I’m going to be honest here and honest isn’t always pretty or flattering, but in the end it’s beautiful. So bear with me through this mess of my thoughts. I don’t write any of this to declare the imperfections of anyone else, but rather to tell you how I’m right there with you. I’m struggling. Every day is a struggle. I’m still not very good at loving people, but I’m learning.
As Mat Kearney sings, I’m “learning to love again.” Or maybe I never understood love to begin with. I knew what love looked like on a blackboard or in a book, but that’s the difference between seeing H2O and standing on the West Coast at midnight, breathing.
There’s a line of a song, whose title I can’t recall, that asks the listener to “love the unloveable.” I’ve sung that line and countless others like it, but I sadly often sing along without the appropriate amount of pondering due for the depth of the sentiment I’m voicing through those words. What does it mean to “love the unloveable?” I had never given this much though. I think, subconsciously, I assumed loving the unloveable meant loving those who are hurting, like the orphans and homeless, and loving those who hurt others: people like Hitler and terrorists. Not that we shouldn’t love those people, but I’m learning that love is harder and greater than that.
I began a new job this summer and we have regulars. Most of these regulars are elderly. Some are the loveliest people I’ve ever met. There’s one gentlemen with a long white beard who always asks me how my day is going. There’s a lady who wears a scrunchy on the top of her head and always calls me “kiddo.” I’ve spent a fair amount of time musing about what sort of old person I’d like to be, but that’s not the point. We also have the sort of regulars that everyone would rather avoid. One lady is particularly horrible. We’ve fondly nicknamed her Mrs. Bennett. If you’ve seen Keira Knightley’s Pride and Prejudice: that’s her. She comes in multiple times a week, buys all sorts of random things, and has very particular ways she prefers everything to be wrapped. She yells at her husband in the store. She is rude to all the staff. She stays after we close. Her entire minivan is full of things. She can barely get into her vehicle. She’s the sort of person Hoarders was created about. She is one of the most unhappy people I’ve ever come across. When I’m helping her, I honestly avoid eye contact. I don’t want to talk to her; I struggle to be minimally polite. It’s all I can do sometimes to bite my tongue. It’s not my forte, and I often want to lash out at her. Thus, I avoid eye contact and say very little.
One day a lady (I’ve never seen her and don’t know her name) approached me, handed me $90, and asked me to pay for the next 5 people who came to the register, only asking that they pass it along, doing a kind deed for someone else. Mrs. Bennett (I’ll call her that to make the story simpler) had already paid, but she rarely leaves after her first round, so she was still in the store. Shamefully, I prayed that she would not be one of the next five people. She didn’t deserve it. But, there she was: one of the next five.
Who am I to be the gatekeeper of grace? I’m just as hideously sinful as her; I’m just better at hiding it and I’ve had less years for it to fester within me. Sometime near that day, I decided to take a different approach, something I hadn’t tried: praying for Mrs. Bennett. I began praying for her and praying that I would love her and that God would change me to be more loving. I don’t want to be just minimally polite: I want to pour myself out in grace and love.
In the process, I’ve realized that loving the unloveable is not just about loving those who aren’t loved, but loving those who don’t deserve love or those you don’t want to love. It’s not about loving because I’m such a great person. Honestly, I don’t humanly want to love Mrs. Bennett. In my own humanity, I’d rather never see her again. But I want to love her because God loves her and she’s broken and miserable. I’m going to have to talk to her and “love is worth the fight.” It will be a struggle to talk to her, but I would rather that struggle be the inner struggle to love. I want to be changed. I’m realizing how I’m only good at loving nice people and I don’t want my joy and love to be circumstancial. Jesus didn’t only love when it was easy. I want to be actively fighting my own desires, dying to self, to love those around me. I want to love Mrs. Bennett.
Yesterday I was listening to The Rocket Summer’s “Of Men and Angels.” A large portion of the lyrics deal with fame, but the title and a few lines are from 1 Corinthians 13:
"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysterires and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not trust on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it was pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
Am I patient with Mrs. Bennett? Am I kind? Do I boast about how I’m not as horrible as she is? Am I arrogant? Am I rude when I respond to her? Am I irritable when she is yet again in the store after we close? Do I bear all of it silently, lovingly, hoping that God will someday clain her heart? I want to let go of these childish irritations and I want to learn to love again. Or for the first time. God, help me love Mrs. Bennett.
This is one of my favourite things I’ve seen with one of my photos.
We need all sorts of characters in our stories.
A couple weeks ago, I was driving home at night by myself. Night drives are my favourites. Naturally, I was listening to the kids’ radio station because I have the musical taste of a 12-year-old. They suddenly had a contest where you could call in and win playhouse tickets, and, being a lover of free things, I called in. I had forgotten about it until the tickets arrived in the mail.
So today my little sister and I went on a date to see Alice in Wonderland. The play kept the general elements of the Lewis Carroll story, but tweaked the story just enough to give it a moral and a plot. What fascinated me the most was the variety of people in the play. It seems in many movies, TV shows, or productions—or perhaps it’s just in magazine—actors and actresses all have a certain prim-nosed, slim-toned look about them. These actors and actresses were young and old and most of them didn’t fit this stereotype. They played evil queens and dancing flowers and the most splendid caterpillar and the Cheshire cat and other wonderful characters and they wouldn’t have been nearly as right had they been cast with different actors.
So as I sat there in that little room next to my favourite little person, I had a thought: we need all sorts of characters in our stories. Some characters will accompany us on the journey. Some make us laugh on the worst of days and disappear from our lives forever. Some make our souls ache and long for a better world, without death and brokenness and pain and heartache. But we need all these people. This is not to say that we need sin, simply that we, as broken people, are characters in each other’s stories.
A story with one character is no story at all, but a hideously boring monologue. A life with other characters is messy and imperfect, but I’m thankful that our characters aren’t all pristine. I’m not perfect either. We need all sorts of characters in our stories.
On Friday nights I make Venn diagrams of my favourite sorts of people.
Lead me into the way everlasting.
From the book, “Bambi” by Felix Salten, 1928. Read by Ted Strasser.
We are but little whispers of life, quivering just above eternity, thinking we are loud, shouting waves. We are little leaves who wish we could fly, but as we fall, we find life. Death, the greatest separation, is also the greatest reunion. No more death, no more pain, no more struggle. We are free, we are more alive than we’ve ever been. Grace envelopes us with Glory. Winter capsizes into a solar system of beauty and spring and new life. We are in the presence of God of and Glory and all that is beautiful and everything is joy. This is the future. We are alive.
My co-worker Sara: “How are you doing?”
An older man [customer]: “Like an old seamstress, just sew-sew.”
Growing up doesn’t get easier as you get older. Except instead of feeling like your world is caving in, you feel as if the world is on your shoulders. Instead of crumbling beneath you, the world bears down on top of you, crushing you. Only the brave face growing up with joy and laughter and this keeps them young.
Just before my 19th birthday, I cut my long hair off above my shoulders and that summer, I went to a beauty school and paid just a few dollars to get it chopped asymmetrical and short because I thought it would look neat. I brought in a couple pictures and combined them, resulting in my favourite haircut I’ve ever had.
However, not everyone understood my decision. Most of my friends were supportive and loved my new look, but a few made comments that remain with me, even today. One girl said, “It’s good you’re cutting your hair short now, before you have a boyfriend, because boys love long hair.” Another said, “My husband loves long hair and wouldn’t like it if I cut it that short!”
Their comments stung. Was I somehow unattractive now that I had short hair? Perhaps to a certain group of fellows, but I don’t want to attract the sort of gentleman that will dislike me as soon as I get a haircut. I believe that love exists that is less shallow than that, and that is sort of love that I hope to find someday.
I cut my hair short because I like it that way. It was fun, cute, perfectly messy, and easy to maintain. There are still days that I long to chop it all off again, and perhaps I will. But for right now, I’m growing it out, not to attract men, but because I want to. Don’t let people scare you into being normal. Love who you are. Don’t change something superficial just to attract a particular man or to please a certain group of people. This is something I need to remind myself often. Like who you are. And if you don’t, change what you like or change who you’re becoming. Life is too short to pretend to be someone you’re not. Live well and don’t be ashamed of it.
Today I made a kindred food spirit.