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The Bagman Cometh. Or See-eth.

A quick trip to the grocery comes with a dilemma. Makeup? No makeup? Hat? No hat? I care about what I wear, but not always. Sometimes I take the real me, unphotoshopped, as I sneak around the aisles. If I spot someone I know, I pretend to be glued to the buy-one-get-one free chicken broth just to go unnoticed.

Today I just wanted to get in and out of the store, short and sweet. I didn’t feel like small talk but you can’t escape it there. The people in green are just so stinkin’ friendly.

The very second I walked to where the baskets were waiting, I was greeted by the kindest man ever. Jacob. Older than my father but younger than my grandfather so I don’t know to classify him. Every time he sees me, without fail, he loudly calls to me, “Ahh, my favorite customer is here. Kim! How are ya today, Kim?” Emphasizing my name each and every time. Cheeks turn red; I should have worn the hat.

A couple years ago, Jacob got me confused with someone else and called me by the wrong name. This sparked our friendship. He reminds me of this every other time I see him, and he often recounts the entire story to whichever cashier is within earshot. I play along and laugh at the appropriate time, wishing he would work a little faster. Impatient Man is behind me. Jacob hugs me hello, hugs me good-bye, and I don’t even know his last name.

He sees me at my best, like right after I’ve had lunch with a friend and stop in for some milk. And my worst, like the time I felt the need to personally question the gentleman in the parking lot who flipped me off because I got his parking space. That’s another story he likes to tell. (The time he was dressed up as Santa and walked up to me and said, “How are you today, Kim?” still has my kids rattled.)

This time, between bagging eggs and Cheetos, he pays me a compliment. “Jacob, you are too kind but I think you need to get your glasses adjusted. I look terrible and you know it.” We laugh, he insists, I contradict. I know the guy behind me hears, even though he now pretends to read the cover of Cooking Light. And I know he thinks a little cover-up would have done wonders.

As Jacob takes my groceries to the car, we take our time. This is when we catch up on the kids, his work schedule, and the price of groceries. His breathes like the 70-something-year-old-man he is and I wonder how I would ever know if something happened to him. He packs up my car, hugs my neck, and says he’ll be looking for me on my next trip. I secretly vow to make myself more presentable next time.

As I back out of the parking lot, I look in the rear view mirror and try to see who he was talking about.

Why is it so difficult to see ourselves as the bag-man does? Beneath the dirt and beyond the phony. Past the impatience, beneath the mask, and beyond the organic bananas, to the core. Past who we used to be, to who we have become. Every time we see ourselves as not-entirely-forgiven, or not-exactly-beautiful, or not-as-good as-our-neighbor, we undo everything that was accomplished on the cross.

We were made to walk in grace, to rest in mercy, and sometimes it takes people like the bag-man to gently remind us of that. God sees us bare and undone and loves us in spite of ourselves. Why can’t we do the same?

I think we could learn a lot from the bag-man.

1 Peter 3:4 Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in. (The Message)

Posted in Flattery, Groceries, Inner Beauty, Kindness, Life | Tagged , , , | 20 Comments

Buckle Up. Bad Weather Ahead!

Tuesday morning I dropped Sophie off in Leiper’s Fork to check out a school. The long drive is not something I typically do any other morning. Just think Tennessee farms, horses, and fog settling beneath the branches of empty trees on a cool winter morning. On the way home, I purposefully let up on the gas pedal and turned the radio off. The quiet helps me think. And remember.

It’s hard to believe that just two nights before, eerie tornado sirens were drowned out as the wind whipped through the Bradford pears and delivered hail and buckets of water.

This calm after the storm reminds me of a time when Sophie and I flew to Texas to visit my mom. On the way to the airport, Regi said, “Not such a great day to fly.” The sky was gray and the thunder deep within the horizon made me think the second coming was underway. I got nervous when the pilot came over the loud speaker to announce that the beverage service would be delayed. That always means trouble.

The plane’s ascent felt like I was riding in my mom’s blue Pinto on the dirt road of my childhood rather than in an MD 80. If you could get inside my mind at these times, you’d hear me praying the Rosary, meditating, reciting the books of the Bible, and then settling in as I lock into a familiar Rich Mullins tunes. I make sure my bases are covered.

This particular flight occurred after I’d had a conversation with my mom about spatial disorientation. (I bring these things on myself.) I managed to convince myself that we were experiencing that phenomenon as we sliced through the clouds. Were we right side up or upside down? It looked as though the clouds were slapping the windows of the plane; we were in an all out tug-of-war as we climbed. Sophie nestled her head in my lap and fell asleep. I gripped my armrests as the guy in 14B read the newspaper.

Eventually we shot out of the clouds and we were sitting atop what resembled muddy cotton candy. Now that we were over the storm everything was breathtaking. Blue skies stretched as far as my eye could see. And not just any blue; it was bluer than anything Crayola has ever attempted. The airplane was so calm that I wondered if the storm had been that bad. Did I overreact? Finally the familiar ding echoed across the loud speaker and the illuminated seat belt disappeared.

Wouldn’t it be so much easier if we could all be ensured a smooth ride?

The truth is, we will encounter turbulence along our way. I’ve come to learn that often the only path to a blue sky is the one that goes right through a mean storm. I’m talking a choppy, knuckle-gripping squall that lasts longer than the weatherman predicted. But think of this: it’s only after the misery of winter that yellow daffodils are prompted from the ground!

Perhaps that blue sky is placed above us as an anchor. An anchor of hope that says we’re in for some tough times and that we need to buckle up. An anchor that reminds us there is something greater beyond the blue. An anchor, firm and steady.

Whatever it means for you, I pray you find the courage to get through your situation. After all, it’s usually the most uncomfortable road that takes you on the ride of your life!

Posted in Lessons from every day living, Life, Spirituality | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Food For Fines a/k/a How Ramen Noodles Taught Me About Grace

A not-too-sophisticated equation of what I owe the library. In cans.

January 9th marked the start of the annual food drive that Nashville’s Public Library conducts in order to purge people of all their sinful ways. I mean to waive their overdue fines.

As I approach the gentleman at the library, my face turns pink. My eyes often well with tears when I discuss my overdue fines. I preface our conversation with, “I’m probably on your most wanted list. I need to pay up before I can check anything out.” Fear veiled in humor is a dead giveaway.

He perches up on his elbow, leans in close and whispers, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” He points to the flyer that says “Food for Fines” and tells me to pay up then. “There is so much else to be concerned about.”

Problem is, when I go back on the day Food for Fines starts, he is nowhere in sight. I saunter up to the counter and face the nicely dressed woman who scares me. I force a smile and put my return books and canned goods on the table of shame. I pray that no one approaches behind me to witness my confession.

“I need to return these today.” This is really just to warm her up. “I’d also like to apply the cans to what I owe as well.” It would take no less than 50 cans of petite peas to completely erase our family library debt and I refuse to pull a Radio Flyer behind me.

She looks at me, then the cans, then the computer, pushes some buttons, and glares back at me through pointy silver-rimmed readers. She announces, in an outside voice, “But you have $19.40 to pay off,” so that everyone around me knows I’m guilty.

“Oh my, I didn’t realize it. Let’s just start with these,” I feign surprise at the amount I owe although it’s lower than what I anticipated. She takes my mercy cans and inspects them. I admit this was my clean-out-the-pantry effort, however, I did not submit anything expired. Afterwards, I go look for more books.

It wasn’t until my way out that I saw the official flyer. It stated in neat bullets what they would accept:

Canned tuna/chicken, Cereal, Canned Vegetables, Fruit or Soup, Peanut Butter Pasta

I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Clearly refried beans, jellied cranberry sauce, and bamboo shoots weren’t technically on the list.

I return the following Wednesday, this time with six cans of generic vegetables and find the nice worker. “Hi,” I look down and pray the tears away. “I’m here to pay off more of my debt.” He cracks a joke and senses my ill ease because once again, he tells me to relax.

“See those tall boxes?” He points to the back. “They have been overflowing with canned food all week. Literally spilling out. Some people have brought truckloads so don’t worry. We’ll take care of it.”

“I just feel so bad for racking up these fines.” I glance behind me and see a woman carrying a cardbox box, awaiting her turn at repentance.

I confess that he’s the nicest guy in the library and I confide my fear of the pointy glasses woman. He grabs my hand and offers the sincerest of thanks. “Nobody should be afraid to come to the library.”

He then pulls up all the fines my kids and I owe (I still don’t have the heart to bring up my husband’s account that probably has my lost book attached to it) as we laugh and take our time determining exactly how much more food it will take to wipe the slate clean. This is when he gives me an insider tip: Raman noodles. My eyes light up!

I tell him I will bring the noodles (six for a dollar…yippee!) in tomorrow since it is the last day of the food drive when he says, “Oh no, you don’t have to. The deadline [for grace] has been extended until Sunday!”

I tell ya…while chatting over peas and carrots, my little foreign friend taught me more about grace than I’ve heard in a long time.

I used to lug around a similar cardboard box that held the enormity of all I ever did wrong. Eventually the weight did me in and I finally got the nerve to state my case. Head hung low, I presented an offering that was equal to a bunch of dented cans filled with pureed shame because I had nothing else left.

And right then and there, He accepted everything I did without the slightest bit of

judging. I will admit that I look for simple re-reminders from places just like the library. When I saw the tall boxes overflowing with cans, it painted a picture for me as though The Grand Canyon were right in front of me and it was abundant with…you guessed it. More ramen noodles than an eye could behold. Yet not even that beautiful creation can contain the sheer amount of grace He makes available to me!

So I commend you if you’ve lived a life worthy of sainthood or at least having a fellowship hall named after you. But for those of us who have stood outside the shadow of grace for far too long, the idea of a canyon filled with dried noodles makes perfect sense.

I learned through my friendly librarians that grace doesn’t come with a deadline or expire in 24 hours. No one has to be afraid to ask for it. You don’t have to carry it around with you and you don’t have to be afraid to lay it out before a loving God. All you have to do is accept it. Because it’s free. Because it’s immense. And because He already paid your debt.

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What To Do With Your Left Overs

Recently I attended a Bible study on John 6. I’ve heard that story since Mr. Perrone’s second grade Sunday school class; we sang about it while arranging felt figures on that simply magical board!

I’m sure you’ve heard it before. Jesus fed more than 5000 people with a kid’s lunch that consisted of a couple fish and some of his mama’s homemade bread. Oh how he must have dreamed about sitting in the shade and munching on his yummy feast that day! Little did he know what he would give up. I still remember being amazed that Jesus did all that multiplying without twitching his nose or folding his arms and blinking!

But after they were done eating, Jesus told His disciples, “Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost. Therefore they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten.”

Even though I heard this Bible study before the holidays, the state of my refrigerator post-Thanksgiving and Christmas was a gentle reminder that I had some revisiting to do.

What is the purpose for all these left overs I keep?

I remember the feeling that day after Thanksgiving when I opened my fridge in search of the half-and-half. I cooked too much and the containers stacked on top of each other confirmed it. Reinventing the Jell-O salad on wilted iceberg lettuce was not a good idea. (I didn’t go to that extreme but maybe you did.)

All my well-laid intentions of the perfect meal fell by the wayside. I know because I cleared the table and scraped my hard work into the garbage again. What my family didn’t know is that they would eventually eat this food, whether at lunch today, or dinner tomorrow. Sound familiar? Often in our vain attempt to prove who-knows-what, we hold on to what was meant for the trash in the first place. I don’t even like leftovers!

It reminds me of something funky that happened after turning 40. And to be honest, my life sometimes feels like one big bowl of leftover cornbread stuffing. Not the star of the show like the perfectly caramelized skin of that overly anticipated bird, but just an overlooked side dish.

It sort of feels like someone stole my place at the table. Ever feel that way? Like she’s driving your car, he bought your house, and now they’re living your dream? You did everything right but now you’ve been relegated to the back of the refrigerator where no one notices and God doesn’t care.

Take heart! I am convinced that He had something in mind that day for when we feel dirty, trampled on, and unwanted. Left over. Left behind. Left out.

First you have to clean up the mess you’ve been keeping. You know what I’m talking about…the big bowl of anger that’s been stewing on the back burner from a bruised relationship. The plate of unforgiveness because you were abandoned and your dreams crushed. You serve sadness in your best china and offer regret in a crystal goblet to everyone you meet because you refuse to let it go.

The story of the boy that day is quite simple for us all. He carried something, a lunch, that was rightfully his, just like the feelings and emotions you think are rightfully yours. I wonder how he felt after Jesus took his lunch. Did he ask for it back or did he fold his arms in disgust and storm away? I know what grief I would incur if I set a happy meal in front of my starving child then took it away before he took a bite. Not pretty!

But Jesus had a plan. After He took his lunch, He blessed it, broke it and then used it in a way that affected the multitude of people for perhaps the rest of their lives. He even knew there would be leftovers to be taken care of.

Isn’t that what He does along our journey? He takes, He breaks, and then He shapes. Unfortunately, it’s often the messiest stuff that we hold to the longest.

There is stuff in all of our lives that stinks. Yet God loves us so much that He’s willing to gather all those unimportant left overs and gently put them into woven baskets that He takes care of. You don’t have to rest on yesterday’s grace because He offers new mercies every morning!

Sure the New Year has already started, but there’s time to figure out if you’re still holding on to something you should have left behind. If you did, it’s time to let Him gather it up once and for all. I have a feeling there’s a place awaiting you and it’s right in the middle of a beautiful story starring the one and only you, no leftovers involved!

 

 

Posted in Dealing with the Mess In My Life, Learning From Loaves and Fishes, Life, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Tearing Up the Scary

Eli's hallway bed

The first time Eli forgot his lunchbox I didn’t realize it until it was almost too late. I got to school just as the second graders were marching towards a smell that, in my opinion, was anything but appetizing. Imagine a wave of relief sweeping over a face. My boy looked at me through tears. “She said I had to buy my lunch. And that I had to eat it.”

I got that hen and her chick feeling, ready to peck away at the teacher who would be so mean as to tell my son he had to do anything, let alone eat that mess.

I never knew my son was quite so obedient!

It was a few months ago on a Sunday after I routinely asked Eli how Kid’s Chapel went that I was in the chicken coop all over again. He promptly said, with disdain written across his freckled nose, “They told us to think of the one thing that scared us the most. Then they made us draw it!”

Before allowing him to finish, I decided that was the craziest thing I’d ever heard. My feathers started to ruffle. This is church…a place where we should not have to discuss what makes us uncomfortable. I asked him to continue so that I knew exactly who I’d be giving a piece of my mind to.

“What did you draw?”

“Ch…” He hesitated, because he won’t say the word that scares him the most. “Ch…”

Somewhere along the way, and at someone’s house who will go unnamed to protect their innocently guilty self, he was on YouTube and found the movie trailer of that sick-o doll that comes to life and kills people. I can’t say or even type the name because it has been struck from our family’s vocabulary.

Just know that since stumbling on that horror, he has obsessed over it. If we pass the movie section at Target and he sees it on the shelf, he goes around it, hands covering his face. We banished everything with eyes from his room: teddy bears, nutcrackers, even a mirror. For months we dealt patiently with him at bedtime. No matter the prayers offered, he was not convinced that God cared because his pleas for this evil to leave his mind would not go away. Regi and I took turns laying down with him and singing happy songs as he drifted to sleep. We left lights on. He would sneak into his sister’s room and sleep with her. He would moan down from the upstairs railing saying that within fifteen seconds of closing his eyes he would have a terrible dream. Nighttime was a nightmare for us all.

It even culminated with him dragging his comforter and pillows into the hallway and sleeping for a couple of weeks. Night after night he lay between the wall and stair railing, bundled like a babushka in his blanket to protect him from the bad lurking around him.

About a week after he was forced to draw his deepest fear, I took some clothes to his room. His comforter lay in a crumpled mess on the floor. It struck me as odd because it was never that far from him at night.

Later he said, “Guess what, Mom? I didn’t sleep with my comforter around me last night. I don’t have to anymore. And You Know Who doesn’t bother me anymore!” Remember that swell of relief I mentioned? Now it came across my face.

That dreaded day in Kids Chapel something more happened. And after I untangled my tail feathers, Eli told me the rest of the story.

“What happened after you drew this terrible picture of …” I asked.

“There was this light that they [the leaders] shone on everything we drew. Then they held up all the pictures of our fears and ripped them to pieces. They shouted and we sang some songs and they said I don’t have to be afraid anymore. Jesus is bigger than my fears.”

I’ll be honest. After he told me what happened, I shrugged it off as a cute-little-act done in cute-little-children’s-church. I mean, if my prayers hadn’t worked by now, he could never grasp the significance of shredding his fears into tiny little pieces. Don’t most parents drop their kids off in class with the simple hope that they’ll make a friend and put their quarter in the offering so they can call it a day? You mean my big God shows up in little kids’ church?

While I’d like to say that Eli’s fears flew the coop the same night he drew that picture, it took a little time. It had to so that my grubby little fingerprints were nowhere to be seen on his miracle.

When we try to make everything so perfect and unnerving for our kids, we interfere with God’s desire to show them who He is. Our vain attempts to smooth the rough waters called life means they don’t get to experience Him as Protector, Healer, Provider and Savior for themselves! Eli needed to see the life altering effect that happened when he faced that creepy little doll through the mighty power of a mighty God by tearing his fear to pieces himself.  I’d rather my kids face life with a few battle scars because they’ve learned how to fight than show up to battle without a single skill.

In conclusion…well, I really don’t how to conclude. This was intended to be a post on why I’m thankful for the Pastor Bill’s and Pastor Ian’s, the Brittany’s and the Amy’s, and all the others that call my kids by their name. Who pray for them. Who make them feel welcome every time they arrive. Who make church fun. And relevant. Who care enough to provide their lives as an example week after week. Who put up with chatty teenage girls who’d rather talk than pray. And who understand enough to show these kids that the same God who cares about mortgages and heart conditions is the same God who cares about boogeymen and midterms.

But truly this post is about what I’ve learned from my own children…again. So if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some pictures of my own to draw. And a lot of tearing up to do.

Posted in Life, Parenting | Tagged , , | 27 Comments