When we lived in a suburb of Los Angeles, we were very active in our local community. We attended fundraising dinners for various non-profits and served on boards and committees. Through these activities we met a couple who moved to Southern California from the South. The wife was what I imagine to be a perfect Southern Belle. She was beautiful, a runner, she had a cute figure, and two healthy and adorable boys, she was charming, and she was Christian.
I am not the kind of person who normally feels envious of others. I have friends who have way more money than me, friends who have less, who are far more attractive than me, who are better writers than me, and friends who are smarter than me. None of that is a big deal or causes me any suffering or pain.
But in the instance of the Southern Belle, what I found that tore at the core of me was her perfect Christianity. Her and her husband attended most churches in our area before deciding which one to attend regularly. They picked the most conservative one. Everything about this woman screamed, “I am blessed. I am cherished. I am loved. I am a daughter of the Kingdom.”
I have always felt soiled around certain Christians. It was worse when I was younger, but it still applies to some degree. Some Christians just make me feel dirty and like I don’t belong. Especially perfect looking Christian women with perfect Christian lives who seem never to have taken the wrong path or a wrong turn or made a terrible or regrettable decision.
This woman, the Southern Belle, was one of those Christians, and I envied her.
One day the two of us took her young boys to McDonalds. There was a man and a woman that were dirty and disheveled standing outside asking for money. She walked right by. I stopped and asked what they wanted and they said they were hungry. I told them to follow me inside.
At the counter I said to the man and woman, “Order whatever you want. I’ll get it.”
At first they were a little hesitant and then they both ordered hamburgers, a drink, and fries. I ordered my food, paid both bills and sat down with my friend while her boys ran to the playground outside the back doors.
“My husband said I should ignore people like that.” She said.
“Those people blessed me. They gave me the opportunity to give today.”
“My husband said those people are scam artists. We would never give them money.” She said.
“I bought them a meal. They are eating it.” I said in my defense.
We ate the rest of our meal in silence. I waved goodbye to the people who asked for food. I also waved goodbye to the idea of this Southern Belle being a perfect Christian woman – appearances can be polished with a rag, the heart and soul are polished through empathy which often comes from roads we wish we hadn’t taken. I’ve taken many roads and many journeys I wish I hadn’t, but from those paths I have found compassion for the lost, for the lonely, for the loveless. If it took all my mistakes to make me see the suffering of others, then so be it.
I’ll never be seen as the perfect Christian woman, and that is more than okay by me – I’d hate to be responsible for someone feeling dirty.