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The Happy Little Heretic

Heretic. A crap ton of judgment, condemnation, and exclusion all wrapped up in one little word. It’s a heavy word, especially to those of us who put a great deal of study and consideration into where we stand. It’s also a word that gets thrown at me and some of my friends on a regular basis, most often from people who I think mean well, but who really come off as self righteous and arrogant instead.

I didn’t set out to be a heretic. I grew up in a very theologically and socially conservative denomination. I am the daughter of two preachers. I had quite a bit intentional, meaningful investment from goodhearted, Godly, loving adults who spent many hours over the years teaching and setting the example they hoped I’d follow. I am immensely grateful for all of it, and I cannot help but love them.

Teach a youth about the way she should go, even when she is old she will not depart from it. – Proverbs 22:6 (HCSB; pronoun changed, since I’m a woman)

This verse irritates the crap out of me because it is often used to imply that the outcome of a person is totally dependent upon one’s parents, which becomes a problem if the offspring ends up being an evil little monster. Life is more complicated than that. Like  with all proverbs, there is a general truth to it: kids follow examples set by others.

“I always wanted my kids to think for themselves, but I thought that they would end up thinking like me. I didn’t think about the fact that they might disagree.” My father said this to me years ago, when it was very, very evident that we disagree on a lot of things. Sometimes I think that the church sends really mixed messages to people: “Dare to think differently than the rest of society – be bold in your conviction – but if you don’t want to go to hell, you better agree with us!”

My parents and the other adults who raised and mentored me did a pretty good job, I think. I am a generally well functioning member of society who is most often kind and tries to love people, even when they are actively trying to make that a bigger challenge than it should be. I think for myself and try to keep a balance between feeling solid in my convictions and knowing that I don’t know everything. The problem, some may think, is that I came to conclusions that differ from their own. Conclusions that prompted one well-meaning friend to recently imply that I have made an idol out of “my God,” because my understanding of God is too different from her own.

So for kicks and giggles, I decided to list some of the “heretical” beliefs I have (at the moment, anyways; I’m always learning):

– I am kind of an agnostic Christian, to borrow a term from another pastor acquaintance. Basically, my study and experience tells me that there is a God, and that Jesus is the best human expression of what it means to be holy/divine, but there is a part of my brain that leaves the possibility that I could be wrong.

– I am sort of universalist in that I don’t think that salvation is limited to a super small group of people who get the secret, magical formula correct. I think we wrongly limit the image of God and grace when we limit try to limit who gets to have salvation. I’m not a total universalist, though, because I don’t quite think that people who keep evil hearts and never change experience salvation. Honestly, I’m still figuring this out, but I know that I think God’s grace is bigger than the church seems to think.

– I don’t think that salvation is limited to straight people and gay people who are celibate. I have way too many inspiring and devoted Christian friends who are LGBT+ to think that God rejects them because of this factor. Too often, they are defined as “gay Christian,” but that is too limiting. To describe or label them requires many more words: kind, compassionate, educated, intelligent, Godly, loving, funny, humble etc. Their example of love and grace is so often outstanding that I cannot fathom limiting them to the sole descriptor “gay Christian.”

– I don’t think sex outside of marriage is sinful. (Mom, pick your jaw up off the ground; I can already hear you using my full name.) There are tons of Biblical examples of sex with more than one spouse, and I’m not advocating on behalf of careless and dangerous promiscuity. But really, I have no problem with adults who have sex when they’re in a relationship. Be safe. Make sure consent is given and maintained. And stop the puritanical/Victorian fear of and control of sex.

– Swearing might be trashy or in poor taste, but it’s not sinful. Even a cursory look at scripture tells me that God is not concerned with whether or not I say “shit” when I smash my finger in the door but is concerned with whether or not my words – and heart – are arrogant or overbearing or unkind.

– I think the modesty movement in the church is actually pride and judgment wrapped up in long skirts and high necklines.

– I believe in science. I think young earth creationists are willfully ignorant of the God-given gift of science. I think anti-vaxxers are dangerous. I am baffled by climate change deniers who insist that they love and are inspired by the earth God created and yet so gleefully ignore the damage humans are doing to it. It’s probably where I am most guilty of being judgmental, but honestly, if you are so fearful of science that you reject it, I am not sure we are going to have very many conversations.

– I don’t think that the church or government or my friends or parents or anyone else should decide for me whether or not I have kids, and that includes my right to choose what happens (or doesn’t happen) in my uterus. Legal abortion doesn’t increase the number of abortions, it increases the safety of abortions. Criminalizing it doesn’t decrease the number of abortions, it makes it more dangerous to everyone involved – did “Dirty Dancing” teach us nothing?!? Similarly, it’s not my place to tell women what to do with theirs. If they want to have kid after kid after kid, that’s up to them and their partners.

– I think American patriotism/nationalism is idolatry. American flags have no place in chapels, and I find it hard to not roll my eyes when the military is put on a pedestal.

– Last one for today, a big one: I do not believe that the bible is the word of God. Jesus is the Word, the full expression of love and redemption. The bible is, as my old denomination subscribes, divinely inspired words about God written by humans (practically entirely men, though there are mutterings about women contributing to Hebrews and maybe some others). So reading it requires that I keep context in mind. I don’t think it’s inerrant, and that’s enough to make some people to dismiss what I say.

There are likely other things that would make the list if I wanted to think long and hard enough. Plenty of reasons for people to tell me that I’ve crossed the line, that I have gone too far to still call myself a Christian. Reasons for those who raised me to wonder what “happened,” not seeing that I have taken their instruction to think critically, study intentionally, and take my faith seriously only to have come to different conclusions.

I don’t enjoy being called a heretic. One of the reasons I chose to leave my old denomination was because of the incessant pleas from narrow minded conservatives to do so. I found that I had the strength to leave but not the strength to endure a lifetime of being told that I was not welcome, and had no place in their fellowship. Not that leaving was weak, but it is a different kind of strength. There are others who are strong enough to stay, who continue to serve and love and worship in spite of the calls of heresy. I appreciate their ministry and am hopeful because of them.

I do wish, though, that the church would more completely practice the “whosoever” it preaches. That we (because I am part of the church, too, and can be better at it) were less eager to accuse others of being wrong and more willing to listen to and learn from one another. I hope that we keep growing in our knowledge and understanding of God. My church reinforces the conviction that “God is still speaking,” and the corresponding need to keep listening.

I pray that God will keep me listening. That I won’t become so certain of myself that I become deaf. I also pray that we will have open hearts with one another, and understand that we can be unified through God’s spirit while holding different opinions.

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Forgiveness, Time, and a Few Flying Pigs

I was fourteen, awkwardly overdeveloped compared to my peers, quiet, and poor. He was fifteen, adorable, and probably the most pursued boy in my church’s region. I’d been warned by the other girls that I wasn’t allowed to like him, but I did anyways (frigging hormones!). It was a daily misery, knowing that I wanted what I would never have.

Until November 14, 1995, when he told me that he “maybe liked me, but wasn’t really sure,” and said that kissing me would probably help him decide. I was floored, and the kiss was over as fast as it started. It was too fast to decide if I liked it or not. So later that night, we tried again, and wouldn’t you know, neither of us hated it.

That was the beginning of years of a relationship that shouldn’t have happened like it did. It happened in secret, apart from everyone. I wasn’t good enough, in the eyes of outsiders, to be paired up with such a golden child. So we met in secret. We didn’t act like we were together. We didn’t flirt or hold hands – in fact, we went out of our way to make it look like nothing was happening. Young and naïve, I was convinced that if I was thinner, prettier, more popular, that it would be different. I thought that if I went farther than I was comfortable with, it would make him happy, and maybe then he would like me.

It didn’t work out that way. Instead, we found ourselves the middle of music camp scandal, and then it was off and on again until finally, I said it was over. I was so brokenhearted. I had come to love him over the years we were together, and I felt used and manipulated. I was bitter and angry and I stayed that way for a long time.

Whenever we ran into each other in the following years, it was like someone sucked the oxygen out of the room. We never knew what to say. How to act. Thankfully, it didn’t happen too often.

Leap Day 2012, a full 13 years after we ended, he called me. He said that he wanted to apologize for the way things happened. He wanted to finally tell me that he had, in fact, liked me, and that he wishes he had been bold enough to say so. He asked for my forgiveness.

I never thought that day would come. Truthfully, I had spent hours and hours over the years rehearsing the vile things I would say to him. But instead, I found myself apologizing as well, because I had known better. I accepted his apology, even though I never expected it, and wasn’t prepared to.

I’ve heard thousands of sermons on forgiveness. I’ve preached on it myself. But no sermon, no lecture, or Bible study, or other interaction was as profound a lesson in forgiveness as that one. To forgive and be forgiven for one of the deepest hurts of my lifetime… I still struggle to articulate it. It was freeing in a way that I never thought would happen.

Tonight, a few friends independently commented on something he posted on his blog. They bristled at it, and I found myself kind of defending him. Not that I was agreeing with him, but I had a bit of a need for them to know that he is “good people.” I was a little protective of him. We aren’t really friends now, though we have talked a few times.

As I walked around work tonight, I wondered why I had defended him. I could have let people think whatever they wanted to think. But then I realized that there is something different about the first boy a girl loves. Because I’ve been forgiven, and have forgiven him, I’ve come to see that time differently: not with so much harshness and bitterness, but with a kind of sad, beautiful tenderness that understands that we were both so young, so fragile.

Pigs may have flown tonight as I defended him. The devil may be wearing a parka and dear stalker as I come to realize that in a small, different way, I’ll probably always love him. Not because of any relationship we have now, but because of what he once meant, and what we learned together, and out of respect for the character and courage it took for him to make that phone call. Forgiveness is what makes love possible, even after the biggest hurts. Do I wish that we had done things differently as teenagers? Absolutely. But the beauty of forgiveness – and love – is that it can heal wounds that are deeper than we could ever fathom.

Well Dang.

I’ve been generally happier in the last few weeks than I have been in a long time. That’s a good thing. I’m less anxious than I have been in years. Another good thing. I have found a new church that seems to be a really good fit, and that makes me feel a lot better.

But today… just sucks. It does. And I’m not trying to be a whiney brat, but oh my gosh, today, it just feels like I can’t find it in me to be nice. Or cheerful. Or human.

I am grateful to have a place to live, but I desperately miss living on my own.
I am grateful to have friends I can message virtually all day, from all over the globe, but why can’t any of them live close enough to see in person?
I am grateful to be able to write a passable resume and to have the means to look for work, but why does it seem like every job I find is something that doesn’t seem to fit with my education, skill set, and experience?
I am grateful for Tylenol Sinus, but doesn’t the universe how how hard it is to deal with people and computers when I feel like someone hit me in the face with a baseball bat?

I am so close to losing my patience today. Mostly, it’s a matter of losing patience with myself. I am not good at being kind to myself, and today, it just seems like I am so very irritable at everything from the hole in the knee of my jeans to my bangs to the position of the sun in the sky that I start taking it out on myself. I kind of wish it was acceptable for grown-ups to have all-out temper tantrums right here in the middle of Starbucks just because the universe is unfair.

I don’t mean to whine at you. I guess I just had to be human for a minute. And to remind myself (and maybe you) that it’s OK to have stupid days.

Enough with all the annoying positive affirmations clogging up my Facebook feed by people who mean well but, if I’m honest, I kinda want to punch in the face today. Hooray for you if what gets you through the afternoon is an Instagrammed sunset with a verse from Philippians written across it. That’s not going to do it for me today. Instead, I’m going to let myself have a bad day, to eat the snowman cookie that I should skip, and spend the evening doing a lot of solitary nothing until I take some NyQuil and go to bed.

Invention and Discovery

About a year and a half ago, I started a sort of new phase in life, though I didn’t really intend to. All I was trying to do is recover from the darkest season I’ve ever experienced. I adopted some new disciplines and tried to unlearn years of unhealthy habits. Some friendships ended and new ones started. I started losing weight, and right now, I’m about ten sizes smaller than I was a year ago.

Now, it seems like the decision to resign and start a totally new chapter was inevitable; the person I was becoming was increasingly incongruous with the role I played and the denomination I was in.

It’s hard to say, though, whether it has been a journey of invention or of discovery. On one hand, the new habits and ways of thinking make me feel like I am creating a Cindy that didn’t exist before, but then again, it also feels like this “new” Cindy is someone who has always been there but was afraid to exist. I always had opinions, I just kept them hidden for fear of punishment for disagreeing with people higher on the ladder. I always thought of myself as a good friend to others, but I didn’t have enough confidence to think that people would actually want to be friends with me.

I’m sure it’s some mixture of invention and discovery.

As I fill out all of these applications, send in resumes, talk to recruiters, and go on interviews, I am being asked questions I am not sure how to answer: What am I looking for? What do I require from an employer? Where do I see my career in X years? Good grief, I don’t know… Change was inevitable, but going from a construct in which all these questions are invalid to having to answer them over and over is a bigger shift than I thought it would be.

It’s a shift that is really from one extreme to the other. A year ago, the expected, socialized response to questions about my own career path was to assume that leadership would make the best decisions for me, and the highest measure of success was the extent of obedience and my willingness to invest myself entirely in the role and location in which they placed me. I could provide some kind of feedback, but ultimately, I, like others within the organization, were moved like chess pieces, and sometimes, it seems like some were sacrificed (or at least endangered) in the interest of protecting the king. The underlying response to people indicating that they had a particular view of how they wanted their career to progress was that the individual was prideful.

And now, here I am, having decided to make such a huge change in the interest of my own health and sanity, and I’m stunned by such basic questions as “what do I want?” How do I undo years of thinking that answers to that question are prideful and therefore wrong?

I know how the old Cindy would have responded. I kind of have an idea of how the present Cindy wants to respond. I’m just struggling with feeling like it’s OK to be so “selfish” or “prideful.” I have a hard time imagining what life will be like in a year – a year ago, I certainly didn’t think I’d be where I am today.

It’s uncertain and weird and scary, this process of inventing/discovering myself, and I’m sure I’m making mistakes along the way, but it’s where I am, for the moment anyways, and I’m starting to be less anxious in letting things unfold.

Love is Easy

Relationships are hard and people are frustrating, but love is easy. 
Trust is scary and faith is a gamble, but love is easy. 
Forgiveness is humbling and grace is unfair, but love is easy. 

I needed to be reminded of these things today because it seems like the bad week has stretched into two weeks, and it’s exhausting and it would just be so much easier if I could decide that love is harder than I can handle. Because if it’s harder than I can handle, then it’s easier to give myself a pass.

Elijah and his friend from another class

Elijah and his friend from another class

This past week, my five-year-old nephew, Elijah, made it into the local newspaper. That morning, he had declared himself to be a secret superhero named “Lava” and went to school in plaid shorts and a brightly colored striped shirt and brightly colored gym shoes. Why? Because he loves superheroes and (at least that morning), he loved those clothes. That’s not why he was in the newspaper, though. He was photographed with another kindergartner as they walked through a school fair with their arms around each other’s shoulders. When my sister asked him who the other kid was, he said it was his friend from another class. He couldn’t tell her his name, though. He just knew that they were friends.

I wish I could love like he does. I’m supposed to love like he does.

Elijah is really too young and has had a thankfully privileged enough life to not hesitate to love the things and the people around him. He’s still five, and has all the stubbornness that comes with being five, but he hasn’t yet learned to be distrustful, resentful, or skeptical.

It has felt very hard to love some people lately, especially people who have hurt my friends. I’m very protective of my tribe and when they are hurt, I want vengeance. There have been a lot of moments lately when I’ve prayed “but do you know how hard it is to love the people hurting my friends?”

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” from Matthew 11; NIV

Love is the burden we’re to carry. There are a lot of learned lessons that become obstacles in carrying that burden. We get hurt and we hurt others. We mistake hardness for wisdom. Somewhere along the way, we get this mixed up idea that we get to hold off on loving people.

But over and over, I am taught another lesson: loving people, as reckless as it may seem, as often as it requires that I practice the things I listed at the beginning of my blog, is a far better use of my time, gives me a deeper peace, and partly satisfies the desire for holiness. Some day, I hope I’ll remember this lesson instead of the other ones. I want to be like Elijah, who, like that one Jesus guy, is OK with loving just because the person is there for me to love.

Humble Pie

In the immortal words of Bobby Singer: “Balls.”

Last week, I was a bit broken hearted because, ultimately, I wasn’t on the same page as someone else with whom I had a relationship. In my hurt and anger, I said some harsh words that I can’t take back. Specifically, I called him a dumbass.

Today, I realized, again, that sometimes I’m an idiot. I wasn’t wrong to be hurt or to grieve for a potentially lost friendship (no idea if we’re still friends), but I was wrong to be so angry at him, to hold onto that anger, and to call him a dumbass. Because he’s not. I wouldn’t have liked him in the first place if he was.

Please forgive me for setting such a bad example.

What made me realize how wrong I was is the date I had today. The guy was nice. We were able to talk for hours. We spent a lot of time together today. It was nice to have someone call me beautiful and open doors for me. And by the time I got home, I was certain that I am not on the same page as he is. Nowhere close.  He wants to jump right into Super Commitment Land, and I’m not ready for that. So I am going to have to give the “it’s not you, it’s me” speech and I know that he’s going to be less than thrilled… basically, this time, I’m the dumbass.

I sent an apology to the guy-wrongly-called-a-dumbass. I can’t tell you how badly I feel for having been angry and called him that. I’m terrified that he won’t forgive me.

I’m afraid that it sent people the wrong message about who I am and the kind of person/minister I want to be.

Balls.

UPDATE: It shouldn’t surprise me that he didn’t hesitate to forgive me and our friendship isn’t over. I am incredibly grateful for it. My heart hasn’t felt this good in a long time.

Double Dumbass

Yesterday, I wrote about Stupid Face and how I was waiting to hear back from him. ((If you haven’t read it, you’ll probably need to for context for this one.))

This morning, I woke up to a message from him (finally) in which he told me, in a nutshell, that he’s perfectly happy with his work and kids and has no interest in me. Well, happy Friday to you too!

He admitted that he knew his response didn’t address everything that I’d written in my initial message, but he didn’t want to make me wait any longer than the four days I’d already waited. He was honest and I appreciate that, but here’s where I’m disappointed and a little angry: in my message, I said that I needed to know that I meant something more to him than a female body (OK, I may have used slightly more blunt phrases), that my anxiety about that was due to some insecurities that I am trying to get over, and what he CHOSE to do is send me a long explanation of why he doesn’t want or need me for anything. It wasn’t outright meanness, but I know thinly veiled diplomacy when I see it. No attempt at all to say that he had valued me, and that stung.

I’d asked BobbyJeff what the next level was after “stupid,” suggesting maybe “dumbass.” He agreed, then offered that the level after that was “double dumbass.”

Dear readers, Double Dumbass it is!

Only, this time, it’s a shared title. I’m a dumbass for thinking that this time it was different, for putting up with things that bothered me for too long, and, once again, for falling for exactly the kind of guy who who is my own personal bug zapper, drawing me in and then by the time I know it’s a bad idea, I’m a goner.

He’s the bigger dumbass, though. He had a good thing and didn’t know it. I’m not perfect, and I’ll never be on the cover of a magazine, but I’m not exactly a troll either. I’m a far better person than I give myself credit for most days. It’s his loss.

I spent the morning crying more than I should, took a nap to get rid of the crying-induced headache, then ate some cappuccino gelato and pizza while watching Clueless and Varsity Blues.

All day long, my tribe of friends checked in on me. They listened, were outraged and hurt for me, mourned with me, and prayed for me. BobbyJeff had posted a status in the Facebook group we moderate asking for prayers for half of the admin team because two of the four of us were having super bad days. Without knowing which admins to pray for or what the circumstances are, people from Iowa to Australia and back were praying for me. Good grief, do I love my tribe.

Let me say, finally, that today was also a reminder of how big God’s grace is. This morning, when I was hurting, I called God an awfully nasty name and said that we probably weren’t going to be on very good speaking terms for a while. The only response I felt was “OK.” Then my tribe prayed. Without knowing it was partially for me, without knowing what my need was. They prayed. And since they were on better speaking terms, God listened. And God answered. I don’t think that the peace that settled in tonight was because God had forgotten what I said this morning. I think it’s because God honors the prayers of those who do pray with sincerity and hope, and it was because of them that the peace I have is going to let me sleep tonight, sped up the getting-over-him process, and restores the rational thought that life goes on and love isn’t through with me yet.

Clicktivism, or, The Power of Samuel L Jackson

I’ve been blogging for a few months now, and I think it’s time you meet some of my friends:

Jeff

Jeff, a fellow pastor in the great wide Midwest (a.k.a. BobbyJeff)

Cameron, another pastor, who likes to scare me with pictures of bugs in Australia

 Cameron, another pastor, who likes to scare me with pictures of bugs in Australia

Kelsie: Pastor, "Supernatural" fan, and Detroit enthusiast

Kelsie: Pastor, “Supernatural” fan, and Detroit enthusiast

Ange, who loves Christmas, her kids, and shows great braverism

Ange, who loves Christmas, her kids, and shows great braverism

 

Noonie, my sister, cake decorator, and forehead-kisser

Noonie, my sister, cake decorator, and forehead-kisser

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Melissa: lifelong best friend and soulmate

Melissa: lifelong best friend and soulmate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or at least this is what they looked like on Thursday, if you saw their profile pictures on Facebook. Let me tell you why:

On Thursday, I had an encounter with someone I used to respect, someone who once held a fair amount of influence on me, despite the fact that we did not know one another very well; in fact, it was more that we knew of one another, instead of actually knowing much about each other. Nevertheless, we had a long discussion on Thursday. A horrible, demoralizing conversation that left me shattered. A conversation in which my struggles from last year were not only brought up, but thrown in my face with the accusation that I hadn’t changed or grown or healed at all.

In short, Thursday became the sixth worst day of my life.

When I left that meeting, I had the good fortune of having to drive past my hometown. It only cost me about 15 extra minutes of driving, but somewhere along the way, I went into auto-pilot until I was in the parking lot of the hotdog dive that I hadn’t been to since high school. While I sat there in that booth, eating the best french fries in the world, I let myself stop being a pastor, stop being present-day Cindy, and I just let myself be. Leaving the parking lot, I decided to go to the cemetery where my grandparents are buried. I hadn’t been there to clean off the stones in at least a year, and I needed to do that. I drove to the first marker and was glad to see that someone else had already cleaned it. I looked at it for a few minutes, staring at my surname on the stone. I drove to the next stone, pulled back the overgrown grass, paused while looking at the hummingbird carved in the stone, and though cold and windy, it was peaceful. A place where I could just breathe, where the only people who knew I was there were the old ladies in the office, content to let me stand there, skirt whipping in the wind, not asking me questions or hurling accusations or needing anything from me.

So what does Samuel L Jackson have to do with this?

I told a few of my friends about the fall-out, and they graciously messaged me for most of the rest of the day, listening when I needed to talk and distracting when I needed it – which included sending a YouTube video containing some of the best cussing-outs in cinematic history. I commented that many of them at the beginning of the montage were Samuel L Jackson (“SLJ”), and before we knew it, Jeff and I had both changed our profile pictures to SLJ, deciding that while we can’t go on a profanity-laced rant, we can let SLJ’s portrait do it for us. Then Cameron changed his, and then Kelsie, Ange, Noonie, and Melissa.

“YOU CAN’T SCARE ME – I’VE GOT A TEAM OF SAMUEL L JACKSONS TO BACK ME UP!”

People asked us if SLJ had died, or if it was his birthday. Without going into details in a public place, we simply explained that haters were hating, and SLJ was staring them down. I went to bed completely drained, but resting solidly with the knowledge that I had friends to back me up.

Friday morning was my annual review with my boss.

I woke up late. The dog was sick. Nothing started out well, until I looked at my Facebook feed, where I saw picture after picture of Samuel L Jackson – each one a friend who loves me. Each one, a friend who supports me. Each one, a friend who has been there through the hardest season of my life. Trying to hide my nerves, I wrote “SLJ” on the back of my hand and walked into my review, this time, done by someone who knows me much better and who knows what this ministry has been.

A review that was incredibly positive, encouraging, and so completely opposite of the prior day’s encounter that I walked out in shock. I wasn’t all those things that person had said the day before. I knew they weren’t true, my friends knew they weren’t true, and my boss knew they weren’t true.

“BEHOLD THE POWER OF SAMUEL L JACKSONS!! THERE ARE NO MORE SNAKES ON THE PLANE!!”

That was the post that let my friends know that all was well, and when I had more time, I explained that everything had gone well. We changed our profiles again, letting SLJ lie dormant, but SLJ changed me a little bit that day.

For all of the stupid “change your profile picture in support of ________” campaigns that circulate on Facebook, this one wasn’t stupid for me. This one bit of “click activism” (as Kelsie put it; I shortened it to “clicktivism”), informal and not very far-reaching, is one that my friends did for me. A silly little thing that gave me a way to tell them about how devastated I was (instead of keeping it hidden), gave them a way to encourage me, and, for about 19 hours, was a visual reminder that I wasn’t alone. Though I doubt any of the haters saw the collective stare-down, I did, and it made all the difference in the world to me.

I hope I don’t need to call on the power of SLJ (or any of the other tough guys we’ve lined up) again, but I know that if I do, it’s not far away, and knowing that it’s (they’re) there makes all the difference.

It’s All About Perspective

When I was in high school, I had this little exercise that I would do with a very dear friend whenever she was having a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. First, I would listen to what was wrong: the teacher who was unfair, her mother who was nagging her too much, the test she was certain she was about to bomb. Then, I would begin the long list of tragedies that did not befall her that day, and they would range from the mundane to the absurd, and she would have to repeat them after I said them. The list always ended with a slight variation on the same catastrophe. By the end, she was usually chilled out and sometimes even laughing.

Tonight, I am going to have to take a dose of my own medicine. Forgive me my mini-rant, but it’s part of the process. The things that are making me Fraulein GrumpyPants are:

  • People are being very human lately and it’s making it hard to love them.
  • I am bone-dead-tired. Non-stop 15-17-hour days for weeks and weeks with no break are taking their toll on me.
  • Men are frustrating creatures. Especially some of them. Particularly one of them.
  • I am more frustrated with myself than with anyone else.
  • I just really, really, really need to have a day when I’m not trying to be four people in order to get caught up with being one person.
  • The people I so desperately depend upon for my sanity and balance and sense of humor are all geographically far away and I want nothing more than to kidnap them and spend the day hiding in a blanket fort with cushions and Kit Kats and coffee and Netflix. Yes, my teacher-friends and readers, I know that that sentence was a grammatical train-wreck, but it was intentional.

Despite all that, though, there are things for which to be grateful. Some of them are:

  • I did not lose a limb in a four-wheeling accident.
  • I have never been bitten by a shark, a crocodile, or a rabid raccoon (or any raccoon for that matter).
  • I have all my teeth. Well, minus my wisdom teeth.
  • I have never had to live in Texas. Praise God.
  • I have shaken Jon Bon Jovi’s hand. It was glorious.
  • I have never had to walk miles to get water from a well and bring it home for others.
  • I was never afraid that I would be killed simply for being a female student.
  • I have never voted Republican.
  • I have never quit a job because “my eyeballs were cold” (a real reason I got from an employee this week).
  • I have never gotten my hair caught in an electric hand-mixer.
  • And the traditional ending: I have never been, nor will I ever be, an actor in a herpes medication commercial.

There are more reasons to be grateful than to be grumpy, and I’m trying – honestly – to focus on them. Stress, anxiety, and a world full of negative messages are all working over-time to get me give up, but I won’t. This silly little activity is, in a way, a bit of cognitive behavior therapy, refocusing my thoughts from what is negative, stressful, and sometimes out-of-proportion to thoughts that are positive, comforting, and more reasonable. If, in the next week and a half before Christmas, you catch me dwelling on the irritations of the moment, please feel free to snap me out of it by reminding me that I don’t have an angry honey badger chewing on my ankle, because chances are, I will have forgotten that there are bigger problems than a misplaced email.

When My Heart Finds Christmas

I confess it freely: I am one of those insane Christmas geeks. I get excited when JoAnn’s has Christmas stuff out in July. I have White Christmas memorized – not just the song, but the whole movie. I sing Christmas carols in April. I’ve had my tree up as early as October 10th.

Except for this year. This year, I didn’t hire the seasonal help that my church typically has, so I have been slogging through 14- to 17-hour days, doing all the Christmas work that needs to be done but without the usual Christmas joy that gets me through it. I haven’t watched a single Christmas movie or listened to much in the way of Christmas music, and my tree is still in its box in the garage. I wasn’t sure that I was going to get much out of this Christmas season at all, and it was breaking my heart.

Tonight, tired and ragged, I walked into the grocery store that is a few blocks from my church. It’s a regional chain with less to choose from than I would like, but I often shop there out of convenience – just 3 blocks from the office and I drive right past it on my way home. I picked up ingredients for tacos and got in line at the check-out.

I was only half-way paying attention to the woman in front of me tell the cashier about how excited she was to go home and make pudding for her granddaughter, just as her grandmother had done for her when she was a little girl. She was going to put sprinkles on top, just like her grandmother had. It made me smile and miss my grandmothers, both of whom have been gone for several years. I thought about the date-nut pinwheels that my Gramma M made every Christmas for me and my dad. I thought about the Jello Easter eggs my Gramma R made every year. Grandmas (or “Grammas,” as we called ours) help make holidays special, and now that mine are gone, holidays are just a little bittersweet. I had brief flashes of this woman and a little girl having their pudding together, and it made my heart happy.

“How are you going to pay for this?” the elderly cashier asked.

“With my EBT card,” the woman said, swiping the food stamps card with her right hand.

“That’s not enough.” The cashier seemed pretty irritated.

“How much is left? I think I have some change in my pocket,” said the grandmother, digging in every pocket she had. She came up with about $0.39.

“$1.13. You’ll have to put something back.” The cashier almost spit the words at her.

“THIS IS MY CHANCE!” I thought. This is my change to cross something off of my Random Acts of Kindness Bucket List: to help a stranger pay for groceries they can’t afford themselves. Granted, it was a pretty small amount, but just think: I could help her, she would have a better night, and get to make pudding with her granddaughter! I could go on with my night, having done something to help someone enjoy Christmas, which would help me feel more festive, too. I opened my wallet, pulled out a dollar and a quarter and held it out to the cashier.

“Here, I’ll take care of it.” My hand just hung there.

“No. She’s already on food stamps so she has to put something back,” the cashier said, picking up the phone to call the supervisor to come override the computer so that she could take something off.

“No, really,” I said, holding the money out even further. “It’s not much, and I want to.”

The grandmother was shrinking, still trying to come up with more change in her pockets, still coming up empty. I was getting increasingly frustrated with the cashier who wasn’t taking my money. The supervisor came over and tried to back things out of the system, but wasn’t successful. They would have to cancel the whole transaction, re-ring everything (minus the one item) and hope that the money wasn’t already pulled from the woman’s EBT card.

“I can’t take your money, but thank you.” The grandmother looked like she wanted to crawl into a hole as the cashier glared at her.

“I want to help. I’m a minister, and helping is what I do. Please, let me do this,” and with that, I reached around the scanner and planted the money in front of the cashier. “Take the money already.”

The cashier gave me the stink-eye, picked up the money, cashed out that last bit of the bill, and silently rang up my groceries while the grandmother thanked me and I wished her a Merry Christmas. I paid for my food, wished the cashier a Merry Christmas as well, trying to be kind to a woman who had just succeeded in making me furious about what should have been a happy thing. I stopped to say hi to Mike, the bellringer who was outside the store, got to my van, and sent a furious message to my friend, who shared my outrage at the horrible treatment that the cashier gave the woman. “It’s CHRISTMAS! Can’t she even be nice at CHRISTMAS!? Who cares if she’s on food stamps, if someone wants to help, who is that miserly old cashier to say that I can’t?”

Over the next few hours, somehow, despite my expectations and my rants, Christmas finally hit me, but in a way that is different than it has before. I don’t think that we’re wrong to celebrate Christmas with cookies and pageants and twinkling lights – I think that all these things that bring joy to us also bring joy to God, who loves it when His creation has fun.I think He gets a kick out of kids wearing bathrobes as shepherds and tinsel halos as angels while they sing carols in front of a sea of adoring camera phones.

Yet Christmas isn’t about that. Christmas is about God doing something for us that we could never do for ourselves. We could dig in all of our pockets until the sun falls out of the sky and never come up with enough to bail ourselves out. God offers His grace through His Son, and sometimes, we hold off on accepting it because we are embarrassed about needing it. Grace that the world resents, because it would like nothing more than to throw our destitution back in our faces.

My heart finally found Christmas tonight, but not in the way I expected. Not in the pageant I saw Sunday night, not in the carols coming from the van radio, but in the grocery line, digging my heels in (as my mother would say), determined that my love for this stranger was going to defeat the unkindness coming from the cashier. I’m glad to say that this Christmas, love won again, and I hope that that little girl has many more years of pudding with her grandmother.