The early nineties were good to me. I was a super-spoiled tweenie-bopper livin’ it up in Naples, Italy. Observe this fly girl:
I chose to go with the side-braid because pimpin’ don’t take the 7th grade off. I look back on my junior high years with a certain amount of fondness. My life was so awesome. My parents were married and they bought me Birkenstock sandals, that I did wear with white socks. I had a walkman with which I played my bountiful collection of cassette tapes. My dad coached my softball team. My friends actually remained my friends despite the heinous clothes I consistently chose to wear on picture day. And surprisingly, no one ever picked on me.
Actually, that’s very surprising.
But life wouldn’t always be sunshine, happiness, and red cotton sailor shirts. I made a couple of poor choices in high school. By the time I was 19, I was unhappily married, with a 4-year-old little girl, living in a fire-ant-infested trailer in backwoods southern Georgia, selling my own plasma to help pay the bills.
Wow. That sounds pretty bad when I write it all down that way.
I didn’t want help. I didn’t want Mom and Dad to rescue me; I didn’t want to spend hours at Children and Family services waiting for WIC checks that I was ashamed to use in public. I didn’t want to admit that I had no clue how to have a successful marriage, or how to be the perfect parent. I was scared to sign up for college classes since high school with a kid had turned out to be not so awesome. I was scared to drive my car 3 miles down the highway for fear it would break down (this was before cell phones were common, people.)
I had a slight pride issue. I was clueless and naïve when it came to a lot of things. I was scared of failure and I was scared of life in general. I felt hopeless and depressed, and trapped. I do not get the warm fuzzies when I think back on those years. But who hasn’t been there before, or at least somewhere similar?
It’s funny how fast a person can go from being on top of the world to living in a van down by the river. Just one decision; just one day, one moment. Just one unfortunate happening and BAM! World rocked. My life has been full of ups and downs–I’m cautiously assuming it’s not even halfway done.
Though I’m grateful for those experiences, I’m even more grateful that they’re over. It’s hard not to completely block out those days. Sometimes I want to pretend certain things never happened, and that I am the person I am now sheerly by my own will power and stick-to-it-tiveness. But I know it’s not true.
I watch the news and I hear about the election. I see people evacuating from Hurricane Isaac. I see people not evacuating from Hurricane Isaac. I see long, ranting fowarded e-mails about the government, healthcare, and the poor. And something inside of me just doesn’t feel right when I read status updates from my very own friends and family members that say exactly these things: “WHY THE HELL SHOULD MY HARD-EARNED MONEY GO TO PAY FOR BROKE LAZY ASS PEOPLE ON WELFARE TO HAVE MORE BABIES THAN THEY KNOW HOW TO COUNT?!!!” or “HERE WE GO AGAIN, NATIONAL GUARD RESCUING PEOPLE FROM FLOODING. SERIOULSY JUST LEAVE THEM, IT’S CALLED CLEANING OUT THE GENE POOL!”
I wonder sometimes if we even hear ourselves.
A small part of me gets it slightly. But a bigger part of me knows that “my” “hard-earned money” is not, in fact, mine. I–by no means–“earned” anything that I have—and any thought to the contrary is just arrogance on my part. God gives us the ability to work. He gives us the muscles to move and the brain to learn. He gives us the patience and the tolerance to put up with jerks. He gives others the patience and tolerance to put up with us. God alone decides when to bless us and what to bless us with. We don’t swing our legs out of bed in the morning and walk unless He wills it. We don’t take another breath unless God says “Yeah, go ahead and live a couple more minutes.”
My money. My me-time. My health and well being. I do love me. But it’s not by my plan that I was born in the United States and raised by loving parents who showered me with privileges most kids in most countries can’t even imagine. It’s not by my doing that I have anything that I have. It’s not my fault I was never exposed to situations or put in positions that would lead to my buying a gun and slingin’ dope on the mean streets of Scranton.
You want to know what I think is a worse crime than an uneducated single mother accepting food stamps to feed her family of 5? It’s us darn college-graduate white women who have never known legitimate hardship, going into ridiculous debt because we just have to have granite countertops, swagger wagons, fresh mani-pedis and Coach purses. In the words of Tony! Toni! Tone’!, “if the shoe fits”….I want you to take it off and take it off now. It is a bad shoe.
What happens when we’ve over-extended ourselves financially and shit hits the fan in a massive way? Layoffs, health problems, etc. If we’re lucky, we’ll be able to move on fairly quickly; in less than a year, our “crisis” will look like a little speed bump in our road to what we think is success.
But what about those families who are literally struggling in every sense of the word? A hurricane, an unplanned pregnancy, a car accident—these things could have a massive impact on the decisions they are forced to make and could alter the course of their lives entirely.
All my stuff? I should not be so proud. I have a duty as a follower of Jesus Christ to love and serve and care for and give to the poor and needy. In fact, it should be a great desire and pleasure to do so. Cue the bible:
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ –Matthew 25: 34-40
Who are “the least of these”? They are people who are easy to love, and they’re also the people society loves to hate. They’re people we might sympathize with or care deeply about, but they could be people we avoid at all costs. Those people who didn’t evacuate: maybe they were scared to leave the only home they’ve ever known. Maybe health issues prevented them from traveling. Maybe their car wouldn’t make it 3 miles down the street without breaking down. (Been there.) Maybe they can’t hold down a job because they have serious battles with drug addiction, depression, bipolar disorder. (And also there.) They’ve got worries and responsibilities that we couldn’t dream up on our worst days, and vice-versa: they wouldn’t know sunshine, happiness and gum if it jumped up and bit them in the face.
And guess what? This college-educated white girl is not above any of it. How dare I pass judgment? How dare I so boldly declare what I will or will not do with “my” hard-earned money? How dare I not have compassion; how can I not help?
The problems in our country do not stem from one president, or from one political or religious group in particular. The problems in our country stem directly from our age-old mindset of pursuing personal happiness at any cost. Be what you want, do what you want. You’re never wrong and no one should ever tell you otherwise. Live the American Dream! Buy all the things. You should have them! You’re entitled!
We are some greedy mo-mo fo-fo’s.
I am Public Enemy Number 1: just a camel trying to get through the eye of a needle, that’s me. A sheep trying to separate herself from goats. There’s so much work to do. God demands it. And sure, there are those who do take advantage of the system, or of our kindness should we choose to offer it. But Jesus had an answer for that too:
Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’” –Matthew 13:24-30
The weeds? Not really my problem. If I put my focus on pulling them up, I risk uprooting and ruining precious wheat. The harvesters will do their job at harvest time. My part is to stick to the task at hand—planting seeds and tending to God’s work.
I haven’t rocked a side-braid since that fateful day in 7th grade (though 20 years later that hairstyle did catch fire like a freaking mockingjay!). My braces are off. I’m grown up, with 3 uber-beautiful children and a gorgeous husband who works what little ass he has off to support our family. I’ve been so many places and met so many people and seen so many things but I’m still pretty sheltered. I’ve got friends and enough possessions to choke a moose. (Is that a real saying or did my grandma just make that up?) I’m healthy and willing and able—but as far as loving and serving and not judging, I still have a long, long way to go. I look to God’s word for answers and guidance and inspiration—but just when I think I’m making progress, this passage always puts me in my place:
Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. –Matthew 19:21-22
And don’t even get me started on the Beatitudes.
I’m pretty good at being proud and cocky. I think we all are, at times. My hope is that I can look past my own needs and desires to do what needs to be done. I want to love and serve Jesus by loving and serving the least. I want to do the hard work of planting and caring for God’s people. I want my abilities and possessions to advance the Kingdom of God—not to support my own agenda of living the American dream for the very short time I am allowed on this earth. I cannot be the only one: if this is truly the focus of every American that claims to love Jesus, just imagine what our world would be like.
Now that would be something to be proud of.