For This First Day of February

estimated read time: 1 minute

Today, we’ll have plenty of opportunities to argue about any number of things:  guns, immigration, abortion, political candidates, the origins of poverty, same-sex marriage, health care, standardized testing, gender equality, Black Lives Matter, the economy, climate change, and more.

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A Man Standing Naked in the Middle of the Street

Note: A friend of a friend of a friend wrote this post on Facebook and it made its way to me. I reached out to the author, Dr. Timothy Huffman, and he graciously agreed to allow me to share it as a guest post here. Just so there’s no confusion: This is neither my experience nor my words; they’re Dr. Huffman’s. And they wrecked me in all the best ways.

estimated read time: 12 minutes

It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m driving on Thurman Ave, on my way home from FedEx making copies. As I drive north, the traffic is sorta strange. Cars pulled off at weird angles or creeping very slowly. As I drive on, I see why.

There is a man standing naked in the middle of the street.

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A Monday Morning Paradigm Shift

estimated read time: 3 minutes

I learned a new word this morning.

pedant: a person who annoys other people by correcting small errors and giving too much attention to minor details

Oh.

You mean, my openly hostile response to the disappearance of the Oxford comma isn’t charming? My habit of editing billboards aloud on road trips isn’t adorable? My propensity to rearrange sentences beyond all reason to avoid ending them with a preposition isn’t brave and pure?

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Well, That’s an Odd Place for a Life Lesson

estimated read time: 2 minutes

Over the weekend, Jack and I made a tiny bit of progress on our journey toward Less by wandering around the metro St. Louis area looking for our new home. We’re not picky—we simply need a place that:

  • isn’t a ranch-style but still has a bedroom and full bathroom on the main level
  • has dormers
  • is no more than 1000 sq. ft.
  • sits on at least 1/2 acre
  • doesn’t require a septic tank, propane heat, or well water
  • has a garage
  • would allow Jack to build an additional, sizeable outbuilding for his workshop/social enterprise
  • is closer to the city (for me), but not actually in it (for Jack)
  • doesn’t have a mildew problem
  • is no more than $135,000 ($150,000 if it won’t require any updates, repairs, or remodels to meet the above conditions)
  • isn’t in an area where we’re likely to be robbed or shot
  • is on the water.

Or:

  • a piece of property that’ll let us do whatever we want
  • but still has public utilities
  • on a road that won’t activate my motion sickness
  • and will be plowed when necessary so we’re not stranded in a medical emergency
  • on the water.

WHATEVER with your pessimism. This post isn’t really about the whole house-hunting thing anyway. It’s about toilet paper.

(Yes, I’m going to talk about restroom issues for a minute or two. If we’re going to be friends, you’ll have to grow accustomed to over-sharing and awkward. I am an embodiment of those words.)

As we’re driving around looking at places that meet almost none of our requirements but “we might as well take a look,” there’s always an I’ve-gotta-get-something-to-drink moment and, consequently, one or more I’ve-gotta-pee moments.

So, yesterday, in some bathroom in Webster Groves, I think it was, this happened: I sat. I peed. I reached for toilet paper. There was none. I panicked. (Much like I do when I get stuck in a dress in a fitting room or try on a ring that’s juuuuust about too small.)

“Well, that’s great,” I said.

I stared at the TP holder—one of those giant, nearly opaque deals that holds 4,572 rolls. “It can’t be out,” I thought, and I stuck my hand up inside the dispenser thing, expecting to feel only plastic. But I didn’t. I felt toilet paper. Thank you, Jesus! (No, I didn’t actually pray for TP, and I don’t think Jesus actually provided it. But I know He was happy for me. So why not given Him the credit?)

But here’s the problem: I could neither get the replacement roll to move down to the proper spot; nor could I get the roll started. And believe me, I tried. I sat there with my hand deep in the bowels (HA!) of a public restroom’s TP dispenser, clawing at the roll, trying to find the end of it. Soon, I’d created a small mountain of TP shavings on the floor.

Eventually, I managed to scrape off enough TP, put myself back together, wash my hands, and saunter out of the bathroom. Jack met me with a you-were-in-there-forever-are-you-okay-maybe-we-need-to-go-home expression. I explained, he laughed, and we went on our merry, house-hunting way.

Until.

Until we stopped for dinner at McAllister’s, where, wouldn’t you know it, the same damn thing happened. Sit, pee, no TP. Hopeful exploration of dispenser. New roll discovered. New roll stuck. Scratch, scratch, scratch…

No, I’m not kidding. I wish I were. What are the chances this would happen twice in a year, let alone twice in four hoursHow lucky can one girl be?

I bet you’ve already guessed the moral of the story: Look firstAlways. Even if you’ve already survived the first go around, because it might happen again. Sooner than you’d ever expect.

 

One Word

estimated read time: 2 minutes

It’s 10:49 am on January 1, 2016. To my right is a stadium cup from Shakespeare’s Pizza, half-full of a home-made smoothie: frozen berries, a banana, almond milk, a handful of spinach, and a scoop of protein powder. It’s not my best effort; it’s a lovely shade of lavender, but I used too much of an under-ripe banana, the berries were freezer-burned, and the consistency is all kindsa wrong. Still, it’s preventing me from pouring a giant bowl of Lucky Charms, so my year is already off to a healthier start.

Not that I’m resolving anything along those lines.

Because I don’t believe in resolutions.

Because I’ve yet to keep one.

Which isn’t my fault.

Okay, yes it is, but there’s no reason to dwell on the past.

ANYWAY. Several years ago, I came across One Word 365, a community of people who, rather than make resolutions, choose “One word you can focus on every day, all year long… One word that sums up who you want to be or how you want to live.” (Note: Their website’s been a bit twitchy this morning, but don’t give up. It’s a great spot.)

The idea is waaaaay more compelling than my typical “eat better, move more, spend less,” but I’ve never participated because what if I choose the wrong word? My word must be meaningful and inspirational and unique and profound. It must not be lame. It must not be cliche. Other people’s reaction to my word must be, “Dammit! Why didn’t I think of that one?”

(I’d choose ridiculous as my word for 2016, but I’m pretty sure it’s cheating to pick one you’ve already nailed.)

This morning on Twitter, I’ve seen #OneWord365 posts about balance, impact, quiet, yes, ready, bold, embrace, joy, and one that made me laugh out loud (and grumble, “Dammit! Why didn’t I think of that one?”): badassery. 

***

Yeah, so… I was just about to end this post with an I’ll-figure-it-out-stay-tuned when my word smacked me in the face.

My word is now. It’s so perfect. (For me.)

I’m a world-class procrastinator. I put off everything: no task or decision is invulnerable to “later.” At the very least, now will help me become more intentional about what I put off. But that’s not all.

Now also addresses my tendency to wander. Mentally, I mean. Now will snap me back to the present moment.

Who are you with now? Give him your full attention.

What are you working on now? Turn off your phone and focus on that.

Where are you now? Feel the wind, hear the water, smell the leaves.

What meal are you having now? Close your laptop so you’re aware you’re eating and so you realize when you’re full. (Okay, that one sounds dangerously close to a diet plan. It’s not. Well, maybe a little.)

Now. I’m giddy about this word.

How ’bout you? Have a word for 2016?

Fourteen Things

estimated read time: 2 minutes

Sorry I’ve been a way for a bit. To catch you up, I present 14 things that’ve happened since we last spoke:

December 14. Participated in a tree-trimming party for Bre, a HomeFirst STL client and Bridge Bread baker. It was the first Christmas tree she’d had in 10 years. It was a sacred evening.

December 15. Sent a rather frantic email to the Saint Louis Zoo to find out whatintheheck they’d done with my daughter’s Christmas present. Response: “It’s in the mail.” (It was.)

December 16. Sat at Starbucks and nursed a skinny peppermint mocha while I worked on my book project for the Center for Church Communication.

December 17. Served breakfast at The Bridge and volunteered at Bridge Bread’s retail shop. (Which is awesome and you should absolutely stop by if you live in The Lou. It’s at 2604 Cherokee St.)

December 18. Panicked about Christmas. Started reading the Bible again.

December 19. Saw Daughter #2 sing in the Macy’s Holiday Celebration with the St. Louis Symphony. Magical.

December 20. Went to the Anheuser-Busch Brewery to see the Christmas lights and sample beer with several hundred of our closest friends. Watched grown people cut in line to see the clydesdales. Determined that Stella Artois is the grossest beer ever made.

December 21. Had dinner in Omaha with L, with whom I’ve been friends for 31 years. She continues to be the most creative, most sincere person on the planet. That evening, she attracted the attention of Kevin, a recent transplant from Philly, after he overheard me ask her if she was still firmly ensconced in spinsterhood. Given his hopeful facial expression, Kevin clearly had spinster confused with something else entirely.

December 22. Drove back to St. Louis. Saw a bald eagle sitting in a cornfield. They’re huge. (HUGE!)

December 23. Discovered hard root beer.

December 24. Gathered with some folks who, like me, had no particular place to be on Christmas Eve. Dear friends made music. I talked. We had communion, collected an offering for The Bridge, sang “Silent Night” by candlelight, and enjoyed a simple meal and some wine afterwards. Lovely.

December 25. Spent time with my parents, Jack, and Daughter #1. Ate a handful of vegetables and way, way, way too many cookies.

December 26. Re-taught our favorite friends how to play Pitch. The boys won. That will not happen again.

December 27. Cussed at the rain. Went to see Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Also will not happen again.

December 28. Let go of Skittle, our One-Kidney Wonder. Jack and I disassembled and put away her crate under the curious and confused gaze of our other pooch. I can’t think of Skittle without crying, and my eyes look like I’ve been drinking heavily and/or smoking cigars and/or playing chicken with a swarm of bees. It’s not especially attractive. It’s been a tough day. Tomorrow will be better.

So now you’re all caught up. Anything new with you?

A Jar of Peanut Butter in a Box

estimated read time: 2 minutes

It was cold that night, and we were giving out donated socks and gloves, water bottles and fruit. Dim light from one, tired streetlamp puddled in the deep cracks and potholes around us. We stood silently, watching the door of the dilapidated warehouse across the street; we’d been warned it could contain “trouble.” (Of what sort we were left to imagine.) We were waiting for permission to walk around the building and into the back parking area, where some homeless men were staying.

After several long minutes, our group leader emerged and waved us back. We walked along a dirt path hidden between abandoned trailers, finally ducking under one that served as a gate of sorts. On the other side of the yard, four or five men were huddled around a fire they’d made in a rusty oil drum, holding their hands near the flames.

As I stood there—awkwardly, wondering what to do now that I’d given away what we’d come to give—one gentleman abruptly limped away from the fire, picked up a box, and brought it back to me. He smiled, and as he tilted the box toward me, he said, “Everything I have fits in here.” Although it surely contained more stuff, all I recall seeing is a jar of Skippy peanut butter. I must’ve just stood there, blinking at him and his possessions, because he soon shrugged his shoulders, put the box back on the concrete, and returned to the fire.

Later, as we made our way back to our warm cars that would soon deliver us safely to our comfortable homes, I tried to figure out why he was smiling. “It must be freeing to own so little,” I decided, as my eyes welled up. And then, immediately: “Really, Kelley? The man has no home, it’s 24-degrees outside, and you’re feeling sorry for yourself because you have too much stuff?” My cheeks, already red from the wind, ignited with hot shame.

Every Christmas season seems to trigger this memory. As I find myself standing in ever-longer checkout lines, as I dodge yet another frantic-looking woman at the mall who’s rushed out of a store without looking to see if someone’s walking in front of it, as I circle the Target parking lot again and again and again—I see his smile. I see the shrug of his shoulders. I see him walking away from me, shaking his head as though I’d missed the point.

I’m still embarrassed by my envy, but I’ve clung to the night’s lesson: Consumerism has claws. They sink into our flesh so slowly we don’t even realize we’re in pain… until we attempt to pull away.

It’s 11 days until Christmas, and at no other time is this lesson more difficult to embrace. Every year I declare, “We’re going simple this year, so don’t be expecting much.” And then I head out to pick up “a couple of things,” which turns into “just one more,” which becomes “Oops. I did it again.”

I’m not doing that this year. I’m not. So, if you see me out and about, and if it appears I’ve overdone it, do me a favor: As you walk past, after we’ve done our hi-how-are-you-fine-thanks, look me in the eye and ask:

“Will that fit in the box?”

Paying Attention

Today, I’d planned to engage in my every-once-in-a-while practice of playing ostrich—sticking my head in the sand, pretending everything is just fine, and writing about something light and fluffy and fun.

But then, quite out of nowhere, it dawned on me that my cousin and her husband are Muslim.

I confess that I don’t know E— well; I was an Air Force brat, moved around all the time, and can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been in the same room with her. (One of those times was actually in a tent camper in our grandparents’ backyard, playing a double-deck game of War that lasted for hours. It’s one of my favorite childhood memories.) I’ve never met her husband in person, and I’ve only seen pictures of their impossibly cute kindergartner. None of that matters though; they are family, they are Muslim, and I’m afraid for them.

E— confirmed my concern when I contacted her tonight. She said she had been considering wearing the hijab, but “it’s too dangerous.” She said they’ve taught their daughter not to say Islamic words aloud.

Did you catch that? Ours is a country founded on religious freedom, and these family members of mine are afraid to freely practice their religion.

Moments after my conversation with my cousin, I read a Facebook update from a high school friend. She’s a teacher, and today a student asked if she’s Muslim (she wears a scarf). When she said, “Yes,” that student and two others began saying hateful (and inaccurate) things about Islam. They wouldn’t stop, and she had to call for administrative support. As she described to the counselor who came to her aid what happened, she broke down. Reading her story, I did, too. I just keep thinking, “How can she go back to her classroom tomorrow?”

So, instead of burying my head in the sand and pretending everything is good and right and wonderful, I’m going to say some bold things.

If we who call ourselves Christ-followers are not outraged at how our Muslim brothers and sisters are being treated, particularly in our own country, we are not paying attention.

If we who call ourselves Christ-followers are not weeping for our Muslim family, friends, teachers, neighbors, physicians, bank tellers, librarians, cashiers, managers, firefighters, and baristas, we are not paying attention. 

By the way, this isn’t even about “loving our enemies.” Hear this: E—, G—, M— and J— are not our enemies, and neither are the Muslims in your neighborhood and community.

STOP. I know what some of you are thinking:

“Kelley, you don’t know that. That couple in San Bernardino—they were the enemy. How do you know the Muslims I know aren’t just like them?”

I don’t. I don’t know that.

But here’s what I do know: If we’re walking around making suspected enemies out of everyone who looks, dresses, speaks, or practices religion differently than we do, we are not paying attention to the Gospel we profess. There should be no but or unless or except at the tail end of any statement that includes the word love, and if we who call ourselves Christ-followers withhold love, compassion, and concern “just in case,” we are not paying attention. 

Ugh.

If I’m sounding all arrogant and “I’m super-Christian and you suck,” I don’t mean that at all. I’m just sad and angry and horrified and embarrassed and trying to be hopeful but losing ground quickly.

Here’s the bottom line: My cousin and her husband are Muslim. My friend is Muslim. They are afraid.

And they now have my full attention.