Archives for October 2017

Day 17: To the woman who asked about church dress code…

To the woman who asked me, “Does your church have a dress code?”…
I met you at the inflatable obstacle course. You patiently waited, holding shoes and socks, while the kiddos bounced over inflated tubes and climbed slippery walls. I watched as you moved closer and closer to my station at the course’s entrance. Most adults stood on the periphery, taking pictures or cheering participants. But, you had something to say. I could tell.
I made eye contact and smiled.
And you moved closer. Your shoulder almost touched mine as you whispered…”does your church have a dress code?”
I felt emotion well up in my chest and throat. My heart hurt because somewhere along the way you’d been taught that church and clothing come hand in hand. Me too. I grew up hearing “dress your best for God,” and I understand…except everyone’s “best” looks different.
I quickly responded with, “No, not at all. I’d wear this…” motioning to my volunteer t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. But, you weren’t buying it. I could tell.
“So, it’s not a place where I need a dress? And the children, do they?”
“No dress needed. I promise. What you’re wearing now would be perfect. And the kiddos can wear whatever they have at home.”
You looked me directly in the eye, weighing my words. And said, “I think I’ll come in the morning then.”
“I’d love to see you….”
Your mouth barely curved into the slightest smile. And with that, you walked away.
Here’s what I want you to know. Jesus says come to Me, and he really means that. I know church congregations often look fancy. And that can make you feel uncomfortable, out of place, less than, and left out. Most church people I know don’t want you to feel that way. But, we’ve lived inside our bubble for so long we’ve forgotten that not everyone acts, thinks, and dresses as we do.
That sometimes you’ve not been in church for years, not because you’ve rejected Jesus, but because you don’t have the right clothes and feel ashamed.  Forgive us. Most of us never meant to exclude or shame. Truly.
I pray you come. You are welcome here by me, by my church…and better than that? By Jesus, the Creator or heaven and earth. His arms are open wide, waiting. He created each of us in His own image – none better than the next.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27
Day 17 of 31

Day 13: To the girl with divorced parents…

To the girl with divorced parents…
When I ask the class to choose three wishes, laughter ripples across the room as you all compete for the most outrageous wish:
“I want to be the richest man in the world.”
“I want to meet [insert famous person here].”
“I want to travel the world!”
I laugh along with you…the creativity cracks me up!
I continue around the room calling on each raised hand, asking, “what do you wish?”
And you say, “I wish my parents weren’t divorced.”
I want you to know that, in the moment, I wanted to weep. For you. For my own kids. For two young women who are struggling in their relationships and can trace it directly back to having divorced parents. In that moment, your hurt made you brave. Brave enough to say in front of the entire room: I wish this weren’t so.
I am so sorry that I missed the moment, saying very little in response. Because my own broken marriage caused the very pain that you’re voicing, I had no words.
But, I don’t think you were alone in the room. I’m betting most kiddos covered up brokenness with outlandish desires. Sometimes it’s easier to make more money, seek more fame (acceptance and approval), and travel place to place than to sit in our silent sadness and realize…I don’t want the fame and fortune as much as I want to be loved. As much as I want acceptance…
peace… reconciliation… belonging… hope.
While I can’t share Jesus with words, I pray you see Him in me at some point this year. And that somehow you come to know that He loves you deeply – even when, especially when – you feel all hope is lost. I am praying. I see you. Better than that, He’s the God who sees, and He has a plan for you that’s bigger and better than all the wishes in the world.
Genesis 16:13  She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”
Day 13 of 31

Day 11: To the woman who wished me a blessed day…

To the woman who wished me a blessed day…
My weakness for a large McDonald’s coffee with two cream and one Splenda is no secret. I am almost sure you recognize me by now. You’re as much a part of my morning routine as teeth brushing. You look me in the eye and ask for $1.07 each morning, and I smile back and tell you to have a good day.
Except this morning.
This morning, your face is a bit brighter. Smile a bit bigger. I’ve always noted your red hair pushing out beneath your McDonald’s visor, but this morning I notice your eyes. Blue or green – I am unsure. But they are twinkling as if you know something magical.
I hand you my money, and you respond with “have a blessed day.”  You’ve never said that before. Ever. Like never. You’re always pleasant. And while you aren’t there every morning, you’re there enough that I’d remember if you’d have said it.
While it strikes me as odd, I am grateful. Your words remind me that if I’m alive. If I’m breathing. I’m “blessed.” (A word that can take on so many meanings and be so misused.)
And above that…If I’m buying coffee and driving a car. If I’m headed to a job. If my kiddos are healthy. Heavens. I’m not blessed; I’m right down spoiled.
Your words remind me that my work. My responsibilities. The days that seem overwhelming- when there’s more tasks left than minutes til bedtime…that’s a gift, not a burden.
Thank you, sweet lady, for the kind words. For speaking blessing over my day.  It matters. You matter. Sometimes a kind word changes everything.
So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11
Day 11 of 31

Day 10: To the girl not chosen…

To the girl not chosen…
It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for. The intercom buzzes alerting you to the news…
“I’d like to announce this year’s Homecoming Court….”
The room hushes in anticipation. I notice most are looking down, not around. The list of names are slowly read…and your name isn’t called.
You took the chance and ran for Queen. And for what? A big NO? It seems unfair. Adults tell you it’s not a big deal – who cares who was chosen – you won’t remember this in five years.
All of this is true. You probably won’t remember or care in five years. Except it hurts right now. And instead of rolling my eyes at your “first world” problems, I’d like to acknowledge that you feel left out and let down.
These contests are the way of this world. There’s always an “in” and “out” – a “chosen” and an “ignored.” When you’re 40, you’ll still be aware of places in which you are welcome and places you are not. There’s still in and out. No, adults don’t run for Homecoming Queen, but we do join organizations, churches, clubs, and friend groups. And over time, a division in any of these can become strikingly obvious and deeply hurtful.
Divorced? Disqualified from the term “family.” You can’t be a part of the married friend groups either. “It’s all couples, sorry.”  Lots of Pinterest fails? You’re probably not winning Mom of the year. Everyone makes picture perfect cupcakes and decorates magazine worthy homes. You live where? That’s a “bad” part of town. You’ve not been a member for years? Didn’t grow up here? Oh, well this is for the long timers; we have a bond.  You want to join us? help us? Well, involving you would take too much of our time (I just heard this recently about a gal that I KNOW needs love and care. Grrrrrrr!)
Adults still roll our eyes and send the “knowing” looks when someone walks into a room. I know. One would think we’d be over it. That we’d be mature enough to accept and embrace differences. To love regardless. To give the benefit of the doubt. To welcome the stranger. To embrace the broken and needy. To look the hurting in the face and say “you’re always welcome here.” To include.
But, no. We often insulate and congregate. Divide and delineate. Label instead of love. (Again, grrrrr!)
How we treat one another can dishearten. And discourage.
Yet, I want you to take heart. And to love. That’s the BEST remedy for rejection and refusal.  Love those who were chosen and not chosen. Ignore the knowing looks and eye rolls when “she” walks in the room; be her friend. Accept who you are and how God has made you. Cheer on those who are queen candidates while consoling those who wanted so badly to be. Take your hurt and turn it to help.
I am not glossing over your heartbreak. I know it’s real. I just know you have much more to give when you reach out instead of turning in. And I pray you learn now to take “not chosen” and turn it to “already accepted.” Because he has already accepted you for who you are. Just as you are. And He wants even more than you can ask or imagine for your life. You don’t need a vote or invite to be you!
Keep taking risks. Keep loving the one labelled “least.” It matters. You matter. They matter.
Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
    Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
    I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.
Isaiah 41:10

Day 9: To the lemonade makers…

To the lemonade makers…

Our washing machine malfunctioned. This is small and insignificant in a world where 58 mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, daughters, and sons died tragically in a mass shooting. In a world where Puerto Ricans are dying of preventable disease and circumstances. In a world where both your parents are dead, your brother in juvenile hall, and your little sister gone too young. In a world where women hand wash clothes on a washboard and rinse them in rain water- if the rain comes.

So to the laundromat we go with baskets and hangers and detergent in hand. I don’t want to go. I want to sit on my couch and transfer the clothes when I hear my washer’s bell tones.

But when we arrive? Owen considers the quarter insertion a joy. Both kiddos pitch in and load washers. Pour detergent. Play the claw machine. And crack me up. I ponder life outside the laundromat’s large front window while Hannah crochets and Owen bowls electronically. Peaceful. Relaxing. Listening to the hum of the washers and the whirl of the dryers while talking about life.

We make lemonade from lemons. Not some “glass half full”  psycho babble. Nope. Just enjoying the moment. Knowing our time together is limited, and we don’t want to miss any moments. And we aren’t the only ones…

I see you, lemon squeezer. Sugar add-er. Vigorous stirrer. Thirst quencher. You take the sour parts of life and squeeze them for all their worth. You add sweetness as best you can. Not fake Splenda. Or Equal. Ick. Nobody likes fake. You are the real thing. You stir vigorously, making sure the sour melts into the sweet. Not one pulp or grain left out or behind.

Broken washer. Flat tire. Lost money. Busted window.

Left out. Looked over. Loved less.

But still breathing. That’s how you see life.

Thanks, lemonade maker. We appreciate your presence and positivity. You remind us of what really matters. You don’t gloss over, making the inner nasty look outwardly nice. You infuse and sweeten from the inside out. And for that, we say a big ole thank you!
Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.1 Thessalonians 5:18

Day 9 of 31

Day 6: To the man on the corner with the sign…

To the man on the corner with the sign…
I see you standing there. Sad eyes. Ripped shirt. Scruffy beard. Sun battered skin. Your cardboard sign says, “Homeless. Anything helps. God bless.”  I have to be honest with you … I never know what to do when I see you. My heart wants to give you every dime in my wallet. I’d like to ask you how I can help beyond a five dollar bill.
I wonder how you got here. When you were young, learning how to walk and talk, were you loved? Were you cuddled? Did you have food and clothing? Did someone cheer you on through life? Help you with your homework? I truly have no idea or even a guess what your toddler, adolescent, and young adult life was like. But, I do know that at some point, something happened. It may have been sudden or slow. Shocking or inevitable.  Of your own doing or at another’s hand.
No matter what got you here and whose fault it is, I want you to know I see you. I believe you to be a man made in the image of your Creator. And while I have no idea how to help you beyond the few bills in my purse, I am praying. Not token prayers, but healing ones…
As I wait for the light to turn, I look at my sweater and skirt. My Apple watch. My debit card. My teacher lanyard. The hot coffee in the cup holder. My Toms backpack on the back seat with laptop, teacher’s textbook, and a Happy Planner. My newer Prius. My lunch.
And I am overwhelmed.  For all the hard that life brings. For all the poor decisions I’ve made and those that have been made for me. I don’t get why I am here and you are there…on the corner. It’s a disparity that fills me with gratitude and conviction. As I avert my eyes from you, sipping my hot coffee, God calls to mind a verse… From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. It’s actually the second half of a verse in Luke 12. And in that moment, I know that I am the “whom.” So I am asking myself, “what is the much God is demanding of me today?”
I don’t pretend to understand why I drive to my secure teaching job each day while you stand on the corner with a cardboard sign. I am certainly no better or no more loved by God than you. We could debate choices and opportunities and addictions and blah and blah all day long. But none of that back and forth will help you or the thousands of others who are struggling. All that really helps is me deciding to stop being so dang comfortable- to start being His hands and feet.
May we all extend our hands and feet for another today.
day 6 of 31

Day 5: To the waitress…

To the waitress…
Even as you ask for my drink order, I can tell you love your job – or you’re at least grateful for it. You offer me cream; call me honey. You take my order, double checking to make sure there’s nothing else I need.  It’s not just your words, but your smile – your presence. Your heart seems full and content even if your face looks a bit tired and weary.
When the man across the aisle demands “crispy bacon” THREE times, you call him “sir” and assure him that you’ll talk to the kitchen. When he changes the menu’s meal parameters multiple times, you write down each request, explaining to him how you’ll “ring it in” to make sure he’s charged correctly. He’s so demanding and unkind, but not you. Nope. You smile and promise to help.
I used to rude people.  But, you love them anyway.  You’re used to working hard and being tired. But you do it anyway. I can see your family at home, counting on you. And I can see you loving them as you love a stranger, welcoming her to the table.
Thanks for reminding me what hard work looks like and that it’s worth every moment for my family. Thanks for reminding me how to be kind to the unkind. There’s really no better way to live.
Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God’s Law and Prophets and this is what you get. Matthew 7:12 (MSG)
Day 5 of 31

Day 4: To my Dad…

To my Dad…
Today is your birthday. I bought Werther’s candies because those were your favorite.  When I see the signature gold wrapper in a parking lot or trash can, I feel like it’s you going before me, watching over me.
There’s not a day, an event, a milestone that I don’t think of you. When the Mountaineers win, I think of you. When the weather turns cold, I think of you. When I go camping or think of buying a house or spend the afternoon watching the Cleveland Browns, I think of you.
And I know you’d be so proud of Chloe. She’s so smart! She “reads” her Halloween books to me from memory. She’s stubborn and strong-willed. Imaginative and funny.  She wants to be a dancer. Mom says it’s like watching a little Sarah Beth- minus the dancer part because we all know how I felt about the Neutron Dance.
And of Hannah, the Homecoming Queen. Yep. The little girl who preferred Kim Possible to Cinderella now wears a crown!  She plans to be a Mountaineer. She started her own business. Her heart for saving the world reverberates to those around her. She dances to the beat of a different drum literally and figuratively. You wouldn’t agree with her politics, but you’d love her fighting spirit and generous soul. She gives everything away just like you.
And of Owen, the bowler. He has a tournament soon at your old alley- Town N Country. When he chose not to play football, I thought…Dad would be so disappointed. But then I realized you’d say “save those knees, boy!” He’s in high school, planning to get a license in the fall. But, I assure you, the tenderhearted boy with the Spiderman mask still lives on. He’s smart and kind. He worries about his momma and likes to discuss what he’s reading or watching with me. Once he launches into a story or conversation, it’s best to take a seat. He’s a detail guy.
We are doing alright, Dad. We miss you. This life would so much better with you here. But in so many ways you are. You’re in Hannah’s giving spirit, Chloe’s love for family, and Owen’s tendency to talk to someone everywhere we go.
You’re the red bird that lives outside my back window. You’re the reminder of where I come from – of who I am to be – of whom I do not want to disappoint. And for all of that, for each of your 58 years on planet Earth, I am grateful. I breathe each day because once upon a time Rachel Hannah gave birth to Allen Wayne. And I remember that each time someone pats me on the back or shares a kind word.  I am who I am because of you and Mom.
Happy Birthday, Dad! I celebrate you. I thank you. I love you.  Always, Sarah Beth
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4

Day 3: To the woman with cheese sauce on her chin…

To the woman with cheese sauce on her chin…
As I sit in the booth chatting with a friend, I see you place your tray at the table next to ours and pass our table on your way to the drink machine. Your skirt and high heels say you’ve just come from work.
I continue conversing, paying little mind to those around me. Until … I glance over my friend’s right shoulder and catch sight of your face. White cheese sauce dribbled on your chin. A glob and three droplets.
And there’s no one to tell you. You’re sitting alone, eating alone.
I briefly consider letting you know. The restaurant is packed, and I have a feeling you’d be embarrassed. But you never make eye contact. Never look my way.
I finish my meal just as you finish. And it’s still there. You clean your table, visit the trash can, refill your drink, and walk out the door. Sigh.
I am sorry you have no one to say, “there’s cheese on your chin.” This might seem silly, but it made me sad, wondering if you eat alone day after day. And for all who are lonely. Loneliness isn’t a pleasant place.
Perhaps you choose to eat alone. I don’t know. But I do know God said “see her, Sarah. Really see her.” And perhaps that’s the greatest gift I/we can give another human today: See her, really see her. I pray we always see those in need, say a prayer, invite them in. That’s what I see Jesus doing … noticing and welcoming the stranger. The lonely. Over and over.
Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 1 Peter 4:9
Day 3 of 31

Day 2: To the girl in the blue dress…

To the girl in the blue dress…
I passed by rather quickly, but not before I noticed you standing outside the funeral home in my small hometown. You gripped your purse and paper as if that were all you had.  Your puffy, red-rimmed eyes evidenced your love for the one to whom you were saying goodbye. People stood all around you, but you looked alone.
I didn’t stop – that may have been weird – but I’ve thought of you often. I know what it’s like to stand on that very sidewalk with one of my favorite people absent from the body inside. No words. No hugs. No reassurance. None of it can make this moment “better.”
But, I would say to you…you are still here. Whatever you miss most about the person laying inside, live that out. Love that in others. Spread that. Don’t let the one you love just go away. Keep her alive in you. Love as she loved. Give as she gave. Remember the best of her and keep doing that. And I’ll pray you feel peace and purpose in the days to come.
“That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught. “You’ve heard me tell you, ‘I’m going away, and I’m coming back.’ John 14: 27-28
Day 2 of 31