TAF Real World – Week #2 of 51

We want to hear/see/read/experience your thoughts on LOVING OUT LOUD, how you showed love to someone, or how someone loved on you.
If you didn’t sign up for a week at TAF2010, please sign up here!
Instructions are listed on the spreadsheet.

Jeff blogs on WEEK 2 (or 50 WEEKS ’til TAF):

TAF 2010. Two weeks ago, I was still very much the awkward, shy, and skinny kid who entered Helman three years back. I still hated looking silly or vulnerable and I was still terribly scared of large groups of people. Two weeks ago, I was a JH counselor. Counselor. Facilitator. Initiator. Come on. None of these are appropriate descriptors for me, and that week, unfortunately, I let that same negative sentiment linger in my head.

I could not communicate at all at TAF. Sometimes during staff meetings I found it so hard to verbalize what I wanted to say that I ended up just keeping quiet. Sometimes as we sat down as a small group to discuss and share, I gazed around blankly at the attentive faces waiting for me to initiate dialogue, and I honestly had no idea what to say. Perhaps it was a result of the lack of sleep, mental unpreparedness, or some kind of psychological disease/phenomena, but I now know that for the most part, the reason I couldn’t adequately communicate that week was because I feared judgment. I was afraid of looking stupid and of somehow tarnishing the image I wanted to project of myself. I was scared to death of disapproval and rejection. Despite this, I knew- knew in my head- that regardless, there were people like the JH staff who would understand, support, and encourage— if only I told them. I faltered, even there, and looking back, I wish that I had shared my problem with someone. At the time, though, thoughts about the apparent silliness of the problem discouraged me from talking about it, so I kept silent.

On Monday, there was a girl who came to yoyos workshop looking bored. Knowing that there were no more yoyos left to use, I sat down. “What’s up? Are you here to learn yoyo? Have you
done yoyo before?” Her eyes looked up, made a quick mental calculation, and she shook her head. Inside my head, I kicked myself– Oh, God, here we go again. What a buffoon I am. I
look like I’m feeling sorry for her. Way to be a condescending counselor. Tactical fail. I tried again
—“Going to be in eighth grade next year? Are you ready?” What a generic question. What
if she’s not? What’ll I ask next?
She looked up again, shook her head, and spoke—“Can I go to the folk dance workshop?” I was flabbergasted. Open-mouthed, I consented in a voice that
sounded very far away, leaving me stupidly sitting and twiddling a pair of yoyo sticks I had been trying to fix.

All week long at TAF I let little things bother me. It irked me that I’d lost one of the campers so early on. It irked me that I couldn’t be as witty as I’d liked to be. It irked me that I couldn’t contribute meaningfully to staff meetings. It irked me also that I hadn’t brought enough shirts for the ~8 days at TAF. All around in my head, irksome thoughts bounced, slowly battering away at the confidence that remained. The less confident I was, the less able I was to communicate. Sometimes I couldn’t stand it. I would retreat away from everything and preoccupy myself with wild questions of why I couldn’t simply speak.

On Wednesday night I met up with one of the campers. It wasn’t even a conversation I’d headed
deliberately into. I was caught completely unprepared, initially swamped with thoughts about
how small group had gone and about how to do laundry at TAF. I didn’t expect the campers
in JH to have yet experienced life crises or anything like that; after all, this was JH– fun and
games JH. JH we feel good, oh we feel so good JH. That perspective was instantly shattered as
I listened to the camper talk about family problems, about moving, and about being new and
unaccepted. About only being able to disclose thoughts onto pad and paper and about depressive
thoughts of rejection and of not having anybody to confide in for support and encouragement.

Somehow, right then, my heart broke for this camper and for JH. The problems people as young as JH’ers experience are real, life-size, and life-changing. TAF is not just a weeklong fun and games camp– it’s also a sanctuary for healing and affirmation. To some degree, everyone has a need for both of those.

When the camper finished talking, I was dazed. I didn’t know what to say. I floundered for words and babbled something about life and unfairness, but the camper stopped me. “Jeff. I know you’re trying somehow to comfort or advise me, but let me tell you—it’s okay. As long as you’re here to even listen to me talk about my problems, it’s enough. ‘Cause no one else will.” The words slowly permeated into my head like the endless swirls in the table I was peering into.

I nodded slowly, not because I was excusing my own inadequacies as a friend, but because then I understood: it doesn’t matter how quick-witted, insightful, or articulate you are as a communicator— what really matters is the heart that fills the communicative vessel. Is it filled with love and genuine care? Does it care enough to set aside personal wants and standards to meet the needs of others? Does it care enough to stop loving itself so to love others?

Because when it does, wonderful, amazing things happen.
That week, I learned once again how to love.

6 Responses to “TAF Real World – Week #2 of 51”

  1. Wow Jeff,

    your blogpost has been most blessing to read! i noticed you didnt seem like yourself during taf week and i was really worried 🙁

    im really glad that you learned how to love yo 🙂

    press on!

  2. JEFFREY NIAN! ….i don’t even know what i was going to say…lol. but ur blog brought tears to my eyes 🙂 care to talk more about it at church sometime? er now im just being awkward sorry haha LOVE OUT LOUD! wait i hope this IS Jeffrey Nian…lol

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