Archives for April 2016

When We Don’t Know the Story {Food Pantries and Job Loss}

I’m waiting in line.  She doesn’t understand his heckling.  She is paying with food stamps, and the guy behind her has seen her panhandling at a busy intersection. I’ve seen her too.  She’s not buying anything “healthy,” but neither am I.  

“Oh, you make the big money over by the bridge,” he says.

“Not really,” she says. “We get by.”

“Get a job!” he replies – ever so sarcastically.

I can’t hear what she’s saying, but her head is bowed. I observe her a bit longer and wonder if she’s mentally ill.  Her lack of understanding and inability to engage with simple activities suggests she might be.

I know some of her money goes to alcohol.  An addiction no different than me buying chips when I am overweight.

The struggle in my heart and the judgement from the line is tangible.  There’s so much anger directed at her.  I want to ask them…do you really want her life? Begging on a corner? No family to speak of? No home?

And I know what they’ll say – something about their  -my – taxpayer dollars supporting her habits.  I get it. I really do. But, when I look at the angry mob behind the downtrodden woman, I can’t muster any vehemence.  I am just sad.

Because I think of a blog I read yesterday. It lurks in my head all day – all evening – this morning. The post centers on how we assume things about others – often wrongly.  I have a friend who calls it writing stories.

We write a story in our head about what we see.  We think we know because we’ve gathered “evidence” by observing. When in reality, we don’t know. At all.

When We Don't Know the

This line sticks with me: “There isn’t anyone you can’t love once you’ve heard their story.”

I wonder what her story is…

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She comes to ask my class for help with a fundraising project.  One day, a few hours, raising money for about 15 local food pantries.  I look at my students.  I doubt any of them have visited a food pantry. It’s so far away from their experience.

She tells of a call she received recently.  A man requesting food for his family.  She asks his address so she can connect him with the closest food pantry; he gives an address in a nice neighborhood. Confused, she asks more questions. He has a good job. His wife has a degree and a better job.  They have two young children.

The American dream by anyone’s standard.  Nice home in a nice neighborhood. Degrees, jobs, kids.

But, his wife lost her job, and (long story) there is an issue with her unemployment benefits. They’ve eaten all the food in their home. Now, they’re behind on their mortgage and car payment and in a place where buying food isn’t possible.

The man chokes up as he asks for help. He doesn’t know the correct term for food stamps (it’s called SNAP in my state).  He’s donated at food pantries, but never used one.  One life change – a job loss – has taken them from American dream to food pantry.

And that could me – or you – too.  One “secure” job – lost.

The agency connects him to the nearest food pantry. His voice cracks as he asks if his kids must go with him. They do not. He’s relieved. He didn’t want them there.

And as I listen to this story, tears fill my eyes. I think of my friends – friends who bought gifts for my children on that first Christmas after my separation.  Who used miles to send me to Honduras. Who moved me twice. Who unpacked my kitchen and cleaned. Really, they’ve served me in too many ways to list. {And I am beyond grateful.}

But, one job loss. And before you say it, they followed the Dave Ramsey plan. No debt! Savings of three months salary. They did it RIGHT. But when no new job comes and months pass…the house must be sold. The cars too. Life changes dramatically. And it’s hard.  It’s their home  – their neighborhood. So much bigger than just “stuff.” It’s the life they built.

Without family and friends, they might need a food pantry someday too.

None of us are that far removed from need. Truly.

I share with my students how important this fundraiser is – how necessary the food pantries are – how they really aren’t immune to sudden changes in their parents jobs or this country’s economy.

After all….“There isn’t anyone you can’t love once you’ve heard their story.”

Why am I telling you this? I am not completely sure.  God began moving the words from my heart to the page, and I let Him.

All I do know is that…the next time someone with a Michael Kors purse is paying with food stamps, instead of allowing the anger to permeate your person, consider that perhaps she had wealth at one time, and because of job loss, she’s fallen on hard times.

Better yet, learn her story. Do for one what you wish you could do for many (Andy Stanley said that first:)

And, yes. I know this is a bigger, multifaceted issue than I present here. I watch the debates. I vote. I read newspapers online. But in this moment, I am removing all that to love one. To hear one.

Because, friends. Standing back in anger – complaining on Facebook – saying mean things to the person  – none of that looks like the Jesus of the Bible.

He walked up to the woman at the well. He called Zacchaeus down from the tree. He had dinner with the tax collectors.

Why?

Love. No one will know we are Christ followers by our love unless we love.

“There isn’t anyone you can’t love once you’ve heard their story.”

Witnessing Contentment {From the Shuttle Driver}

I watch her hoist the suitcases into the back of the van. She’s a small women, shorter than me. She speaks of her grandson, so I’m guessing she’s in her early 50s.
We take our seats on the 4 am shuttle, and she takes the wheel.
My friend’s sitting in the front with her as she weaves in and out, taking us from hotel to airport.
He asks a variety of questions. Do you always drive the shuttle?  Always come to work this early?   
I don’t have to be at work until 4, but I get here about 2:45. I want time to review the shuttle list and plan because I’m in charge of the breakfast too. And I don’t want my breakfast to fail. 
She gets to work an hour early to make sure we get to the airport on time and that we get fed before we fly.
It’s important to her, serving others.
The conversation continues as she explains why she pulls this double duty…
We are like a family around here. We have job assignments, but we all pitch in and help where we can.  They need me to drive shuttle, so I do. The lady in laundry needs help sometimes too. I’ll go down and help her. Whatever it takes, she says.
I’m not sure why I’m so stunned and impressed at the same time. Maybe it’s because bookstores shelves are packed with “find your purpose” and “live your dreams” books. Quit that day job and reach for the stars. YOLO! (You only live once:).
Being a hotel shuttle driver and breakfast lady doesn’t quite seem to fit with the book club idea of living our dreams.
Yet.
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Here she is. Loving life. Living in joy. Serving others. Putting others before herself – no one goes to work at 2:45 am without self sacrifice. She doesn’t fit the mold pitched to us from publishers and motivational speakers. She’s found joy right where she is. She’s looked around at her circumstances and asked, how can I make the best of this life?  How can I do this with excellence? 
She goes on to say she’s taken her grandson to Disney once, knowing that’s where we are headed. So much to do and see, she says.
You can stand in one place at Disney and look around.  You can see so much from just one spot, she says with excitement as if remembering the moment she took it all in.
And I’m guessing that’s her secret. The joy she exudes. The selfless service to others. She looks around and takes it all in. She doesn’t miss anything. She looks upon the things I might miss. Appreciating them.
Thankfulness. And I’m betting she knows Jesus. Those are her secrets to joy.
We arrive at the airport. Only about 10 minutes has passed. She hopes we have fun!  It’s so sincere. And off she goes back to breakfast. Because she doesn’t want it to fail.
And I head toward my gate thankful for this lady and her early morning reminders of the gospel. Place others before self (Philippians 2:3). Work together (Hebrews 10). Live grateful for all he’s given (1 Thessalonians 5:8).
She’s not aware of her impact. We rarely are. Perhaps that’s why it’s so important to live a lovely story every moment that you can. You never know who’s riding on your shuttle. And how much they need reminded that hopes and dreams are good. But, we live in the right here and right now. And to keep striving and wishing and waiting on the next season causes us to miss the right now.
I don’t what to miss the “right now” as I work toward the “yet to come.”  So I’ll think of her and her contentment often, remembering that God has a plan and purpose for each seasons of our lives. And we should never take the moments for granted.

Connecting Perseverance to Beauty {Looking for Lovely}

I am a quitter.  Those who know me might not believe this because I have never given them any reason to believe I quit.

Because if I promise YOU that I will organize the event or complete the project or write the letter, I will.  But, if I promise ME? It rarely happens.

Wheels begin to squeak, and I begin to grab oil cans, making sure everyone else and everything else is taken care of. And that’s not all bad. But, in the midst, I lose my promises to self and my goals every single time.

Sure there’s some self sabotage and bad habits fighting for attention too.

Still…I am a quitter. I give up easily.  I won’t fight for what I want or need. My self talk says it’s selfish, and my inner lack of perseverance believes the lie and quits. Underlying it all is a feeling of “I’m not worth it; I am fine just like I am.”

And I’ve never tried to “fix” this about  me. It’s been a prayer a time or two. But, I have never seen it as an issue – this quitting on self.  Until I read this book…

looking for lovely

 

Looking for Lovely by Annie Downs.**  

I certainly haven’t mastered perseverance. I’m just naturally a quitter, not a finisher…Instead of being brave and facing the hard moments, I run.

I loved God. I just hated me…Maybe it wasn’t that I wanted to be skinny or beautiful; maybe I just wanted to be free…When things feel too painful or seems too hard, I escape. {ie I quit}

Instead of feeling any of the suffering, instead of pressing through the pain and taking it to God, trusting that He heard me, I escaped to anywhere that would feed me, and I stuffed my emotions down by covering them in layers of food.

Every act of obedience is an act of courage. Every hard yes, every difficult no, every moment of moving and shaking takes bravery… you have to be brave to believe you are made on purpose – to go after your passions and walk in who you were made to be. 

I decided if I was going to survive this (the healing process), it had to be worth it. It had to have some sort of worthy redemption. It had to be beautiful…to stay in the process, to let it work itself out, to not give up. It was going to take a lot of looking for lovely…the beautiful things, though few and far between, were the knots on the rope that helped me keep climbing.

There is a correlation, I’m finding, between beauty and perseverance…It’s not just the things everyone sees, but it is what YOU see, what sticks out to you, the unique moments God give you to collect up and hold and draw strength from.

I needed to find beautiful if I was going to hang in there…I just don’t want to quit anymore.  

These are just a few of my many highlighted and triple underlined passages in Looking for Lovely.

If you have suffered or are suffering. If you can’t find the joy in the journey. If you quit and see no reason or motivation to persevere. If you can’t count it all joy when you face various trials (James 1:2), then this book is for you.  

Annie connects the lovely to perseverance, showing us where she finds joy: sunrises, nail polish, a farmer’s market, her people and more. And before you dismiss these as “shallow” – as I almost did – I encourage you to read the book and see how they’re anything but “first world” and “shallow” – how these might not be YOUR ways of finding lovely, but simply a place to begin looking for lovely.

I find lovely in stickers.  Yes, I am 40, but I still gain motivation from stickers on my planner. I decorate my bible memory verse cards with them too. I also gain joy from watching my children banter in the supermarket or at home. There’s something so lovely about these two beings that God gave me growing and learning and loving. Spring flowers or fresh water.  I am learning to look for lovely.

It’s not a shallow lovely or pointless lovely either. It’s the process taught by those who have scientifically and psychologically studied habit for years.  As  Charles Duhigg writes in The Power of Habit: Habits can’t be eliminated, only replaced. Habits have a pattern, cue, and reward.  Those cues currently cause me to quit or eat.  However, slowly but surely I am replacing the reward by looking for lovely.

God was doing a big work. I knew it, I just had to keep showing up, even when it hurt or felt hard or wasn’t AT ALL what I wanted to do. 

I just keep showing up.  I just keep persevering. And, friend, you can too. Step by step. Day by day. Follow the path.

It’s not that my life is all that different; it’s just that I  see it differently. 

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***A perk of blogging is being invited to a launch team. It’s a group of bloggers who receive a copy of a book before it’s released. In exchange you share about the book’s release and review it on Amazon. I’ve so enjoyed being part of Annie’s launch team. God has used it to give me the direction for which I had been praying.  If you’d like to read Looking for Lovely, you can buy it here.