Monday, February 23, 2009

Green Eggs and Church Ladies

I'm a church lady. Full on. I have a long and devoted history of being churchy. Just ask my kids, who spent their lives hurrying to the car so we wouldn't be late to whatever activity their mom was coordinating/cooking for/participating in at church. I'm wondering what "church lady" conjures up for you. Tidy hairdo, top button buttoned, pursed lips and a flowery padded-cover Bible with a handle for easy carrying? Condemning looks across the worship center, front row in the choir, well-tuned and critical ear on every word that passes the pastor's lips? In my defense, I'd like to say - it's not that kind of church. Or, to quote one of my favorite philosophers:
"I am who I am, Sam I Am...(and I do not like green eggs and ham)."
Thank you Dr. Seuss. But it is so easy to embrace a genre, group, type, label and decide: that's who we are. I'm absolutely embarrassed by how quickly I grab the metaphorical boxes and labels and packing tape to build a package that defines the parameters of you - and me. Church ladies, motorcycle riders, male ballerinas, musicians, street people - be honest, you have your mind made up. Last Saturday afternoon, the community in which I've lived and worked and grown a family for 20 years said goodbye to one of its most beloved members. Her name was Jinx. She was a 69-year old high school counselor. Jinx had been in the same office in the same high school for 17 years. Many students called her by her first name, which was fine with her, as long as they were where they were supposed to be, doing what she expected them to be doing. "Crazy, weird lady, loud, boisterous, and her own amusement park," were some of the ways people described her Saturday. "Kind, always easy to talk to, never too busy to listen," were some others. I knew Jinx best through the experiences of my sons, who worked in mediation and mentoring programs under her watch in high school. They knew what foods Jinx liked to eat, how many children and grandchildren she had, and had a best guess at how many times she'd been married. They also knew they were always welcome in her office and that nothing shocked her. Little else mattered. Imagine our surprise Saturday when we found out Jinx grew up in Austin's First Baptist church, the daughter of a chaplain. She heard the sermons of a young Carlyle Marney when she was a teenager. Until her accidental death two weeks ago, she sang in her church choir, studied her Bible, and wrote somewhat ravenously in her journal. She even had a book of poetry published years ago titled, God's Signature. Who knew? Jinx was a church lady. She threw on a coat of kindness everyday, but clearly left the self-righteous drapings of Church behind. She carried bouquets of hugs and kisses to scatter as needed, but kept God talk and the easy answers locked up in her bottom drawer. This wild, loud, funny, friendly woman who called students dumplins and everyone else in the world dahlin'....this woman who embraced people and life with a fervor that could be overwhelming to the uninitiated...this high school counselor who never let an awkward kid leave her presence without feeling like the world's most magnificent human... She was a church lady. Why were we surprised? Jinx was a walking, talking, hugging, laughing, red-lipsticked version of the Teacher who meant for us to always, always treat other people...even hormone-challenged, drama-wrapped teenagers...the way we want to be treated ourselves. With kindness and respect and full attention. That's who she was. Jinx Lacey. Crazy high school crisis counselor. Church lady. May she dance with the angels and eat green eggs if she wants 'em. And may we all be such church people. Peace.

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