Are We Allowed to Believe?

My car battery died today.

The thing is, I knew it was coming. The car isn’t old, just a 2016, but it was taking two tries to get it started. We’d looked up the make and model online and found that battery issues were common.

Still, I kept driving. I hoped the spot it died in would not be too inconvenient. Leaving a surgeon’s office on a visit, it finally refused to start.

Val picked me up and, a few hours later, AAA sent out a service guy and he replaced the battery. The procedure was simple enough. It could only happen after death, though. And it could only happen with a cost.

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I grew up with a system of belief. It took a few decades of life to knock that down and rebuild it into something more genuine, a faith more connected to the reality of struggle and suffering.

These past few weeks we’ve seen the country torn apart. All sides of the issue are still fighting. We’ve dug in, more divided than before. Our labels carry so much weight. Our political leanings drive nails of darkness into our identity.

One cannot be seen as simply one thing. Conservatives become fascists. Liberals become socialists. Support the police, support movements for social change. Support the misrepresented and underrepresented.

Do these things and you will be hated.

So, why believe?

Why pick a side?

Why stand up for anything when it will cost you friendships, relationships, maybe even employment?

If there is anything to believe in, it is this:

Believe in change.

Believe in grace.

Believe in large holiday dinners again, the smell of cooking ham and potato filling, deserts and coffee.

Believe in the human spirit.

Image from USA Today

Look in the eyes of our children and believe that love can be taught, tolerance can be learned, courage can be embraced and the foundation laid deep in their hearts because, one day, they’ll run the world.

Believe in freedom. Believe that struggles will pass, that poverty and sickness can be overcome. Believe that your story is not over.

Believe that the sun will rise on endless dark nights. Believe that raging fires can be walked through, that heat is only temporary.

Believe that generations of hate can be overcome. Believe that systems can change, that nothing is forever and new ideas can heal old wounds.

Someone may not have told you this is a long time, but:

You can dream.

It may not feel right, but you can dream. You can look forward to a different future.

You can hope.

You can live with a renewed strength.

2020 so far, has been a year of dealing with our illnesses. From the physical side to societal pains. Exposure of deep wounds, of those struggling and left in the wake of rampant self-centered drive. As much as companies are racing for treatments and vaccines, as much as a slow roll of political change is sounding, we must be willing to continue the work. Not just on ourselves and our families, but our jobs and our community.

All of creation demands a response.

But some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples!” “I tell you,” He answered, “if they remain silent, the very stones will cry out.” 

Luke 19: 40

The stones are crying out.

What if everything so far has led to 2020?

And now the time is yours.

What You Don’t Know About Your Hair Stylist

Originally published on medium.com

She stayed up late last night looking at a list of names.

This list is more than one hundred people. She looks down the list as her cell phone alerts sound. Facebook, text messages, questions. She puts the phone down and goes back to the list.

Her list is not just names. It brings up faces in her mind.

Families.

Children she met as babies and cut the first time they were ready and not afraid to sit in her chair. Men and women, old and young. She takes a breath and she thinks about her list.

She thinks about her year. She thinks about what she knows and she wonders.

How is your wife dealing with her illness? How is your elderly father? How is your child dealing with home schooling?

She thinks about the client she invited to Thanksgiving, the lady who has no family, the one she hasn’t heard from in months and she worries.

She knows about your problems. She knows about your new job, about the child you are sending to college in the fall and she wonders how they will do because she’s cut their hair since they were in elementary school and she’s planning a small graduation gift for you to give to them.

Something to show she cares.

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She knows about your friends. She knows about your fights. She knows about your sex life or lack there of. She knows about your worries and she listens.

Her chair is a confessional, a psychology session, a bar stool. Your words never leave the salon and she will always keep it that way.

Her phone sounds again. She looks at the message.

When are you opening?

She closes her eyes.

The pandemic has taken months of time. Time is valuable. Days can be twelve hours, standing for most of it, morning to night. Appointments, cuts, colors, perms.

You need her to stay late? Sure. Your color didn’t turn out and you need it fixed? Let’s do it.

She works without breaks. She gives you her time. She gets home after midnight again and kisses her kids goodnight as they sleep in their beds. She changes in the dark, listening to her husband shift under the covers. She warms up dinner from a container. She sits at the kitchen table shaking her hands to wake up her wrists.

Her fork feels like it weighs a thousand pounds. Her right arm held a blow dryer for hours today, elevated, an extended single arm pull up that would hinder any grown man.

And she pours a glass of iced tea. And she eats as night passes outside.

Her phone alerts again. A comment on the salon’s Facebook page. People are angry. She scrolls through replies. She scrolls through her main page. She scans new status updates.

So happy to get my hair done finally.

Got my hair cut. Had to drive to do it, but it was worth it!

Two names on her list. She grabs the paper and makes changes.

The salon meeting happens over Zoom. PPE is purchased. Stations will be spaced out. Protect yourselves. Protect your clients. No one in the waiting room. They will enter from the parking lot, get cut, and leave.

No paying with cash.

And there’s the catch. The commission will be less, sure, but it will pick up eventually she believes. No cash though, that hurts. Credit card tips get taxed.

Cash is a tank of gas on the way home. Lunch money for school. A cup of coffee.

No cash.

Color is complicated. Color is chemicals. Color is heat and she’ll be wearing extra layers, so she’ll be sweating. So she’ll need to drink. Drinking means taking time. Time she doesn’t have with a crowded parking lot waiting to get serviced.

So she doesn’t drink.

Oh, and by the way, no blow-drying hair.

The final touch. The masterpiece. The way a client can see their beautiful new color in action.

Not anymore. No, they will go home and do it themselves and, if it doesn’t look good enough they will call that night to get it fixed.

And they will go back on the list.

“Mommy, I’ll miss you.”

She hugs her son. She’s spent months with them. She’s planned days and activities. She’s been a teacher and cook, mother and manager. She’d had weekends for once, months of weekends!

She’s gotten used to weekends.

Saturdays now will be different.

Saturdays will be her Mondays. Driving to the salon as the sun comes up some mornings, no traffic, window down and radio playing.

Nerves kicking in.

Her phone sounds again. It pulls her attention from a picture on the wall from when she was younger, fifteen years before. The first time she’d stepped in to a salon.

The moment she knew this would be her calling.

“It’s all I know,” she told her husband.

So they would wait until they could open.

One final weekend. One final week.

Looking at the list 1,000 more times.

She looks in the mirror. She tries on her work clothes and loops the mask over her ears. She wonders how this will work. She takes the mask off.

She finds her equipment. She cleans it.

She loads her car and she looks at the quiet house.

It’s time to go to work.

Matt Shaner has been married to a hair stylist for fifteen years. This is his tribute to his hero and to all stylists out there getting back into it. Stay strong. You will make it through.

My Biggest Challenge Right Now as a Dad

Originally published on Medium.com.

My son is eleven years old and he has anxiety. Not just worries or concerns. His triggers can be large or small. Change plans and you’ll create an emotional response. Take something away, discipline, ask for him to do something he doesn’t want to do and all this can lead to emotions that take time to calm.

He told me yesterday that sleep makes him nervous.

Yesterday was not easy.

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Fears come from pressure, real or imagined. Pressure comes from adversity. We have two options when faced with adversity; fight or flight.

Make yourself better. Now. In the moment. Get tougher to rise with the occasion.

I read about this stuff and, almost forty years into life, I get it. The message is not complicated. Every day I page through my worn copy of Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way.

My son has started to look at it. He’s interested.

The larger concepts are not easy to cross over.

When you are facing middle school. You are facing a summer that will not look like the last few. When you haven’t seen your friends in months. When the last day you entered a school was to drop off your stuff from home and you went as fast as possible to get the mask off quick enough to not have anyone see or make fun of you.

These changes in his personality have been coming for a few years.

In 2018, my wife and I experienced a miscarriage. He did not take it well. He was excited for a sibling and the loss hurt him, and all of us, deeply.

I’ve come to understand that loss offers us a choice. We can stay in it or use it to move forward stronger.

In his eleven years, we’ve dealt with other things large and small.

Nothing like this pandemic. Nothing like trying to explain why he has to distance and why he has to wear a mask in a store and may have to wear one eight hours a day in the fall, in a new school.

Nothing like this time of civil unrest, explaining to him that physical appearance means something in this world no matter how much we’d like to think otherwise, explaining that his job as a young man and eventual adult is to love everyone and work purposefully to stop hate whenever he sees it.

The biggest challenge I’m facing as a dad right now is this:

Standing in the center of this storm with two sons reaching for my hands looking for encouragement that the winds and waves will subside.

Looking to be steadied.

When the lesson is that adversity will never go away.

That forces moving against us call for us to rise up. That fear may be tempting you to run away but, in the end, running towards the source of the fear is the only option.

That’s the challenge.

Looking in their faces and saying no, the storms won’t stop. The waves will keep coming.

You two, my boys, will rise up and grow stronger.

Your sails will one day catch the wind and you will take off away from mom and I on your own journeys.

Until then we’ll be here. In good times and bad. When you laugh and when you are scared. When you fear. When the shadows seem too long.

We’ll be here to call you forward, to catch you when you stumble, and set you on your path once more.

No Longer Silent

We were riding in the car, afternoon sun beating down.

“Do you know what’s happening?” I asked. My oldest son looked out the window. “Like with the riots and everything?”

“Yeah.”

We were on our way to a pitching lesson. For more than a year, we’ve met with a former MLB pitcher. He loves his time there.

“Here’s something you need to know,” I said, “If you go out with your friends, you will run into situations where you are treated differently.” I listed three or four names of kids his age but different ethnicity. “If you all decide you are headed to a baseball game, for example, and walk into a gas station to get food, you will get treated differently.”

He nodded.

“Your job,” I told him, “is to stand up when you see this, when you see anyone being bullied, and try to stop it.” He swallowed. “It won’t be easy, but you have to.”

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“If God is talking to you about it, he wants you to talk about it.”

Erwin McManus

The obstacle is the way, as Ryan Holiday has written in one of my favorite books. Conflict is our radar. Stress is our tracking arrow.

What if God calls us into it to face it.

Society lacking coherent healthcare resources. 150 years of institutionalized racism. That internal system that tells us to resist the different, circle the wagons, and hold on to the life preserver because we may need it even if the boat is just fine.

The boat is not fine.

No matter where you stand.

We’ve turned away too often, looked away too long, and were willing to stand silent due to a variety of pressures.

Make no mistake. We are being called into it. God is talking to you right now. God is talking to me right now. God is talking to the world right now.

So could things be different?

Is reform more than a politically weighted buzz word? Can anything exist outside politics?

-An education that equips students for modern and relevant skills applicable Day One after graduation.

-A college system that is no longer a set of handcuffs for debt often costing more than a first house.

-Increased mental health services and screenings. -Availability to community resources that provide food and shelter, personal care items and personal connections.

-Police and prison reform. Reeducation. Equipping offenders for change not chains.

-Voices and seats at the table for everyone.

As a man of faith, one of the more interesting parts of the Bible to me is that Jesus is often mentioned having meals with followers. The meals had points to them, from instruction to physical demonstrations of grace.

Often Jesus gathered with “sinners.” He sat with outcasts.

Imagine, the ones on the fringes, the hated, the despised, the victims, those who struggled against the Roman empire occupying Jerusalem at the time. The ones unseen. The ones society had enough of.

Jesus spent his time there. He taught, laughed, joked, shared a meal and served.

Where do we spend our time?

Where could we?