The Fabulous Familiar

Taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary...

Friday, December 9, 2011


Let me tell you a story about a girl.

A girl who, for all her professions of pity for the unfortunate, had a tendency to be judgmental about how they got there. Though a great part of me felt bad when people couldn't afford a doctor's visit, the other part of me-- to fit into conversation--assumed they spent that money on themselves.

It sounds harsh to actually spell it out-- but I'm going to. Being poor was laziness. Not having insurance was irresponsible. Living on the rough side of town called for stereotypes.

So I went to college and graduated with a 3.98. I went on and got my Master's and got a 4.0. The more I succeeded, the more this poisonous message began to grow. Why couldn't people be like me? Why couldn't they stop asking for help and start becoming me?

Then I began to look for a job. And I looked, and I looked, settling for one that would barely pay my bills, with no extra emergencies or unexpected car breakdowns allowed.

Already paying off previous doctor bills, I did something out of the ordinary for me today. I walked into a low-income, sliding scale clinic to help me ward off this laryngitis, congestion mess I've been fighting for 7 days. Donning my purple sweater and scarf, I began to ask myself: "What if they wonder why I'm here? What if they think I don't need their help?" Perhaps because this might have been my conclusion years ago.

I found out I needed an appointment. So I called some other clinics around town. $130. $120. Could be more than $200. Tears began to swell up and fall. It hit me that I am not going to be able to be completely independent. I am going to have to ask for help for the time being from parents and others.

And I hate that.

Why? Because we live in a society where being poor is an embarrassment. It's something to look down on people for in the same breath that we offer to adopt them for Christmas.

I'm not saying that there aren't going to be people who abuse the system. And there are people who are going to continually take advantage of other people.

But my eyes have been opened over the past year through the people I have met, through the children I have come in contact with.

Forget politics. This isn't even about politics for me. It's about the woman who works at IHOP every single night, but still needs food stamps to feed her kids. It's about people I work with who can't afford to put their husbands on their overpriced insurance plan. It's about the girl who has her Master's degree and can't fix her car without calling her parents in tears.

As Christians, we all too often study, "If a man shall not work, he shall not eat" more than we do the times in the Bible where Jesus gave things to the undeserving, the thankless and those who could do nothing in return.

I guess now that I am vulnerable, now that I can often not return the favor, I am beginning to see this other side of Jesus. I know this topic is a very sensitive one for many people, which is why I have avoided it even being on my heart. But there's something about being on the other side of the glass that is so shocking that it will shame you.

I work 10 hours a day every day. I don't smoke. I don't drink. I'm not on drugs. I didn't spend my entire paycheck on tattoos. I'm not in debt. And I'm struggling. I'm not ashamed to admit it. I also find myself looking at people a little differently now, in a softer light.

The people I see on a daily basis that I place judgment on should magically have the logic and reasoning skills of a well-educated, economically-conscious, raised-in-a-Christian-home person. It just makes no sense. They weren't raised like me. I don't know what they've gone through in their life and whose example they are following. But the fact is-- they need help. And their children need to eat and go to school.

My transparency is not intended to be a pity party, but rather, a call to humility and compassion. I have seen crowds cheer on someone saying "Let him die" when talking about someone without insurance. And these are people on a Christian platform. These are people who are supposed to be representing us.

Something needs to change. And making someone take a drug test to make sure they're the right kind of poor and other such plans are not the avenue. Accountability and responsibility are important, but they are also vital on the other side. And I think that is what we have been missing.

"If you could actually stand in someone else's shoes to hear what they hear, see what they see, and feel what they feel, you would honestly wonder what planet they live on, and be totally blown away by how different their "reality" is from yours. You'd also never, in a million years, be quick to judge again." Author unknown

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Mushy Post

I always intended for this blog to be more than just an online diary, a chronicle of every thought, crush and annoyance I had in my head. Therefore, some of you may have felt a little left in the dark on the progression of my relationship with Justin. I wanted to let it grow in its own time and blossom into something more beautiful than a premature blog post I wrote on our second date.

But with our recent engagement at hand, I figured it was time to release the mushy butterfly from its holding.

Most people, if you asked them when they KNEW someone was "the one," they may recount a story of sparks, fireworks and poetic lines that made their heart sing. While I once thought that this was the parting of the clouds moment for everyone, I soon realized that God had a different plan for me.

We were supposed to meet halfway one night in Tuckerman; I was coming from Searcy, he was coming from Jonesboro. In my normal fashion, I took a wrong turn. A wrong turn that began to lead me farther and farther away from my destination. My GPS began chirping at me to turn around and the flood of tears from my eyes made it more difficult to read the map. Our short span of time together began to wither away as I found myself in good 'ol Weiner, Arkansas.

I had avoided calling him for several minutes, but decided it could not wait any longer. "I-I-I'm lost," I managed to get out in between bursts of sobs. Any normal guy who hadn't been with a girl very long would RUN at this point. I even kind of knew it would happen as I continued my emotional debut.

"It's ok," he said soothingly. "Where are you?"

I felt like I was in a goofy sitcom as I exclaimed, "I'm in WEINER!" More tears.

He told me to pull over somewhere, stop my car and he would come and find me. For the first time all night, I did what I was told and parked my car at a small business. Several minutes later, I saw the best thing I had seen all night: a blue Mazda Tribute coming to rescue me.

I melted into his arms, crying some more and trying to explain myself. He began to comfort me-- you know-- the person who HADN'T been driving all around Arkansas trying to find another person.

And from that moment, he has rescued me every day since. I have decided to spare you of every event that boy has gotten me out of-- although you would probably find them quite entertaining.

Before him, I always thought I was one of those needy, unassured girls who needed constant affirmation from guys in order to function in a relationship. Those insecurities disappeared with him because he provided that stability without me even asking for it. He is proud to have me on his arm, and I have longed for that my whole life.

Even when I almost ruined his engagement plans, he reacted with the same calmness that he always does, saving his plan. I asked if I could go eat dinner with some friends on Monday and he said, "I only have about an hour tonight. Why don't you do something with them tomorrow when I'm gone all day?" There was no waiver, no anger in his voice. It made sense.

"Ok, I'll re-schedule. See you in a little bit!"

When I arrived at my apartment complex, his car was not in the parking lot so I assumed I had beaten him there. I walked in to find a dozen pink roses in a vase on my counter, a jewelry box and a note that said, "Open me!"

I stood there stunned. I looked at the box, but didn't do as the instructions said. "Um, Justin, Justin. Are you here?"

He stepped out from my room and had a smirk on his face. "You didn't open the box. That's all you had to do," he said, with that same expression he has when I get lost in Weiner.

So I shakily opened the box and saw what was inside: a gorgeous vintage-inspired, princess cut engagement ring. I think what commenced next was a combination of shrieking, jumping and some "Are you for real?"s. He asked the question in between my calisthenics, but later said that he had wanted to get down on one knee.

"Do it again! Do it again!"

So he got down on one knee, I calmed down momentarily and he asked me to marry him once more. Then to the good part: He got two Upper Crust pizzas out of the oven (my favorite restaurant to go to in Jonesboro) and we gobbled them down like we normally do. Fancy occasions are no reason to leave good pizza for another day.

It was simple, personal and just how I would have wanted it. I once told him if he did the scoreboard, ballgame thing, I would kill him. I guess he wanted to live.

It's funny how we think we know ourselves better than God does. Then he throws us a curveball (say, a younger guy who is friends with your brothers) and it just works. And there's no real explanation as to why it does, except that you feel like you've been completed.

I may not locate most of my destinations (see above story), but I am oh so very glad that I found him. I know that, with him, I will never be lost-- in faith, in love, or in the car.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Joneses

It's funny how dreams have a way of making your biggest concerns and insecurities seem absolutely irrelevant and childish. The other night, clear as day, a friend of mine from college appeared to me in a dream. Dressed in a powerful business suit with designer sunglasses, she began to make her way toward me-- with perfectly coiffed bangs that she gracefully tossed back and forth. She smiled and said, "Long time no see. I'm an important banker and living in the city. What do you do?"

I gulped loudly, but I couldn't stop her from entering the door that lead the way to my life. Much to my dismay, she saw children running around with the characters from Mario Kart and several unicorns chasing them. I tried to stop the whole scene, wave the unicorns away and get the children under control. I began to ramble about what I did, trying to make it sound prestigious. But, by the look on her face, I soon realized that the mask was off. She now knew that my education led me to a playground of madness and imaginary figures.

I woke up and suddenly realized that, as bizarre as that dream may seem, it was just as ridiculous as my recent behavior.

You see, the other day I had a mini-breakdown. I opened up Facebook, like I often do, but this time something was different. Everywhere I scrolled someone my age had bought a new big house, had a baby, was getting ready to have a baby, was planning a wedding or got the job of their dreams.

By the 30th status or so, I began to cry. Like give me a bowl of ice cream so I can stick my head in it cry. It was then that I began to see my keeping-up-with-the-Joneses was beginning to take its toll. That I have been apologizing for my life for years now, hoping that one day I will have something to back it up.

So here's the truth: I live in a very small apartment. Parts of it are cinderblock. Whereas before I may have said, "Don't judge it by the outside, it's a little shady," I now say-- judge it all you want. It may seem scary to you, but I have a redneck guy with a gun above me and a lady who looks like Madea across from me so I feel safe.

As far as my current employment, I don't "accumulate the financial reports for food services and assist the Principal in administrative tasks." I help check the kids into the cafeteria. I file papers and run errands. I mop slush off the floor after school. I barely make ends meet. I may joke about why I don't wear a hairnet, but then I go in the bathroom and cry.

I've had my car since high school. The steering wheel squeaks, my brakes squeak and my driver's seat looks like someone slashed it with a knife (no, it did not happen at my apartment complex!) But I love that thing. It has been ever faithful to me and seen me through many wrong turns, poor decisions and close calls with death.

This has been immensely therapeutic. Why? Because I'm tired of trying to keep up. I'm tired of being envious of things that I don't have. I'm tired of trying to impress people who wouldn't even be impressed with better answers. The problem is not theirs-- it's mine. I am responsible for my happiness and for where I find my joy. And it's obvious that houses, cars, and careers are not where it's at.

Truthfully, no one has been a harsher critic than I have been. I put thoughts of scrutiny and disappointment in your head that probably weren't even there. I felt like I was ranking in below my potential and have carefully avoided favorite professors and mentors, their expressions of disgust an illusion depicting my own face. Instead of being happy for you, I secretly coveted your blessings.

People who so routinely say, "Ya gotta start somewhere" to people dealing with this problem don't quite grasp the severity of the issue. Instead, at first, I would say: Quit apologizing for your life. Stop putting yourself and everything you own down before you even give other people the chance to. Don't wait for everything to line up before you start your life. It will pass you by before you do.

So here's me saying I'm NOT sorry. I don't want to be here forever-- actually, I want to be out say...tomorrow. But I can't. But I'm not going to hibernate until I have something that the world says is presentable. So, feel free to join me in my old Toyota, meet my new neighborhood and visit my place of work.

And I can breathe easily knowing I don't have to put on a show anymore, complete with unicorns and Mario Kart characters.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Stuck in the Gray

I was informed today (as if I had not already noticed) that I am getting an increasing amount of gray at the front of my hair. Not only was I made aware of this quite loudly, but so was everyone within earshot. My initial, unuttered response was, "Well, two of these have your name on it, lady."

That's right. I am convinced that each gray hair we possess has someone's name on it. I went to a museum in college and every tree represented a person who protected people during the Holocaust. Each tree had a name attached to it. Likewise, and less sentimental, every gray hair that pops up was planted there by someone who inwardly makes you want to scream.

I have always been a patient person. I have always seen the humor in most every situation. As much as I strive to maintain this clean record of positivity, I am convicting myself of you-drive-me-bananas in the first degree. That's right. It's gotten so bad that the person doesn't really even have to do anything.

I want to know when the Ebenezer Scrooge fairy snuck in and replaced my previous model with the gray, cranky downgrade. It's like things that I didn't notice before are now proclaimed through a magnifying glass of scrutiny.

She says "like" too many times. He smacks when he eats. Could she really have any more hand gestures when she's telling a story?

Don't act like I am the only one who has been around the same people for any length of time and thought this. You know that one more question from your cubicle partner or micromanaging action of your boss has been enough to warrant some hair pigment loss.

All I can say is thank the Lord for hair dye (Because you're worth it) and thank the Lord for his patience and endurance with me:

"For you have need of steadfast patience and endurance, so that you may perform and fully accomplish the will of God, and thus receive and carry away [and enjoy to the full] what is promised." Hebrews 10:36.

Though every gray hair may or may not have been caused by a stressful person or situation in my life, I find comfort in the fact that God can count every hair on my head. He has shown patience for my faults, my repeated mistakes and the annoying idiosyncrasies that are wound into the thread that makes me unique.

Surely I can buy some Nice 'N Easy and do the same.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Slush Duty

Today, as I embarked on my afternoon slush-making adventures, things didn't quite go as planned. As usual, I carefully removed the slush puppy figurine that rotates on top of the machine. With each rotation, he smugly looks down at me, seemingly taunting, "Yeah, you're making 150 slushes. Didn't learn that in school, did ya?"

I carefully mix my flavors. I once thought it would be neat to be a barista at a quaint coffeehouse downtown. Now I'm questioning whether green apple goo and cherry goo will be a harmonious combination. I have come to the conclusion that you could mix dirt with a slushy base and kids will go nuts for it. Another thing they don't teach you in school.

The conclusion of my mixing drinks leads the way for the fun part: the lever pull. This is always quite the surprise because it can result in a streamline shot of syrup or a slush spray. Today, it decided to spray straight down instead of directly into the designated pitcher.

My cute flats are now drenched in slush. I carefully walk to the kitchen, dragging my slushy foot as if it is completely incapable of walking in general. Step, drag. Step, drag. The worst part is that no one is in the cafeteria to commiserate with me. So naturally, I am grumbling under my breath: "Stupid slush machine. Whose bright idea was it to give kids slushes? How can they be responsible for slushes when I can't seem to manage the stuff?"

Life goes on. I decide to pour it into the first cup. The juice has decided to migrate toward the top of the pitcher, leaving the concentrated ice mass at the bottom. Juice begins to quickly fill up the glass while the ice stands at attention until the dramatic conclusion.

Plop. Plop. Plop.

After Sergeant Slush releases them from their stronghold, the ice slams into the juice-- resulting in a splash. It was like a fat man jumped into my cup of juice, causing a large wave to erupt from the top of the cup onto the table. By this point, I want to punch the rotating slush dog puppy thing in the face. Like I don't want him to ever spin again.

I think if it were not for humor, this somewhat untrue threat might have actually occurred. I've just had to tell myself that service is service. It's easy to serve when it is within your time frame and your comfort zone. Everyone likes kids when they're clean and they smell good and they're well-behaved.

But I get the chance-- as much as I may dread it-- to give them a cup of joy.

And that's a joy that is worth sharing-- even if it may be shared on the floor, in my hair, in my shoes and other places that I don't want to mention.

Oh-- and don't be surprised if I have a public meltdown upon entering a 7/11.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The New, Old Me

Today, during one of my breaks, I found a dark crevice in one of the hallways. I snuck in, sat in a chair made for a very small person, and stared at a wall. I have never been so content in my life. No one was touching me. No one was shouting my name. No one was getting syrup on my dress. I didn't have to hear the phone ring. It was then that I realized that the transformation was taking place. I no longer want to have fun, nor do I seek constant entertainment. I just want to wear sweatpants. That's all.

I have never felt so far removed from the "college version" of me than I have over the past few weeks of full-time work. I used to look forward to intramural games that started at 10 p.m. and have coffee talk with friends at 11 to get us ready for a night of homework.

I no longer try to find things to do to occupy my brain. I no longer want to be occupied. I want the vacancy sign to light up in my already overworked head.

When you become an adult and start working 10 1/2 hours a day, you suddenly return to infancy-- where you are consumed with the basics. I'm driving home and I can't stop thinking, "Must get food. Must get couch. Must get sleep." Where are thoughts of an hour-long workout that once floated around in my thought process? Gone. I used to think I was one of those girls who "just loved to exercise." I would inwardly scoff at people who said they "just couldn't make time for it." The truth? I just wasn't busy enough. I used to wake up late, eat lunch and then go exercise. No wonder I thought I was Jillian Michael's best friend. I didn't know that riding an elliptical isn't fun when you feel like you just got hit by a Mack truck.

I got invited to a concert a few weeks ago. A concert I would have DIED to see a year ago. I had to do a pros and cons list in my head to decide whether staying up that late was worth it. Luckily, the old me won (despite the fact that I made a list at all) and I went. Where's the spontaneity that once ruled?

I know that once I get the hang of this new routine, things will become easier. I will be able to function on less sleep and less energy.

But, for now, don't call me past 8 p.m.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Identity Crisis

As most of you probably know, I recently got a job at Baldwin Elementary in my childhood hometown of Paragould.

Some of you may be scratching your heads, thinking, "I thought she was a print journalism graduate and had her MBA. And she's in an elementary school?"

You wouldn't be alone. You may even be joined by me. Regardless of its unexpected arrival in my life, it is a job in a jobless economy, and I am thankful for it. It may not be what I had envisioned for myself, but the experiences I have and the children I come in contact with will one day have an effect on what I end up doing-- this I know for sure.

The first week of school took its toll on everyone, especially those little kindergarten kids on their own for the first time. Trying to smoothly get them through the lunch line was quite a feat.

A sweet little girl, toting her lunch box, would enter. "What's your name, sweetheart?" I'd ask softly.

Her nose would wrinkle and her smile would slowly fade. "Um...I don't really know," she would respond.

"Who is your teacher?" I'd say, attempting to get some information on where she should go.

"I don't know," she'd say nonchalantly, as if insight into who you are and where you should go was simply a formality.

This continued for most of the day. Boys, girls, no one knew who they were. Occasionally, I'd throw out, "Smith?" and the boy would nod with a burst of enlightenment, "Oh yeah! Smith!"

I got to thinking, though-- maybe I'm being too hard on these kids. If I'm being honest with myself, I feel pretty much the same way.

Why do you work at at an elementary school?
I don't know.

Where do you want to end up?
I don't know.

Are you going to be able to pay rent and buy groceries this month?
I don't know.

I have a problem with letting pride get in the way. I want, when people ask me questions, to have a carefully formulated answer. Unfortunately, not many people ask me what my name is anymore. I have that one down now.

But I am trying to put a little bit of me into everything that I do. It may just be a stepping stool, it may just be future writing material, but these "I don't knows" will one day be ever present and understood in my life.

The next time you see me in the grocery store, just ask me what my name is. It's what I'm proud of, it's what I know and it's going to make all of this uncertainty bearable.