A Cashier, Pagan and Disgruntled Church Lady

The title sounds like the start to a bad joke doesn’t it? Here I was checking out at Walmart, trying to be polite by making small talk with the cashier. Just to give you a visual, this particular gal had some pretty rotten teeth, long, wavy dishwater grey hair, long and curled yellow nails…need I go on? (I’m not judging here….there would be plenty of that going on later. Just painting you a picture before I go on with my story.) I couldn’t believe how my tattoo had, once again, stirred up the following conversation:

Black tooth had just rang my coffee through when I made a comment about having ran out of coffee and was in desperation this morning. She proceeded to tell me she couldn’t drink that “half-caff” stuff but had just been to the doctor after she drank a full pot of full-caff. Her blood pressure was high and she was already on high blood pressure medicine, high cholesterol medicine and a couple other things. I said something to the effect of taking better care of herself blah, blah, blah.

Black tooth: Well, as long as you know the Lord, it don’t matter what we do down here. You know where you’ll be spending eternity.

Me: It is important to know the Lord and to know where you’re going. (My first thought was hmmm…interesting…but let’s not go there…)

Black tooth: Yeah. My son’s best friend is dying from cancer. Real young guy too. My boy went over to go fishing with him and his dad the other day. The boys were getting all the stuff together and when they went in to get the dad, there he was laid back in the recliner with a picture of his family on his lap, a cigarette in his hand and a smile on his face. I figured he went to heaven ‘cause nobody going to hell would die with a smile on their face. ‘Sides that, he talked to God every day.

Now there’s some sound theology.

Black tooth continued: That’s how I wanna go, ya know? With a smile on my face and a cigarette in my hand, talking to the Father.

What does one say here people? Get me the heck out of here!

Me: It’s good that he talked to God every day. I love having conversations with my Father.

Black tooth: Oh. You’re a Christian? You have the mark of a pagan. (As she looks down at my tattoo.) My Mom used to beat us kids for making any marks on our skin. It’s a pagan practice. Not Christian.

Then a voice from behind me says: I’m a pagan and I love my tattoo!

Me: Well, I’m a Christian and I love mine as well.

Pagan lady: I’ll never be one of those!

Me: Really? May I ask why?

Pagan lady: Because all Christians are fake.

Me: Oh, I hate that you think that! Can I challenge you to come to church with me and I can introduce you to some real people with real issues who don’t pretend to be more than they are?

Pagan lady: Where do you go to church?

Me: Christ’s Church at Mason just down the road.

Pagan lady: Oh my mother-in-law goes there and she’s part of the reason I want nothing to do with you people.

Ugh.

Me: I’m sorry to hear that. You could still come. And sit with me.

Meanwhile, a little old white haired lady pops her head up over pagan lady’s shoulder and says to me: Excuse me miss. What church did you say you go to?

Me (wishing I hadn’t bought so many groceries): Christ’s Church at Mason.

Disgruntled church lady: I went there for 47 years. I quit when they fired all the administration.

Oh. My. Word! You are not helping me out here, disgruntled church lady!!

Me to Pagan lady: I don’t know all the ends and outs of all that but I do know several people retired last fall.

Pagan lady shakes her head and gives me that, “and you wonder why I don’t want to go to church” look.

Oh but that’s not all….Black Tooth has a question for me…

Black tooth: So did you get that pagan mark before or after becoming a Christian? Because if it was before He can forgive you.

Me: Oh no. I got it last fall. I’ve been a Christian since I was 16.

Black tooth (with a look of pity and a slight tsk tsk in her voice): Well, I sure am sorry to say it, but I’m afraid you may have stepped over the line. You knew what you was doin’ and went and did it anyways. Not sure God can forgive that.

(More sound theology…)

Pagan lady (with a thumb pointing over her shoulder and a head nod in Black Tooth’s direction): These people are exactly why I will never be a Christian.

Me: Please don’t judge us by a hand full of people you know. God is so much more than this. If you come to church, ask for me and we’ll sit together, tattoos and all.

You all.

I can’t even.

Seriously.

The sad fact is I have been all three of these ladies (minus the black teeth and yellowed nails…)

I have been Black Tooth, judging people based more on how I was raised or what I thought I knew, with a skewed theology in one hand and a beating stick in the other. Not just beating others with it but myself as well. Knowing I will do something to step so far off the path that I cannot be forgiven. What I’ve come to discover is the more I know Christ, the more I recognize Grace. The more I recognize Grace for me, the more I extend it to others. (Like in a Walmart line. Smile.)

Then there’s Disgruntled Church Lady….been there and been her. Boy oh boy can we do some damage. I have spoken my mind and shared my opinion more than one time without any thought to who was listening or whose eternal future I may be influencing. Father forgive me. I now know there will never be a perfect church. We are all a hot mess in some way or another. We will never agree on every single thing. But be careful when and where you express yourself. There is a time and a place for that…not in a line at Walmart to total strangers and one who just said she would never be a Christian.

Here’s my likeness to Pagan Lady: I equated getting hurt by a few people in the church to God. If that’s what being a Christian and going to church was all about then I really didn’t see the need to go to church. I could still believe in God but I really didn’t want anything to do with the likes of “those” people. What I’ve learned is I can’t base my understanding of who God or Jesus is based on the actions of a handful of messed up people. I have to be in His word learning who He is, getting to know Him on a personal level without any outside influences. And He has shown me and will continue to show me. He has grown me and will continue to grow me. He has loved me and will continue to love me. Tattoo and all.

From the trenches!

kw

God Don’t Like Tattoos and Other Interesting Things

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My actual tattoo…

It’s been two weeks since I’ve gotten my tattoo (pictured to the left.) It’s been interesting to say the least. I’ve wanted a tattoo for several years now but wanted to have one with meaning and not get one to get one. I love the idea of grace…given to me, extended to others and offered to those without hope. I put it on my right wrist so that when I shake someone’s hand or give someone a hug it will remind me of all the grace I’ve been given. The feather quill is a reminder as I write (and speak) to use words full of grace and truth. The five black pearls are for my kids. Parenting is hard (!) and it’s only by God’s grace we can get through it! It takes a lot to make a pearl…a lot of irritation and hard work but the end result is a beautiful, treasure, and a precious gem!

I thought I’d share some of my people encounters and opportunities to extend grace, give grace and offer grace all in these two short weeks.

To the guy at the Wendy’s drive-through in Mason who said nothing else to me except, “God don’t like tattoos.” Hmmm…God doesn’t like a lot of things, judgmental people for one. But then there’s also Christian people, God’s people, getting killed for their faith by evil people (Isis.) Oh and babies who are being torn apart and parts sold for profit, right here in the US. Or how about our very own state of Ohio being among the worst for sex trafficking? I’m thinking God doesn’t like those things.

But don’t take my word for it. Here are some things “God don’t like” found in black and white: “Here are six things God hates, and one more that He loathes with a passion: eyes that are arrogant, a tongue that lies, hands that murder the innocent, a heart that hatches evil plots, feet that race down a wicked track, a mouth that lies under oath, a troublemaker in the family.” (Proverbs 6:16-18 MSG)

My very first opportunity to extend Grace was met with me thanking him for my food and telling him to have a great day. That is grace extended.

To the woman at Meijer who asked me if I go to church and if my pastor knew I had a tattoo. The conversation started because I saw her glaring at my tattoo then looking up at me so I showed it to her. She asked if Grace was the name of somebody or if I went to church. I told her I go to church to which she replied, “Does your pastor know you have a tattoo?” To which I answered, “Why yes. Yes he does.”

You all this is funny and sad on so many levels. Funny because my pastor has tattoo sleeves on both arms and told me which tattoo parlor he uses when I told him I wanted to get one. Sad because I’m realizing how often people get judged by outward appearances. Are we really that shallow people? Jesus had such a hodge-podge of followers and it took all manner of people to be fishers of men. The same is true today but I don’t think I’ll be fishing in this lady’s pond. Grace extended.

To the woman who saw a picture of my tattoo and said, “I thought you were a Christian.” I thought you were too. Oh wait. Grace. Yet another opportunity to extend it. I have no words, really. Or none that need to be said out loud. That sometimes can be Grace too.

To the man who shuttled me from my car in long term parking to the Delta hub. He noticed my tattoo as I handed him my bag to put in the storage area of the shuttle. It was only the two of us so in making conversation he asked me where I was going. I told him I was speaking to a group of women at a Christian conference in Baltimore. He went on to tell me about his relationship with Jesus but how people always looks at him funny when he goes to church.

He had a ZZ Top style beard with a waxed curly cue mustache and a forearm tattoo. I assured him Jesus loves us tattooed freaky people as much as the next person and that maybe he needed to find the right church that wouldn’t judge him on his looks but really see his heart. Y’all when he got my bag down for me he thanked me for the encouragement and went on to whistle with the song on the radio which was tuned to K-Love. Grace.

To the women of Epic Community Church. We had a blast even though we waded through some hard stuff!! We opened up the first session with a bang by talking about putting to death and getting rid of serious stuff…sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed. Anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language and lying. All that in session one and you came back after lunch like you promised!! That’s GRACE!!

Just know this, the battle to keep to death or keep rid of those things you gave up are going to be fierce! We fight an enemy that doesn’t fight fair. He kicks below the belt and when you least expect it!! Keep your power suit on and fight for each other not with each other!! And don’t forget the bling!!

To the woman on the plane ride home that I had a chance to share what my tattoo means and give you hope. I was exhausted from pouring out the day before and really just wanted to read my book but I noticed the lady beside kept looking at my tattoo. When I looked up, she was looking at me and asked if she could ask me a question. I closed my book and said sure. She told me she noticed I had a tattoo (it was really hard to miss since she was sitting on my right side.) and was wondering what the word Grace meant. Was it a name or something else? I could tell by her tone it wasn’t Mrs. Meijer looking down her nose but a genuine question.

We went on to have the best conversation about God and Grace. She told me about some bad experiences with “church people” and that she had all but given up hope. You see she had made some pretty serious mistakes and thought she was beyond being forgiven. I assured her my Dad’s bigger than any of her past mistakes and that He was a very forgiving Father. I encouraged her to find a church that would accept her right where she was in life but would love her enough to not leave her there.

You all. God is so gracious to me.

And so to the Wendy’s dude and the Meijer lady, you can look down your nose at me if you want to simply because I have ink but God has graciously used this tattoo to reach people I may never have had the opportunity to have a conversation with before. There may be more people who think “I’ve lost Jesus.” It’s ok. Especially if it allows me to talk to people who really do need Jesus. I’ll take that any day.

Crazy about you!

kw