I reached into the right pocket of my jeans, the pocket that I thought I had placed two wadded up bills in. I borrowed some cash from my husband for parking. It turned out that I didn’t need it. I looked down. I accidentally had pulled out the twenty dollar bill. I knew that it was a lot of money. A grueling hour of work. An hour exposed to hard stuff or even laughter. An hour of time spent away from my family.
The homeless man told me five different stories in two short minutes. He couldn’t get into the shelter. It was full. He needed to get to St. Louis. Somebody stole his bag. He needed a blanket. He was hungry.
I handed him the twenty dollar bill. Not because I believed his stories. Not because I thought he would go buy a decent amount of food with it. But because I stood there looking at him and I felt sorry for him. For his lies or for his truths. For what I could see and for all that I couldn’t. He asked me what my name was. I told him. I asked him his. He thanked me. I thanked him.
I regret not giving him one of my new non-business cards.
I really don’t like flinging myself into uncomfortable situations. With new faces, often the kind with a lot of make-up on. Perhaps trying to elbow in and impress people or be somebody that maybe they are. Or maybe they are not. I hate pretending to be somebody that I am not. I’m just no good at it. I’m better at saying inappropriate things at the least appropriate time.
So, as I entered the room by myself, I asked the bartender for a beer. Yep, just in the bottle. That way you don’t have to wash a glass on my accord. Next, I walked over and put some food on my plate. As I awkwardly held my drink in my large hands, I almost dropped my beer and my plate. An employee watching the appetizer table walked up and asked me if he could hold it, I said, “Yes. Thank you.” I proceeded to tell him about the jar of spaghetti sauce that I had dropped and broke in Target a couple of weeks ago. I thought I didn’t need a basket. Or a cart. See, I learned from my mistake. He and I began talking about how hard it is to keep milk in the house. I learned all about this strange non-powdered, unevaporated milk that has a long shelf life and “really tastes just like milk.”
I thought I should explore the place. I walked outside and looked at the Kansas City skyline. With my beer and my tiny sandwich. And my cookie.
I reassured myself that even if I gave the homeless man an hour of work in the form of a twenty dollar bill and let somebody help me while learning about this new milk that I could call my evening a success. Honestly, I had wanted to park my car downtown, put a few quarters in the parking meter and sit there while I finished reading my book. But I didn’t. I just couldn’t.
I walked inside. Running late. As I am always. I went to the event with nobody there that I truly knew. I purposely put myself in an uncomfortable position. Was it a successful night? Who knows. But I did it. I won a door prize, most likely for being so late that my name was on the top. Little did that door prize know that it positively reinforced my future tardiness.
I decided I just can’t give out non-business cards about my blog, unless they maybe have a fortune on them or something else helpful. Maybe a measurement converter like how many ounces are in a cup. That seems dumb. Maybe a useless fact like, “did you know that you can find out the sex of a guinea pig by pushing on its belly?” Beware, a tiny penis may pop out though. And no, I just heard. I haven’t tried it. I should probably research some other useless facts.
Speaking of business cards, one time I was at a concert and a woman complimented me on something, I think my really high heeled shoes. She then proceeded to hand me her business card and tell me about some skincare line or something that she was selling. Keep in mind, I didn’t know her. Apparently, upon meeting me, my face bothered her enough to want to change it. With some products. It was probably my freckles. Which I happen to purposely not cover up. Sadly, she abruptly had to leave after she jammed her foot in my door because Rick Springfield had taken off his shirt and she wanted to go try and touch his sweaty middle-aged body. Even though she had done it before at another concert and her husband had been mad about it. Really. This is a true story. This is actually a true story of how not to give someone your business card.
I don’t know that giving my non-business card to a homeless man would have been any better. He probably wouldn’t be able to access my blog. My card would have probably ended up littering the downtown sidewalk, but I’m sure, like me, he has had something burn somewhere before. Perhaps in his mind, in his heart or in his pants. Maybe the food or alcohol he went to purchase would burn his throat and help him remember and feel alive, like he mattered. Like he was important. I know it may have been more wise to have given him food or a blanket or something besides cash, but I didn’t have anything else except my jacket that would have been too small for him. And I really do like that jacket.
Later on, when I got home, I found the dollar bill in my other jean pocket. The left side, the one I didn’t reach into. Maybe the homeless man needed that twenty dollar bill more than me. Actually, my husband since he loaned it to me. Or maybe he just needed someone to look him in the eye and talk with him for a few minutes. Just like I did that night.
I semi-fled. Or retreated. Up the staircase. I plopped myself down with my back against the door. I stared out the window at a gigantic swaying tree. I took a few deep breaths. And I noticed my tiny closet window is the same shape as a stop sign. So, I stopped my overthinking. I stalled. Nobody was coming so I just didn’t move.
After I spent some time praying and looking out the window in my closet, I concluded that ultimately, I have to give somebody permission to hurt me. With their words or thoughts. I give them access to my brush pile. And if the conditions are right, they light me up and ignite a fire that has the potential to grow. And grow. Inside of my head. Trickling down to my heart. You see, it’s me, most of the time that gathers the fuel for the fire. I make a pile and stack it up. Nice and neat. The little insecure thoughts, the fallen twigs and sticks. The bigger, and much heavier branches also get thrown into my brush pile. They’re my doubts and fears. The fake truths. The lies I tell myself. My worries. All of the unknowns. In hindsight, it’s quite unfair to blame anybody but myself when my fire gets lit. Because I supplied the fuel. That was all on me. How could a person that loves me and that I love, too, know how big my brush pile had grown? If I didn’t tell them.
It’s not their fault.
Because it doesn’t matter how well you know a person or even how much you love them, it can be a tricky business knowing someone’s exact thoughts or fragile state at an exact moment in time. Or knowing their exact emotional or literal response to one of your thoughts. Ahhhh. Mind reading. If you could have any super power, would you choose the ability to fly or read someone’s thoughts? Could you help a loved one or even a complete stranger feel less insecure, perhaps more important if you knew exactly what she was thinking at a specific moment? Would we treat each other more gently and compassionately if we could slip past their outer appearance and sneak into their head to understand what they actually were thinking? What if we could know exactly how they felt? For better or worse.
I realize that I should have never been gathering sticks, stacking up all these bits of fuel. But I do. Like most people. And it’s extremely hard to let them go sometimes. We can oftentimes dodge or escape other people’s opinions or thoughts, but sometimes we are not as skilled in escaping our own negative thoughts.
We need help. With ourselves and each other. We all need the grace of God acting as the hose or the fire extinguisher, and we all need the type of person willing to stand there next to the flames helping us out. Or else we may continue to gather fuel, purposely or unintentionally causing our brush pile to grow. And grow. We may even go looking to pick a fight with someone with a torch who we know will happily light our fire. And not in the “C’mon baby, Light my Fire” Doors kind of way. In the self-defeating, humiliating sort of way.
It didn’t take a blow torch for me today. Just a few matches. My brush pile burned down. Which helped me learn that I need to stop gathering sticks, branches, etc. I need to be more kind and forgiving to myself. Maybe you do too.
I disappoint myself. At least once a day. Usually multiple times. Some days, there are far too many instances to keep track. I won’t get something done that I really, really needed or wanted to get done. Like yesterday, I needed to mail a package. I loaded it in my car. And drove it around all day, but didn’t mail it. Or later, I had to go to the bathroom really bad. I told myself I was just going to use the bathroom in Barnes and Noble and NOT buy any books for myself. So, I read a chapter of a book of short stories on my way to the bathroom. I liked it. But I set the book down. I didn’t dare touch the cover to my face to feel the book. Whew. It was a close call. I came out of the bathroom and began reading a few children’s books. One in particular made me laugh out loud. Come on. If books had feelings, which I’m certain they do, how could I set that one back down? How insulting. So, I tricked myself into buying that book “for my kids” and nieces. (“The Day the Crayons Came Home”) It wasn’t for me, right??
I make a promise to myself then I break that promise. Constantly. I say one thing and then do another. I know I disappoint people around me too. Which is not surprising because people disappoint me too sometimes. When you hold people to a certain level, and they don’t even know it, they will fall short. Most times, people may not even know they’re disappointing you. That whole communication piece is crucial although sometimes it’s easier to not tell someone they’re disappointing you because what if you tell them? And they don’t care or they get defensive and they keep on disappointing you. When it keeps happening, time and time again, it hurts. People can be downright disappointing.
If you venture outside, you may notice that nature rarely disappoints. The Kansas sunsets are typically mesmerizing. They show up evening after evening. If I take a hike or ride throughout the beautiful forests filled with a million different colors of leaves, I feel inspired and recharged. They never hurt my feelings. When I look up at the moon playing hide and seek behind the smoky thick clouds, I’m enchanted. A late night trickster with the best intentions. Truly the only game it plays is to move in and out from behind the clouds. What about a gorgeous, perfectly unique itty-bitty snowflake hitching a ride up the hill on my scarf? Beautiful and delicate. I would never expect that snowflake to fold my laundry or take the time to read my blog.
And one of my all-time favorites is the ocean. The ocean is constant, beautiful and it never ceases. I don’t expect the ocean to take the trash out. Or pay my bills. Or quench my thirst. I would not be disappointed if I ran out past the shore line, jumped into the waves, fell down and gulped a big mouth full of ocean water to discover that it tasted salty. Oh, so salty. Because it’s supposed to be salty. I can expect that. I’ve experienced accidental gulps full many times. I’ve gagged, coughed it back up and spit it out. But I didn’t hold a grudge against the ocean. No way.
Several years ago, we took our three year olds and one year old boys to the ocean and they played in the sand. Then, the waves invited them in. The boys jumped, fell and quickly ran out of the water disgusted, practically foaming at the mouth and crying because of the unexpected and overpowering taste of the salt water. Whoops. It didn’t taste like bath water or pool water or even lake water. It was painfully different. They had to learn to prepare for salt water every time they fell in with their mouths open. When they rubbed their eyes, it hurt too. They learned that they needed to close their mouths and eyes because the ocean does not change. Not even for overexcited little boys who would play in its waters all day long.
People can change though. I believe it. It’s hard. Uncomfortable. Awkward. Humbling. If they’re open and willing to listen to the hard stuff. If they want to grow, if they want to hear someone else’s perspective, opinions, or counsel. If they want to be accountable. I don’t think people like to be a disappointment. I would rather you tell me that you’re pissed at me and you want to punch me in my face than to tell me that I’ve disappointed you. I will take most words but those, not those, please.
I have found an enormous amount of freedom and peace in knowing that there are people who readily love me despite the fact that I disappoint them. I find an even greater peace in knowing that God’s love is like the ocean. Never a disappointment. Beautiful, enormous, persistent. I am so very small, in comparison, but I am loved nonetheless in a gigantic non-stop kind of way. No matter how I may disappoint other human beings, dogs, guinea pigs, etc. God readily accepts and loves me. Always. Every day.
Frustrating, tardy, scatterbrained, confused, stubborn, messy disappointing little speck of sand me. Not only does God love me, God humbles me and believes in me. And this motivates me and helps me and challenges me to be better.
I’m sorry if I’ve disappointed you. You can tell me sometime. I’m willing to listen and grow. And change and do better, if possible. I’m also willing to admit that I will most likely disappoint you again. Unfortunately, it’s a prerequisite for being in a relationship with me.
I remember sitting by the fire as a scrawny kid listening to it pop and crackle, watching the electric blue, yellowish orange and red hot flames burn. I would sit really close and my back would get hotter and hotter until I couldn’t take it. I had to stand up and walk away. I used to love twisting and wadding up pieces of newspaper, then I would ask my dad if I could throw them into the fire. Carefully, of course. There was something thrilling in that experiment. It never got old. Watching the flames jump higher after I threw my pieces of twisted paper in. Instantly the newspaper ads disappeared into glowing ashes.
Over the past few days, I’ve been throwing crinkled-up, nasty little self-defeating thoughts on the insecure fire that burns from time to time. In my head. Sometimes in my heart. I lost my husband’s passport. I’ve searched for hours upon hours for two days. I’ve found things I wasn’t even looking for. I’ve organized areas. I’ve sifted through all of our drawers, mail piles, shredded papers, our recycling can and through all of our disgusting trash. Because we eat food and we have guinea pigs. And a dog that wears a diaper.
The entire time, despite my efforts to distract myself with positive thoughts or praying to the saint who helps find lost things, I should know his name. He probably knows mine. Or searching while listening to music or drinking tea, I’ve beat myself up. Over and over. Hard enough that I know if it were someone else’s head, and I held the power, I would step in and pull that person out of the ring, doctor their wounds and encourage them with some truths. Unfortunately, in these times, I don’t offer myself this same grace. And the fire burns on.
With a little hindsight, I recognize that I can be a real irrational jerk. To myself. And I don’t like that mean, self-defeating person inside of me.
When other people are jerks or say something rude, hurtful or offensive to us, we can walk away. Or fight back. When we do it to ourselves, we have to let somebody in. Somebody who will take away the stack of newspaper that we were planning on crinkling up. Because well, we tend to know ourselves best. We possess an arsenal of imperfections. We can crinkle up a lot of nasty, devaluing, hurtful pitiful little thoughts. And we can hide more newspapers. For a later time.
I sat at the table silently big tear crying as I filled out the paperwork for my husband to receive a new passport. Not because he made me cry or made me fill out the paperwork. On the contrary, he has been completely forgiving and kind. Saying, “it’s okay.” I cried because I was exhausted. I had failed and I was so sorry. I said the words, they pushed desperately against the inside of my jaws, trying to stay in. I needed to say them. Admit my mistake. The thing is that I think he knows I’ve been up too close, throwing those crinkled up newspapers in, watching the flames temporarily grow in my head. I think he would go buy all of the newspapers from the local good-for-nothing thought store. If he could. Isn’t that what we should do for the people we love? Offer each other forgiveness, understanding, mercy and love. At the times that we need it the very most. The times when we mess up, lose stuff or fail. And then it’s amazing. And completely humbling. We see a tiny, tiny glimpse of God’s love for us. And it’s a beautifully painful feeling to know that we are accepted. Just the way we are.
On top of losing my husband’s passport, I recently turned one of my boys school library books into the county library. He worries too. And he can’t check out as many books as he would like, because of my mistake. He keeps asking me, in a sweet, innocent and kind way, if I could go try and get it back from the library. I also had a doctor’s appointment yesterday that made me worry like some doctor’s appointments do. While I was at it, I have a sensitive son that I decided to extra worry about today too. I’m worried and sad about my Grandma. And I forgot that my windshield is cracked too. When writing, I know I sound a little bit like a pitiful adult version of Peggy Ann McKay. Since I was already throwing shriveled up, twisted little papers into that fire, I decided to just keep on going. Because that’s what we do to ourselves. It’s really awful. That’s why we desperately need people. Kind, loving people who know we stink at some things but who also know that we’re pretty good at some things too. So they remind us of those really good things. They hold our hand. Hug us. Accept us, flaws and all.
My husband showed me this morning and in so many words told me that I needed to just walk away. Stop. Forgive myself. And move on. Afterall, the fire will eventually die out. Especially if we stop adding crinkled up newspaper to it.
I love this idea of two wolves inside of us. It was first introduced to me through hearing Richard Rohr speak.
An elder Cherokee Native American was teaching his grandchildren about life. He said to them, “A fight is going on inside me…It is a terrible fight, and it is between two wolves. One wolf represents fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, pride and superiority. The other wolf stands for joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside of you and every other person too.” They thought about it for a minute and then one child asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old Cherokee simply replied… “The one I feed.