Fear not; Ugh, fine

“I read your last post.”

I always get a little nervous when conversations in real life start with these words, because I’m never quite sure where they’re going to go. There was a time when these words were a catalyst to conversations that often dragged me and my faith journey through the mud. People who knew me, who had for many years trusted me as a youth leader and a Bible teacher, were speaking hatefully and spewing venom. Retrospectively, I know that those conversations happened with people in the middle of their own wounding, their own questions, with their own thoughts about church and God and friendships unraveling at the edges. But, of course, that’s easy to see looking back. At the time, it made writing hard and blogging scary, and I think I’m still unpacking pieces of that and digging deep, more often than not, to hit publish.

Every time I sit down to write, it is an act of courage. And I’m learning to be brave.

And with that, I’m learning that most people aren’t jerks. Most people are looking to vent their own questions, or frustrations, or hopes. They want to share their own stories about how they see God moving in their world, in church or otherwise. They want to tell me the things that their friends have said to them that have mattered, and that have helped them stay buoyant when they felt like they were drowning.

These days when people say to me “I read your last post,” they are looking for the conversation. They aren’t actually all that interested in dragging me through the mud. They just want to talk to someone about church and God and dating and friendship and whatever thoughts are rolling around in their head about all of it. Most people, I think, are desperate to simply feel less alone.

Writing lets that happen, and I think that’s my favorite thing about being a writer.

Every time that I show up and have a little courage and say something real, I have the opportunity to connect with someone who is struggling through, or excited about, or pushing up against the same things that are making me just a little bit crazy. And so now, what I’m finding is that when someone says, “I read your latest post,” I take a breath and prepare myself for some real talk, and whether that’s good or bad is kind of irrelevant. The point, I think, is that it’s real.

Last week, I met my friend Katie for lunch on the day after my last post went live. She started with those words – “I read your latest post” – and I took a big breath and I waited to hear what followed.

“You didn’t go where I thought you were going to. You started saying how you missed your person and I wasn’t expecting you to say that you were taking a break from dating. “

I laughed a bit and I told my friend that I wasn’t expecting it either, but that I had been praying a lot about this area of my life and that it felt like the right next thing to do. I told her that there are a lot of fears in dating for me, and that it felt like those fears had dictated more of my love life than they should have. I told her that I picked guys who were safe, in the sense that I knew they probably weren’t good long-term matches, and I told her that in the end I dated because it was fun to be taken out for a meal or a baseball game or a movie, but that I wasn’t dating hoping that someone would stick around and be a husband.

“I guess I didn’t know that,” my friend Katie said. “I didn’t know you weren’t looking for your person.”

I confessed that I didn’t know that either, not until recently, not until I started thinking seriously about wanting to be married and not until I started looking at my fears. And I said that the pause in dating was just some space for me to figure out what I want and to grow up in some ways that I need to in order to get that.

My friend Katie said she understood, then we talked a few minutes more about dating, but mostly we talked about the ways that God is growing us up.

In my world, that can be summed up in two words – “Fear not.” And probably – “It sucks.”

I’m not sure yet all the ways that God is going to drill this lesson into my life, but right now, in the last week, I know that it’s happening in my writing life and it’s happening in my dating life. And I know that what I’m supposed to do is trudge forward anyway, in obedience, believing that what the Bible tells me about God is true:

“The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)

And:

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

And:

“David also said to Solomon his son, ‘Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the LORD is finished.’” (1 Chronicles 28:20)

So, here’s two more words – Ugh. Fine.

As much as I don’t want to do this particular work, as much as I’m going to balk and fight and flail, I do want to be someone who trusts God from the depths of who I am. Because I learned back when people were being nasty and dragging me through the mud that I really believe that God is good and is in the business of wanting good for His people. And if I really believe that, then why shouldn’t I also believe that He’s going to make good out of the fear?

“Fear not.”

Ugh. Fine.

Fish Boy

14893364407_0f062920ab_mSometimes when I get asked about my dating life, I get asked weird questions like, “Are you still seeing Fish Boy?”

It’s an unfortunate nickname for the guy I went out with a handful of times this summer, but the name really wasn’t about him. He didn’t work with fish, or smell like a fish, or look like a fish, or spend a lot of his time fishing. It was a nickname given from a conversation earlier in the year about dating and “fish in the sea” and “casting nets.” So, the poor guy I saw a handful of times this summer got saddled with an unfortunate nickname after our first date, after my friend Nickie sent a group message asking, “So, what kind of fish did you catch?”

It got worse when I told the story of how the whole thing had fizzled weeks ago, and Nickie deemed him a flounder because dating him turned out to be kind of bland and a little bit flaky.

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It occurred to me after this conversation that this is how I’m feeling about dating in general these days – that the whole endeavor is lacking…something.

My friend Mike tells me that I need to be patient. He says that eventually one of these guys isn’t going to wuss out on going on the adventure with Jesus and me, and he says that’s going to be neat to watch from the outside.

I’m grateful for these guys my friends have married, who have become my friends too, who find ways of reminding me all the time that quality dudes exist in the world.

I was talking Nickie about all this the other night after Bible study. I told her about the conversation I’d had with Mike and his wife, my friend Amy, about how encouraging they had been, and about how glad I was that they were holding hope when I feel like I’m running out of steam. And I told her that I’m finding our little suburb a hard place to be single, and I confessed that there’s sadness around the edges of dating right now that I haven’t felt before.

“I don’t want that to sound for one second like I’m woe-is-me-ing, though,” I said. “I like my life, and I don’t feel unsettled or desperate, I just have been feeling kind of sad and I’m not sure why.”

“I think you miss him,” Nickie said without missing a beat. “I think you’re missing your person, even though you don’t know what his face looks like or who he is, and I think that’s okay.”

And I knew as soon as the words came out of her mouth that she was telling me a truth about myself.

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If I’m being honest, I don’t much care for this particular truth. It strikes me as a little cheesy, and it plucks at my cynical nerve. I want to dismiss it, ignore it, pretend that my friend hadn’t said it.

I don’t want to think about it, and I don’t want to feel the sadness of missing anyone, and I definitely don’t want to have to start praying about it. Because when you start praying, things change. And I’m not all that sure how ready I am for things to change.

Because I really do like my life! I like that I don’t have to ask anyone before I make plans, or spend money, or stay in to binge watch Gilmore Girls for the thirty-seven thousandth time. I like that I can pick up and go when someone asks if I have a weekend free.

Can you have dinner this night? Yes. Can you watch the baby this afternoon? You bet. Will you cat-sit this week while we’re gone? I’m in. Can you meet me for lunch so we can talk more about that? Of course. How about you spend a year or so writing a book about friendship and grace? I can do that.

Nickie says that she thinks that she and I probably don’t like the idea of not being able to go exactly at the moment God says go, which is why she struggles in her 9-to-5 job and why I struggle in dating. I think that sounds noble and holy and, for me, maybe only half-true.

I think I fear settling, and I think I’m afraid that dating and marriage will be the epitome of that. I’m afraid that I’m going to have to trade the adventure for my person. And I know how ridiculous that sounds, but that’s the funny thing about fear – it doesn’t care that it’s ridiculous.

I decided somewhere in the last couple of days that I’m not going to let the fear win this time, because I can’t escape the truth and the sadness and the missing of my person. And I believe that God is trying to break further into my heart, that He’s asking me only to give Him another piece of myself, and that He wants only for me to sit in the fear with Him.

So, I’m going to do that. You can call it a fast, you can call it a break, you can call it whatever you want, but I’m going push the pause button on dating for a little bit. I’m going to hang out with my friends and I’m going to be honest with them about my questions and hang-ups, and I’m going to listen to their stories about dating and being married, and I’m going to learn a thing or two from them. I’m going to feel sad when I feel sad, and I’m not going to intellectualize that feeling to make it make sense. And I’m going to be honest with God about those feelings, which means I’m going to pray. I’m going to pray a lot, for me and for my person, and for the adventure.

And I’m going to find some way to believe again that there is going to be an adventure.

Bland and flaky isn’t good enough.

Worry less

It was our second date and we’d decided on dinner at a local pub. We were aiming for casual, a place we could wear jeans and not worry too much about impressing each other. We wanted good food and the football game on the TV. We wanted to feel comfortable, because the whole point in dating is to get to know each other, to see what you have in common, and even (*gasp*) to have a little fun.

“You can’t take him there,” they said. “That’s a place you take a co-worker you only kind of like.”

“You can’t take him there,” they said. “That place is too casual.”

They suggested a restaurant down the road from the pub, a fancier place that was more dimly lit with a more interesting menu. “It’s better for a date,” they said.

My friends, they meant well. They consistently want the best for me, and that appears to be true in even the places that I eat. They wanted me to have a good date, which means they wanted to make sure I had a good time, that I was treated well, that I put my best foot forward.

And all those things happened…at the pub.

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I believe deeply in the good that comes when you live your life in a community of people who love you and have your back. I believe deeply that it’s one of the ways that God loves us and has our backs.

But, one of the problems of community is that their voices often get loud. They often get so loud you can hear them even when they’re not around.

Most of the time, believe me, this is good. Because they’re the voices that echo Jesus, the ones that remind you that God’s business is making good out of bad, or that God is faithful even when we are not, that rest is okay. They’re the voices that encourage you to keep going even when you feel wonky and scared and vulnerable. They’re the voices that will shut up and listen when they know you already know all the things they want to tell you.

Most of the time, their input and suggestions and counsel are worth heeding because they’re people who love you and have your back.

Sometimes though, even when your community loves you and has your back and wants only for you to have a good date, the voice that matters is your own.

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I knew he was coming home from the beach and would be casually dressed. I knew that I was most comfortable in a place I could wear my favorite jeans, hole in the knee and all. I knew that the food was good, and we’d both be cool watching the pre-season football game if the conversation lulled. And I knew, quite frankly, that I just wanted to go to the pub.

Because here’s the thing, I’m thirty now. I’ve been dating for more than a decade. I’ve been on good dates and bad dates, and the mediocre dates that fall in between. I’ve worried for so long about impressing the guy that I’ve debated about what to wear for more hours than were necessary, and I’ve remained silent when I should have spoken up about things that concerned me, and I’ve not at all been relaxed in the whole dating process.

I was talking to Nickie about this the other day, about how dating is feeling much too much like work and a lot less like fun, and I realized that I have been doing it wrong for so long, and she said, “I say poo poo on what any of us think, though. Do what you want and what makes you comfortable. It’s your life and your relationship, and you live your life well.”

See? Good voices. Voices that love you and have your back.

She’s right, of course. I mean, jury’s still out on the “living your life well” bit, but I don’t think I’m doing a terrible job. However, I have been doing a terrible job of dating, and it is my life, and it is time to do what I want. Or at least, it’s time to start really giving some weight to what I want.

I worry too much though, that is my down fall. I am, more often than not, totally anxiety-ridden. I don’t know what it’s like to be totally relaxed, and I’m not sure I have ever known. When I was a kid I worried about always being the new kid, if I was ever going to fit in, if I was ever going to have real friends who’d hang on even if we had to move again. And so I worried about my clothes and my interests and my speech, because I worried all the time about being liked.

And old habits die hard.

But, I’m learning to put that to death, to be new, to worry less. It’s hard but good work, and I like the person this work is shaping me into. I like the way it’s deepening my relationship with God, and the way it’s giving my faith some real maturity. And I like the ways that my friends are responding to this me that is more comfortable in my skin, when that skin is less polished and a little raw.

So, this is my new mantra: Worry less. And with that, it is a challenge to myself in all the best ways to give myself a little credit, to extend myself a little grace, to trust the person that is exactly who God created me to be.

And it is a challenge to my community, to my friends, to love me even when I may not listen to them and may do my own thing.

Sometimes, believe it or not, worrying less is exactly the right thing.

 

Lean on your people

“This isn’t working,” he said as he dropped me off after our date on Friday night.

We’d been out for coffee and were having a perfectly normal time…until we weren’t.  He fed me a lot of lines about how I was nice person and he wasn’t opposed to hanging out in the future, but it definitely felt like he was trying to save face as the nice guy as he left. He had decided that things weren’t working, and that was that.

The details of it all aren’t really the point.  The point, I think, is that this weekend I was dumped, and I cannot recall a time that I felt more loved.

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(Side note to any of my girls or any other woman in your twenties or thirties reading this that is single and dating and making the decision not to have sex: I’m proud of you.  Making a commitment to anything is bound to cost you something, and making a commitment to this is probably going to cost you a relationship or two along the way, and it’s going to hurt. And it’s probably going to make you question why you made the commitment in the first place. Go ahead and ask yourself again, because I think what you’ll find is that trading in your conviction on this is not worth it, however great the guy might be.  Your friends may not understand why you’ve made this decision, and that’s okay too. Because this is between you and God, and you have your reasons, and that’s really all there is to it. I know it’s not an easy conviction to hold, but I know it’s worth it. From me to you, by the grace of God, you are strong and you’re going to be okay.  )

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Late Friday night, once I was inside my house and had sent BJ on his way with the assurance that we would indeed not being hanging out in the future, I called in reinforcements.  I leaned on my people.

Cristina and Meredith_lean on your people

Two of my people are my parents. I told them what happened, what he had said and how I had responded, and they told me they were proud of me.

Thank God for supportive and affirming parents.

I called Danielle, and she said all the things that I pretended I didn’t need to hear, but really did – about how being my friend is a gift, about how great I am, about how walking away from me was really his loss.

Thank God for girlfriends who know what to say.

I crashed at Danielle’s on Saturday, and we ate fried pickles and drank margaritas, and she let me talk as much or as little as I needed to.  And her mom made a pot of tea and lemon-poppyseed scones, because they are warm and comforting, and I ate three of them. And when I was falling asleep on their couch at 8:30 that night, they sent me to bed in the guest room and told me to get sleep.

Thank God for friends who take you in and treat you exactly like family. 

I called Joy, my college roommate, and she told me how sad she was that she was so far away. She quoted that line from Sex and the City about how your girlfriends maybe can be your soul mates, and she told me that she loved me. And she made me laugh in spite of myself.

Thank God for girlfriends who keep you laughing.

While I was on the phone, Nickie texted with a slew of questions which I didn’t get to answer before her last message came – “Forget it. I’m on my way over.”  And at a little after 1 AM, she rolled up in front my house and we sat in her car for two hours, plans to find a still-open coffee shop abandoned as I told her about what had happened.

Thank God for girlfriends who come with listening ears at all hours.

At 5:45, I got a text message from Jesse assuming correctly that hadn’t slept, and the offer to come over right then if I wanted it. I did, and so at 6 AM, I walked into the BFF’s house and she hugged me hard, and we sat on her couch drinking coffee and eating leftover apple pie right from the tin.  And she told me how proud she was of how I was handling myself in this, how different it was that I was letting people in, how much good change she had seen in me over the years.  And when Amy showed up later in the morning, without knowing what Jesse had said, she affirmed the exact same things.

Thank God for girlfriends who stay in long enough to see changes.

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I told my mom Friday night that I figured I had two ways I could deal with this break-up. I could do what I always do, allowing this to be something that pushes me deep into darkness and builds walls to keep people out. Or I could do something different, looking for the ways that God was showing me love and grace in the mess.

This was a moment of a relationship ending, and I had put myself all in the relationship, and it would be easy to believe that I am worth walking away from, because this is one of my greatest, ugliest self-thoughts.  BUT…

I have this community that happily counters that lie at every turn.  They tell me that they love me, and then they show up to prove it.  They feed me, and they listen to me, and they affirm and challenge me.  They invite me into their homes, and they let me sleep in the guest rooms, even though I’m not a guest anymore, I’m family.  And in doing these things, they remind me over and over, at every turn, that I am deeply loved.

And their love is grace.

This is why we need to be in community. This is why we do the hard work of friendship.  Because there are people who will let you down and bail on you or break up with you, but…there are people who will show up.  And these are the people you lean into.

Because their love is Grace.

Double high-fives

'High-five!' photo (c) 2009, Nick Webb - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
For the last couple of years my favorite guy has been the one that’s no taller than my knee caps, the one that is the son of my BFF.  Until this year, he was the only one to send a Valentine’s card, the only one who lit up when I walked into a room, the only one who provided a little sunshine on even on the worst days.

Of course, the neph-in-love is still one of my favorite guys, but he’s not the only guy in my life. And I think he’s having a hard time of it.

This weekend we met some friends for dessert to celebrate my friend Mike’s birthday, and I walked in first and BJ walked in behind me.  The neph-in-love saw me, and giggled a “hi” with a smile that overtook his face, his hands raised open for a hug. That quickly changed when he realized I hadn’t come to the party alone, and the smile melted to tears and the “hi” became “no, no, no” and the arms waved BJ out the door.

It was a dramatic reaction, but it wasn’t all that surprising.  He is two after all, and he had done something similar a couple of weeks before when we were seated at the dinner table. His face turned sour when he realized BJ was eating with us, and he looked at him and pointed right at the front door and said, “Go!”

I figure things will even out eventually, and I think maybe it’s already happening since Noah gave BJ two high-fives when he was saying goodbye after the party, but still…

Things are changing.  And he’s two, and he’s having a hard time of it.

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I’d gotten pretty comfortable in my single life, I can’t lie. And there are some parts of this whole being a relationship thing that are making me want to throw my hands up and say “no, no, no” – not because BJ’s not great, because he is, but because there’s so much of this that makes me feel like I don’t know what I’m doing, and that I can’t plan for, and that is…I don’t know…just so new.

Having someone who wants to come to dinners at my friends’ houses is new. Having someone to sit with in church is new. Having someone who wants to make me dinner is new. Having someone who thinks I’m pretty and who looks in my in such a way that I know that’s what he’s thinking is new. Having someone who just wants to know me, the real me, is new.

And perhaps for me the newest piece of it all is the okay-ness I feel in it.

Because I like this guy, I like who he is and how he operates in the world. I like that he wants to know my friends and enjoys having dinner at my their houses, even if sometimes the neph-in-love asks him to leave. I like that he comes to church and takes communion sitting next to me.  And I like that he cooks for me, careful always about the weird adult-onset food allergies I have. I find it unnerving sometimes when he looks at me and tells me I’m pretty, but I’m learning to accept the compliments, and that is no small thing.  And with every defensive wall I bring down to let him in to know the real me, I find that I like having the wall down.

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Things are changing, and sometimes it’s hard but most times it’s pretty easy, and either way it’s okay. Because, guys, I’m growing.

Double high-fives for everyone!

Anywhere other than home

'snow day' photo (c) 2011, Chelsea Gomez - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

It’s Thursday. I’m not in Mexico. And I’m not going to be in Mexico.

I’ve gotten tagged in some Facebook photos already.  My friends made it just fine while I am snowed in eating grilled cheese sandwiches and drinking lots of tea.

Someone commented about how impressed they are with how well I’m handing my cancelled vacation, and I think there’s nothing to be impressed with. Honestly, I’m not that upset.

I’m sad, of course, not to be with my friends as they sit on the beach and laugh and soak up the sunshine. I’m sad to miss out on the memories that they’re making, and I’m sad to not be a part of the stories that will be told about the trip years down the road.  I’m sad to miss out on the laughing and the sharing and the time together. Because I’m only now realizing how hard those moments are to come by in adulthood, and I know the moments in Mexico would have been the good ones, the ones that are cherished in deep heart places forever.

My dad reminded me, though, that there are things going on in my life now that weren’t going on when I made plans for this trip with my friends.  He said it with a kind of wink, his subtle dad-way of acknowledging the guy I’m dating without actually having to talk about it.

And this week is Valentine’s, and this year is different.

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“Different” is probably an understatement.

Perhaps the world’s worst dater, I am constantly surprised by this man I’m seeing now – by his kindness, and his consistency, and his want to know me better.  I am surprised by how much I like having him around, by how empowered I feel by his support, by how not scary this whole dating him thing is.

So when I walked into his apartment last night, a surprise Valentine’s dinner all prepared, I was taken aback.  And I’m pretty sure it took me a solid ten minutes to come up with words other than “thank you.”

Who needs flowers when you have a man who’ll make you meatloaf?

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A year ago having my trip cancelled would have floored me.  It would have put me in a bad mood for days, and no one would have wanted to be around me because I would have had only snarky responses to anything that was said.  I would have spent the week wallowing, thinking of nothing else except the good time I was missing out on and bemoaning how bad things only happen to me.   A year ago I would have wanted to be anywhere other than home.

But…things are different now and no one is more surprised than I am.

I will miss my friends, and I hope they have a wonderful time in Mexico. But, it’s okay with me that I’m not there this time.

My plane ticket will be reimbursed.  I have a Valentine for the first time ever. I am snowed in with my friend and her family. Next week, I’ll drive to Delaware to visit with Danielle. And I’ll hang out with the BFF and the neph-in-love, and with Amy and the niece-in-love. I’ll have Bible study, and dinner with my parents, and things will continue in the same rhythm of home that I have only recently started to truly enjoy.

And maybe that is what’s most different. I’m not in such a rush to be anywhere another than home.

Calling BULL

There are some days that I just want to call bull on of it. Today is that day.

You, who don’t text back – BULL. You, who say that you miss me when I’m out of town, but can’t be bothered to even get a coffee date in the books when I’m in town – BULL. You, who claim to like being close to me, but who shut me out at every turn – BULL. You, who are incredibly present one minute and totally absent the next – BULL. You, who say you want to be my friend, but fail to show up and be a friend – BULL.

You, who pass out tracts before Easter service but fail to serve the poor – BULL. You, who chase after job promotions and fail to care for the widow – BULL. You, who slam pulpits but don’t bow to wash your brothers’ feet – BULL. You, who claim to love Jesus but hate your sisters – BULL.

Because here’s the thing — I’m coming out of a season of being duped, not just by one person but by a whole church, and I’m fighting really hard every day to believe that people can be trusted. I’m fighting to see Light in the dark, to see Love in the hate. So, it would really be great if you could just say one thing and mean it, if you could practice on Monday what you teach on Sunday, if you could just be consistent.

Because here’s the other thing — I’m trying my damndest to be gracious and self-less. I’m trying to be understanding of all of the things that feed into your life that make you act like you do, all the crazy family situations and work nonsense and health issues that cause you stress. I’m trying hard to be empathetic to illnesses and kids and jobs and all the stuff that makes you busy. I’m not saying I don’t “get it,” but I am saying that I’m busy too and sometimes, more often than not, it feels like I’m the only one who’s trying to make it work.

So, I’m calling bull on the one-sidedness. And I’m asking you to help me out.

How about we stop with the game-playing and the assumption-making? How about instead we ask each other for what we need and promise to try to give it to each other?

How about we stop making excuses for why we’re busy, and instead admit that we are and try to do better by each other?

How about we stop talking to our best friend, or our husband or our wife, or co-worker, or neighbor, or neighbor’s co-worker before we talk to each other?

How about, at the very least, we text each other back?

I’ll confess that I’m not the best about this either, but I really want to do better by you. I assume with the best of them and then I run circles in my head before I talk to someone who’s not you. I promise to stop doing this. I also promise to text you back, and to set up coffee dates, and to show up when you need me and sometimes when you don’t.

I’m calling bull on our bad dynamics, and promise to do better to improve my end of things.

But I can only do so much, and so you’ve got to help me out.

You’ve got to text me back. And you’ve got to set up coffee dates. And you’ve got to talk to me. And you’ve got to show up.

And WE’ve got to serve the poor. And WE’ve got to care for the widow. And WE’ve got to love our brothers and sisters. And WE’ve got to wash each other’s feet.

Otherwise, all we have is bull. And I think we can do better than that.