Coming From a Trailer Park Near You

When I was growing up, I was friends with a girl from my church.  We were really tight for a while, and spent a lot of time together.  Our nicknames rhymed, which was kind of cute and made us seem like quite the pair.  We were at this incredibly awkward age where we just sticking our feelers out and dipping our toes into our own identities. We’d only begun to ask the question “Who am I really?” I think that was truly the cement of our relationship, because looking back on it now, I’m not so sure that we would have been friends otherwise. We didn’t have much else in common, at least personality wise. We were both chubby and insecure though, and just plain boy crazy.  I had the most dehabilitating crush on her older brother. It was a good time.

Near the end of our friendship, right around the time we were about fifteen or so, I remember riding in the car with her and her mother. They were taking me home. I don’t remember the exact words she used, but she said something derogatory about people who live in trailers, something that made her seem like she was above them, better. And I remember how it felt to get out of the car when they dropped me off at home, where I lived in a trailer.

As an adult, I understand now that she wasn’t necessary scorning people who live in trailers, but the poor (which I was not).  I want you to know that I’m not knocking this girl down. I honestly don’t think that she said it to hurt me. It was thoughtless privilege. We were only kids and everyone is guilty of the “I’m better than you” complex from time to time. This type of thinking is actually endemic in the church today, as sad as that is, especially when it comes to the needy.

Poor people tend to have problems, problems that are unique to being poor, like not having enough to eat or not being able to afford to pay the light bill. They have messy lives that bleed onto others who associate with them. They are often impacted by drug abuse and domestic violence and tend to have a lot of family problems. I’m not saying that these types of problems are only relegated to poor people, but the fact remains that poor people are more likely to have them.  They don’t really have much to offer when the offering plate comes around and it’s not much of a picnic to go about the business of helping them out. It’s quite costly. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret, a secret that I’ll bet you already know: Jesus died for them too. It’s pretty simple really. The ground at the cross is level. And believe me, I am not coming at you from a self righteous place. My heart is convicted this morning.

The Bible is pretty clear in its commands to help the poor and the needy. I think it’s funny that we waffle around with questions about God’s will for our lives when all we have to do is look in our Bibles to know. What’s God’s will for your life? Well, He wants you to help the poor. How do I know? Well, because He said so.

So what are we doing? Are we really living the scripture? Are we truly devoted to following Christ’s ways? How are we welcoming the less fortunate into the church? A better question might be how are we going out of our way to be the hands and feet of Christ to the poor? Because on top of all of their problems, there is one that trumps the rest. Coming from a trailer park near you, is someone who is dead in their sin and desperately needs the Savior.

 

 

The Insomniac Diet

It’s another one of those nights for me. I’m awake. I’m miserably tired, but I. am. awake.

I swear I know the landscape of every tiny bump of the popcorn texture on my bedroom ceiling and just the way high moonlight creeps in through the curtains. I know how many times the night trains rumble by on the tracks a few miles away.  I understand that my husband never moves after he falls asleep and that my child does gymnastics. I know these things firsthand. Ever since my pregnancy, I go through periodic bouts of sleeplessness. I’ll have a few nights of peaceful rest, and then I’m up the rest of the week, maybe settling down enough to sleep a couple hours each night. Maybe.

I guess I function okay during this time. I go through the motions of doing what needs to be done at least.  I take care of the kid and do my work, but it’s all done through a haze of tiredness and dread of bedtime. Dread because I know that one sleepless night usually sparks another one.  And I know why.

There’s a diet that all insomniacs are on. It’s a diet of anxiety that we feed ourselves at bedtime. If you can’t sleep on a regular basis, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. Oh my, is it really three o’clock in the morning? What in the world am I going to do if I don’t get any rest? Please, I just really need to get some sleep. Is it really getting lighter outside? Okay, okay, okay, no more looking at the clock.  Just rest your eyes and maybe you’ll drift off. 

This is my life. And I know it’s my biggest problem when it comes to getting to sleep. I’ve fixed everything else. I cut out the caffeine. I dim the lights. I drop off screen time about an hour before bedtime.  I lay down at the same time every night. I have a sleepy time routine. I still struggle.

I know there are options out there for me. I’ve tried the over the counter sleep aids. They don’t even touch my sleeplessness. I’m a stubborn insomniac. I don’t really like taking them anyway. That’s a big reason why I haven’t seen a doctor about it, even though I probably should. I hate the thought of having to take pills for the rest of my life, and I don’t like the thought of being dependent on drugs, even if it’s not about getting high. I’m not knocking anyone who has found relief this way. More power to you. This is just about me, about my personal preferences, and about my history with drugs. I’m pretty scared of anything that might springboard me back to the state I was in when I was seventeen or eighteen. I’m a much happier person now, insomnia notwithstanding.

I guess I don’t really have any other options. So I’ll be over here. Awake. And trying to change my diet.

 

 

 

The Gravity of Time

My brother graduates from high school next week, and he moved out of parents’ house this past weekend. I really can’t believe it. I remember vividly the day we brought him home; I was eleven when he was born. Over the years, I helped change his diapers and I helped him with his homework. I encouraged him. I fussed at him and I occasionally tanned his hide for him when he needed it. I watched him struggle with acne. I watched him excel at school. I told him he needed to grow up a million times when he was acting like a turd. Now he is. Grown up, I mean.

He’s still a turd most of the time too, but that’s besides the point.

How exactly did he get this old? Didn’t I just graduate high school? How did so much time fly by? I want the answers to these questions. And most of all, why don’t I feel this old? I am on the inside of my body, and I’m watching as the outside is garnering the effects of age. A fine line here. A little paunch there. The gravity of time takes the beauty of all.

I guess I’m also a wee bit jealous. Don’t get me wrong, I love my life, but I’ve never been much for planning the future. I find that the present moment demands every ounce of my attention. It’s both a blessing and a curse. My life may not be a dream, but I’m relatively happy at least. What I’m truly jealous of is all that potential. Don’t you remember what that was like? To have all those choices before you? To have all that power to shape your life? To be whatever person struck your fancy? I wish I had paid more attention back then, been more deliberate, chose my path instead of floating along the way I did. I suppose that’s a choice I made too.

I’ve been trying to find the words to explain this to my brother, but I am not gifted in the oratory department. I stumble over my words in real life conversation. I don’t really think it matters anyway. Like all eighteen year olds, he alone holds the secrets of the universe.

But if I could, I would do my best to impress upon him the gravity, the seriousness, of time; that we only get so much of it. Don’t waste it. Don’t regret how you spent it. Look to the future, but try not to worry too much about it. Be deliberate, but don’t let planning take your joy. Put your feet on the path to take you where you’d like to go, and then go do something fun. Make choices, and make sure your good ones are what defines you. Regard things from an eternal perspective, not a temporal one. Be carefree until you find a reason worthy enough not to be.   And in the infamous words of Jack Dawson, make every moment count. God only gives us so many on this earth.

Maybe it’s not too late to take my own advice.

When Fire Meets Gasoline

When I was a kid, I spent an enormous amount of time with my first cousins. We were more like sisters. We all congregated at my Granny’s house through the week when school was out and our parents were at work. There were three of us: Rachel, Chelsey, and Emily, and we were all right around the same age. Rachel was about a year older. Remarkably, Chelsey and I were born on the same day, mere hours apart. I’m the oldest, as I so often liked to point out back then. I have a lot of fond memories of that time, of those long summer days spent entirely outside, playing whatever games we could dream up, just daring to get away with tip-toeing on the large, slab-like rocks that surrounded my Granny’s flower beds, and running down the gigantic hill that made up her yard to catch the ice cream truck. These moments are important to me. They are a part of my story and they’ve helped shaped who I am.

The particular memory I have in mind now happened when I was seven or eight.  When we were that age, our latest obsession was the family roller skating rink. We loved to go hang out in the attached arcade, eat those nasty concession stand nachos, and maybe, just maybe, get asked to skate in the couples’ skate by the cute boy in the Jnco jeans and the Independent hoodie. Even as I write this, I can still smell stale popcorn and the polish they used on the floor. Anyway, this was a day that we wanted to go and our parents said no. This was just Rachel and me; Chelsey wasn’t there that day for whatever reason. I don’t remember whose idea it was. I’m inclined to say it was Rachel’s, but she may remember it differently. We decided that since we couldn’t go to the skating rink that day, we would make our own skating rink. See, my granny’s back porch was concrete, and when it got wet, it was slicker than goose poop. We were both quivering with excitement as we grabbed the jug that granny kept nestled down next to the big standalone freezer on the porch. We wet that bad boy down and slipped and slid until our hearts were content. It occurs to me now, that it’s amazing one of us didn’t break our neck or at least knock some teeth out. We were lucky in more ways than one that day. Soon we tired of our shenanigans, and like young kids do, moved on to another game off in the yard somewhere without another thought. At that point, we didn’t understand what we had done. We were soon enlightened.

Later in the afternoon, my Aunt Angie walked onto the back porch to light a cigarette and smelled gasoline. That’s right. That jug we found by the freezer was red. We had wet down my granny’s back porch with gasoline to create our own personal skating rink. I think it’s important to point out here, that neither Rachel or me even knew what gasoline was. We didn’t do it on purpose, or rather we did, but we didn’t understand that what we were doing was that dangerous.

Unequivocally, that is the worst butt whooping I ever got. And the punishment befitted the crime of nearly burning down my granny’s house.  I deserved it. Truly, I deserved much worse than what I got.

The reason why I share this story with you is because, firstly, I enjoy telling it. It has become one of those stories that we often tell around the holidays when my family is all together and we want to take a trip down memory lane and remember my granny, who went to Heaven several years ago.  But I also tell it because I wonder how close and how often we come to inadvertently and metaphorically burning down someone else’s house.

I see stuff like this on the news all the time. A moment of distracted driving results in two cars wrapped around each other, and a daughter or son who will never come home. If only I’d left a few minutes earlier. If only I hadn’t decided to stay late and work on that project. If only I’d told that person about how Jesus died for them when I had the chance. It’s scary to think that some small decision could hurt others that badly. All it would take is the right set of circumstances, like when fire meets gasoline. And to think that we go around making these types of decisions all day.

Some things are chancy and we have no control over them. I understand and  have peace with that, even though it’s still kind of scary. But we should be careful with our decision maker when we can. It’s the most dangerous weapon we possess.

 

The Bench

I’ve really been scrambling to figure out what I’m going to write for  Mother’s Day. I’ve been debating as to whether I should actually write about motherhood or just skip it altogether. I feel completely unqualified to write about momming when I’ve been so bad at it lately. My toddler has been feverish, feeling badly, and very vocal about it, and it has really taken a toll on me. I have struggled with how much he has needed me this week. I’m loathe to admit it because I worry it’s maybe not something a good mother feels. I know that all too soon these days will be a distant memory and I will miss them terribly and all that, but this morning as I stare bleary eyed at the computer screen trying to find some words, I am tired. I am completely used up and I could really use a break from the thirty pounds of hot toddler on my lap. So this week, I’m not going to write about all the usual things like “Moms, we’re raising the future of humanity!” and “Moms, you rock out in those yoga pants and don’t worry about those extra ten pounds!” All that stuff is self congratulatory, and I’m just not feeling it.  Instead I’m going to tell you about my bench.

I am not a big fan of sports, but my husband is. Over the past nine years I have watched more football, soccer, baseball, hockey, etc. than I ever dreamed I would in my entire life. I’ve learned the rules of each game, and have even been known to occasionally cheer for my husband’s alma mater (Go Pokes!) out of sheer boredom.  Out of all of the sports, college football is his favorite. Each year, he carefully reviews the stats of all the incoming freshman recruits for his beloved Oklahoma State Cowboys. One thing I have learned as I’ve watched him do this is that

Those who “sit the bench” are really the most important people on the team.

See, those players, besides often being the future of the team, are the ones that the starters practice with each week. The bench-ers help sharpen and hone the skills of those who perform in the actual game, which is critical to the team’s success. And then there are those weeks when one of the starters is hurt or sick, or even just mentally unready to perform. This is when those who sit the bench get the chance to shine. They take the starter’s place in the game, and while they may not always perform as well, they get the job done.

As a mom, I desperately need a bench.

Someone I can count on to take my place when I’m sick or hurt or just completely out of my mind with exhaustion. Most of the time, this person ends up being my husband. He amazes me sometimes. He regularly works thirteen and fourteen hour days at a physically grueling job. I know he’s tired when he gets home. I know his joints hurt from all the lifting he does. I know that all he probably wants to do is come home, eat, and fall asleep in the recliner to the basketball game.  He does this a lot and I don’t usually begrudge him for it or I try my best not to. But I have noticed that sometimes, especially when I am going through a season of struggle, he comes home, takes one look at me, and scoops that baby off my lap so I can have a hot shower. He comes home, takes one look at me, and starts dinner right away. He comes home, ignores my smartalecky comments about how I wish he wouldn’t rinse coffee grounds down the kitchen sink, and cracks a joke to make me laugh and lighten up. He changes the poopy diapers. He plays peek-a-boo a million times in a row. He answers the toy telephone. And he loves me at my worst.

So this year, on Mother’s Day, I’m going to make sure to thank the MVP of my team. I’m a better mom because he sits on my bench.

Building Authentic Relationships

I’ve always struggled with making friends. Always. In grade school, I was chubby. I’m still chubby, but because children tend to be cruel, it was a much bigger deal back then.  Sometimes being overweight in school can help someone’s personality blossom because, hey, you gotta work with what you have.  Unfortunately, this is not what happened to me. Being the fat kid turned me into a trembling bundle of resentment and insecurities. I was much too worried about what others thought of me and how I might be made the butt of a joke to ever have a chance of being a real friend to anyone.  In high school I slimmed down enough to where I was only called fat occasionally, but my intense fear of rejection and ridicule remained. I went through several groups of friends, going through the motions of changing my taste in music, clothing, etc. to fit in. I clung to whoever seemed to even mildly like me. I let others use me. I fell into drugs and alcohol.  Although I was able to cultivate some relationships during this time, they weren’t healthy and they were all colored by the fact that I was alone in my misery. I dealt with this by becoming increasingly self absorbed (which certainly didn’t help anything). This continued into my adult life until I came to know Christ. Maybe you rolled your eyes when you read that, but it’s true nevertheless. Maybe you don’t buy into all the Jesus stuff but stay with me for a few minutes and let me explain.

Coming to know Christ has freed me from bondage.

See, Jesus loved me so much that he died for me. He died to save me from my sin and to save my soul from eternal separation from Him in hell. He died so I could become a part of His family. He chose me.  And because He chose me, someone who’d been looked over and picked last for a lot of my life, I finally understood that I had value. I was free to be myself, because my identity was in Christ.  Jesus freed me from the bondage of sin, and He gave me victory over the hatred I had for myself and the need I had for the approval of others.

Coming to know Christ has emptied me of myself.

Seems contradictory, no? If I was finally free to be myself, then how could I possibly be emptied of myself? A few months after my conversion, I found out that my husband and I were expecting our first and only child. Let me tell you, my son is truly a gift from God.  He is a gift in himself, with his sweet, humble smile, his enthusiasm for learning new things, and his overload of snuggles and kisses. But the gift is twofold. Through my child, God also gave me a joy in putting others before myself. He emptied me of my self absorption. I’m not saying that I practice selflessness perfectly. I still have plenty of selfish moments and I fail on the daily. But through many sleepless nights, lots of dirty diapers, and plenty of tears from the both of us, I found that all the effort I poured into my son was just worth it. I was exhausted, stressed, and frazzled beyond belief, but I was also insanely joyful.  I began to approach all of my relationships from the perspective of  “What can I do for you?” instead of “What can you do for me?”

Having an authentic relationship with Jesus has allowed me to build authentic relationships with others.

God has poured out an enormous amount of healing into my life, probably more than my fair share. My marriage, which was on the brink of divorce, is much improved. My relationships with my family are no longer one sided. Making friends is quite a bit easier. I don’t have many and I’ll never win any popularity contests, but the friendships I have cultivated are genuine and grounded in the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and my heart explodes with thankfulness to God.