Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Beggar in Nice Clothing

While visiting a childhood friend a few weekends ago, I had a very confronting experience with street beggars. Now normally I'm pretty open to giving cash or food if I happen to have it. This time, however, I was out of my New York.

I was trying to look at directions on my phone, which is a clear signal for "tourist." A woman approached me. I can only tell you she was a woman because her voice sounded female. But I can't tell you what she looked like. In fact, I never looked at her. I continued to search on my phone as though she didn't exist. My girlfriend told the woman, "sorry," to explain that we couldn't help. I continued to stare intently at my phone, mostly embarrassed.

Being in a different city, I could probably justify my lack of assistance, right? I could tell you that I didn't understand the rules of how to handle panhandlers. That's how I could justify walking by that same woman AGAIN, hearing her voice call to me and again not look in her direction, pretend she didn't exist...pretend that I didn't hear her.

That episode stuck in my mind as I enjoyed time with my friend. She and I have been friends since middle school. She is the kind of open, intelligent and curious friend that you want in your life forever. But I'm not really sure how we became friends. I always felt a little undeserving since I lived on the south side of our small Minnesota town, a neighborhood known as Shantytown, and she lived in a nicer neighborhood in a custom-built home. I was Catholic. She was Lutheran. She ate stuff like "baba ghanoush" and knew how to pronounce it.

As she and I strolled through The Met and looked at amazing art and artifacts, I listened to her comment about various artists like my own personal tour guide. She has lived in New York for at least 15 years. She has traveled extensively. When we see each other, which is maybe once a year, we can pick up right where we left off. Our shared childhood history and similar interests and even some personality traits make it easy to be around her.

At least, I thought I was comfortable.

Later that weekend, walking toward the subway, I heard another beggar cry out from his spot on a stair landing. This was the third time a human being called out to me. Before I could respond, my friend's husband walked right up to him and said, "How are you doing?" before handing him some cash. The man said, "God bless you."

"He's such a softy," my friend said of her husband in a voice full of affection.

In that moment, I realized my error.

Yes, I was in a different city, but I was mostly worried about myself. I was nervous about "blending in." I was nervous about what my friend would think if I started mingling with beggars on the street. I was nervous about wearing the right clothes and saying the right things and making sure I was good enough to be loved. All of that mental noise made me too busy to notice what I was really supposed to love.

A beggar called out to me three times. I turned away because I was afraid to see my own poverty in her eyes. She deserved more than ignorance. She was my teacher. I was the beggar in nice clothing.

For all the education and culture and nice clothing we may use to hide, God finds our nature and shows it to us in quiet teaching. When He calls us, will we hear or pretend not to?

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Birthday Contemplations

In less than 36 hours, my husband will be born. He came into the world on June 14, 1970, about 2 a.m., the last of four children for Donna Ruth Fredrickson Nelson. About 36 hours prior to that, in the same hospital in Litchfield, Minnesota, a girl baby was born — the first of four children. That was me.

Andrew Eric Nelson and Christine Marie Hierlmaier crossed paths in a hospital nursery, in kindergarten, in a middle school choir room, in track and in marching band before they ever considered each other beyond classmates. There was no love at first sight. There was mainly the chaos of two very determined, stubborn and emotionally challenged teens trying to balance identity with someone else’s existence.

After several stops and starts along the way, these kids decided that a life together was better than one lived apart. They simply had no idea what they were in for or what they might put each other through over the next 22 years. Many situations, attitudes and choices threatened to separate them. Just the challenges of child-rearing, moving and money were formidable threats. Each of us wanted our way. Each of us brought baggage from our childhoods. Each of us was trying to do the best we knew how.

And when we finally began to see each other as not perfect for each other, not perfect really for anyone, that’s when it clicked. That is when the turning away began turning toward. That is when pride and shame and greed and ego transformed to something softer inside. That softer something left me today with only a big blue sky and a pathway where up ahead my family rode together.

I don’t know how many more birthdays I will get to enjoy. But I do know that today was worth all the chaos. Today my soul reached back to 2 a.m. on June 14, 1970, and said, “Thank you for this gift.”

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Year of the Fire Monkey

The Chinese calendar dubs 2016 the year of the fire monkey. If that means that life has been full of opportunity and non-stop action, then it doesn't disappoint.

At the same time, I've noticed a lot of destructive energy in the last few months. Deaths, illnesses and close calls have everybody a bit unnerved about the future.

The news is full of tenuous civil, economic and political events. We can listen to the radio and wonder if the end really is near.

So what if it is? Life is about what each of us makes of every moment. I'm not being trite. Even if we sit around complaining, blaming and worrying, time will move forward regardless.

On my long commute to work the other day, I decided to turn off the radio and contemplate my blessings, review my faults, and ask God to be with my loved ones and anyone else I knew who needed a boost. It's interesting when we surrender the worry and focus on what's good right now, that we are stronger to handle what's next.