Lawd Jesus

My version of fight or flight looks like have-an-extreme-and/or-inappropriate-emotional-reaction or curl-up-in-the-fetal-position-in-the-corner-and-cry-until-someone-delivers-a-pint-of-Baskin-Robbins-Peanut-Butter-‘n-Chocolate. Today, I’ve been sort of oscillating between the two extremes, which basically means I was still in my pajamas at noon, I ate my weight in Halloween candy before 10 am, and I used most of a box of tissues from 9 to 10:30 am watching six too many “most emotional moments on the X-factor” YouTube videos.

(I’m a riot to live with. Truly.)

What has you all fight-or-flightish, Kelley? You’re so sweet to ask. Several things, really, but it’ll be super sad to write about a couple of them, and I’m tired of crying. Instead, I’m going to write about something else in an effort to distract myself. (Otherwise known as denial.)

So let’s talk about leggings.

Several people and a couple of “news” outlets have been sharing a video of a woman offering some style advice. Here’s the gist of it:

Some of you people like to use leggins as britches. As pants pants. That ain’t how they’re supposed to be wore. … Lawd Jesus. White leggins. Thems a big ol’ no-no.

She’s very concerned about people showing their rears, and I’m sort of confused because the leggings I know about are basically yoga pants, and people show their rears in those all the time. (Oh crap. Am I supposed to cover my rear in yoga pants?)

Why are we so offended by someone else’s choice of clothing, anyway? And why do we think we have the right to shame people for not complying with our opinion? Does “say something nice or say nothing” no longer apply? I mean, are we actually being harmed by someone else’s attire? It’s not like second-hand leggings is a thing.

Also, please never use “thems” as a substitute for “those are.” Because if you do, I can’t be friends with you anymore.

I just violated my own “nice or nothing” rule, didn’t I? Lawd Jesus.

Wrinkles

Yesterday, I was sitting on my office floor reading Furiously Happy (which you should absolutely read, unless you’re repulsed by the f-bomb and really random stories about everything from surprise funerals to taxidermied racoons) and blow-drying my hair when I caught my reflection in my little round mirror.

Except it didn’t look like my reflection at all; it looked like one of those old lady dolls people used to make out of pantyhose. Please tell me you know what I’m talking about. (I googled “pantyhose dolls” to be sure they’re actually a thing, and they are. Or were, anyway. Oh, and if you choose to google “pantyhose dolls” be prepared to erase your browsing history, because, well, ew. You’ll see what I mean if you google it. But don’t.) (Side note: Pantyhose is right up there with moist in terms of worst words ever.)

ANYWAY. Up until about three years ago, people were all, “No way! You can’t have high-school-age kids!” And I was all, “Yes way! And thank you!” and that is no longer happening because my face is like a relief map of the Grand Canyon. No, I am not exaggerating. My reflection was startling. I mean, I knew I was more lined-up than several of my high school classmates (who apparently don’t age at all and I’m looking at you Lori), but until that moment—with all that natural light coming in through my 10 giant office windows—I didn’t realize that I have more wrinkles than my 69-year-old mother.

I knew you wouldn’t believe me, so here’s a photo.

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Go ahead: Click on it to enlarge it, and start counting. I told you! 

I sat there and stared at that mirror for several, long moments. I let my face muscles totally relax. I recounted countless sunburns and sleepless nights. I got pissed off because I know life-long smokers with better skin than I have. I thought about all the gazillion-dollar “solutions” on the market—creams and serums and potions designed to take years off my face.

And then I said, out loud, “Oh, who the hell cares?” and went back to reading my book and drying my hair.

I’ve earned my wrinkles. They have stories. (Well, except for the one under my nose. I have no idea what causes a wrinkle to appear there, and if it’s some strange facial expression I make, I’d rather not know.) My forehead lines, for example, started forming 125 years ago in middle school, which is when I discovered that raising my eyebrows made my eyes look bigger (and, according to Teen magazine, better), so I walked around looking perpetually surprised. For all I know, I’m still doing it.

That “Oh, who the hell cares?” moment was so freeing that I’m looking for other things to which I can apply it. My gray hair. The extra 10 pounds I’m carrying around. The fact that the stones in my engagement and wedding rings aren’t real diamonds. (Intentionally. I can’t be trusted with nice things.) The lack of seasonal soaps in my bathrooms. The windowsills I haven’t cleaned in a decade. (Go ahead and say, “Gross!” but here’s the thing: I never look at them. No one ever looks at them. When we’re ready to sell this house and move into our tiny home, I’ll clean them as a courtesy to the next owners, but for now? Who the hell cares?)

This is freeing, you guys. It’s like I’m flipping the bird at Cosmo, HGTV, The Shane Company, and Bath and Body Works AT THE SAME TIME.

All that crap consumes so much time, energy, and resources. If I say, “Who the hell cares?” to the right things, I’ll have more to offer the actual right things—which, by the way, aren’t things at all. They’re people.

So there you have it: The wrinkles are staying. They remind me of who I should be.

It Could Happen, You Know

Brené Brown says vulnerability is a good thing, so let’s talk about my mental health.

I have an anxiety disorder. My imagination gets me in trouble; it’s vivid and unrelenting and, occasionally, quite grim. I’m truly gifted at the game of What If.

My anxiety has gotten markedly worse since my mom fell backward down a flight of stairs and broke her neck last October. She’s fine now, other than sporting a wicked scar and losing some range of motion. But I’m still a bit fixated on her fall, because it’s a variation of one of my recurring What Ifs—and it actually happened: 

“What if, while home alone, one of our girls slips down the stairs and breaks her neck or cracks open her head? And what if she left her cell phone upstairs, so she has no way to call for help?”

That might sound like a run-of-the-mill worry, but my brain is enough of a jerk to come up with a slow-motion play-by-play of what could happen and, even worse, what the result would look like. It’s horrifying, and if I don’t quickly find something to divert my attention, those images will just keep looping. Most of the time, singing the SpongeBob Squarepants theme song to myself does the trick. I know that’s a ridiculous coping mechanism, but it works (usually) and it’s a whole lot healthier than consuming an entire package of Oreos.

My most recent What Ifs include, but are not limited to, the following topics: my dad’s cancer; finances; car accidents; the unlikely event of a water landing; bridges; thunderstorms above the treeline; bungee jumpers; murderers; mystery smells; undercooked meat; cliffs; my terrible memory; being electrocuted; driving (that’s a brand new, particularly irritating one); power tools; retirement; parenting; spousing; moving heavy furniture; and the interaction between 15-year-old boys and alligators and/or lions (that’s not as random as it sounds, but it’s a long story).

Some of my imagined scenarios are sort of reasonable, but a whole, whole lot of them are laughably implausible. Such as:

“What if I just ran over a small child?”

For real. If I’m driving through a neighborhood and I run over something—like the curb—I have to look back to make sure I didn’t hit a human being. Even though I know it was the just the curb. Because what if there was a pigtailed four-year-old sitting at that curb playing jacks or drawing flowers on the sidewalk? And what if I just ran over her?

I use up a lot of energy worrying about such things.

Here’s another one:

IMG_4369

My Driveway, a Sinkhole-in-Waiting

The photo doesn’t do it justice, but I’m convinced there’s a sinkhole under our driveway. Jack says it’s not a sinkhole; it’s ants. Now, think about that for a minute. If we have enough ants that their little underground highways are causing our driveway to fall apart, we are in serious trouble, and Jack’s attempt to relieve my anxiety didn’t help at all, because now I’m picturing a sinkhole filled with ants.

I’m only sort of kidding. It could happen, you know.

All right. That’s PLENTY of vulnerability for one day. But please read these next two paragraphs carefully.

My anxiety is not (usually) debilitating, I don’t suffer panic attacks, and today I can laugh at my brain. But I can’t do that every day. Please know I’m not making light of anyone else’s struggle. There are some forms of anxiety that are just never funny, and if you’re close to someone who has anxiety, it’s not at all helpful to laugh—unless he or she is laughing, too. People with anxiety aren’t just “worrywarts.” Anxiety is real and it’s difficult and it’s illogically logical, and we’re not doing it on purpose to irritate you. Also, telling us to “just stop worrying about it” won’t do any good. Please be patient with us. Let us talk about our concerns for the umpteenth time. Getting that crap out of our heads can be incredibly therapeutic, and sometimes it takes more than one round of spewing. (Confession: Even though I have anxiety, I don’t always deal with other people’s anxiety all that well. So this is a good reminder for me, too.)

Now, if it’s YOU who’s dealing with the anxiety, you aren’t alone. And anxiety and depression are closely linked, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed and hopeless talk to someone. If you’re afraid to reach out to someone you know, call 800-273-8255 or use Lifeline’s chat. The world needs you, so don’t give up.

Stupid Dog

I feel guilty about something most of the time: Spending money on technology. Watching documentaries instead of cleaning my house. Having raw cookie dough, Fritos, and chocolate milk for lunch. (That one’s pure fiction, and you’ll never be able to prove otherwise.) Buying packaged salad and pre-cut watermelon. Napping. Leaving the dishes piled up for three days, hoping someone else will take care of them.

At this particular moment, I’m feeling guilty because on Monday, I’ll be spending $2800 on my dog. Today, I spent $400. Last night, I spent $300. Last week, I spent $130.

This all started the last week of September when I discovered Skittle was peeing blood, and it’ll end on Monday morning, when she has her left kidney removed. By the time this is over, I’ll have spent nearly $4000. On a dog.

Do you have any idea what else I could do with $4000? Through HomeFirst STL, I could house someone transitioning out of homelessness for a year. I could stock the pantry at The Bridge. I could help a single parent buy a car. I could give it to a program serving veterans or help an under-resourced college student with expenses. I could donate it to flood victims in SC or help finish an orphanage in Haiti. I could give it to any number of families I know who are trying to adopt children.

But, nope. I’m going to spend it on my dog, because if I don’t, she’ll die a slow and horrible death. If you’re judging me because that matters more to me today than the reality of human beings freezing and/or starving to death, I get it. I’m guilty as charged.

Stupid dog.

She's ashamed of her diaper and refuses to look at the camera.

She’s ashamed of her diaper and refuses to look at the camera.

Privilege

I’m sitting in a lime green beach chair on Art Hill in Forest Park, munching on some baby carrots. I’ve kicked off my shoes, and my legs are stretched in front of me, cushioned by my favorite blanket—one I’ve had for 27 years. On my left, Jack’s sitting in a similar chair, eating the club sandwich I packed for him. On my right is my favorite friend and her youngest daughter, who, at the moment, are passing back and forth a bag of chocolate, mini-donuts. Around us sit thousands of people with impressive picnic dinners and goblets of wine spread in front of them. It’s an incredible evening; the sky is impeccably blue, and it’s just cool enough to require a hoodie. Maybe 400 yards away, at the foot of the hill and just in front of the Grand Basin, sits the Grammy-award-winning St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (SLSO).

At some point toward the end of the third number, Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March from a Midsummer Night’s Dream,” I’m overwhelmed by a feeling I can only describe as I Can’t Believe This Is My Life.

Some people might describe the whole experience as a “blessing.” I’m not inclined to use that word, because I think true blessings ultimately come from God, and I have a tough time believing God dispenses them discriminatorily. The world seems to do exactly that, though—dispense blessings discriminatorily—and I suppose that’s why the word privilege comes to mind instead.

Please don’t roll your eyes at me. I know privilege is a hot-button word right now, and I think that’s because it’s misunderstood. Some people seem to equate being described as privileged with being accused of racism, sexism, xenophobia, or homophobia. Others become defensive because their lifestyle and possessions have nothing to do with cultural or systemic advantages, they say; rather, they’ve sought out opportunities and worked their tails off. Please know I’m not accusing anyone of anything, and I’m certainly not suggesting people are handed their stuff on silver platters. (Usually.) In fact, the list I’m about to present is about me, and no one else. And if it makes you feel better, you can call this a list of things for which I’m grateful. As for me, I’m calling it:

Privileges Related to a Night with the SLSO

  1. I had the financial resources necessary to go on an epic family road-trip three summers ago—one that included a brief stay at the ocean. Which is where I purchased those beach chairs. And no one followed me around while I was shopping for them.
  2. I live in a city that values cultural activities and tries to make them financially accessible to everyone through free concerts; free art, history, and science museums; and free musical theater.
  3. I can afford fresh produce and healthy bread.
  4. I have multiple grocery stores within two miles of my home, two of which are within easy walking distance.
  5. I have laundry machines in my house. Which means I can wash my socks anytime I’d like. Which means I can remove my shoes at a concert without offending the people around me.
  6. I have reliable transportation.
  7. I have a support network of friends who have resources—like zoo parking passes so I didn’t have to spend $15 to attend a free SLSO performance. And donuts. They have that resource, too.
  8. My husband and I have flexible employers, so we can leave work a bit early without it affecting our paychecks and without fear of being fired.
  9. I live in a country where it’s safe to be outside.
  10. I have multiple options of clothing/blankets to keep me warm if needed.
  11. It’s easy for me, physically, to get around.

As I look over this list, most of them relate to economic privilege, but I know I enjoy many others as a middle-class, white, cisgender, highly educated, able-bodied, mentally and emotionally healthy, Christian heterosexual. (I saw you raise your eyebrows at the mentally/emotionally healthy claim. I’m medicated. Soooooo…that counts.)

I’m not beating myself up over any of this, by the way; I’m just learning that it’s good to recognize how my experience of the world may differ from yours. And since I have these privileges, I ought to find ways to use them for good.

Someone else’s good, that is—not my own.

And

A few years ago, I had an ampersand tattooed on the top of my right foot. You know… one of these guys:

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Aside from being my favorite typographical symbol (What? Doesn’t everyone have one of those?), it’s also a succinct way of describing my philosophy of humanity:

There’s always more to the story.

I’m obnoxiously empathic. Obnoxiously. As far as character flaws go, I’d argue that having too much empathy is better than having none at all, but, as people who are constantly exposed to my persistent, “Now wait a sec. Have you thought about it this way?” my family would disagree.

Case in point: When my girls complained about a bully in middle school, the first thing out of my mouth wasn’t, “Oh, honey. That sucks.” It was, “Oh wow. Do you think she has a tough home life, maybe?” Eventually, Emily began starting her stories with, “Okay, mom. I’m going to tell you about a mean kid, and I need you to take my side this time. Seriously. Please.”

Here’s another one: On the afternoon of September 11, 2001, I was sitting on the living floor talking with my husband (of three months) about the terrorist pilots who destroyed buildings and lives and families and our country’s sense of safety and security. Before I could choke back the words, I heard myself say, “Those men are someone’s sons!” Jack’s mouth dropped open. “Are you seriously feeling sorry for the terrorists?!” (No, I wasn’t. Well, not exactly, anyway. I was feeling heartbroken for everyone.)

And another one: Jack and I were sitting at a little cafe in August of 2014, talking about the rioting, looting, protesting, fire-setting, tear-gassing, and general melee happening in Ferguson, Missouri. I can’t remember what I said exactly, but it must’ve been a doozy, because Jack shook his head, looked me straight in the eye, and said, “You’ve gone too far. You’re so open-minded that you’ve come all the way around to close-minded.”

Ouch.

I can’t help it, though; I’m naturally wired to see the other side—or sides—of a situation. Giving people the benefit of the doubt is just what I do. I guess I simply can’t stand to think that there are truly “bad” people in the world; I just know there’s a reason for their behavior, and I want to find it and understand it. Without exception, there is a why. There is always, always more to the story.

He’s a hateful and arrogant man and his father beat the hell out of him, his mom took his dad’s side, and he spent months on the streets before his aunt and uncle finally took him in.

She’s promiscuous and her mom was an alcoholic who had multiple boyfriends, one of whom repeatedly sexually abused her.

They stole cigarettes and they were trying to pay off the landlord so they wouldn’t be evicted.

She lost her job for no-call-no-shows and her husband was killed in an accident three months ago and she just can’t seem to get it together.

They drive a Benz to the food pantry every week and it was paid off when she lost her job, and they sleep in it sometimes when they can’t scrape together enough for a hotel.

And. And. And.

More than 20 years ago, I heard someone end a story about a new neighbor with, “I have no use for her.” Just typing that phrase makes me cringe. I don’t care if the neighbor’s a foul-mouthed, chain-smoker who keeps parking her car directly across from my driveway and lets her dog leave gifts on my front lawn. No human being should have a “use” to anyone. She’s not a commodity. She’s a human being.  And there are likely darn good reasons—or at least a compelling explanation—for her decidedly non-neighbor-ish behavior.

I know there are dangers in thinking this way. Sometimes I’m just flat wrong. Sometimes, rather than just seeking out an explanation, I wind up making excuses. I get taken advantage of. I get hurt. I spend too much energy trying to fix what’s not mine to fix. And that sucks.

But so does missing the rest of a good story.

This is What Theology Looks Like

There’s a decent possibility that this post will contain stupid, offensive, or disappointing content. Please know I’m absolutely open to being corrected. Please, please remember we’re friends and this is the place where I think out loud.  Also, I conceal discomfort with humor, which is rarely appropriate and often not actually funny. Grace, please. 

At the top of my bucket list, I’ve written this: Get arrested for civil disobedience. Weird, right?

A number of years ago, some long-time friends of mine were arrested at a protest in Washington, DC, and I was more than a little jealous. From that moment forward, they had the perfect response to those “What’s the most interesting thing about you?” ice-breakers. I could see their kids on the playground: “Oh, yeah? You think your mom’s tough? Has she been arrested? I didn’t think so.” *Drops mic.*

Beyond jealous, though, I was inspired. These friends of mine believed in something so thoroughly and passionately that they were willing to get arrested for their cause. How many of us have convictions that strong?

People who are aware of my desire to get arrested offer suggestions on a regular basis, usually for lame things like leaving a garage sale sign up too long or jaywalking (which, you’ll discover, is beautifully ironic). My response to such suggestions is, “Nah. That’s not worth it. If I’m gonna get arrested, it’s gonna be for something huge.”

(An aside: I can’t use the word huge anymore without hearing Bernie Sanders in my head. He drops the entirely, so it’s more like youge. It’s a Brooklyn thing, and I’m adopting that pronunciation because it sounds sort of mafia-esque…which may increase my chances of getting arrested.)

The Voiced Protest

Anyway, a couple of days ago a friend and I decided to participate in a peaceful protest in Ferguson, MO, organized by The Rev. Dr. F. Willis Johnson, Jr. Neither my friend nor I had ever done such a thing before, which put this opportunity squarely in the Adventure column. We do love an adventure.

This is where the disclaimer up there kicks in.

We met at Wellspring Church in Ferguson, received instructions, walked to the protest site, and soon joined our voices with other demonstrators. And by “our,” I mean “everyone else’s,” because I wasn’t saying a word. Why? Because I couldn’t be certain I could participate authentically. Why? Because I wasn’t sure I agreed with some things being said. Why? Because I haven’t had enough conversations about Ferguson and racial injustice and militarization and all those tough things we’ve been talking-but-not-really-listening-about for a year now.

So I was in a dilemma: “Should I just go ahead and voice these chants, even though I’m not sure I agree 100%? Am I over-thinking this? Is it rude to just march without shouting? Should I fake laryngitis?” Then, and here’s the kicker, “Maybe I should lip-sync.”

Yeah. I know.

I’m going to be completely transparent (offensive, stupid, disappointing) here: I considered lip-syncing because there were sundry news channels and indie film crews shooting footage, and I didn’t want to be caught on film as a sweaty, confused-looking, not-participating white chick. Also, I didn’t want the Black guys watching from the sidelines to think I was one of those white people who just doesn’t get it. Actually, any time I’m with someone from a marginalized group—people of color, people from the LGBT community, people with disabilities—I’m afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. So afraid, in fact, that I get all weird and awkward and end up saying or doing the wrong thing. So, all of this is going through my head as I’m not-chanting down West Florissant Avenue. In other words, at this point, my participation in this peaceful protest was about me, rather than in support of the community.

Yeah. I know. 

(Another aside: When I told my mom about this experience, she asked, “So, what exactly were you protesting?” Great question, and it may be one you’re asking, too. I was protesting systemic, racial injustice, and I was doing what I think Jesus would be doing—walking alongside people who’ve been deeply affected by said injustice. But here’s yet another moment of transparency: Being able to say, “The other night when I was protesting up in Ferguson” feels edgy and daring and aren’t I soooo coooool? Ugh.) (Transparency sucks.)

Okay, back to my ridiculousness (because what I just wrote wasn’t ridiculous?)… Luckily, the chant soon switched to something I could get behind without hesitation (or lip-syncing): “This is what democracy looks like! This is what the clergy look like! This is what theology looks like!” I especially dig the theology one, because it gets God out of our heads and into our hearts and our voices and our feet.

The Street

That went on for a while, we did a u-turn and began marching back in the direction we’d come, and then during a brief pause in the shouting, I began hearing a new bit of instruction: “Form a single-file line at the stoplight.”

Oh. Oh no. I know what’s about to happen: We’re about to block traffic. It’s not I-70 or anything, but it shares some similarities. Like, you know, cars.

I turned to look at my friend. “Are we really gonna do this?” she asked.

“Ummm, I dunno. Maybe? Let’s see what Willis does.”

The stoplight turned red, our signal turned white (Why isn’t it green?), and, because Willis began walking, so did we. A woman at the front of the line barked directions: “Stay in the crosswalk. Single-file. No clumping! Single-file! Slowly. Walk slloooowwwllly.”

Fortunately, we got to the other side of the street before the light turned. Unfortunately, my sigh of relief was interrupted by, “Loop back around. Keep walking. Slow down! You must stay in the crosswalk.” (Is the crosswalk the civil disobedience safety zone?)

Since we weren’t allowed to “clump,” I could no longer see my friend’s facial expression, but I suspect she had the same question I had: “So, what happens when the light turns? Are we then no longer ‘peacefully’ protesting? And are people irritated enough that they’d consider plowing us over?”

Normally when a crosswalk signal starts flashing its red hand, people take a light jog to get out of the street before the stoplight turns green, right? Well, “normally” doesn’t apply here. As I feared, the light turned green, and we just kept on walking sauntering back and forth across West Florissant Avenue. A pile of police officers stood in a nearby parking lot, watching us rather intently.

Cars began to honk and edge forward. Suddenly I wasn’t really all that interested in getting arrested—a terribly disappointing turn of events. (I fancy myself a bit of a rebel, but I don’t like getting in trouble for real.) I looked at the light, the cars, the protestors in front of me, and the cops. And I began to laugh. Right there in the middle of the street.

Yeah. I know. I’m fully aware that laughing was completely inappropriate for the occasion. It truly was nervous laughter, if that makes it any better.

This went on for several light cycles before a St. Louis County police officer approached Willis. Although I couldn’t hear their conversation, it seemed cordial enough—but nevertheless ended with the officer asking Willis to bring our demonstration to a close. Which he did. And suddenly we were done.

Afterthoughts

Since I’ve rather successfully made this thing all about me, I’m going to switch gears and make it about you instead.

It’s difficult to see things from a distance, and with the ocean of information we have available to us, it’s nearly impossible to tease out what’s real and true and what’s just speculation or even outright lies. The only way to know for certain what’s really happening is to go there.

If you do, you’ll process the media coverage differently because you’ve stood right next to that McDonald’s. When you’ve walked past a group of young, Black men in a parking lot—faces partially concealed by bandanas—you’ll be surprised to discover that what you’d really like to do is turn back and hear their stories.

At first, maybe you’ll make the experience about you, but then suddenly, because you’re there, you’ll realize how much Ferguson truly matters and you’ll feel the injustice and you’ll see the human beings—not “thugs”—who are suffering because of it. And then you’ll want to—have to—do something about it.

Which, incidentally, is what theology looks like.

In the Drive-Thru

Coffee To Go

For seven months, when I was 41 years old, I was a Starbucks barista.

I spent a good amount of time in the drive-thru window–which, as you can imagine, grieved my introvert soul. Talk to people? Like, in person? People whom I don’t know? People who will be angry if I hand them a too-dry cappuccino or an overly foamy latte? Yes. And, actually, the expectations went far beyond mere talk; I was expected to “inspire and nurture the human spirit–one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” Yes, that’s Starbucks’ mission statement.

And you thought it was just a pricey coffee shop.

I took that mission statement seriously, and I did my best to inspire and nurture–which is reasonably difficult when customers continue their cell phone conversations while you’re trying to ask them questions about their order, when they refuse to look at you as they pay, when they forget to turn off their windshield wipers, when they ask–at the window, with eight cars stacked up behind them–to tack on six additional frappuccinos.

I overlooked rude ordering behavior: “Gimme a . . . Lemme have a . . . ” I attempted not to see people picking their nose at the speaker (yes, there’s a camera). I ignored the under-the-breath comments about how stupid I was for having to repeat back an order of a half-caff-quad-grande-no-whip-soy-extra-hot-three-pump-mocha-one-pump-raspberry-I-mean-three-pumps-raspberry-one-pump-white-mocha-in-a-venti-cup-and-make-sure-there’s-no-foam latte. (Only a slight exaggeration.)

Most of the time it was great fun, and I made it my personal challenge to cheer up the crankiest of customers. I succeeded more often than not–at least winning a half-smile. I once consoled a young woman with tears flooding her face because of a recent break-up. I asked after grandkids. I helped teenagers ask their crushes to homecoming. I remembered names and favorite beverages. Mostly, I made eye contact and smiled.

Which, it turns out, is a big, big deal.

I remember one gentleman in particular. He pulled to the window in a pristine, silver Honda. His suit was freshly pressed, his tie bright and stylish. His back seat held a couple of car seats, and in his passenger seat sat a stuffed, leather messenger bag. His wrist swam in a giant watchband, the same color as his cufflinks. Everything about him spoke success. Wealth. I asked about his day; he only nodded his head. I passed him his pastry, which he took without looking up. I was too green to be offended by his lack of acknowledgement, so I kept chattering on about nothing–nurture and inspire, you know. He kept his head down as he dug for exact change and passed it through his window to mine.  Finally, as I handed over his beverage, he looked up at me. Our eyes met, and I broke into a wide grin. I’m telling you, the look that washed over his face was overwhelming. It said, “Wait. Are you actually seeing me? Do I matter somehow?” He may’ve been successful, but he certainly seemed to feel insignificant.

A few days ago, I was helping to serve dinner at The Bridge when I experienced that same look. We were down to the last few people in a line of 175 when a young guy–early 30s maybe–came through. He was wearing a heavy coat, still zipped against the cold, and a black beanie. His hands were chapped. “Good evening, sir,” I tried. He sort of grunted, full of melancholy, and reached for his tray. And then, for whatever reason, he looked up just before he walked away. Our eyes met, and I beamed at him. His posture straightened, he held my gaze for a good three seconds, and then he smiled with his whole face before he walked away. Again, it was as though he couldn’t believe someone was seeing him. 

And then I went home, got in an argument about white privilege, and cried for an hour. But that’s a whole other Oprah.

Anyway, do me a favor:  See someone today. And risk being seen.

Shoes and Other Stuff

Shoes

Three weeks ago, a pile of shoes in front of my dresser caught my attention: three pair of Converse, one Asics, one Mudd, and a Skechers. I snapped a picture, knowing that at some point I’d feel compelled to confess to you my leanings toward materialism.

Oh, goodie—today is that day.

See, today is the first day of the season of Lent—the 40 days leading up to Easter (minus Sundays, which would require a tangential explanation from which I’ll refrain). If you don’t identify as Christian, this likely means absolutely nothing to you. Take heart: The same is true of a significant percentage of churchy folks—including me, until fairly recently.

During Lent, Christians are encouraged to give up something—in solidarity with Jesus’ suffering and as a way of being more mindful of Him as we prepare to celebrate Easter. We’re supposed to deny ourselves in the same way Jesus denied Himself.  Alternatively, one could take on something, rather than give up something: reading Scripture, for example, or doing random acts of kindness. In short, we should remove something that distracts us from our relationship with Jesus and our desire to live more like He did, or we should add something to deepen the relationship and support living differently.

Confession: My Lenten resolutions typically have nothing to do with Jesus and everything to do with kick-starting a diet plan. Down with M&Ms and Diet Coke and up with water, trips to the gym, and raw food. I’ve failed miserably every year—at both the diet plan and the Jesus bit.

This morning, I woke up thinking about my pile of shoes. And then I started thinking about how pissed off I am about homelessness. And then I started thinking about how Jesus would have something to say about how I’m supposedly pissed off about homelessness, yet I have a finished, 1500-square-foot basement that’s unoccupied most of the time—except for the four hours each month when I host a group at my house to talk about homelessness. And then I started thinking about Lent.

And then I started feeling nauseous, because it’s perfectly clear what my Lent thing needs to be: Until Easter, I’m not going to buy “anything.” I’ll get to the air-quotes in a second, but let me first explain why this makes sense.

I spend several hours each month at The Bridge, a place in the city that cares for folks without homes. I also spend some time with Bridge Bread, a social entrepreneurship program that employees homeless people, and Home First, a grassroots organization that’s ending homelessness through—get this—housing people. I have ridiculous dreams about developing tiny home communities and creating mobile laundromats and turning buses into showers on wheels. Aside from passion, you know what those sorts of endeavors require? Time and money.

Well, I spend a lot of time and money buying stuff and taking care of that stuff. Jesus spent His time taking care of people. You see where this is going?

Jack and I have talked about significantly downsizing our home and possessions to release some resources to do what Scripture says: Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly. Living in—and with—less will create space in our heads, wallets, and calendars to do exactly that. The trouble is, we just keep talking about it instead of doing it because we have so much junk cluttering us up. At some point—soon—we’re going to start purging our stuff, right-sizing our possessions for a much smaller living space. But first, I need to stop bringing in new things.

So we’re back to this: Until Easter, for the purpose of denying myself as Jesus instructs and to release resources that will allow me to live differently, I’m not going to spend money on “anything.” The air-quotes are essential due to necessary exceptions:

  • food, but only from a grocery store
  • personal care products (toothpaste, TP, and so on) (This includes mascara. It’s necessary. Trust me.)
  • cleaning products
  • fuel, bills, and sundry unavoidable grownup responsibilities
  • pet care (I’ll bathe them, but I’m not about the anal glands, teeth, and nails.)
  • gifts for other people

When I reached this decision at 6:20 this morning, I immediately had a temper tantrum. You see, I’m preaching in two weeks and I’m teaching at a conference the week after that, and those types of occasions have, in the past, required Outfits. And now it’s too late. I’m going to have to wear something I already own. Horrors.

In addition, I’m going to keep track of what I wanted to buy but didn’t—and the amount of money I saved as a result. I’ll share that total—which is sure to be horrifying—on Easter. Today, I saved $16 by not buying a soda, not eating at BreadCo during our staff meeting, and not giving in to my craving for a latte.

Finally, I may, on occasion, look to you people to help me decide if an exception is truly “necessary.” And that’s why I’m writing this post at all: accountability. Scripture tells us not to be all boastful and woe-is-me-ish when we’re fasting; we’re supposed to do this type of thing in secret. I talked with my boss/pastor about that today, and he agreed that it’s a heart issue. I’m not putting my Lenten resolution out there so you can admire my bravery and sacrifice. I’m putting it out there because I need you to sound an alarm if you see me in line at Target with anything but dog food, toilet paper, milk, and window cleaner. I’ll be equipping you all with tasers in the next week.

So that’s it: That’s how a photo of too many shoes is going to solve homelessness. Through Lent.

(I’d love to hear your give-up or take-on for Lent if you have ’em, and I promise I won’t judge if it’s related to eating habits. For some people that is a significant issue and a good thing to tackle during Lent. It just wasn’t for me.)

That’s Gonna Leave a Mark

I run into stuff. Doorframes, mostly, but sometimes walls, the corners of my bedframe, counters, car mirrors.

Last night, I ran into the sliding glass exit door at Walmart. The door was open, mind you—just not quite open enough for me and my lost-in-thought-ness to make it through. And I didn’t just bump the door, either. I hit it hard enough to knock it off its track. I didn’t register what I’d done until I was halfway to my car, and there was no way I was going back in, because, well, that would’ve been an awkward conversation:

Hi ‘scuse me. Hey, ummm, your door’s broken. No, don’t thank me for telling you. Why? Well, because I’m the one who broke it. You see, I didn’t quite clear it. Yes, I know it’s six feet wide. No, I’m not kidding. Yes, you’re understanding correctly: I broke your door with my right shoulder. Yes, yes you’re right: That’s pro’ly gonna leave a mark.

I find a new bruise somewhere on my person at least once each week, and often in the most unlikely of places: the back of my left knee, the top of my left foot, the inside of my right forearm. I’m not aware of the new mark  until it hurts, at which point I look down to discover a rorschach-ish bloom of purple or yellow-green: “Huh. I wonder where the heck that came from.”

It’s not just physical bruises I discover. I often—more often than I care to admit—respond with horrifying immaturity to the slightest of slights, and then once I’ve settled down, I think, “Whoa. Where the heck did that come from?”

A counselor-friend and I used to joke about how much easier relationships would be if we all wore Yuck Tags:

Driving

Poor
Disability
Miscarriage
Gender

Maybe we’d be more gentle with one another if we had a clue where one another’s pressure points are. Maybe we’d be more gentle with ourselves.

Of course, there’s a difference between gentleness and excuse-making.

Before I go on, please remember that I have empathy oozing from my pores. I can explain away anyone’s lousy attitude and actions with a quick exploration of their situation—current or past. I am not prone to tell people, “Just get over it.” In fact, I’m of the opinion that “Get over it,” is one of the most hurtful, disrespectful, dismissive combinations of words in the English language.

However, if I lose my mind in a situation that can be traced back to whatever’s written on my Yuck Tag(s), it’s not your responsibility to apologize to me, anymore than it’s Walmart’s responsibility to apologize for that sliding glass door. (Unless you’re one of those people who intentionally push buttons, in which case, you do get to apologize–on your way to therapy, please. But I digress.)

Okay, I’m circling the airport here, so let me land the plane:

  1. We all have Yuck. (If you don’t think you have Yuck, that’s your Yuck.)
  2. It’s our responsibility to know our own Yuck and how it manifests in our daily life.
  3. It’s helpful if we’re honest about our Yuck and make sure the people around us know our pressure points. We have to be willing to be known.
  4. We get to apologize when we lose our mind in a Yuck-related situation.

But wait . . . there’s more:

  1. Other people have Yuck, too.
  2. When they lose their minds, we do not get to just write them off as as . . . jerks. Instead, we get to ask, gently and without attack, “Whoa! Where’d that come from?”
  3. And then we get to listen.
  4. And then we get to say, “Well, that sucks” or maybe even, “Me too.”
  5. We do not get to say, “Get over it.”
  6. Some people, because of their Yuck, behave like tantrumy four-year-olds. They are not our responsibility. We can work hard not to intentionally push their buttons. We can care about them—even love them—but we do not have to fix them. Nor do we get to try.

So, wanna know my Yuck Tags? I have a lot, and I’m aware of most of them (I hope). Here’s one that’s on my mind today:

When my eldest daughter (now a freshman in college) was 14 years old, she wanted to die. That’s really her story to tell, so I won’t go into details, but here’s what that means in terms of my Yuck: I do not respond well to the finger gun or to phrases like, “Shoot me now” and “Just kill me.” I will not be courageous enough to confront you about it, because I have a deep fear of being thought of as a self-righteous know-it-all. I’ll still love you; I’ll just be less-inclined to want to be around you.

Normally, I’d end a post like this with a simple, “So? How ’bout you? What’s on your Yuck Tag?” That seems too terribly personal, though. Just know that when we’re in the same room together and you lose your mind, I won’t be judging you. I’ll just be wondering what’s on your tag.