How a Stranger Got me to Re-Post Paper Sam & the Power of Words

The start to my Wednesday has not been ideal. I left an unfinished cup of coffee (a delicious cup, mind you) on my counter, I rushed to the bus, my son wasn’t feeling well…but those are minor. When I got to the subway I walked toward the end of the platform, the perfect place for me to hop off and head straight for the exit at the Park Street stop. The platform wasn’t crowded and at this point most who were idly standing by were men.

And then out of nowhere came words directed solely at me. loud and surly: “Skank” “Bitch”. My eyes followed the sound of the words and a man, scruffy and unshaved, looked directly at me, his lips curling in complete hate. He repeated the words as I walked quickly away, heart pounding.

The train could not come fast enough. He was a stranger yet these vitriolic words flew out of his mouth directed at me. 

But here’s what’s startling – while I knew the minute I heard the words that he was seriously mentally ill, that while the words were directed at me, they weren’t about me – those words stayed with me. They sank in and I wanted to cry. I know that I’m neither of those words. They don’t apply to me, or any other woman – but they still worked their way into my tired heart. And so I decided to re-post a piece I did a year ago called “Paper Sam and the Power of Words”. 


The trainer pulled out a plain white piece of paper. On the paper was a simple drawing of a face: two dot eyes and a single line upturned to symbolize a smile.

Paper Sam Before Insults

“This is Sam” he said. The activity was simple. Beginning at the front of the room each person was to go back in time to the days of playgrounds and small friends. We would pass around the picture of “Paper Sam” and say something that was said to us in childhood that hurt. Before passing on the innocent piece of paper that had become Sam we were to crumple it up.

So the words and the subsequent crumpling began:

“You’re weak!” Crumple.

You’re ugly!” Crumple

“You’re so fat!” Crumple

“You have no dad!” Crumple

“You stutter!” Crumple

After 20 insults, Paper Sam was a crumpled mess. And then the activity was reversed. Paper Sam was sent around the room again, only this time we were to take Sam and repeat words that someone had said to us in our adult life that demonstrated they believed in us. After delivering those words we were to take crumpled, almost destroyed Paper Sam and smooth him out, try to remove some of the impact and take away those wrinkles.

The contrast couldn’t have been more profound:

“You can do this!”

“You are incredibly capable!”

“You are a role model for others”

“You are a real leader.”

“I encourage you to go back to school – you are so smart.”

“You are gifted with people.”

“Your family must be so proud.”

20 phrases later Paper Sam was smoother but still bore some residual scars. There was no way that all that crumpling could be undone, it was too much and too prolonged

We all know the power of words, but sometimes we are given a new way of looking at that power. Watching Paper Sam crumpled time upon time as memories of words came flooding out was poignant and powerful. We had personalized Sam – he was us and each time he took a beating we took a beating. Equally powerful were the attempts to smooth the crinkles and restore Paper Sam to his former self through words of affirmation and acts of restoration. That too was us.

Paper Sam – Restored with scars

While words of insult tear down, words of affirmation restore. While some hands crumple and crush, others gently smooth. While sin tears down, grace and redemption restore.

Where have you seen the power of words in your life for good or for ill? Tell your story in the comment section. 

Fifty Shades of Barbie

Warning – Reader should note that this is not erotica fiction.

I’m joining the throngs of those who are capitalizing on the year’s fifty shades theme. At a recent visit to Target my daughters and I happened on the Barbie aisle. Oh.My.Word.

When did Barbie become an untamed monster?

While some may think she was always a monster, I liked her. I never saw Barbie as ‘real’. She didn’t have a figure I wanted – she was plastic. I found real images to be far more damaging in terms of affecting my body image. Barbie was just a doll with hard plastic boobs – nothing I wanted to be, just something I wanted to play with, dress, pretend with, catch her kissing in the shoe box with Ken (or better, GI Joe) à la Erma Bombeck. 

JuliaMy first (perhaps only) Barbie was a “Julia” Doll. “Julia-Barbie” was created after a hit television show that aired from 1969 through 1971 called “Julia”. It starred Diahann Carroll in the role of Julia, a widowed single mom who worked as a nurse. It was ground breaking in casting an African-American as the lead. Julia the Doll was ground breaking as well.

It was the early ’70’s and most dolls were white. Julia had brown skin.

As I look back on the time and my desire for a Barbie, I appreciate that my parents purposely decided that Malibu Barbie would be incongruent with raising a daughter in Pakistan, a country where whites are the minority and most people have skin color of varying shades of brown. While Malibu Barbie may have been the dream of other 12-year olds, the minute I held my Julia Doll I ran around the house screaming with excitement. She was beautiful with her big brown eyes, cute short haircut, and her nursing uniform…yes – Julia came complete with a crisp, white, tailored uniform and a nursing cap. I was in a heaven of sorts.

I also went on to become a nurse. I’m not sure if my Julia Doll had anything to do with it but it certainly didn’t hurt.

So while there have always been variations on the Barbie theme, they seemed more manageable. Now? It’s nuts.

Take a look and see for yourself through this Fifty Shades of Barbie Photo Montage. Then weigh in through the comments on these questions:  Do you like Barbie? Has Barbie become a monster or was she always a monster? Did you have a Barbie and if so, which kind? Did you want to be Barbie, or did you see her for what she is – pure plastic?

The Opposite Sex as Seen Through the Eyes of the Little Rascals

The lights were out and our heads had gratefully hit our pillows. It had been a long day with a lot of worries. We had prayed for our kids as per our usual bedtime routine (unless we’re fighting – speaking of which, I wonder if our kids should keep journals and we could do an informal study of those days when we don’t pray for them because of our stubbornness and fighting and those that we do and document the difference! We could then write a book on prayer! But I digress…) As I lay there tears filled my eyes and I began to cry. And then a voice from the other pillow, a voice who has known me in both the Biblical and emotional sense, for over 27 years, said “Oh no you don’t! Don’t you go crying! We’re tired. We can’t have crying!” I stopped short, my mouth open. Hadn’t he read the script?! He was supposed to either be snoring and oblivious, or to say “Honey, what’s wrong? How can I help?” He was not supposed to say “Oh no you don’t!” I began to laugh, and with the laughter the tears quickly dried.

From crying into pillow cases to “Does this make me look fat?” the differences between the sexes abound and it’s so much more than a p. and a v. Although told we are made from Adam’s rib, we know that God did a whole lot of something to that rib as He fashioned us.

Throughout the ages writers, philosophers, physicians, and pastors have attempted to use literature to write about the differences between men and women, boys and girls. Some are best sellers, others are out of print; some are worth reading, others are worth trashing; some make you think, some just stink. So it was with great pleasure that I re-discovered timeless wisdom on the differences between boys and girls, men and women. I think you will agree with me that no literature can compare with  this infinite wisdom from “Little Rascals”. Please take a look – it’s a short clip and it will surely resonate on this Wednesday morning. Enjoy!

With thanks to my daughter Annie for directing me to the clip!

On another note, today I reach 75,000 views in a year and 2 months of blogging. With this milestone I am not doing a giveaway (saving that for 100,000 views!) but picking two readers – one who has been with me since almost the beginning and one that just came on board a couple of weeks ago – and sending them a gift card or a book. The two are Weaving Tapestries and The Walker Lady, respectively. I will be in touch through email with your gifts! A huge thankyou to all of you who find this worth reading! If you think your friends would enjoy Communicating Across Boundaries, please share with them. I’ve made it easy to do so through the link on the left column of the blog with the orange plus sign. Also, make sure you “Like” the Facebook page!

Crossing the Athletic Line

Murree was not kind to children who could not cross the “Athletic Line”. Sports played a big role in both the school community as well as “popularity potential”. In the fall, when leaves were changing from green to gold there was field hockey for the girls and flag football for the guys. As November came, and the cold stone classrooms held the smell of kerosene from tiny heaters working overtime to offer at least a bit of heat, athletes kept warm on the sports fields playing soccer. And in the spring basketball teams for both girls and boys were formed.

I could not cross the athletic line. From the time I could remember, whether the game was Capture the Flag or Steal the Bacon, I was last to be picked for any team. I dreaded standing in line and waiting…waiting…waiting as girls and boys were one by one picked to join a team. It inevitably came down to one or two of us and the silent prayer “Please God, let them pick me, don’t let me be last, not this time God…”. And sometimes that prayer was answered, although the older I got the more I realized there were most probably competing prayers prayed in those dreadful moments and wondered how God decided the outcome. Was it like picking a daisy and pulling off the petals the way a preteen decides whether the boy in question “loves me or loves me not?”.

Sometimes my prayer was answered. Other times the person standing with me was picked and I could hear the audible sigh the minute their name was called. I dared not glance up to see their look of pity as they awkwardly ran to take their place. It is easy to both write and laugh about this now. To my knowledge, no matter how good anyone at Murree was at sports, none went on to compete professionally. In other words, they were good, but they weren’t that good. Their achievements were limited to our small school “nestled ‘neath the great Himalayas” and faded black and white photos showing teams lined up in green and white uniforms are all that’s left of their athletic prowess.

There was one time when I made it on to the girls soccer team. In my junior year of high school, the Walsh girls were unable to attend an inter-school tournament at the end of the semester as they lived in Bangladesh and had already booked flights back home. The Walsh girls served as a reminder that life was not fair. They were beautiful, smart, kind, and athletic, capturing the imagination of every boy at Murree and the envy of many of us girls. That year, I got to take their place on the soccer field and go to the tournament and play my hardest. The trade was unfair.

All of this was years ago, and is easy to laugh and write about now, but at the time it held all the pain of adolescent angst. What is interesting about this memory of waiting to be picked for a team is that I still have my moments of feeling exactly as I did during those years of being picked last. To the outside eye I am successful. I have achieved success in my career, I never worry about my sports ability but enjoy physical activity, and I have an amazing family. But the “Please God, pick me, pick me” times come around every once in a while, like I am on the sidelines of being picked for a team, waiting while the captain looks us over making their decisions based on what they know of our athletic skill, except it’s no longer athletic skill, it’s “ability to do life” skill. I’m feeling a bit like this now.

This too shall pass. Thankfully I’m old enough to learn that while I feel like a child, I have the choice to respond as an adult. That means I’ll hold my head high until my name is called.

A friend, Pat, who attended Murree for only one year, the year after I graduated, posted a quote under her yearbook picture that I’ve tried to recall for years. It goes something like this:

Just when I think I’m all grown up, I learn some astounding fact of life and feel like a child who thinks she’s mastered the art of tying her shoes, only to realize that one loop doesn’t make a bow.