>Miss Susie Story–Skipping Work in Doug’s Car

>{From 1999-2010 I worked with kids…sometimes, to bribe them, I’d tell “Miss Susie Stories”. I’m using them again to bribe…bribe you to “follow” my blog. Shameless, absolutely. I will occasionally treat you to these ridiculous stories…all true, some exaggerated for comedic purposes. Enjoy yourself at my expense.}

The summer between my Junior and Senior years in high school I worked at a fast food joint. Let’s just say billions were served and a clown was involved. I hated that job. Massively. My manager scheduled me for the morning shift almost every day. I saw the egg substance that became the egg muffins (and I use the word “egg” loosely here, friends), smelled the incessant frying of “bacon” and “sausage” and “potatoes”. And, let me tell you, customers at 7 am, pre-coffee, are evil. I don’t joke about this.

I only took the job so that my friend Julie would get a tiny raise (she wanted to be a manager and recruited me to help her climb the greasy ladder of fast-food success).

Now, you need to understand, Julie was 1) blonde, 2) bubbly, 3) loved her job.  The customers loved her even when she royally screwed up their orders. When the two of us were taking orders at the counter her line was always full, customers preferred her…especially the guys.

Whatever. Less work for me.

Anyway, one night before an early Saturday morning shift I stayed over at Julie’s house. We were both supposed to work the next day. And, for one reason or another (not because we were drunk or high…so don’t even go there) we both decided that we didn’t want to work. So, we did the responsible thing. We called in “sick” for each other.

“Hi, this is Julie’s big sister,” I said, cleverly disguising my voice. “Julie had a major asthma attack and will need to miss work. She is very sad about it.”

Then Julie called.

“Yes, this is Susie’s mom. She has explosive diarrhea. I don’t think you want her working today…oh, you don’t mind? Well, that’s disturbing. She won’t be there anyway.”

Diarrhea? Really? And explosive at that. Thanks a lot, jerk.

Well, regardless of the looming humiliation of everyone at work thinking I was exploding, I was happy. We didn’t have to work! Yippee Skippy!

We slept in, listened to a little Pearl Jam and drank highly caffeinated beverages until we were shaky.

“Hey,” Julie said at one point. “You hungry?”

“Yeah. I could really go for a burger.” I answered.

“Awesome.”

But then we realized that we didn’t have a car. And that the only fast food place within walking distance was the one that we were playing hooky from. Oh, the problems that American teenagers face.

There was, however, a car parked in the driveway. A very new, very shiny, very red Beretta. It belonged to her big brother Doug. It was his favorite thing in all the world.

“Doug will let us take his car.” Julie hopped off her bed and skipped down the steps.

“What do you want?” Doug asked, still…um…not feeling well from the night before.

“Dougie, we need your car.”

After a lengthy negotiation he handed her the keys. We had to follow 3 rules.

1. No eating in the car
2. No drinking in the car
3. No crashing the car

Julie assured him that we would abide by the rules. And we were on our way.

We picked up value meals at a joint (the same company that we worked for) a few blocks away. Then Julie insisted that we drive past our place of work, eating our burgers and drinking our pop (or soda for you Non-Michiganders). We shoved the food into our mouths, laughing like fools at our manager for believing that we were both sick.

Then Julie turned left. But she didn’t look first. I saw the other car headed for us before she did. And, being a clear thinker in times of emergency, I passed out. Before the impact.

When I woke up I saw the windshield inches from my face, caved in from the crash. All across the crinkled glass was splattered coke.

“Crap,” I said. “Doug’s going to kill us. We drank in his car.”

Then I heard Julie screaming. “Get out! It’s going to blow!” (silly girl)

I tried to move, but couldn’t. I just knew that I was paralyzed. My spinal cord was severed and I would never walk again. I would have an afterschool special movie made about my life…”The Girl Who Skipped Work”. A cautionary tale.

“Unbuckle your seat belt, stupid!” Julie kindly reminded.

Right. Shoot. No afterschool special.

I got out of the car, which, by the way, was turned the opposite way from where we were headed.

“Dang,” I thought. “That’s not good.”

Then I looked up. Standing outside the fast-food place stood my boss, my coworkers and many regular customers.

“Uh oh.”

Well, after being whisked away by an ambulance, spending far too long on a back board and being on “concussion watch” I was “okay”.

And here’s the part I DIDN’T tell the kids I taught…we totally got away with it. Seriously.

Doug (in a rare moment of humanitarianism) was just so relieved that we didn’t get mangled and killed that he wasn’t mad about his car. Oh…and the huge insurance check didn’t hurt. He got an even cooler car.

Julie’s mom was so worried that I would sue them that she bought me all the Brad Pitt stuff I could handle. Books, posters, videos. Pretty good out of court settlement, right? And the next week she let Julie drive her car so we could hang out with friends.

And, our manager was distraught that we had such a bad day…asthma and diarrhea PLUS a huge head on car accident. How terrible. She gave us the next two weeks off so we could heal. And, because of my whiplash, I didn’t have to mop the dining room or clean the bathrooms anymore.

So, the moral of the story? Work ethic is important. Or don’t eat and drive. Maybe don’t let teenagers drive. I don’t know.

What do YOU think the moral of the story should be?

  

>Feeling Ugly At the Zoo

>This morning was absolutely lovely. So, the hubster and I decided that we should take the kids to the zoo. We spend a lot of summer time at the John Ball Zoo…we’re members. That’s right. We are zoological members. Yeah, we’re classy like that.

We got the kids dressed…er…changed (if I tell my boys that they’re going to get dressed they think I mean they will be wearing dresses). We found all 6 of their shoes…an great accomplishment in our family. We got them loaded into the van. I filled two travel mugs with coffee. I got into my seat. I flipped down the mirror on the sun visor.

Shoot. I looked awful.

I couldn’t figure out what looked better…my hair in a ponytail or down. It’s at “that”length. You know what I’m saying. It rests on my shoulders and flips up funny because of it. As I sat in the van I couldn’t decide if the flip was cute or gross.

Then I realized I was wearing a sweater that I’ve over-worn. It’s getting pilly. But the shirt under it was short sleeved which caused two problems…1) it was kind of chilly and 2) I hate my arms. So, I had to leave the sweater on.

I was already feeling frumpy and ugly. And we hadn’t even left the driveway.

One thing you need to understand about Grand Rapids kids’ places…the moms really do it up. For real.  Every time I’ve been to the zoo or children’s museum or other child-centered activities the mamas are working the hair and make-up and little clothes. Yes…little clothes.

Sometimes I think I’m the only bigger sized mom out and about. And that I’m the only one who doesn’t care to poof up my quaff. Or apply three layers of eyeliner.

Here’s the problem…

This is what I take to the zoo. Yeah. He’s HOT. Whew. Hot. And I’m not the only one to notice.
See. My hubby has a flexible work schedule. He’s got the freedom to go to the zoo in the middle of the day. And most other daddies are not at the zoo. So he’s getting a whole lot of attention. 
It’s important to note: he has no clue how much he gets checked out. He has no concept. He is an amazing and very complimentary husband. 
But no matter how much he tells me that I’m beautiful, I doubt it. I’ve actually suggested he get an eye exam.
That’s not very nice, is it? Not kind to me or him. 
So, here I was, walking through the hairsprayed and made over faces…and I felt so old and ugly and fat. 
I missed out on some of the fun because I was so obsessed over my looks. No. My perceived looks. Stupid.
It wasn’t until I sat on the bench outside the Chimp House, all 3 of my kids snuggling with me that I realized I was being wrong. Jeff snapped a picture of us. And he told me I was his pretty wife. 
Dang it. Why don’t I just believe him? He’s a terrible liar. And I could tell he was telling the truth. 
I do the same thing with God. I doubt His love. I question His motives. I look at others and wonder why I can’t be like them…why God made me like this.
And all the while God is saying “You’re beautiful to Me”. And I question His ability to judge such a thing.
Silly. 
But He loves my silly self. He looks at me, shakes His head and continues to transform me. 
I’m so grateful that He (and my husband) refuse to give up on me. I’m a story that is being written, edited, published and reviewed. But in the end I think it will be a great story…
And who cares if my hair’s a little messy or my arms are floppy. 

>Pawn Shop (short, short story)

>

    

 I already drove around this block about 10 times. Past the abandoned gas station, the grungy park, the weeping willow. I know what that old tree feels, hanging low like that and looking just sad. Sucking up all the water it can, storing it up for the dry times.
            I wish I’d been so wise. Cause I’m stuck in the middle of nothing and it sure is a dry season for me. And I don’t have no clue how to fix it at all.
            I got my resolve. Somehow on this tenth lap around the block I knew I need to do it. Just park the car, get out and do what I have to. The velvety box makes a huge lump in my jeans pocket.
            The heavy door makes a creaking sound as I swing it open.  My feet cause the floor to creak a little. It’s dusty in here. Always been that way. Probably always will. People’s junk line the walls. I know who must this stuff goes with. The box of records is Stubby John’s. The old rocking chair with no seat is from the old Kagger house. That set of aluminum pots belong to my gramma.
            All this jumble is only here on account of everything shutting down; the mill, the factory, the old family stores. Ain’t a soul here getting a paycheck. Most too proud to get help from Uncle Sam. So they sell what they got. They can’t do nothing else. So they bring it here. And they get cash to pay for their pills or buy a bag of groceries. Maybe they gotta pay a bill or two. But in two weeks they have to come right on back and sell something else.
            “Hey there, Libby Lou!” hollers Jack. He sits watching Mrs. Baxter’s old T.V. behind the cash register. “You come to buy something?”
            “Naw,” I answer. “I gotta sell something.”
            “Oh. You need some money for that big wedding of yours?”
            “Not really.”
            I go over and touch the leather saddle resting on a sawhorse. It’s filthy, never got cleaned since Jack get it. But some rich guy’ll come and think it’s a deal. He’ll jew it down to a better price on account of it being so dirty. And Jack’ll be glad to make a few bucks off it.
            “What you come here for?” Jack turns the volume down. “What you got for me to buy?”
            “Oh, I don’t know.”
            “Come on, Libby. You can trust old Jack.”
            I reach into my pocket and pull out the box. It thuds on the counter after I toss it over to him.
            “I gotta sell that.”
            “Naw, Libby.” He reaches over and turns off the T.V. “You gonna need this for the wedding. Ain’t no bride get married without a ring. It ain’t right.”
            “Well, who says I’m getting married?”
            “What in heaven’s name is going on?” Jack puts his hand on the box. “Ain’t Greg treating you right?”
            “He’s gone.”
            “Gone? What you mean, girl?”
            “Gone. He ain’t here no more. What else could I mean by that.”
            Jack is quiet. I can tell he wants to look at that ring, see how big the diamond is. He wants to inspect the gold.
            “I don’t want to talk about it. Just tell me how much you’ll give me for that.”
            “Alright.”
            Jack opens the box and has to squint to see anything. It’s just a cheap piece of junk from the super market. But it’s real gold. And that chip of white is a real diamond. He moves it around, seeing how it shines in the light.
            “How much you think you can give me?”
            “Why you need to sell this? Don’t you wanna keep it around just in case?”
            “In case what?”
            “He comes back?”
            “He ain’t coming back.” I’m getting mad. I just want to know how much cash I can get. “How much, Jack?”
            “I hate to tell you, but it ain’t worth much. What you need money for, Libby? You got troubles?”
            “Don’t everybody? Now, how much you gonna give me?”
            “Gawl, Libby. You know, it ain’t that much. Probably 30, 40 bucks.”
            “What?” I feel my heart go quicker. “That’s bull and you know it.”
            “Come on. You know I can’t get much for it. I can’t even be sure I’ll sell it. I’m doing you a favor.”
            “But I paid $150 for it.”
            “You got ripped off.”
            “Bull…”
            “Listen, honey.” Jack interrupts.
            “Don’t you dare call me ‘honey’.”
            We stare each other down. I feel something like daggers coming outta my eyes. He looks like he’s gonna back down. But I can’t be sure. He looks back at the ring.
            “Okay.” His voice is gentle. Almost like what a daddy should sound like. I wish I had my daddy back.
            “Okay what?”
            “Listen. I know you got your heart broke.”
            “You don’t know nothing of the kind.”
            “Right. I don’t. But I can guess you did. I never seen a girl come in to sell a ring unless she got her heart broke. And every one of ‘em is as mean as you.”
            He puts the ring on the counter. It’s not pretty. It’s not the ring I wanted. But it’s the ring Greg gave me. The ring I had to give him the money to buy.
            “Here,” Greg had said. “You win. I’ll marry you.”
            Almighty. How’d I fall for that stupid man? Why’d I think he’d be a good man for me? I must be the dumbest creature on this earth.
            “Fine,” I say to Jack. “I’ll let you have it for $60.”
            “I can’t do that much.”
            “50?”
            “Nope. Not a penny over $44.”
            “You rat fink.” I feel a fever in my cheeks. “You think you can buy my life for 44 bucks? You can’t! You can’t have it!”
            “Now, calm down, dear.”
            “Shut up. You just shut up right now.” I slam my hands on the counter. “You give me that ring back right now.”
            “Lib…”
            “And I want the box, too.”
            He gently puts the ring in the box. “Listen, I didn’t mean nothing by it. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”
            “That’s fine, Jack. But you ain’t gonna make a fool outta me.” I take the box and shove it back into my pocket. “I ain’t mad at you. I’m just having myself a bad time right now.”
            “I can see.”
            “I hope you and the family have a nice evening.”
            Passing the trash I leave Jack’s pawn shop. I get back into my car and kick up dust driving away. I go as fast as I can. Away from the town, the people, my family. I get away from the house I shared with Greg. I can’t look at none of them again. Not one face or building or street sign.
            I gotta start over. Gotta straighten up my back, keep from drooping low. Find a place where I can suck up something from this life. I ain’t got a clue where, I ain’t know how. But I need to start brand new.
            

>Sorry, I don’t understand what you’re saying…

>The road from Santiago, D.R. to Quanaminth, Haiti is a bumpy one. Up and down mountains. Past huts and towns. It’s quite the journey.

I was on my way with a bunch of Dominican ministers to build a school. But they had other plans. Here’s a conversation from the van as we were jostled along…

“Hey, when we get there we’ll need someone to cook for us.”

“Yup.”

“Well, who’s going to make our meals?”

“Uh, why do you think we brought Susie?”

What? They wanted me to cook? I laughed it off. Just because I was the only female on the trip didn’t mean they expected me to cook. Right? RIGHT? Seriously…

Well, I was sent straight away to the dark, Haitian kitchen. I was given the groceries: chicken (with feathers, talons and head), beans (not in a can, mind you), plantains and the biggest vat of oil you can imagine. I had no clue what I was supposed to do.

And the lady in the kitchen only spoke Creole. All I could say in her tongue was “I don’t speak Creole” and “avocado”. She tried. Poor lady. She talked to me almost non-stop. And I smiled, trying to communicate through charades. She understood by my inability to pluck the chicken that she needed to do that. And when I nearly chopped off my thumb, well, she showed me how to peal the plantain. Somehow a meal was made. A dinner that didn’t cause explosive diarrhea or death. And even after all that time, I still had no idea what the woman was trying to say to me.

Sometimes I feel that way about denominational differences. Thrust into a debate, unfamiliar territory for me, I get all tensed up. I make a fool out of myself. I get all nervous and sweaty and I break out in hives. It’s not pretty. Not at all. I don’t want to be there. I’m not wanted there. And nothing much is accomplished when all involved refuse to communicate, choosing only to rant and rave. Using Scripture (often far out of context) and self-righteousness (not the good kind) we plow over each other when, really, we probably agree on more than we know. We just don’t take the time to understand one another.

I was raised in a United Methodist church. I attended a predominately Christian Reformed private school. I went to a Restoration Movement Bible college (Church of Christ/Christian Church). I took what I was taught in my Sunday School, Bible and Theology classes and believed everything I heard (oops). I didn’t allow myself to doubt. I looked down on Catholics and Charismatics (equal opportunity snobbery). And I refused to think of things differently. I thought I was the bomb diggidy. (do people even say that anymore?)

But then, life happened. I was hurt. I saw how damaging it is when the Body of Christ tears at its own flesh. And it broke me. I realized that I dismissed others simply because I didn’t understand them. I couldn’t speak their language and didn’t know that I should try.

It was only when I watched them moving, when I looked into the fruit of my brothers and sisters that I saw something amazing and beautiful. I saw that we all, deep down, desire the same thing. We desire to be the people of Jesus. We want to emulate Him, shining from our core with His love. We are family. Jesus’ blood covers all of us.

Honestly, I still don’t know what a lot of you are saying. I have to admit, I disagree with some of you. Regardless, we have a link to one another. And we’ve got to figure out how to spend the rest of forever together. So, let’s at least play a game of charades and learn how to work together!

>Faking the Christian Character Award

>My good friend Kendra Shriver at “The Joy of Sneezing” wrote this great blog post about life in the “club”. She inspired me to do the same.

Okay…I can do this…I’m a little nervous…whew.


I’ve worked very hard for almost all my life to keep up with what other people thought I should be. I never misbehaved in class (I used to whisper jokes to the kid next to me so he could say them and make the class erupt in snickers). I tried to be kind to everyone, even when I should have stood up for myself. I played sports because other people wanted me to. I even pegged (or tight rolled) my jeans even though I thought it was the DUMBEST fad ever!

The problem, however, is that I felt other people expected me to be perfect.

 I went to a small (very, very small) high school. Instead of homecoming kings and queens we had the “Christian Character Award”. Each of the classes (9th-11th) would elect a guy and girl from their grade to be on the homecoming court. They were the representatives for that class. They elected the kids who best displayed the character of Christ. I was chosen by my classmates each year. Then senior year the entire school voted in. I won that year too.

Every year I was sick at the thought that everyone thought I was like Jesus. Because I wasn’t. I didn’t even know what it meant to be like Jesus.

So, I’d borrow a dress from one of my sisters. I’d try to do my hair. I’d worry about walking in heels. I’d thank God that I had to hold onto the arm of a guy who would most likely catch me if I sprained my ankle or fainted. I’d stand, waiting for it to all be over.

Then I’d hear my name.

I would walk/stumble/quake/trip onto the basketball court. Everyone was cheering. I distinctly remember hearing my name chanted by a few friends. I got dizzy if I looked at the crowd. So I looked at my feet or off to the sidelines.

And the whole time I felt so very unworthy. If they only knew that I wasn’t perfect…they wouldn’t have given me that honor, they would have talked about me, they would have kicked me out of the club.

That was so long ago. More years have past than my feeble math mind cares to count. I went to Bible college, had a “real world” job where EVERYBODY was in love with the F-bomb. I got engaged and dumped. I was a Bible teacher and a children’s minister. I got engaged and married. I had kids. I changed careers.

Love, joy, pain, gladness, sorrow. Life. It happened.

And this is something I’ve learned. This is the important part. There is no club.

Being like Christ has nothing to do with behaving in class or letting people walk all over you. It has nothing to do with awards…in fact, that is so incredibly opposite of what it is to be Christ; being honored for being the best (the greatest among us is the girl who won the Christian Character Award…wait…that can’t be right).

Being like Christ has everything to do with getting dirty, digging a latrine in a 3rd world country. It’s about feeding poor people, not expecting a “thank you”. It’s about forgiving and loving and giving up what you hold most dear. That is Christian Character. It’s love, joy,  peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control.

Christian Character is nothing more than fruit that blooms from the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives.

I still struggle with this. I will most likely always fight against the urge to be what others think I should be. But I’m getting there. Or, more accurately, He is leading me there!

>Conclusion. (it’s a little rough…)

>Most mornings Joe woke up, disgusted by what happened to his life.  He adjusted his cold, sore body from flat on the cot to sitting.  These days he didn’t even bother taking off his coat and boots before sleeping.  It was too cold in the garage for undressing.

With his teeth he pulled at his gloves, pulling his hand into the frigid air.  He scratched at his rust colored beard as he opened wide for a yawn.  He felt the cold stab into the nerve of a tooth.  He wondered how much longer before he lost that tooth.  Maybe he would get that job in Texas.  Maybe it would have insurance.  Maybe he’d be able to save up enough for dentures to fill in where his now vacated teeth once were.

Reaching into his backpack he pulled out a large, well used Bible.

The poor will eat and be satisfied;
Those who seek the LORD will praise Him —
May your hearts live forever.


From within the pages of the Scriptures fell a picture.  Cracked and faded, the image of his wife smiling, eyes full of love for him.  When she loved him.  It seemed like so long ago since she held his hand or flashed affection through her eyes.  So long ago.

“It’s over.”  Her voice announced into his head, reverberating off the memories of all that was good in their lives. “It’s over.”  Tainting the hues of joy.  “It’s over.”  Breaking the hope of their vows.  “It’s over.  And there’s no discussion.”

He’d moved out.  Rented an apartment.  Kept paying on the house, the cars, the credit cards.  He threw his life into work, trying to busy his mind to blot out “It’s over.”

“There’s someone else.”  She’d told him over the phone.  “He’s living here at the house.  Don’t come over.”

It was the only time he was glad they’d never had kids.  It would have been the worst on them.

His bank account was emptied.  A couple thousand dollars missing.  The bank showed him his wife’s signature.  The credit cards were over charged.  Creditors called his apartment, his cell phone, his work.

“Where’s our money?”  They’d ask.

“I don’t know.”  Was his only answer.

“Joe, come into my office.”  His boss beckoned one afternoon, just before quitting time.  “We’re gonna have to let you go.  I’m sorry.  It’s over.”

No job.  No money.  No family.  Only God.  And these days He’d been quieter than Joe would have liked.

He moved out of his apartment and into a tent.  The hot, humid evenings were best under the open sky than anywhere else Joe could think of.  There were a bunch of them living in an abandoned lot behind the park.  Either the police didn’t know or didn’t care that they were back there.  They kept things clean and behaved well.

But then the chill set in.  The rescue mission was full most nights.  Desperation set in.  And then the snow.  He had to do something.  But all he had was $2.26 in his pocket.

“Homeless: Please Help.” He wrote on a cardboard box with a marker he borrowed from the attendant at the gas station.

Homeless.  This man, once loved and respected and valued, now homeless.  He didn’t want this word to declare who he was or who he was becoming.  But the hunger in his belly reminded him that the sign spoke true.  He was, indeed, without a home and in need.

“It’s over.”

His feet moved reluctantly to a spot under a tree.  It was by a busy access road that lead to a grocery store, fast food joint and gas station.  He felt the remnants of pride and dignity trickle down his throat, resting in the pit of his gut.  He would stand there and hold his sign.

“What makes you think you’re better than anybody else?”  He asked himself.

He held the sign.  At first he kept it inches from his body as if to say “This isn’t really me”.  Then the first cars passed.  A woman in a fancy car glared at him as she went by.  A family in a van drove near, pretending not to see him.  A little girl in another car pointed, her mother pushed her hand down.

A large, ancient vehicle rattled next to him.  A man passed a few dollars through the cracked window.

“Here you go, brother.”  The man said.  “We poor gotta stick together.”

“My name is Joe.”  Was all he could mutter through his tight throat.

“Hey there, Joe.  I’m Ed.”  The man smiled.  “God bless you, brother Joe.”

“I’m a Christian man.  I’ve never had to do this before.  It’s just…it’s just…”

“Joe.”  The man’s voice calmed him.  “You don’t gotta say a word.  I get it, brother.”

The rattling car jolted away.

Joe met many people that day and the next and the next.  Some understood, waited to listen to his story.  They shared a cup of coffee, a bag of groceries, a few dollars.  He talked to them about Jesus.  Many times he was hearing their sad stories.

Many people drove past.  That didn’t bother Joe.  What hurt were the snarls, the people who rolled down their windows to bark at him.  Harsh words that thudded against his soul.  The worst one was on the third day.

Snowflakes clustered together on that day.  The roads were slick from the slush and ice hidden beneath.  Joe was thankful the the steaming coffee in his hand as he sipped the warmth into his body.  He closed his eyes, relishing the rich aroma, thanking God for His mercies.

Something cold splashed into his face followed by another and another. Sloppy snowballs were hitting him from several sides.  One with a chunk of ice inside tipped the coffee cup and splashed the liquid on Joe’s beard and coat.

“Get a job!”  A boy yelled, adding sharp words in his cracking voice.

Joe looked at the boy, hurt speaking through his eyes.

Another boy hurled a snowball at his head.  Yet another chucked one at his back. And their words shredded his emotions.

Joe stood a good foot taller than the boys, yet he felt powerless against them.  He just stood and took this punishment.  “Jesus suffered more.”  He reminded himself.  “I can take this.”

The snowballs were becoming harder as the boys added more ice.  Then they just threw ice chunks.  One thudded against his face.  Warm blood rushed to the cut and spilled on his cheek.

“Hey!”  A voice called out.  “You leave him alone!”

It was a voice of confidence and authority.  Joe tried to see who it was, but his eyes were clouded by tears and slushy snow.

“Whatever, lady.” One boy snorted.  “This isn’t any of your business.”

“Of course it is.”  She answered.  “Just sit on the curb.”

“Why should we?”  Another boy.

“Because I’m calling the police.”

“Right.”  The first boy.  “Like we’re really going to sit and wait for the cops.”

“They’d arrest this slob for panhandling.”  A different boy.

“Slob?”  The woman’s voice didn’t waver.  “Do you really think that by calling him a ‘slob’ you can give yourself permission to mistreat him?”

“Whatever.”  The speaker’s voice cracked.

“He is a human being.”  Her voice sounded like singing.  “Look at him.  Look at his eyes.  He is real.  He was made in God’s image just like you.”

There was a pause.  “What’s your name?”  She asked.

“My name’s Joe.”

They sat on the curb. The woman sent one of the boys into the fast food restaurant to get a coffee and food for Joe.  The boys listened to Joe’s story.  Then they listened to Jesus’ story and, although they already knew it, heard with different ears.  After a little while the boys went back to the classes they were skipping.  The woman handed Joe some money and began to walk away.

“What’s your name?”  Joe asked after her.

“Bea.”  She answered with a meek voice.  Not the authority nor confidence of earlier.

“Thank you, Bea.”  He put one hand into the air in a still wave.  “God bless you.”

>Just a little story…not finished yet!

>Fat snowflakes floated from the sky, whipping around at the will of the wind.  Tree limbs, barren of life, wore blankets of white on their elegantly curved arms.  It was the kind of day that sent Robert Frost into fits of poetry, Jack London to dreaming of husky dogs and snowshoes.

Bea navigated her compact car through the streets.  Beneath her gloves were knuckles as gleaming as the snow. Large SUV’s sped past her, throwing globs of snow onto her tiny windshield.

“Mind the road.”  Her mother reassured.  “Don’t worry about those big trucks.”

“I know, Mother.  Thank you.”  Bea answered.

It little mattered to her mother that Bea was a woman with a college degree, a job and an apartment all her own. Her mother could not seem to stop, well, mothering her.

“Remember, those big trucks are the first to go in the ditches.”  Her mother added with a humph.  “Serves them right.”

“That isn’t kind.”  Bea answered, sheepish.

“Nothing in the Bible ever told me I had to be kind.”

“Actually, mother…”

“What’s that?”  Her voice was sharp, daring Bea to challenge her.

Pause.  Air thick with tension.  Bea sniffed.

“Which do you want to do first; your groceries or your hair?”

“What do you think?  If I get the groceries first everything will go bad in the trunk.”

“Okay, then.  We’ll go to the beauty shop first.”

Dark paneled walls lined with women, heads under driers and reading tabloids.

Bea dreaded these weekly visits to “Lovely Lady Beauty Shop”.  The women near harassed her each Saturday.

“Bea, you found yourself a husband yet?”

“I have a nephew in Ann Arbor who’s studying to be a doctor.”

“At your age I’d had all 8 of my kids.”

“You’d better get a move on, Bea.  You’re eggs are all gonna dry up.”

And on and on.

Bea just sat in the waiting area, hands folded in her lap, head nodding.

“Ramona, you need to talk to her about getting married.”  One woman said, too loud because of the whirring bowl atop her head.

“Don’t I know it.”  Bea’s mother said, hair being tugged into rollers.  “But do you think the girl listens to me?  No.  She isn’t interested in seeing a man right now.”

The women continued to squawk as Bea drifted in her mind.  She looked out the window.  Across the street was the grocery store, a McDonald’s and a gas station.  A dark figure stood under a tree between the store and the gas station.  She stood, moving toward the window.  The person under the tree was a man and  he was holding a sign made of cardboard.

“Oh, that Joe.”  Ceci said.  Ceci owned the beauty shop for over thirty years.  “That Joe been sittin’ there with that sign for a couple days.  I seen him there beggin’ money off the folks gone in to get a burger.”

“Anybody tell him to get a job?”  Bea’s mother asked, snorting in righteousness.  “Lazy reaps nothin’ but hardship.”

“Maybe he’s not lazy.”  Bea said, louder than she expected.  Harsher than she intended.  “Maybe he’s just out of a job.”

“Then why don’t he go into that McDonald’s and get a job flippin’ burgers or something?”  Her mother was louder and harsher than Bea.  “You keep talkin’ like that, girl and people will think I raised a Communist.”

Bea ignored her mother.  “Ceci, are people giving him money?”

“Oh, yes!  Such a fools.  They bring him sandwiches and coffee and bags of groceries.”  Ceci clucked. “I tell ya he’s got quite a racket going.  I bet he sells all them bags of food to buy drugs.”

“I’m going to go ask him.”  Bea picked her coat up off the chair.  “I bet he doesn’t.”

“Don’t you go out there.  He’s likely to mug you.”  Her mother’s eyes were wide, her lips set fiercely.  A look Bea crumbled to so many times before.  “He might rape you.  You just sit down and do what I say.”

“Why, mother?”  Bea turned, eyes soft and sad.  “Why are you so mean?”

“Because I been burned by people like that before.”

“How?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”  The woman’s eyes narrowed, her mouth pursed.  “Be a good girl and sit down.”

“No.”  Bea felt a surge of power at the word.  “No, mother.  I’m going to see if I can help the man.”

The bell on the beauty shop door clanged as Bea let it slam behind her.

>Story Starter #2 (for a writers club)

>The man in the Winnebago is staring wildly.  A Cadillac is wedge precariously under the nose of his monstrous vehicle.  Smoke is pouring out of both hoods, fluid leaking from underneath.  The woman in the Caddy is sobbing, her nose streaming blood onto her cashmere sweater.  A siren howls closer and closer.

I walk by this mess, no time to stop.  I was due at work two hours ago, more or less.  I suppose if I stop I’d at least have an excuse for my boss.  If I just got a little blood on my jacket that would be enough to convince him. But it’s leather and I really don’t care if I get fired.

Two more blocks and I’ll be there, at the office.  I’m almost taken aback by the enormity of steel and brick towering over me.  The street is lined by these ancient buildings.  Here no trees offer shade, no glass a soft path, only hard, cold materials.  I hate this city.

I slap the button to make the handicapped accessible door slowly easy its way open.

“Hey, Chief.”  The security guard says, “You got your badge?”

“It’s at home.”  I tell him.

“What’s your name?”

“Uh, not Chief.”

“What’s your name?”  With more force.

I tell him my name.  He checks his list.

We do this everyday.  It’s some sick kind of ritual.  I have my badge in my pocket.  I just like messing with the guy.  Might as well work for his paycheck.

“Go on through the metal detector.”

“Really?”  I whine.  “We gotta do this today.  I’m a little late.”

He cusses me out.  I walk through the gateway of detection.  It beeps frantically.  This too is a ritual.  I remove my keys, my lighter, my badge and place them in a basket.  I walk through again.  No beep.

The guard hands me my belongs and notices my pass.  He lets out a grunt and tells me to do something that my mother warned me would make me blind.  I laugh.

He goes back to reading his dirty magazine.

“Elevator’s busted, Chief.”  He turns the page.

My feet slowly climb the stairs.

“No reason to rush.”  I think aloud.

The woman five steps ahead of me turns to me, “Excuse me?”

“You’re excused.”  I answer.

She takes the steps a little faster.

I walk through my office, past the receptionist and into my cubical.  My square of doom.  A note is taped to my computer screen.

“Could we please met when you get in?”  Black Sharpie letters on pale yellow Post It.

I remove it and toss it in the trash.  My computer is already on and Facebook is up.  I “poke” a few friends.  Check up on what happened in the last 15 minutes.

Leeza is eating cookies.

Brian is glad that the sun is shining.

Ramona is angry.  (as always)

The phone on my desk buzzes.

“Jello?”  I say into the receiver.

“Hi!”  My boss.

“I’m sorry.  Who is this?”

“Um, Thomas.  Your boss.”  His voice lowers to a whimper.  “Could you please come to my office?”

“Yeah.  Just let me update my status.  Cool?”

“Sure.”

Everything about my boss’ office is small.  Small door, small windows, small boss.  He hates it.  Complains about it everyday.  I sit in one of the under-sized chairs in front of his tiny, doll house desk.

“Hey.”  He’s trying to be reassuring.  “What’s going on?”

“Well…Leeza’s eating cookies.”

“Right.”  He didn’t listen to my answer.  “So, I’m getting this strange idea that you aren’t loving your job.”

“Should I love my job?”

“Yes.  I think you should.”

“Oh.  Well, this is awkward.”

“I know.”

Sarcasm meant nothing to this wee man.

“Listen,”  He climbed up on his desk, not without a great deal of umph. His eyes look directly into mine.  He was concerned.   “You might be surprised to know that you’re several hours late.”

“Nope.  That doesn’t surprise me at all.”  My voice was as bland as a rice cake.

“So, why is it that you’re so late?”

“Oh.  That.  Well I guess I just got busy with stuff at home.”

“Are things at home bad?”  He crossed his arms and raised his eyebrows in worry.  “Are you going through relationship troubles?”

“I guess you could call it that.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“Sure.”  I answered, inserting enthusiasm.

“Go ahead.”

“I think I changed my mind.”  I scratched my head.  “I think you should just fire me.”

“No.  Please.”  He begged, tears collecting in the corners of his eyes.

“You see kids like me coming in here all the time.  You had to have known this would never work out.”

“I know.”  He weeps.  “I just had such big dreams.”

“You know I’m not going to amount to anything in the business world with my lack of respect for authority.”

“It’s true.”

“I’ll just pack up my things and leave.  I’ll turn in my badge to the security guard.  Perhaps you should have someone escort me out of the building.”

The receptionist met me outside the boss’ office with a box.  She’s about as old as my grandma and about as mean as a shark.

“You really messed up, you know.”  She barks at me and walks away.

If she had been my boss I would have worked harder, been on time.

I place the box on the desk.  I have nothing personal here; no pictures of friends or pets to take home.  I place my badge on the rolling chair and walk myself down the stairs.

The guard has his nose in that magazine still.

“You get canned?”  He asks without looking up.

“No.  The company’s paying an all expense trip to New Zealand to romp with the Hobits.”

“Punk.”  He puts the magazine face down on his desk.  “I gotta get your badge.”

“It’s at home.  I’ll mail it to you.”

He calls me a few unsavory names.

“I’m going to miss your ever sweet disposition.”  I say, walking backwards, slapping the handicapped button again.

The air outside is fresh.  The sun is, indeed, making me glad.  My walk feels like a glide across the pavement.

The Winnebago is jacked onto a tow truck.  The Cadillac is already gone.  The man is getting into a taxi, the wild look still in his eyes.

>Restored Life

>Today I had the opportunity to participate in a forum on human trafficking. It was extremely exciting to have such a conference in my own town.

I arrived at Kentwood Community Church to set up my display in room 115. The room was lined with 6 foot tables, each covered by black cloth. I found my “booth” and put out fliers and business cards, purses and necklaces. I was looking forward to meeting new people, all who had a passion for the modern abolitionist movement.

I scoped out the tables near me. On my right was the International Jusice Mission (the IJM…they are an amazing organization and I recommend you check them out). On my left was Sacred Beginnings. I knew nothing about that group.

Well, I went about my business, found the snack table and got ready for a great day.

After scarfing down my Bugles and Diet Coke I went back to my display. The ladies from Sacred Beginnings had arrived while I pigged out. I had a chance to look at their materials.

Among the information were two newspaper articles. One recognized the founder of the organization for her work advocating against criminal sexual exploitation in the Grand Rapids area.

Wow! That’s huge, extreme, amazing work! I was so pumped to meet her. I couldn’t wait to learn more.

Then I looked at the other article.

It featured a picture of her. She was mentoring a few women. Then there was a photo below where the newspaper would have folded.

It was a mug shot. The woman in the photo had stringy, yellow hair. Her face was thin and sallow. Her eyes…oh, her eyes…they were scared, angry, hurt. I was haunted by her eyes. I got goosebumps from the expression of the woman who the caption said was arrested over and over and over; larceny, assault, sexual solicitation, drug possession…and on and on and on.

Then I realized something. This sad, empty face belonged to the same woman who was fighting for the rights of others. I discovered that this prostitute, drug addict, thief had transformed into an advocate, mentor, servant.

As I marveled over the article I realized that the woman, Leslie, was nearing her table. She was chatting with the two friends she brought with them. All three ladies were dressed beautifully, smiles brightly and walked with confidence.

With much humility I introduced myself. I was half tempted to say “Hi, I’m Susie. Nothing has ever happened to me that comes close to what you’ve endured. I can’t understand how you survived.”

But instead I said “Hi! I’m Susie.” (when I’m nervous sometimes I say dumb things…that’s why it’s really an accomplishment for me to NOT say something stupid).

I learned that Leslie became a Christian after an attempted suicide. She did everything to end her life, but “God wouldn’t let me go that way”. She has been “clean” for over 10 years and touched the lives of hundreds of prostitutes in Grand Rapids.

One of her friends was on the streets, selling her body for over 20 years. She was incarcerated for 6 months and at the end of her time in prison had no where to go. She contemplated going back to a life of prostitution. “It was the only thing I knew how to do”, she said.

That night Leslie visited the prison. She took the woman home with her. She taught her about all the possibilities she had. She showed her the road that leads to life. This woman is now months from receiving her certificate to become a hair stylist. She loves Jesus. She has hope for the first time in over two decades.

The other friend was quiet. She was observing, looking at everyone’s faces. She was checking everything out. She has been free from the bondages of prostitution for only half a year.

But in that 6 months she has enrolled in college and is averaging a 4.0. She has hope.

I looked into the eyes of these three women and saw joy. I saw three humans, made in the image of God who now realized their worth. Three ladies who have been redeemed from a place I will never understand.

And all I want to hear is about the stories of who they are now. Who God has made them to be. The old is gone. The new has come. Never before did I understand that concept as well as I do today.

>Faith, Doubt and Canned Corn

>I’m reading this really great book. It’s called “O Me of Little Faith” by Jason Boyett. It’s all about doubt within the Christian life. It strikes a chord with me because I have struggled with doubt throughout my years on earth…even though I grew up in the Church and have loved Jesus all the while. How could I doubt? Well, I don’t know. How do I have faith? I don’t know that either. But I possess both of them and they both make me a stronger believer…because they both keep me searching for the Truth.

In the book, Boyett discusses some of his “experiences” with God; times when he knew that God was real.

His accounts made me think, “What are some of the touchstones of my faith? When have I known without a shadow of doubt that 1) God is real and 2) in His realness He cares for me? One occurrence in my life popped right into my recollection.

When I was a kid we were pretty bad off in the money department. I was the little girl who, in the 1980’s, was wearing brown polyester and bell bottoms when the other kids were wearing florescent nylon and tapered leg jeans. Hand-me-downs were my personal style.

We were also the “scholarship kids” at a Christian school. All of our friends were pretty well off. The day after Christmas break was always torture as the other kids talked about Santa bringing Nintendos and Reebok’s and about 500 other gifts. Our Christmas’ were about Jesus, family and cookies…not so much about toys. But when you’re in 2nd grade you want it to be about the presents.

One day at that Christian school we were challenged to go home and collect food for a poor family. The Hippie in me said “Right on!” and got all excited about helping this poor family.

“MOM! Can we take some stuff for the food drive at school?” I asked, climbing all over myself with enthusiasm.

“Well, let’s see.” My Mom was a teacher at my school (she taught art…how cool is that?). She had to know this was coming. “We have a can of corn and a box of corn cereal. That’s it.”

And she was right. That was all we had. Payday was coming. But not really as soon as the food was going.

I deflated.

“But, let’s just trust God.” She said this with a beautiful smile spread across her face. “We can always go to Grandma’s for dinner.”

So, we put the can of corn and box of corn cereal (yup, not even the brand name of that one) in a bag. We were trusting God.

That night, after school we did go to my Grandma’s house for dinner. She had cookies…never ending cookies. Just like a Grandmother should.

When we got home and started doing our homework we noticed a huge van pulling up to our house. The doors swung open. Out stepped a few of the teachers from our school. They started unloading boxes upon boxes and bringing them into our home.

The boxes were full of food.

We had no idea that the food drive was for us. We were the poor family. But far more importantly, we were a family that God cared about.

Would we have been blessed by the gifts of our friends even if we hadn’t put forth our contribution? Yes.

Would we have starved to death if we weren’t showered with cans of soup and boxes of jello? No.

Were we blessed with a need so that we could be the recipients of God’s mercy through others? I really think so.

This event shaped my belief in God. It taught me that He cares about the needs of His children.

And yet I still doubt? Yeah. Sometimes. Sometimes I forget that God can possibly love a worm like me. Sometimes I question certain things in the Bible. And every once in a while I wonder if it’s all true.

But in those moments I turn my brain to thinking about the food drive. God really did and does care for us. And you. And me.

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