It was New Year’s Eve and I was traveling home on the Missouri River Runner from Saint Louis to Kansas City. During the four-hour train ride home, I had a lot of time for introspection. Just the day before my mother had been laid to rest in her homeland thousands of miles away. I had also spent that day shopping with my daughter for bridal gowns. It was a bittersweet day to say the least.
So, you can imagine my being just a tiny bit annoyed when an elderly gentleman walked by my seat and mocked my posture by folding his arms and saying, “You look like you are mad at the world.”
It took me a second or two to realize the old coot’s snide comment and posturing was directed at me. I was taken aback, so I didn’t say anything then and I ask your forgiveness as I take a moment to do so now.
You, jerk, you!
Who are you to know my mind, my heart, and my spirit?
How dare you make a frivolous comment about something of which you know nothing and to someone you have never before met or never again will meet?
The saddest part is I don’t think you have any idea it was mean, or hateful, though I suspect you realize it was unnecessary.
If I had to do it over again, I would have happily risked being booted from the train to confront him and tell his smug old tail to kindly keep his comments to himself.
But, I didn’t. Grace prevailed
So, now that you have allowed me to vent, I choose to learn from this experience and try harder to not judge any book by its cover. Someone may look mad or sad or glad, but who am I to judge their journey?
Let’s commit to 2015 being a year of sharing deeper grace with one another even with old coots.
Before you begin reading under the assumption this post is metaphorical (and I guess it could be and maybe it is), this blog post is based on a true story and actually is about why sometimes you really should not drink the Kool-aid.
It was the summer of 1985 and my fellow Presbyterians and I were looking forward to our first Vacation Bible School (VBS) using the church’s brand-new professional-grade kitchen. The kitchen was designed to accommodate Wednesday night meals, frequent social gatherings, such as weddings and funerals, as well as our annual week-long VBS attended by hundreds of children.
As per tradition, 1985 VBS snack time included cookies and Kool-aid, which were served by the matriarchs of our church, older women who over the years had moved from the classroom to the kitchen. The VBS Snack Ladies took their position very seriously and arrived early each morning to lovingly organize the cookies as well as make gallons of Kool-aid as they had done for many summers before.
What the ladies did not realize was the water faucets in the new kitchen not only offered the choice between hot and cold water, but soap as well. So, later that day when the children complained the Kool-aid tasted funny, the ladies chastised the children and told them to quit complaining and drink the Kool-aid. One person in particular, Joe, the VBS Recess Organizer, was so adamant the Kool-aid was just fine, he took an extra-large glass and with dozens of children watching downed it in one huge gulp only to immediately regret his decision to do so.
Yes, the Kool-aid really was tainted with soap. Yes, the Kool-aid really tasted funny. Yes, Joe really was sick as a dog shortly thereafter.
And, yes, you really should heed the warning of others because sometimes you really should not drink the Kool-aid.
This is a true story. Enjoy!
We were a motley crew of Presbyterians on a weeklong mission trip to build a wood-frame church in pre-best-place-in-the-world-to-scuba-dive Belize when the mysterious Englishman walked into the restaurant of the motel where we were staying. Despite our best efforts, the Englishman failed to acknowledge the Americans.
Undaunted, a few of us stepped outside to enjoy the sunset as well as devise a plan to engage the Englishman in conversation however brief. It was to be a challenge between friends. Let’s see who the Englishman will speak to first? Will it be the banker, the dentist, the pharmacist, the teacher, the pastor, the businessman, or the lawyer?
As we half-jokingly devised a plan of conversation starters, I spotted a Range Rover in the motel’s parking lot. It had to belong to the Englishman. As nonchalantly as possible, I walked over and began investigating. Who could the Englishman be? Was he a spy? (Of course not.) What were the gift wrapped packages on the backseat? Where was he going in the Range Rover?
“He’s the English Ambassador to Belize,” someone surmised.
“How do you know that?” I asked.
“Tony told me.”
Tony owned the motel, so this idea seemed plausible.
After awhile, some had all but given up on our silly little game, and tired after a day of hard labor, headed to the comfort of their rooms for a good night’s sleep.
But not me. I would see the game through to the end.
And that’s when I observed the Englishman just as he exited the restaurant bump into Mr. Good Old Boy, who became the unwitting winner of our challenge with the classic conversation starter, “You ain’t from around here, are ya?”
I quietly observed with a smile in my heart as two men with little more in common than their proximity to the beauty of the sun setting over a bay in Belize engaged in conversation.
It was a sight to behold.
Correction: My husband reminded me this trip involved the building of a medical clinic rather than the church. That is another story.
We’ve all done it-started telling a story only to stop and share a little contextual history when we realize folks aren’t “getting it.” We often use the word backstory when we do so.
The backstory helps the listener understand the context of the story being shared.
We all have our stories. Some sad, Some happy. Some miraculous.
Sometimes it takes the knowing of the backstory for the story itself to gain context and to be understood.
I often look at those around me as stories, living stories each with a unique backstory.
I may never have the privilege of knowing that backstory, but I must respect it.
Respecting student and colleague backstories can go a long way in teaching us graciousness.
And that gracious respect could eventually build relationships as well as the right to learn a backstory and grow together.
While growing up in the Deep South, my Momma’s Swiss-German accent intrigued my Mississippi friends. Sometimes they would telephone me just to hear my Momma answer the phone. BUT never once while growing up did I hear any of my friends make fun of her accent. Not once.
Now, I am the one who lives in a “foreign” land and my Southern accent is equally intriguing it seems.
Sometimes it can be awkward like when a man, a total stranger, says to me how much he loves to hear me talk. Or insulting when asked if I have ever eaten roadkill. (No, I have not.) Or downright funny when asked for my cornbread recipe. (It’s on the bag of cornmeal, folks.)
The difference is, some think it is OK to make fun of my accent by mimicking it in an almost vaudevillian manner.
I am sure you will agree, it’s not.
After an especially egregious event the last day of school, when a colleague of mine once again made fun of the way I talk, I am with heavy heart trying to decide the best way to make this understood for the future.
Actually, I know exactly what I must do. It’s just my Southern upbringing counters the hurting of anyone’s feelings unless the feelings are my own.
A story is told of a successful businessman who reached out to a friend to be part of his business and share in its prosperity. After many years together, their business ventures continued to prosper.
One day the successful businessman invited his friend for a working lunch to discuss a project, the building of a new home. During the lunch, he asked his friend’s opinion about the floor plan, décor and landscaping. As the meeting ended, he informed his friend that he would be taking time away from the business for a one-year cruise around the world and that while he was away he wanted his friend to oversee the building of the home. The businessman explained he wanted the home to be the finest ever built, one that would last for generations, and that no expense should be spared.
The businessman left on his cruise and the building project began. The friend, though, was unhappy he had been left to oversee the project while his friend traveled the world. So, in his dissatisfaction, he devised a plan to cut as many corners as possible and line his pockets his ill-gotten gains.
Throughout the building of the home shortcuts were taken, nothing obvious to the casual eye, but shortcuts nonetheless. The friend took great satisfaction in skimping on the house and pocketing his friend’s money.
A year passed, the building project was completed and the businessman returned from his trip. The first thing the businessman wanted to do when he greeted his friend after a year away was to see the fine home that was built.
The businessman was amazed at the beauty of the home. It appeared to be everything he had imagined and more. As he walked through the home, he praised his friend for his efforts over the past year.
“The home is more beautiful than I could have ever imagined,” said the businessman. “You have been a great friend to me. For your loyal friendship I give you the keys to this home. It is yours, my friend.”
Based on a passage from The Great Gatsby, I wrote the following sentence while attending a “Writing Beside Them” session during my high school’s PD day recently. It is a tribute to my Grandma Warren of Scott County, Mississippi.
There was a stoop to her stance as if she had spent a lifetime of springs and summers leaning into a garden hoe as it repeatedly broke open the hot, hard Mississippi earth.