called to go in with my mouth shut and my ears open. 

And sometimes, my eyes are “leaking,” too. It’s a sign that I feel God working. Maybe this morning’s Bible and blog post reading is a sign that God is still moving in all areas of my life. He is molding and shaping me to be prepared for the tasks to which he has called me. I don’t know what those will be. I don’t know where life will find me in a few years. But I know that God knows what he’s doing. His plans were already at work long before I came along and they will continue after I pass on. Who am I that he would include me in his magnificent plans? I am blessed beyond measure, no matter what my comfort food happens to be.