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False Expectations: Labels, Limits & Love

bradleyDo you find yourself using stereotypes to frame your expectations of people…including yourself? 

Three weeks ago, I was serving at a medical complex for special needs orphans in China when a young man named Bradley sat next to me during dinner. He mentioned he was 14 and I knew he was the son of a staff member at this orphanage. Assuming I’d get the proverbial eye roll if I asked this kid probing questions about what life was like living among orphans overseas while his friends back in Texas were gearing up for homecoming…I was too scared to let myself go deep. So my mind scrambled with ways to keep our conversation light. Music, girls, food…that’s the script I stuck to. We enjoyed a lively back-and-forth exchange with lots of laughter…but fifteen minutes into our time together, Bradley paused and said: “It’s easy to hide yourself in the busyness of life back in the states. My playstation, friends, television…those distractions called my name all the time. But here you can’t run away from yourself…There’s just no escaping what God’s calling you to do.” Whew. This lovely young man taught me an invaluable lesson that night. I wrongly sized up that he was incapable of processing life with wisdom. This kid defied every false expectation I built up in my head about teenagers. Over the next several days, I listened keenly whenever Bradley spoke. I scribbled his thoughts in my journal because I wanted to remember the gems he dropped in conversation. One afternoon as we skewered beef for our final meal on the rooftop of Maria’s Big House of Hope, I said, “Bradley, you’ve changed how I’ll interact with the teenagers in my own life when I return home. Thank you.”

I’m often guilty of labeling people based on their age, race or gender…but aren’t we all? If I know about someone’s job, religion, or political preference, I tend to see them through that lens instead of seeing the person for who they really are. I don’t want to do that anymore. I don’t want to limit my ability to listen to people, learn from them…and ultimately love them. 

A woman I see off and on in church circles stopped me in the lobby the other day and said, “You know, Cat…I tune into your [radio] show all the time and had this perception you were this rah-rah cheerleader girl. But in hearing comments you’ve made face-to-face…you’re honest, irreverent…there’s more depth there.” That gave me pause. I wonder how many people cast me in this giggly girl mold that’s not fully reflective of the woman I really am. Sure, I like to have a good time and laugh like crazy when I do a fun show geared towards families for a radio station I love…but that’s a facet of who I am. Not all of who I am.

Even more dangerous than responding to people’s stereotypes of me…I wonder how much energy I’ve wasted trying to live up to a stereotype or false expectation I’ve created of myself…for myself. For years I’ve struggled to reconcile my desire to work and be a mom. A good mom. In my mind, a good, Christ-following woman should want to stay home with her kids while her husband works to provide for the family. So once we decided to expand our family, I scratched my career goals and cut my work hours in half. When my son’s adoption was final in 2010, I worked myself to death doing everything I thought a stay-at-home mom should do (grocery shopping, making meals from scratch, joining mom groups, assembling photo books to document every season in my son’s sweet life)…and woke up before the crack of dawn every day to do a morning radio show, too. I pushed myself to the brink of failing health trying to juggle it all because I felt so guilty that I worked outside the home and didn’t want my son or anyone else to think my work was more important than being a mom. Outwardly I groaned that I had to work to help my husband pay the bills…but once I got honest with myself, I confronted the reality that if we had a billion bucks in the bank, I still would want to work outside the home. And all those years where I told myself my career wasn’t important to me…was a big, fat lie. It was. It is. And that’s okay. Despite welcoming a fourth child into our home, I want to spend the next year growing in my job and dreaming of what I want my career path to look like over the next several years. And as for meals from scratch? They’re great. But Costco has become my best friend. Ready-made rotisserie chicken is a fabulous option, too!

In this season of life, I’m learning that true freedom is found in releasing false expectations other people have of us…and of expectations we have of ourselves. 

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