I used to work at a grocery store meat department when I was in college, and one day, I started chatting with a young woman and her little girl. Her daughter had a rotten tooth and — I don’t know what I was thinking — I smiled and said: “Looks like somebody needs to brush her teeth!” The mom glared at me and said: “Looks like somebody needs to learn their manners.” A few days later, I saw the lady and her daughter at the grocery store and I apologized. Both the woman and her daughter were gracious and forgave…
It was early in the morning in Washington, D.C., and I was driving down Montana Avenue about ten minutes from home. But suddenly, the blue lights of a police cruiser zoomed into the reflection of my review mirror. My stomach dropped. When I pulled over, the officer swerved his car off the road and pulled up behind me. Then he got out, swaggered over to my window, and peered in. “Do you know why I pulled you over?” “I have no idea,” I answered flatly as my heart raced.
I have friends who adopted a little girl from another country, and their child has some significant disabilities that require her to wear a brace on her leg. You would think that fitting braces for a child’s leg wouldn’t be a difficult thing, but it has actually been a long process that has been debilitating and painful for her.
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.