I grew up in the Deep South and in my family, there was an expectation that women should always be “ladylike.” That meant, in part, that a woman should never burp in front of others (seriously, I’ve never heard my mom do it). Another thing about the South is that the secret ingredient to 93 percent of entrees is grease, so if you’re someone who avoids fried foods, that requires building up a certain intestinal fortitude to digest the lard that permeates the Southern diet.
When I was 18, I told the most elaborate lie of my life and I did it because I was lazy. I worked at the meat department of a grocery store where the assistant manager, Harold Johnson (a pseudonym), was known for recruiting meat department employees to stock shelves. That wasn’t my job and I was determined to avoid it.
I know someone who’s trapped in a dead-end job right now. He’s been there for years and he’s trying to make the best of it, but realistically, his resume is probably far too stale for him to get a different job for which he’s qualified. I know a woman who has an ongoing chronic condition that doctors can’t fix. You’d never know it if you met her — the embarrassing symptoms, the limitations. She longs for some medical breakthrough that will fix the problem, but there’s little hope for that and for whatever reason, God hasn’t healed her.
My friend Ann was driving through the cemetery in the blazing heat one summer afternoon and her heart was heavy with grief. Her father had died four months before and nothing could shake her of the sense of loss – until suddenly, there was an interruption.
One time, I met a D.C. traffic-directing cop in the line at the mall and I remarked how dangerous her job was. “I mean, people in D.C. drive so crazy,” I said. “You could get killed.” “Oh no,” she said, “don’t feel sorry for me. Feel sorry for the people in parking enforcement. They get screamed at, spat on, cursed out – you name it. It’s horrible.”
So many times the same frustrating thing happens when I try to pray. “Heavenly Father,“ I say, but almost immediately I get interrupted by my own thoughts.
When I was in third grade, I had problems behaving. My heart was in the right place, but my good intentions didn’t make it to the surface a lot of the time. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to follow the rules.
One day when I was in my 20s, I was struggling with a lot of guilt and shame because I felt like the only thing God ever saw about me was my sin and brokenness. God must’ve told my mother. I came into the dining room where my mom was and she said, “Joshua, look at that angel up there on the shelf,” and then she pointed to a ceramic angel behind me.
I sat on a bench in a beautiful cemetery visiting with the woman who would be my wife and tried to ignore my sad, racing heart. Our relationship was about to end — not because I wanted it to — because she was about to learn the awful truth. “There’s something I need to tell you,” I said.
Several years ago in my hometown, a man was driving down the highway with his wife when a tree fell down across the highway, landed right on the cab of their pickup truck, and killed them both. Later that week, I was in a church service in which the pastor referenced the freak accident and said, “Do you think that kind of thing happened by accident? There’s no way.”
I pushed the elderly woman in the wheelchair and started our conversation but I knew I had to whisper. For this college sophomore, the workplace had become a tricky arena in which to talk about Jesus.
I have this one childhood memory that used to haunt me. When I was in first grade, a careless adult did a great deal of damage with very little effort and it seemed like the hurt from that incident couldn’t be undone.
One Sunday morning when I was in my early 20s, my mom came up to me after church and said something that stuck with me: “I notice you always pray to Jesus. You should think about calling God ‘Father.’” I thanked her for her input but it agitated me a little. I was more comfortable keeping things on a first-name basis with the Lord and starting all of my prayers with “Dear Jesus.” I didn’t like the way it felt to address God as my male parental figure. I already had a father-son relationship and it was complicated.
One time I was at the bus stop and I saw a woman take her daughter by the ponytail, pull up, and force her to move down the sidewalk. As the girl walked forward, she tried to reach up and pull her mother’s hand away, to no avail. As the little girl cried and begged her mother to stop, a man standing nearby laughed about it, and the mother began laughing, too.
I was five years old when I walked into my mother’s bedroom and told her I wanted to give my life to Christ. We got down on our knees beside the bed and I asked Jesus into my heart. After that, I proudly told everyone that Jesus had saved me, but my pride slowly diminished over the years.