Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Bonding Power of Free Food

There's little in this world that makes you feel more special than receiving free food.

About five years ago two of my sisters and I took a trip to Europe.

All three of us on severe budgets, we alternated days of eating. One day we'd eat one "good" meal (meaning, we'd pay more than $5 for it), the next we'd chow down on granola bars or get a McDonald's burger for a pound, if we could find one.

We traveled to Scotland on a non-eating day.

We explored London in the morning and caught an afternoon train at King's Cross Station, arriving in Edinburgh around 7:30pm. We dumped our bags at our Travelodge and set out, tired and hungry, in the cold rain (another way to travel cheap is to go when the weather is terrible) to find a place that offered free internet and/or cheap food.

We passed a little cafe called Chocolate Soup. When the words "chocolate" and "soup" are put together to form the name of a restaurant, you have to go in and at least look.

It was small inside. I don't recall there even being tables or chairs. Just a wall of piping hot, delicious smelling soups, and a counter filled with sandwiches and some pastries. We looked at the soups and prices. Pretty cheap.

"Hello ladies," said a black guy from behind the counter in what sounded like a Jamaican accent. "How can I be helping you today?"

"I'm guessing you're not from Scotland," I said.

"No, man, Jamaica!"

Of course. Cause why wouldn't there be a Jamaican dude working at a cafe called Chocolate Soup in Scotland? You go, world.

He came around from the counter and stood by me as I very Americanly lifted each soup lid to see what was inside. I picked up the smallest cup and got something that looked chowderish.

We chatted about America, the countries we'd been too, and he made a not very subtle comment about getting lost in my eyes. (Points to the Jamaican for smoothness.)

As I pulled out my bag to get money, my hands shook. A combination of cold, travel exhaustion, and low blood sugar.

"Why your hands shaking so bad?" the Jamaican in Scotland asked. Then he grabbed my hands in his. (Awkward. So very, very awkward.)

"We've been traveling all day and this is a non-eating day!" I said, my skin burning from human touch.

"That's bad, man!" he said, letting go of my hands.

Then he went to the deli counter and pulled out a roast beef cream cheese sandwich and handed it to me.

"For your hands to stop shaking," he said. "For free."

I was touched. I've never forgotten his kindness. His awkward, smooth, genuine Jamaican-in-Scotland kindness.

One afternoon, about a year or so after our epic Europe trip, I headed to Chipotle to grab lunch before work. (I still lived in LA at the time.)

If you've known me for any length of time, you'll know that I'm addicted to Chipotle. I swear they smuggle some of the ingredients over the border.

As I walked up to Chipotle there was a homeless man (at least I assumed he was homeless) outside asking people going in if they could get him some food.

People just ignored him or shook their heads, as I'd often done when I passed someone who begged. I got a little sad.

The "do unto others as you would have them do unto you..." flashed through my memory lobe. (Not sure it's called that.) Because if I were down on my luck and out of money, I'd want someone to get me Chipotle. This guy wasn't asking for money to most certainly use on drugs and alcohol. (Unless you count Chipotle as a drug.) He wanted what deep down every person wants: a burrito.

"Excuse me," he said as I approached the door. "Could you possibly get me some food?"

"What do you want?" I asked.

"Oh, just a bowl. Maybe some steak or chicken?" he said.

"Do you want to just come in and order it?" I asked before I had time to overthink it. I didn't typically do these sorts of things.

"Yes! That would be great!"

He grabbed the door for me and opened it right on my toe, scraping a little bit of the skin. I bit my lip and said thank you, glancing down just in time to watch a little blood trickle onto my flip flop. "This is going well," I thought.

We stood in line, my toe stinging, and stood awkwardly. The Chipotle line moves really slow sometimes.

How do you strike up a conversation with a homeless (again, was he even homeless? I still hadn't asked.) person you're standing in line with at your favorite restaurant?

"'re out of work?" Well done, Kristin. Start right off with pouring salt in the wound.

Fortunately he was neither annoyed nor offended.

"Yes. Construction. Terrible business right now. They just don't have any work. No one's building in this economy."

I asked about his family. His boys were both grown, he said. That was that.

We talked about some other things. The city. Jesus. Show business. I invited him to one of my comedy shows that was close by. He said he'd try and make it.

He got a bowl with rice, steak, and "three big scoops of sour cream, please."

I paid for our food, he thanked me, we shook hands.

I went to my car and watched as he clutched his bag and crossed the street. I stayed there till he was out of sight. I instantly regretted that I hadn't asked if he wanted to sit down and eat inside.

Because through everything, in my nervousness of stepping out of my comfort zone and trying not to say the "wrong" thing, I forgot to ask him if he was homeless.

I'm not sure the moral of these stories, except to appreciate free food when you receive it, and to give free food to someone you otherwise wouldn't have anything in common with.

Because at the end of the day, we all need to eat. Why not make it a little special?

Friday, February 21, 2014

Not another modesty blog

In a little over a month I have a book coming out for teen girls. (You’ve probably seen me post about it if we’re social media homies.)

One of the chapters included in the book addresses modesty. This isn’t a new topic for Christians. We’ve been trying to figure it out ever since Adam and Eve put us in the unfortunate position of having to wear things over our bodies.

One point I debated about including in the chapter was whether girls should dress modestly to keep guys from lusting. 

If you grew up in a conservative Christian environment like I did, chances are you sat through at least one talk about “dressing modestly to keep your Christian brothers from stumbling.”

Modesty was never addressed (at least not to me) as a natural response to what God was doing in our hearts, and that we should dress modestly regardless of how others act or react.

Instead, modesty became focused on one thingit was the best way to prevent a guy from lusting.

However intended, it turned into somewhat of a fear-based approach. If we (girls) dressed a certain way, Christian guys wouldn’t lust anymore. If they didn’t lust they’d be better men, husbands and fathers. The fate of the church family rested in our wardrobe.

That’s a lot of pressure on a girl, and confusing when they realize that lust can still happen even when they dress right. 

Then came the list of lust preventing wardrobe. Fingertip length shorts. No spaghetti straps. Skirts below the knee. No v-necks. You get it.   

We were assured that modesty was beautiful and eventually God would send along a man (who probably hadn’t sinned in 10 years…and definitely had never struggled with lust) who valued modesty and godly character more than anything. 

The intentions were good, but when we boil obedience down to an “if I do this, then I’m guaranteed that result” mentality, we’re destined for hurt and confusion. Rather than obeying because we love God and want to honor Him, we attach rewards to obedience that God never promised.

The reward for obedience is always getting more of God. We get to be in closer relationship with Him. That’s enough. (Or, it should be.)

Rules are easy. Learning to navigate gray areas (and much of the modesty debate falls into that area, in my opinion) with grace and humility takes practice. Promising a reward is much simpler than helping someone understand that in our broken, fallen world, godly obedience isn’t always valued and recognized, but that obedience is still better.

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. Romans 14:13 ESV

My conclusion? I think girls should know that God wired men and women differently, and that dressing modestly is a way of respecting these differences. I’ve spoken with enough great Christian guys to know that they appreciate it when women dress appropriately; not necessarily in denim jumpers and oversized polo shirts, but aren’t flaunting everything. It just makes it easier. In this way, yes, we can help out our brothers who are trying to keep their minds pure by giving them one less distraction.

But, also remind girls:

You can dress modestly and still have a provocative spirit.

You can wear fingertip length everything and still be vain.

You can wear a quilt with head and armholes cut out (you’d probably turn some heads) and be a self-righteous fool.

I also think we should absolutely give teen girls helpful tips for choosing modest clothes. You can still dress trendy and stylish without being immodest. (In our over sexualized culture we sometimes think the two go together. They don't.) Fashion can highlight our personality and beauty without being provocative. Those of you who are gifted in fashion, help those of us out who aren't! I was once admonished (in Christian love) to stop wearing overalls and I've had some wonderful godly women gifted in fashion help me learn about different styles. And, it’s extremely cliché, but I find the fingertip length rule a helpful guideline. It's when it becomes a yardstick for judgment, though, that we start having problems.

Bottom line*: We dress modestly because God commanded it, not because we're guaranteed a more perfect anything.

I don’t think God ultimately commanded women to dress modestly to protect a guy from sinful thoughts. God made women beautiful, and I think He commanded it because He knew we’d continually put our worth in how we look and turn our physical image an idol. Modesty is one way of reminding us that this body and this life are temporary. Perhaps we should preen, robe, and adorn ourselves with things that have eternal value. 

*Pun not intended, but kept.

The Smart Girl's Guide to God, Guys, and the Galaxy will be released on April 1. You can pre-order it HERE