“I Don’t Know How You Do It” and Other Mysteries of Rhetoric

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The first time I can recall being told that I would be a tough act to follow, I was about 13 years old and it was the woman cutting my hair. At the time, I recall having no idea what she meant, but thinking it didn’t so much sound like a compliment. Marme was quick to reassure me that it was, and I do actually put forth concentrated effort into taking things the way they are intended, so I chose to believe her. And yet, as the years have gone on, I admit that some form of this comment and its companion comment (“I just don’t know how you do it”) has followed me in my relationships with other people and I am finally beginning to second guess.

There are two primary categories that these comments fall into. The first involves the unique set of trials God has given me. The second involves the unique manner of dress I have adopted while living out these trials.

It never fails to amuse me when ladies say things like, “I don’t know how you are gutsy! I could never wear that!” Or my personal favorite, “How do you wear that??” Despite rumors that may abound, I actually put on my pants the same way you do (to the best of my knowledge, anyway). Ditto hats, socks, shoes. I probably do put my bra on differently, but I don’t want to get into that here, let’s keep it friendly for the kids, eh what? Because while these well-intentioned ladies may marvel that my hair is the color of a sunset or I wear wide-brimmed hats, tall heels, or those faux leather pants we discussed at length last week, I marvel equally hard, if not harder, that they can stand to wear beige. Gobsmacked. Getting dressed just to be covered and to go unnoticed? To look in the mirror and manage not to see yourself because you actually blend into the blank wall behind you? How do you wear that??

The answer I generally give, if said lady sticks around long enough to get an actual answer to a rhetorical question (therein lies the danger of asking questions like that, you know — someone might answer. It is like asking a kid if they want to be a ballerina when they grow up and then finding them staring you down, unblinking, waiting for you to hand over the leotard you must be hiding behind your back) is that I decide to. And that’s the truth. How do you get the nerve to wear leopard print shoes? You decide to. I assume it is the same mental fortitude required for deciding to wear boring brown shoes instead of opting for red patent leather. Personally, I break out in cold sweats just thinking about it, but some of you are made of sterner stuff than I am.

It is a similar dialogue when folks are getting introduced to our extra special little situation in life. In my defense, I really do attempt to introduce people slowly, Hansel and Gretel-like, with tiny bursts of information…

“What’s that? Why, yes, the weather is lovely today. Speaking of feeding tubes and multiple personalities…”

But eventually, the truth must come out and because I think most people discover quickly that there really is no perfect response, no “right” thing to say, they often revert to, “I don’t know how you do it!”

This strikes me as funny for several reasons.

First of all, it is actually the opposite of wanting to know, and I know this because I do the same thing every time my husband works on the car. Wow! That thing you just did with the metal swirly bit and the greasy thing and the whiz bang pow — I don’t know how you do it!! Were he actually to explain how he does it, it would take hours to make the buzzing sound in my ears stop. It is a showing of respect, not curiosity.

I mean no criticism here. What strikes me as most interesting, however, is that while the question is almost always intended rhetorically, it does have an answer. I could actually describe the logistics of my life –how we handle the medical complexities, what I use to cope with pain and madness and whatever else– but more importantly, the “how I do it” spiritually is the same answer for how you “do” the trials God has given you: by His strength. By His grace. For His glory.

The Lord has not equipped me for your trials. He has equipped me for mine. The situation you are in at this very moment is handcrafted for you, designed with you in mind. It perfectly fits every last one of your kinks, is hard where you have stubborn sins that needs wearing away at, is soft where you need comfort, and I couldn’t do it. Because it is for you. So there is no room for us to envy one another, or to feel sheepish and small in the face of another’s trial, or to feel shame over the littleness of our faith, because that too is a gift of God and He provides what you need, when you need it, and not a moment before. We can lift one another up in prayer, we can stand shoulder to shoulder in the midst of hardship and affliction because that is one of the ways that God, in His kindness, equips us to bear up under them, yet each follower of Christ has their own load to bear, unique to them, and it is very good. It matters not if my trials are red patent leather heels and yours are a sensible brown clog. They are from His hand. Give thanks.

4 Responses

  1. Ellen
    | Reply

    “hard where you have stubborn sins that needs wearing away at, is soft where you need comfort…” WOW. This I may pirate….

    • barb
      | Reply

      Well, seeing as I haven’t finished making those anti-piracy ads to run before each post, I say go nuts with it.

  2. Mooska
    | Reply

    You’ve come a LONG way from mixing your greens dear. 😉

    • barb
      | Reply

      Ah, but a long way which direction, is the question. 😉

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