Texas Schmexas & Sacramental Living

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Friends,

When I started writing Texas Schmexas posts in 2010, I was a lone soul on the hunt for community in the middle of America. Well, not exactly a lone soul. I discovered that there were many of us looking for it–and many ways to find it–if I just looked around, paid attention, and asked you to do the same. I grew a lot in the years I wrote about community.

It was here at Texas Schmexas that I first announced the publication of my chapbook of poems, Enough for Today. It was here at Texas Schmexas I made public the news that we were expecting our first wee one. It was here that I created a new online community, a few of whom, to my surprise, I’ve kept up with through the years.

Unless you’ve really not been paying attention, you know that I stopped writing new posts about community a few years ago. It was partly that I had become well-rooted within a community and felt like I’d already said the things that I needed to say. I had already challenged my people to look harder for community and work harder at community.

I also stopped writing because my time became much more precious to me, pulled between the day-to-day chaos and mundanity that is raising two small children and craving the stillness necessary to create new material, new art, and still do some freelancing on the side.

I traded new posts at Texas Schmexas for a personal website with a blog of Letters to My Daughters.

What I’ve learned in the years since is that no matter what I write and create, there continue to be these threads that keep it all stitched together. I’m still learning where and how to see those threads, but I’ve begun to see them as sacred glimpses into a grace that pervades my everyday experiences. These threads show up in my house, in the toys scattered on the floor and the ring around the toilet bowl. These threads show up out in my yard, as my husband digs a new water line. These threads show up in my pew at church, in a hospital ER room alongside friends who are suffering, in prayers and tears shared among loved ones. Yes, these threads still show up in community.

These threads are grace.

I see my search for the sacred in the everyday as a way of living out what it means to be a human being in the world, what it means to be created by a Creator, what it means to have a calling to compassion, what it means to be courageous on the front lines of a sink full of dirty dishes.

And I’m determined to see this everyday life as sacramental–and to call it sacramental–because, well, because I have two sets of eyes watching me.

All the time.

That said, Texas Schmexas will continue to be an archive of my reflections on community. I hope you’ll make yourself at home and feel free to sift through the years of conversations we’ve had here about community. To help you get started, here are some links to a few of my favorite posts.

On Hospitality & Dirty Underwear

The Land Without Dishwashers Series Introduction  and part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4

Excuses, Schmexcuses: Loving Our Neighbors, Loving Ourselves

Talking to Strangers (Or Jesus)

Suffer the Little Children: A Story of Neighborly Community

Pappy Sands, the Stories We Tell, and Remembering the Good

Time Marches on & a Prayer for My Community

Chaos, Community, & One Small House

Once Upon a Midsummer Night’s Run

conviction & table legs & making do

Those are in no particular order. And they’re not the most clicked on post or most popular posts, just a few I happen to like. Some of them made me tear up a bit when I read back over them. Enjoy, friends.

And thanks, ya’ll.

It’s been fun.

Elizabeth

PS Keep in touch! Visit me over at my new site or my (brand spankin’) new Instagram account.

 

 

 

“Good Morning” Update: Two Categories of People

Yesterday I had two people completely ignore me when I said “Good morning” to them. The most reasonable excuse is that neither heard me, but I was having one of those days when I wanted to respond by getting right in their faces and saying, “I’m having a bad day, too! Get over yourself!”

I didn’t, of course. Instead, I went into Starbucks and greeted a custodian, who offered a smile and a friendly response. She seemed delighted that I had stopped and asked her how she was instead of just breezing by her on my way to the bathroom.

Most of the time, regardless of whom we greet, a “Good morning” elicits a response of some shape or form, even if it is just a smile. And, in my experience, a “How are you?” (if an answer is waited for patiently) elicits a “Fine” at the very least, and often–very often–a reciprocal query about my well-being or day.

But getting ignored yesterday morning got me to thinking, and as is typical of me, I’ve begun to theorize about it.

Here’s a generalization that I think holds true for us as average Americans:

There are two categories of people that we ignore on a regular basis. The first is people like us. The second is people not like us.

One of the purposes of the “Good morning” exercise is to break us out of the habit of ignoring people, regardless of which category they fall into.

Here’s something interesting. In my experience so far, the people I am most likely not to receive a response from are from that first category of people–those like me.

And the people with whom I am most likely to have an extended conversation as a result of my greeting are those unlike me.

Consider this example.

This morning I encountered a uniformed worker of some sort in the library bathroom. I couldn’t tell if she was a custodial worker or a security guard, but I think security of some kind. Regardless, she would fall into the category of “those unlike me.” Remember that I am someone who gets paid to go to school. I get paid to do research and chat with people about stuff they’ve written. I pick and choose my freelance projects, and I feel fortunate to have the amount of work I want to do, when I want to do it. Most of the time I complain about this situation, but let’s just say, I am nearly as spoiled as they come.

This woman, I would venture a guess, does not have these privileges I complain about.

When she came into the bathroom, I was thinking solely about myself, how fluffy my hair looked this morning, to be precise, and I wasn’t in much of a mood to be friendly. But I thought a “good morning” would suffice to fulfill my obligation to a stranger in close proximity to myself, and what was the chance I’d get much more than a quick response? Well, what is the chance?

“I’m SO EXCITED!” was not the expected response. (She held out the word “excited” in a sing-songy way, the sort of way I do it when I am really excited.)

I paused and looked at her. For real? Or was she pulling my chain like the airport security guy, and when I questioned her, she would just say, “No, not really.”

Nope, she actually looked excited. I thought it was sincere. So I said, “Really? Why?”

“I’m leaving for vacation tomorrow! I can’t wait! And I only work a half-day today! I can hardly focus on my work!” (Let me emphasize that the exclamation points do not do justice to how excited this woman was about her upcoming vacation.)

She had apparently only come into the bathroom to wash her hands, so she was already headed back to the door by this time. When I said goodbye to her and wished her a good trip, I was genuinely delighted for her, this woman unlike me.

And yet, of course, like me.

Because that’s the moral of this story.

Who are the Joneses?

Ever since I was in junior high, I’ve been the kind of person who cuts things out of magazines and plasters them to her wall. As an adult, I try to keep myself from doing this–it isn’t a very “mature” way to decorate, after all–but sometimes I can’t help myself. Often these days, it’s not magazine clippings but quotes, prayers, or scripture. I write them out on index cards and use the old fashioned method of scotch tape to fasten them to the wall right above our computer. I spend a lot of time at the computer, and when my mind wanders or my eyes glaze over, these are good reminders of what is important.

Recently, I came across this page in the Compassion magazine (click on the image to enlarge it).

It’s rather startling. The bottom half Continue reading

“Good Morning”: Stories #2, 3, 4 & 5

Here are a handful of amusing stories from my  “good morning” campaign so far:

The first time I decided to try out the theory was last week when I was visiting my parents in Pennsylvania. It was one of those days that I was pretending to be a runner, so I decided that if I passed anyone on my jog, I would greet that person in an exceptionally friendly manner. I got about two blocks away when voila! a woman, a little boy, and a dog approached on the other side of the street. “Good morning!” I yelled. “Good morning,” came the reply. And then, as I looked a little bit closer, trying to decide if I should continue the conversation, both the woman and I realized at the same moment that we knew each other. Yes. She wasn’t a stranger at all, actually, but one of my stepmom’s closest friends. Apparently she works near there and happened to be out for a stroll.

Alas.

Then, the next morning, I decided to be friendly as I went through airport security. “Good morning,” I said to the security guard as I handed him my ID and boarding pass. (No matter how many times I do this, I always have an irrational fear Continue reading

“Good Morning”: A Theory

The random encounter with the grumpy woman in the library got me thinking about the 1998 movie Patch Adams. (For the record, I am in disbelief that this movie is thirteen years old.)

Two things came to mind, actually, but the first is the most relevant to this discussion. It was the scene in which Patch tests out his smile theory, claiming that if we take the time to make eye contact and smile at complete strangers it will nearly always result in a reciprocated smile. As Patch and Truman wander around smiling and greeting strangers, we as viewers smile, too. It’s a good scene, even worth rewatching the whole movie for, and since there are no YouTube clips, you’ll either have to do so, or try to conjure up a memory from thirteen years ago, or trust me.

I like this smile theory, and it won’t surprise you to learn that I now have a “good morning” theory I want to test out.

The question I want to answer is this–if I start saying “good morning” to folks at moments when I would rather just walk on by and ignore them, what percentage of those people would respond with a friendly greeting? I’m banking on at least 75%.

I’ve started testing it out, though not very mathematically, nor very successfully. But I’m working on it.

In fact, I’ve realized something already. There are certain strangers with whom we interact that make it natural and practically required to greet in a friendly “good morning” sort of way. Bank tellers, for instance. In these cases, I’ve adjusted the theory to take it one further step. In the cases where a greeting is already expected, I will ask how the person is doing. And not just in an I-don’t-really-want-to-hear-your-answer sort of way. I’ll look at the person and wait for an answer. Patiently.

I have hit some bumps on the road to testing out the theory, but more on that later.

What I’m hoping for are some other thoughtful theory-testers. Yes. That means you.

Are you willing to try it with me? Say “good morning” to just one stranger today? Or two? Or ten? Or ask the check-out person at the pharmacy how he’s doing–and mean it? Or look someone in the eye even when it’s uncomfortable and smile?

Come on. What have you got to lose?

(By the way, for those of you who were wondering what the “second thing” was I mentioned above, well, it was  that difficult scene towards the end when we discover that Patch’s girlfriend Carin has been murdered by someone she was trying to help. Patch feels guilty about this, because he is the one who “taught her the medicine” that ended up resulting in her death. As I thought about this scene, I realized that the medicine he taught her, despite the film’s focus on humor, was not laughter but love. He taught her how to love.)

“Good Morning”: Story #1

A few days ago, as I was about to enter the library stairwell at the University where I work, I saw a short, stout, white-haired, grumpy-looking woman leaning on a cane. (I include “grumpy-looking” as an adjective because it is important to the story.)

Now, in general, you should know something about me: I often say hello to strangers. Part of the reason I do this is, quite frankly, because I realize that my instinct is just the opposite–to avoid saying hello to strangers. Based on what I see all around me, I am pretty sure it’s the instinct of most folks these days. I blame it, in part, on the fear-mongering of the mass media, those folks who think it’s more important to make us fear our neighbors, especially the less fortune ones, than reach out to them. I could rant about this for quite some time, but I will refrain. My point is that I recognize my own anxiety regarding strangers and am working to combat it by reaching out in the most basic of ways–saying “Hello.”

Or, in the case of the grumpy-looking woman, “Good morning.”

When I did, she turned and looked at me and her entire demeanor changed. Her eyes lit up, she stood up a little higher, she smiled, and then she echoed my greeting: “Good morning.” Continue reading

You Are What You Eat: An Autobiography

I’m working on an essay about food. It’s an autobiography through food, actually, and it’s still most definitely a work-in-progress. I’ve been thinking about this project, especially how food is so central to our personal identities, ever since I went to see Please Don’t Call Me Homeless (I wrote about that production here and here).

I don’t typically like sharing works-in-progress, but I’ve got it on my mind at the moment, and I’d be happy to get some feedback.

Here’s an excerpt from one section of the essay, “You Are What You Eat”:

The most difficult thing about living on the streets, he said, was not what most people think. It’s not food and clothing that are the biggest problems. It’s things you might not expect: ice water, toilet paper, things you take for granted. Safety. He could stand in line somewhere and get a meal at almost any time, if you knew where to go, he said. A sack lunch. A juice box.

He was off the streets now, performing in a production of Please Don’t Call Me Homeless…I Don’t Call You Homed. He was playing his former self.

Just before intermission, the cast came down off the stage and helped a group of volunteers hand out sack lunches to the audience, to people who had never waited in line in a city park or a soup kitchen for a free meal. The crumpled brown paper bags were passed down the rows until everyone had gotten one. Everyone.

One was passed to me, and I peeked inside. Two squashed triangles of white bread stuck together with a slice of balogna. No cheese. Two vanilla sandwich cookies. A Capri Sun.

This isn’t a meal, I thought. I couldn’t help myself. This isn’t food.

Just that morning I’d sat in the warmth of my own home and had an e-mail conversation about organic, local milk, and whether it was worth the price to buy it. About the life span of cows at factory farms in America. About local food issues, farmers’ markets, and raising healthy children.

As a rule, I do not eat balogna or white bread.

I do not buy sandwich cookies.

But as they passed the sack lunches around, they began to sing. One a capella voice became a room-full.

And I sang, too.

Amazing grace

how sweet the sound

that saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost but now am found

was blind but now I see.