7-11, Cherry Coke, and Judging My Identity

Originally posted to MySpace on:

February 25, 2007:

An Opening Narration:

It’s Sunday evening, the sky is overcast, a little damp, and the sun is a half-hour from retreating for the night. I got a late start this morning—4pm to exact—so I thought I’d make up some lost time by doing, well, nothing. Sunday is my first-priority chill day: a day that I prefer quiet, instead of rock bands on the radio; a day involving the adequate consumption of Starbucks and lemon-flavored pound cakes (usually at the same time); and a day spent reading a book or visiting another three hours in dreamland. Sunday, is what I like to call my “leave me alone” day.

But since life isn’t perfect, I decided to work on my novel editing today.

I started my revisions of Chapter 4 a week ago, and so far I’ve cut five pages. Not bad, considering the page count went from thirty-eight to thirty-three, but that’s still too much for one chapter. It’s also too much for my ADD, so after about twenty minutes of work today, I decided to walk down to 7-11 for a soft drink—for a recharge.

A Brief Description of Me:

Being a resident of upscale Palm Beach County, I like to dress presentably whenever I go out in public, you know, to fit in with society. Usually that means a pair of jeans, some kind of shirt, and flip-flops—sometimes because the beach will find its way into my itinerary, but mainly because I hate wearing socks. It’s what I do to blend in with the shallowness of this town.

It doesn’t change who I am, mind you, just what I look like.

But if the public means 7-11, I’ll usually go as I am. Today, that means lazing around in my blue-checkered shorts and a dark blue shirt with a pink bleach stain across the bottom, and, of course, my flip-flops. I’m also unshaven, which is a chronic habit of mine since I just hate shaving.

A Setup in Story Form:

To satisfy my ADD, I threw on my sandals, grabbed my wallet, and headed down the street toward the convenience store. A few minutes later, after passing through the ghettos of unincorporated Lake Worth, dodging a guy with a dog and another guy with a plastic bag, I reached my destination. It was there that I found my treasure: a bottle of Cherry Coke.

When I left the store with drink in hand, I passed a woman who might’ve been homeless, or just down on her luck, or up on her luck but chiseled with a tobacco problem; I couldn’t tell. She didn’t seem to notice me, so I kept walking. Further down the street, I passed a couple of guys riding their bikes to some unknown destination (a staple in this neighborhood as common as an airplane flying into an airport). Again, they had their place to go, and I kept walking. A couple of minutes later, I was home.

That’s when I started writing this blog—not my Chapter 4 rewrite, but this blog. What caused my derailment?

A Discussion of Identity:

I know who I am. I’m a laid-back guy in his early thirties who reads books, watches movies, writes fiction, drives a Honda, eats pepperoni pizzas, wears flip-flops, and likes to escape. In fact, if one were to put the sum of my superficial parts together, the escape theory is already defined. In the eyes of man, these things are often acceptable.

I’m also a man who waits until the absolute right time to make moves into the direction of his desires, ensuring that it’s the right thing and the right moment. Sometimes that means staying where he’s at, despite his angst, until the hour comes that a better opportunity arises. Sometimes that means having the ability to love someone fiercely for who they are, but backing off if that friendship isn’t flying or wanted. Sometimes that means fighting for contentment with situations, even when everyone else around him has what he wants. In the eyes of man, these things are risky.

I’m also a Christian who knows the freedom of Christ, but often forgets what that means, blaming myself for when things go wrong. I’m a struggling “journey” man who rarely takes things for face value, as face value often turns reality awry, but somehow accepts matters with naivete. I’m an explorer who has to pray everything on his heart until he finds something that fits God’s will, but gets discouraged when answers aren’t given. I’m an analytical mind that has to make sense out of every situation, when sometimes the answer is faith alone. In the eyes of man, these things are dangerous.

Anyone who might’ve seen me walking down the street this afternoon—in my scrubbed out clothes and unshaven face—would never pick this out about me. They wouldn’t know about the Honda or the freedom in Christ. They would just see some goofball in flip-flops walking through a ghetto. And this is assuming they would take notice at all.

And why should they notice me? Why am I any of their concern?

With that in mind, whom would they choose to notice? The rich man in the Mercedes? The model in the bikini? The celebrity in the tabloid? These people are regarded at levels most of us would never know. But who are they? Do they even know themselves?

I’m not rich, stellar in looks, or famous. Should I be jealous of the ones who are? What if I put on my nicer clothes, shaved my face, and walked through the ritzy district of Palm Beach? Would I be respected then? Maybe. Would I change who I am? No. What if I became any or all of the three (a rich and modelesque celebrity)? Would I be any less laid-back?

On my walk home, a father pulled out of a side street leading into a disheveled neighborhood. The first thing I thought about was what he did for a living. Was he a tradesman, a shop owner, or a civil servant? How much did he pay a month to live in his crappy neighborhood? Was his income high enough that he could buy a nice house in Alabama, but not enough to go above renting a roach-infested shack in South Florida? Did the difference even bother him?

The fact remains, God expects us all to make do with what we’re given. If we’re given a lot, we’re to take care of a lot. If we’re given little, then we don’t have much to concern us. Our wealth on earth isn’t an issue if we have contentment. The problem is with pride.

I’m sure a restaurant like the Rainforest Café has great food and great atmosphere. The rich can eat there and look good doing it as much as they want. But would it satisfy their stomachs any better than Applebee’s would satisfy the stomachs of the ghetto residents?

And what of Donald Trump? Can we honestly believe that he doesn’t spend the occasional Sunday sitting in his living room in just his underwear while drinking a beer?

Rich men look down on poor men, while poor men envy rich men, but why? Who’s the better of the two when all things pass away? Doesn’t Jesus promise riches in Heaven to all that believe in Him? Should the fact that I sleep in a garage bother me when this same garage kept the rain off my head an hour ago? Don’t mansions and wooden shacks provide the same primary amenity: shelter? Why should status get in the way of respect?

I’m not writing this out of any particular emotion. It was just something I thought about while I took my walk, and thought it was worth sharing. Pride and envy, evidently, have their place in the Seven Deadly Sins for a reason. When all that’s stripped away, we still have our identities and our love of others to discover, two things that are glossed over when societal corruption gets in the way.

A Digression into My Heart:

Having said all of this, I find it’s still hard to accept that reality, especially when circumstances test its mettle.

After a season of peace, I started getting antsy about my life’s place again. I’m a struggling writer with this beast of a project I can’t seem to finish (I have twenty of these chapters to edit). I wait tables for a living, which, quite frankly, I hate doing. I no longer appreciate living in South Florida. I’ve pushed people I cared deeply about out of my life. I’ve been waiting for God to heal my broken heart. I’ve felt, in a sense, disoriented.

Last Monday, a friend of mine in Washington (the state) used a phrase that encouraged my rediscovery of joy in the Lord. He said, as a prayer, “Lord, be who You are through me.” He wasn’t saying, “let me emulate You.” He was saying, “Live through me. Let who I am be who You are through me.” It brought the essence of identity back into perspective. He also told me about a change that he had made in his own prayer life. For years he prayed that God might take away the things that caused him to stumble, but the Spirit told him recently that there was a better thing to ask for. Instead of asking for things to be taken away, the prayer should’ve been, “Transform my heart so that these things no longer sway me.” Perhaps that was asking for things to no longer define us, but letting God alone define us, making our hearts pure and un-butchered. That was the way I understood it anyway, that taking things away was merely a plea for escape, whereas transformation invites strength in character.

I’ve spent the last week dwelling on these prayers, allowing God to reshape who I am. Not that anything of the sort would happen overnight, but I certainly felt more peace over my circumstances lately: accepting my place in South Florida, but waiting on an opportunity to go somewhere else; accepting my position as a server, but trusting that the season will end soon; accepting the abandonment of trusted friends, but believing that God will eventually send someone into my life who understands who I am and can accept it. Allowing God’s peace into my life allowed me to have a great week, too.

Of course, being that I’m human, those feelings of contentment have the ability to waver. This weekend proved that.

With me knowing my weakness, the walk, therefore, put me into a moment of reflection. Why am I so eager to bolt out of here? Perhaps the fact that I escaped my moderately quiet bedroom to hear loud rock music blasting through the house influenced my relapse into ill-content. Why am I so hell-bent on getting a solid career? Perhaps the looming debt I can’t penetrate because my income is so poor from serving cheapskates entered my mind for a moment. Why am I so torn asunder from weak-hearted women? Perhaps thinking about the friends who always had the right thing to say, but didn’t want my friendship anymore sent me into a moment of despair. Trying to find contentment in the things that tested my will for years was a battle in of itself.

But it’s one I’ll always have to fight.

A Conclusion of Points:

As I said earlier, I’m not writing this with any particular emotion. I just think I’ve learned some great lessons this week and I wanted to share them with whoever might listen. I’m not perfect, never will be, and this blog isn’t trying to convince others that I am. But I am more valuable than I might appear (in a spiritual sense; I’m still pretty broke financially), and I think I deserve to respect who I am. It’s no one else’s place to judge my heart or my character, and God, quite frankly, has me where He wants me. My job is to remember that and to take joy in it and to keep inviting His healing when things go wrong.

Even in Heaven, I’ll be who I am, even if my Cherry Coke won’t follow me. There’s no reason to start compromising my identity over stupid stuff now.