The kids are watching [our response to those in need]

I guided our red minivan into the left turn lane, the one closest to the median, and the man standing on it, leaning against the traffic sign, looked up, searching for a driver in the line to lock eyes with him. His shorts, t-shirt, and flip flops on a cooler-than-usual Florida day, along with the cardboard sign he held, indicated need. I caught his eye and nodded.

I am the woman who obsessively locks whatever can be locked—the front door, the screen door, the garage door, windows, car doors. I stash valuables; I buckle my kids tight; I creep silently to the peephole when the doorbell rings, wary of strangers. 

The man walked toward the van as I rummaged around in the center console and the tote bag on the front seat. I’m a mom; it’s in my job description to travel with snacks. My 2-year-old daughter grinned at me in the rearview mirror, and I locked eyes with her, too. My fingers finally landed on what I knew was somewhere in the bag, and I emerged with a chocolate chip granola bar.

I wished I had more, but it was something. I need to make care bags to keep with me.

I rolled down my window and offered it to the man.

“Would you like a granola bar?”

He had a crooked smile, weathered skin, and kind blue eyes. I wonder what his story is, but does it matter? 

“Thank you, ma’am.”

My throat was tight and all I could do was look him in the eyes and nod.

I rolled the window back up as the light turned green and we pulled forward. I glanced at the rearview mirror again as my little girl strained against her carseat straps to watch the man walk away.

“Did you gave him a ganolga bar, Mommy?” (One of those words I secretly hope she mispronounces forever.)  Continue reading “The kids are watching [our response to those in need]”

Compassion

When we lost a baby in June of 2013, friends who had known about the pregnancy—my small, intimate circle of girlfriends and our church small group at the time—showed up at our door. They didn’t linger, just quietly dropped off food. Lasagna. Casserole. Chocolate chip cookies. Two gallons of the best Italian ice from a local place.

Hugs and comfort in the form of food. Acknowledgment of our loss, of our pain. An attempt to alleviate some of our suffering.

I’m sure it wasn’t the first time I’d been on the receiving end of compassion. But when I thought hard, wracking my memory troves for personal examples, this was the first to come to mind—perhaps because it was our first experience with deep grief.

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Continue reading “Compassion”

Before we click Unfollow

I noticed earlier this week that at some point—I have no idea when—I must have accidentally hit the “Like” button for the Facebook page of a certain political figure as I scrolled through my newsfeed. When I discovered what I’d inadvertently done, I laughed because of who the figure was and how that blue thumbs-up might have been interpreted. (I’m not going to name the figure because it’s not relevant to this post.)

But then I started putting two and two together and I realized some people had likely unfollowed or blocked my posts as a result of that “Like.”

That was sobering. Suddenly my accidental click didn’t seem funny anymore.

Since the election, I’ve seen well-meaning, kind-hearted people posting instructions on how to block certain friends/pages from being visible in our newsfeeds when we don’t agree with the content they’re sharing. I’ll admit, I use this tool myself and will say that there are times when it is useful and even necessary. I block junk, fake news, posts with foul language, and over-sharers (sorry!), among other things. Sometimes I need to step back from a certain feed for a season, for the sake of my own heart. You likely have your reasons too, and I think that’s all ok. Too much is too much.

But I regret my own haste to “block” and “unfollow” people lately based on the sharing of views and opinions that don’t line up with my own. I am sorry for it. For someone who requires so much grace, I sure am stingy with it. 

I’m challenging myself, and I’ll encourage you, too: Don’t cut people out—of your newsfeed or your life—just because you have political or ideological differences. Don’t create a bubble for yourself that only includes likeminded folks. Take a deep breath, step back for a moment, and remember there’s a person on the other side of your screen—a human being, just as loved and cherished by God as you are. Let that sink in for a minute.

Let’s be better at acknowledging each other’s humanness and the fact that it’s not only good to have relationships with people with whom we disagree, it’s necessary.

I think we are all capable of more kindness, compassion, and empathy.

My first step was to take a peek at the people and pages I had hidden from my Facebook feed. From a computer, you can do this by hovering over the News Feed header in the left column. Click the gear that appears to the left of the words “News Feed” and then select “Edit Preferences.” A new window should pop up. Click on “Reconnect with people you unfollowed” and see who’s there. You might be surprised. (I was.) From there you have the option to re-follow people from your list.

As I looked at mine, I prayed for God to soften my heart toward friends with opposing views, and then I added some back into my bubble.

One step at a time.

Who’s with me? 


For an insightful analysis on this topic, I’d recommend this article.

On being the light of the world, at Publix

It’s time to change the way I look at grocery shopping—and every other mundane task that brings me into contact with other humans, for that matter. Every day is full of opportunities to be Jesus to someone who needs him.

There are two Publixes in my town, and MY Publix, being slightly out of the way and in a quieter area, has been a delightful spot since we moved here six years ago. It’s bright and clean, and the employees are the friendliest I’ve ever encountered. The best part? If I hit it at the right time of day, it’s practically empty (so, good for me, not for Publix). You know the introverts of the world prefer grocery shopping alone and making eye contact with no one. And if I can make the trip without my kids in tow? *Insert praise hands emoji*

Well. Months back, a new apartment complex opened next door to my sweet, quiet, peaceful Publix, and as new residents began moving in, this terrible thing happened. All these people started shopping at my grocery store. They were suddenly crowding my aisles and forcing me to wait in a line at the deli counter (so, good for Publix, not for me). I could no longer find a parking spot in my usual row. A lover of consistency and routine, I didn’t adapt well to any of this. So many people everywhere! And some of them so grumpy, right there in my happy place! Where did they even come from?

My initial reaction was to change my approach to grocery shopping. I would no longer take my time strolling up and down each aisle, enjoying my solitude and the ’80s tunes playing overhead. No, I would be a defensive player. (That might be the one and only sports analogy you’ll ever see here, by the way.) Keep my head down, stick to the list, push my cart swiftly and with authority, make small talk with no one, beat the other shoppers to the short line, swipe my card, and get the heck out of there. I survive! I win!

But God. (Isn’t it always “but God”?)

It started with a man, cart full of groceries, two little girls up front and another walking beside, on a day when the checkout lines were particularly long. I had beaten him to the shortest line with my own full cart. I looked up and we made eye contact, and something in my heart said, “Move.” So I took a couple of steps back and beckoned him over from his place in the line next to me.

He took me up on the offer with a grateful smile, and I stepped behind him and waved at the little girls in the cart.

It was a tiny interaction that didn’t cost me much—maybe five extra minutes of standing. It wasn’t a huge moment in the history of grocery shopping and checkout line acts of kindness. But God stirred something in me right there between the tabloids and the candy.

I can be a gospel-sharer anywhere and everywhere I find myself. As a follower of Christ that’s not a task to do, or something I turn off and on as needed—it’s who I am.

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It’s time to change the way I look at grocery shopping—and every other mundane task that brings me into contact with other humans, for that matter. Every day is full of opportunities to be Jesus to someone who needs him. I just haven’t been paying attention—or worse, dismissing some opportunities with “but not right now…”

It’s not that hard or scary, either. I can do this stuff:

• Make eye contact with employees and other customers. Engage.

• Smile at people—even when they butt you in line or grab the last of the BOGO Oreos off the shelf.

• Let others go first.

• Be a helper.

• Share a positive word. Look for the opportunities to strike up a conversation with someone—which teriyaki marinade you prefer, why Oreo Thins are better than original, whatever. (That’s right, I said it.)

• Befriend the cashiers and baggers. Learn their names. Talk with them about your obsession with Hamilton. (Yeah, I did that.)

• Beat them to the punch by telling them you hope THEY have a great day first.

• Leave with a smile, not in a huff.

• Teach your kids to do all of the above.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others…” —Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:14-16

Lord, help me not to look past the people right in front of me every day—at Publix, at the post office, sitting in car line after school—stashing my lamp under a basket just because I’m in a hurry to get errands done. 

Where do your daily outings take you? What else would you add to the list above? Are there opportunities to be a light in places you hadn’t considered before?

The interaction might seem insignificant in the moment, but believe me, it’s not—not to the person on the receiving end. (It will change you, too, by the way.) And there’s no one like our God to take those little moments and turn them into something beautiful and kingdom-building.

 

Step onto someone else’s lawn

On Sunday morning, we got flipped off on our way to church. Yes, I’ve written before about how strongly I feel about drivers giving each other the finger. You can read that one here, or I’ll save you the time and sum up: I detest it. This time, a neighbor a couple houses down and across the street from us—an older man whose always-manicured lawn is clearly his pride and joy— was outside mowing. He was near the street with his back turned, and I guess we startled him when we drove by, because what my husband saw in the rear-view mirror was the man’s finger and his angry face, clearly cursing. I missed the whole exchange because I was busy praying. Just kidding, I was putting on mascara.

We briefly commented on the fact that we hadn’t driven anywhere near him, how it must be sad to be such a grump all the time, and how that guy had always seemed a little off. I had been chatting with some girlfriends that morning via text about this and that, and I shared the story with them (you know, so I could get some support that obviously we’d done nothing wrong and that guy was just being a jerk). We all agreed. What a grump. What a sad life he must have. I shrugged it off. We went on to church and went on with our day, and I pushed the incident from my mind.

I should have known that my husband is not the type to write something like that off and say, “Oh well, I guess we just won’t be friends with that neighbor,” regardless of whether he deserved the finger. Now for the record, in my opinion and I think Jesus would back me up on this, it is never okay to give anyone the finger. And now I promise I’m finished talking about that. Moving on.  

On Monday morning, Mr. Lawn Man was outside mowing again. (I wasn’t exaggerating when I said it’s his pride and joy. He puts up reflectors and occasionally ropes it off—with signs—to keep cars, bikes, feet, and pets off.) My husband had been a little quiet, and I asked if everything was okay.

“I’m going to go over there and talk to him,” he said.

Now, I don’t know how you deal with confrontational situations, but I do not handle them well. Not at all. My heart races, I break into a sweat, and I begin thinking of all the things I could do as an alternative to having that conversation. No, don’t do that sweetie. We’ll just sell our house! Let’s move. All new neighbors. Nice ones. Sound good? 

Of course, in this case, he was the one doing the confronting, not me, so I just said, “Okay.” And then I immediately planted myself on the back of the couch by our front window and watched like a hawk as my brave, brave man crossed the street and over to our neighbor’s yard. My heart was pounding. Is he smiling? I can’t tell if he’s smiling! Are those angry gestures? What kind of message is someone sending if they have their hands on their hips? What if that guy punches him? Wait, are they laughing? WHY CAN’T I READ LIPS?

And then, after about 10 minutes, I saw them shake hands and part ways.

Here is what my husband had done: He had let go of his pride and any defiance at the fact that he had done nothing wrong, and instead offered our neighbor the other cheek. He apologized if he had, in fact, startled the man when we drove by. And you know what happened? That man didn’t puff up in anger. He didn’t tell my hubby off. Actually, he looked a little sheepish, apologized in return, and said he hadn’t realized it was us driving by. (This is not a good excuse! But that’s beside the point.) We had startled him, but you know, his wife always says he stands too far in the road when he mows. (That part made me laugh.)

And here is what we learned about our neighbor, Mr. Lawn Man: He has an actual first and last name, which we now know. (Shocking, right? This is embarrassing. We have lived across the street from each other for five years.) He used to be on our town council and is quite interested and involved in the local government. He likes rules. He likes things neat. We always assumed he was a war vet based on our own observations, but he’s not. He is, however, a huge American history buff (as is my husband), and has written some books about World War II, which he seems quite proud of.

God made this man. He is a human being, he makes mistakes just like you and me, and he has a story.

The next day, my husband found an envelope tucked under the wiper blades of his car. Inside was a note that read, “Thanks for stopping by. I enjoyed chatting with you” along with information about those books he wrote and where we could find them online if we were interested.

My heart swells with pride and honor that I am married to a man who sets this kind of example for me and for our kids. Our 7-year-old observed the exchange through the window with me, and she had been with us in the car the day before and knew what happened. We watched this leader of our family grieve the situation, summon God’s help, and lower himself enough to take those steps across the street and extend a hand of grace, make an apology regardless of fault, and begin a relationship with someone we’d made all kinds of negative assumptions about.

I learned a lot from that interaction, so much that I’m still processing it all, but what I will leave you with is this: I pray the next time something like this happens to me or to you (because we all know these situations are inevitable), we take a moment to put our own defiant anger aside, seek God’s heart of mercy, and humble ourselves enough to take the first step onto the other person’s [perfectly clipped] lawn. There’s no telling how God might use it for good, but I guarantee He will.

On minivans, the power of words, and the finger

I spend a lot of time in the car these days. To school, to work, to school, to work, to grandma’s, to church, to school, to work… I drive a minivan which, I have no problem saying, isn’t top of the line or anything. But it’s comfortable, and it’s easy to get the kids in and out, and it’s reliable, and we can fit lots of stuff in it.

The one thing I really don’t enjoy about the family vehicle we selected is this. In the three or four years I’ve been driving it, I’ve come to one conclusion: Nobody wants to drive behind a minivan. I don’t know why, but I suspect people think that minivan driver equals either distracted mom or elderly gentleman. Fine, yes, in the interest of total disclosure, sometimes I am the distracted mom driver. But really—I’m a good driver. My record is spotless (if I write that, have I just jinxed it?). In any case, it doesn’t seem to matter whether I’m keeping up with the flow of traffic or even speeding a little. There’s something about the back end of a minivan that screams at other drivers, “QUICKLY! PASS ME NOW OR BE TRAPPED FOREVER!”

On one of my many back-and-forth to school/work routes when I was about 6 months pregnant with my youngest, the car behind me rode my tail all the way through the residential area near my house. When people do this, my heart rate rises and I get shaky. Why are they tailing me? Did I do something wrong? Am I being followed? (See previous post about watching too much Law & Order.) The speed limit on this particular street was 25, and it’s clear the road was constructed with the intention to keep drivers from being able to speed—it’s windy, some parts are paved with stone, and there are little roundabouts that force you to brake.

So, in my minivan, I’m really going as fast as I can around these little roundabouts. I stop at a stop sign. The woman behind me stops, still right on my tail. I make a turn; so does she. I drive down the next road on my route, and once again she rides my bumper until we come to the next stop sign. At which point I come to a complete stop, and glance in my rearview mirror, and there it is.

Zing. That finger. And she didn’t just flash it at me. She waved it around up in her windshield for good measure, you know, in case I missed it. I pulled forward through the intersection and watched her make a right turn behind me and pull into a driveway… Oh my goodness, she’s my neighbor. We live on the same block. I burst into tears and drove up to the next street and into my own driveway, where I sat, shaking, and tried to calm myself.

It’s been more than a year since this incident, which I’m guessing many people would have shrugged off with a “Whatever.” But it’s as fresh in my mind today as it was the day it happened, and it still bothers me. I wish I could just forget things like this, believe me. But even though this complete stranger and I never exchanged words, her words—in the form of that one ridiculous finger—struck me, and they stuck. If we had been walking down the street, and she was in a hurry, and I had stepped into her path, would she have been so bold as to say those incredibly rude words associated with that finger to my face? Highly unlikely, yet it sure felt as though that’s what she had done.

Whether spoken or indicated through a gesture—words hurt. And when thrown about carelessly and without regard to the feelings of another, they have the power to crush and destroy. Warnings about taming the tongue are all over the Bible.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue… —Proverbs 18:21

And then James writes:

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire… setting on fire the entire course of life. … No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. —James 3:5-10

Full of deadly poison. Now that scares me. But it’s the last part that breaks my heart. With our tongues—when we don’t exercise the simple discipline of silence, just holding our tongues—we curse people.

People God made. People God loves. People He loves as much as He loves you. Someone who lost a loved one this morning. Someone with a broken heart. Someone who just lost a job. Someone who doesn’t know that God loves them, and that they are wanted. Or a very tired pregnant lady who is just trying to get home after a long day to hug her husband and little girl.

Words stick with me, and that includes the words I’ve said to others in a burst of anger or moment of carelessness. I go to bed some nights, my own words rolling around in my head, regretting every one and kicking myself for not having the restraint to just keep my mouth shut. I hate to think that I’ve made someone feel the way that woman made me feel that day, though I’m certain that I am guilty of doing so.

It’s inevitable that I’ll be flipped off again in the future, so I’ll see you in therapy for that one. For now I’m going to hold onto the memory of that brief interaction as a reminder for myself that in a moment of extreme frustration, the best solution—and the best way to not ruin someone else’s day or worse—is to just be kind. Be patient. Keep your mouth shut… and keep your hands on the steering wheel.