We recently had our Changemakers Celebration and Fundraiser event and as we were setting up I noticed a woman I don’t know helping out. So at one point I went and introduced myself. I asked this woman what her story was and how she was connected to Collide. She stopped what she was doing and began to share. She said she came to Collide to be connected to women her age because she is in her 40’s with no kids. She went on to explain what that experience is like. Most everyone her age is hanging out with each other on the sidelines of the soccer fields, volunteering at the school, and meeting people through their kids’ worlds. Every night women her age are busy with carpooling and homework.
This woman was basically describing my life.
She said her relationships are mostly with women much older than her or much younger. She is hanging out with twenty-four year olds and noticing how much older she feels when she does. As she described her experience, my compassion grew for her. That would be really difficult. She misses out on invites and peer relationships. Everyone her age is busy when she isn’t. The people she’d like to hang out with have a file they draw from and she’s not in that file because she never had a kid and they did. I thanked her for sharing. It felt enlightening and I needed to hear it.
We need to understand that our experience is not another’s.
She made me think of a woman who taught me about the experience of going from single to married to divorced. While describing what this was like, she said when she was married and would go home for the holidays, her parents would give her and her husband the extra bedroom and ask them to make a casserole for Christmas dinner. But when she became a divorcee, she was back to the couch and asked to bring the rolls. It’s not about a bed and it’s not about cheesy potato casserole. It’s about worthiness. Somehow she was now apparently less worthy of the extra bedroom and her cooking skills must have gone by the wayside as soon as she filed for divorce. At least that’s how she was now being treated- somehow less than she once was.
Her story opened up my people view. I needed to hear her tell me her experience. I needed to start thinking about how I treat single people as a married mom in my 40’s. Do I ask single people to bring the rolls? Do I invite them on a Friday night to join in with the other couples? I hadn’t thought through all the subtle ways we harmfully treat people based on their status and season without thinking for a minute how it might make them feel. Until we hear what it’s like to be the girl sleeping on the couch bringing the rolls, we might very likely be the people who send these kind of “you deserve less” messages. We don’t get that we do this to each other until we hear what it’s like to be her and her and her and her. And others don’t get what it’s like to be us until they hear us put words to our experiences.
Not long ago I was invited by a woman I don’t really know to come sit on her deck. I had met her at two Collide events but would normally meet someone I knew this little at a coffee shop but not necessarily go hang out at their house. She invited me and so I went. When I had met her before she seemed like a spunky, friendly, outgoing, confident woman strong in her faith. As I sat in the gorgeous sunshine overlooking the most amazing view of the bay, I listened to her story. She was born with a birth defect and has one eye that cannot see and another that has very limited vision. She has never been able to drive. You would never know it because she seems so capable of so much! But here as she shared her incredible journey of how God has met her every step of the way… I was amazed by what her story requires.
She has to rely on people to help her. She has to ask for rides or have people come to her. Now I realized why this woman I barely knew invited me to her house rather than meeting at a coffee shop! She has to take public transit or rely on her husband’s availability to be her ride. She can’t run to the grocery store when she runs out of flour. She can’t meet you on the fly for lunch. She can’t go grab a latte when she craves one. There are so many things that she misses out on because she can’t get where she wants to go on her own. But even more, her life requires a vulnerability and reliance on community that many of us don’t ever have to grasp.
I can drive wherever I want. I can go through my favorite coffee stand and get my favorite iced americano with a lil’ cream. I can carpool my kids to all their sports and crank up the music as loud as I want. I can drive to work and run errands and make my own doctor appointments without having to align my schedule with another person. I can take road trips and drive to go on walks and watch sunsets. So I don’t know what it’s like to be her… but I do know what it’s like to sometimes feel forgotten. That’s how she sometimes feels. I can resonate with her when people say to me “We were going to ask you to hang out on Friday night but you guys are so busy!” or “We were going to bring you a meal when you were sick but we figured you have so many friends and were probably good.”
This new friend sometimes feels like people forget her and so do I. I think maybe we all do.
I needed to hear her story. I needed to be reminded that we can’t forget about each other. We can’t forget that our friends with chronic pain still need our compassion and our busy friends still need companionship. We can’t forget that the women who seem like they have everything, don’t. We can’t forget that the moms who just had babies need help. And the women who’ve never had babies should get our invites too. We can’t forget that the women who are empty nesters don’t want to feel empty. Nor should we ever forget that the color of one’s skin does indeed impact their experience and though some of us might not know what that feels like, we can seek to understand. We can’t forget our friends who feel forgotten, overlooked, mistreated, misunderstood and passed by because their status, season or circumstance have a much different experience than ours.
Let us not forget that she needs rides on rainy days when she’s run out of milk.
We so often make assumptions about each other. We often see other people through the lens of our own experience, our own capabilities, our own season, our own capacity, our own judgement and our own resources. We cannot do that. We have to enter into each other’s stories and learn.
Not everyone is feeling the love of community because they aren’t on the sidelines of the game. They aren’t married. They don’t have a tight knit family. They don’t have the same privilege. They don’t have financial freedom to say yes to what you do. They aren’t white. They can’t drive. They can’t see. Their base for making choices you disagree with has not been built with the same foundation yours has. They can’t mark ‘no mental illness’ in their history on their medical forms. They don’t know what vacation is like. They can’t see God without looking through the lense of the church abuse they experienced. They feel overlooked or just unconsciously missed by everyone around them because their status or season or circumstance is so foreign from the people that surround them.
One thing Jesus was the master at was meeting people where they were at, but also inviting others into standing there with Him while He did so. I think we’re missing that ability right about now. We go about our lives looking through the lense of our own experience.
Jesus stood in people’s stories.
When we stand in people’s stories something shifts. Something Jesus-like happens. We change, and so do they.
I think of Jesus standing with the woman caught in the act of adultery and all these religious men put her in a box. They know little of her experience. They can’t resonate with what led her there. Nor do they seem to try. They make assumptions, cast their vote and decide what she deserves based on her actions. They decide they are going to beat her into a pulp because she deserves it. They turn to Jesus, assuming He’s going to join their club, and you know what? He does what is least expected: He stands with her in her story.
And His presence standing there doesn’t turn on her, it doesn’t cast a stone, it doesn’t ditch out. His presence changes all of them. The religious men leave one by one, the “older first”, the Bible says. Each one begins to see that grace and compassion lived out are pretty convicting on their judgemental, sin-casting hearts. And she changes too. She knows she’s loved. And when someone knows that God loves them, their whole world changes.
How did she know she was loved?
She knew it because Jesus stood in her story. And we need to stand in each other’s stories. We need to stop writing each other off. We need to stop making assumptions. We need to stop viewing everyone out of our own experience, but enter theirs. We need to understand that our experience is not her’s and her’s is not ours. When we do that we grow in grace, patience, compassion and love in all our collisions.
I was sitting in church this past year when a piercing sermon was preached and at its end when everyone was walking out the doors, a woman who had been sitting directly in front of me stood up, turned around and with tears streaming down her face said “She would have been 18…” referring to the baby she aborted 18 years ago. I’ve never had an abortion, but I have definitely made choices in my life that could have found me in the place of facing a pregnancy I didn’t want. I didn’t know what to say to this woman. Almost two decades later and in a moment she knows how old her baby would have been. For this woman, personally, her choice was still haunting her. Her grief and her pain, I have not traveled.
But the only thing I know to do is stand in her story. So we sat and she weeped and I prayed. When we stand in each other’s stories, we all change. I changed that day. I can no longer assume that a story near me is easy, at peace, content, set free or encouraged. We all have pain, though it might look different, we all walk its halls. The best thing we can do is stand in each others stories and hope the One who collides with us, collides with us as we collide with one another.