Category Archives: The WORD (Faith)

Elbow Grease

Even though Mike and I have yet to experience unemployment in our marriage, I am still overly conservative and penny-pinching in our daily lives.  Call it my nature, but I wish I could sweep our funds into a nice little pile in the middle of the floor before stuffing it all in a pillowcase and hiding it where Mike can’t find it. 

I don’t do this without cause.  Mike’s spendthrift ways are thoroughly documented somewhere in a book called “There’s Always More Money Where That Came From,” a book I failed to read before signing the marriage certificate, by the way.  Similarly, my frugality is the stuff of legends, legends that felt like a myth to Michael before he married me and realized I would circle the block for days for a free parking space.

So it’s easy to picture the clash of ideals when one of us carries a homemade lunch to work every day and the other frequents the local Nordstrom for a refreshing cafe lunch and a shoe shine.

Mike has long argued that a shoe shine is a great decompressant, and he always tells me about his engaging conversations with his favorite shine artist, Kim.  To avoid any raised eyebrows, Kim is a man.

I have always lamented Mike’s shoe shines as a needless extravagance, and he has always defended them by pointing out that they cost a mere $2.50.  Well, $2.50 plus a $5 tip.  And, he points out, it’s helping out his main man Kim, and who can argue with that?

This is the point in the conversation when I roll my eyes.

Well, I used to roll my eyes.  All of that changed one Sunday when Mike invited me to get my boots shined after church.  I asked if we could really shoot the moon and get that cafe lunch, too.  Needless to say, he agreed.

After enjoying a bowl of crab bisque and too many slices of sourdough, we meandered downstairs to the shoe shine room near the entrance of Nordstrom.  I started to ask Mike just how often this little shoe shine date with Kim really takes place…is it once a month?  Every two weeks?

“Kim!” he hollers to the man furiously buffing a gentlemen’s shoes.

Kim turns around, leans in toward Mike until he’s inches from his face, and says, “My man!”

Must be every week.  At least.

“What do you want today?” he asks Mike.  He hasn’t noticed me standing with him yet, and that’s when I remember that Mike once told me that Kim is nearly blind.  All at once I’m realizing the implications of a blind man shining shoes all day, and I’m stunned silent.

“We’d both love a shine,” Mike replies, gesturing toward me.  “This is my wife, Abby.” 

We exchange hello’s and he invites us to sit while he finishes with his current customer.

“I been slammed today, man,” he says to Mike.  “It’s almost the holidays and people are coming in a mile a minute.  This one woman walked off in a huff when I said I was backed up five pairs.  People don’t get it.  I’m the only one working here today!” 

Mike sympathizes with him and assures him we’re in no hurry, so he can take his time with other things.  He asks if we’d like to change the TV station or choose from the reading materials.  A feeling begins to creep up on me, a feeling of being mortified that someone thirty years my elder is about to wait on me.  I feel a sweat-inducing class-consciousness, and I realize I’d rather run naked through the store than have him shine my shoes. 

It occurs to me that the feeling harks back longer than I can consciously recall.  My parents always raised me never to have others do for me what I could do for myself.  This includes things like housework, landscaping, washing the car, laundry, and apparently, shoeshining.  Part of it is about not spending money on those things, but the other part of it is the fact that what is my responsibility is my responsibility.  I made my shoes scuffy, therefore I should have to buff them myself.  Case closed.

“Ma’am are these boots black or brown?” he says, leaning over my feet.  It’s the worst reminder of his lack of sight.

“They’re black,” I reply, “and I’ve never had a shoe-shine in my life.  I haven’t taken good care of them,” I admit. 

“Well, you’ve got to come in here,” he says.  “You’ve got to get your shoes done, not just to make them shine but to treat the leather.  Especially in Seattle!  The water dries out the leather and you have to have them oiled.”

I feel both gently chastised and justified by what he’s said.  Yes, I need to take better care of them, and yes, it is my problem.  But it also occurs to me that he’s emphasizing that this is just part of owning shoes — you go get them shined.  It’s not about pretentiousness, it’s about caring for the things you purchased six feet away in the shoe department.  It’s the same as getting an oil change (which my dad has always done himself by the way…poor example, then).  My making this a class issue is really my issue — I’m uncomfortable; he’s not.  After all, the shoe shine costs $2.50 — it’s designed for every shoe owner to take care of their shoes.

I look over at Mike, who couldn’t be more at ease.  He’s telling Kim about church today, since he asked what we’ve been doing this morning.

Kim apparently agrees with our morning choice.

“So you’re paying attention, you’re tuned in,” he says.  “People I meet here always think that their days are not numbered, but let me tell you, they are.  You’ve got to get to know the Lord before you meet Him, am I right?!” 

Kim steps into the back room to gather different supplies, and I turn to Mike and tell him something about how utterly ungrateful I am for having an easy job sitting at a desk all day while Kim is on his feet, working his tail off for far less money.   I tell him about a teacher I had in seventh grade who used to tell us about her trip to India and ask us a haunting question:  if we were ever in India, would we pay to take a ride in a rickshaw?  Would we do what felt degrading to the driver in order to help them make money?  Or would we refuse to take a ride, on principle, but then know that we had just kept that person from making enough money for the day?  I’ve never forgotten that question, and I still don’t have an answer.

Mike looks at me and says, “Kim is working hard, yes, but there’s honor in that.  He’s here every day serving his clients, getting paid, making what we hope is a living wage.  Think about it: he’s blind — he has every excuse to be at home, and instead he’s here working his tail off.  I’m going to support him as much as I can because I admire him, and I want him to be the best paid shoeshiner in the freaking state.”

I don’t know what to say, but I suppose I agree.  I want to support Kim, and I also want to be socially responsible.  For today, that means swallowing my issues and letting him shine my shoes. 

Kim returns and finishes our shoes.  We tell him he did an incredible job, because he truly did.  I can’t believe how much better my boots look, and I tell him I’ll return.  He asks one favor of us before we go.

“Would you email the management and tell them that you liked your service today?  That woman I told you about earlier threatened to email management and complain that I couldn’t wait on her fast enough.”

We are both horrified and vow to send an email that will remove all doubt as to the nature of his service.  We pay him and begin to walk away.  Normally, I would have a hurricane of a heart attack if Mike tipped someone more than 30%, but in this case I just feel proud of him for the far higher than 30% tip he hands to Kim.

“And,” I add, “I’ll tell everyone I know with a pair of shoes to get over here.” 

Nordstrom, Bellevue Square: Open 9:30AM – 9:30PM Monday through Saturday, 11AM – 7PM Sundays.

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Finding What We Were Looking For

Our journey to the U2 concert two weeks ago was more complicated than driving from our home to the stadium.

I bought the tickets for Mike in October 2009.  No, that is not a typo.

I gave them to him for Christmas that year, as we had always dreamed of seeing U2 live.  Seeing them in Seattle was second only to seeing them in Dublin, so we were both thrilled it was finally happening.

Like thousands of other fans, we were crushed when we got the email in March 2010 that Bono had hurt his back and the concert would be delayed.  We were absolutely slayed when they decided to delay it by an entire year to June 4, 2011;  it felt like they had said, “Whatever date sounds like it will absolutely never arrive — that is the new date of the concert.”

Toward the end of 2010, a couple in our Bible study announced their engagement.  We were utterly thrilled for them and so excited to watch them take the next step in their relationship.  We didn’t give a thought to the date they chose, because their wedding seemed close, and we thought the concert was impossibly far away…

…until one day in mid-April I was driving to lunch from work and heard the announcer on the radio excitedly mention the concert coming up on June 4.  I nearly careened off the road as I dove for my phone to call Mike in a panic.  He said we could talk about it that evening.

Talk we did.  Many times.  We even prayed about it, because the last thing we wanted was to hurt our friends’ feelings.  Finally, after much discussion, we figured out a way to honor their wedding and make one of our dreams come true — we would do both.  Thankfully, the fabulous bridal couple graciously understood.

I forgot to mention one little factor.  They planned to marry in Yakima, which is 2.5 hours outside of Seattle.

The wedding was at 4PM.  The concert was at 7PM.  This was going to require some James Bond Mike Reph driving skills.

We dressed for the wedding, packed alternate clothes for the concert, and made sure our tickets were in the glove box.  We hauled tail over the mountains to Yakima and made it there at 3PM so we could help with wedding duties.  The wedding was beautiful and we were so thankful we didn’t miss it.

We pulled away from the church at exactly 5PM and by 6:55PM we were circling Qwest Stadium.  Mike shaved 35 minutes off the drive time.  If that’s not James Bond, I don’t know what is (luckily Lenny Kravitz was the opener, so we took our sweet time snubbing the $50 parking lots in favor of the $15 spots half a mile away).

After arriving at the stadium, we realized we couldn’t find our section.  We walked back and forth between 236 and 238, but section 237 started to feel like the 13th floor of a hotel…nonexistent.

A concerned stadium guide saw my baffled expression and asked which section we were looking for.  “Oh!” she said.  “You’re on the club level!  It’s one more flight up!”

Club Level?

I didn’t buy Club seats!  I am far too cheap for such extravagance.  But buying them without knowing I was being a spendthrift was too good to be true.

We walked inside and gaped at the difference — 75% fewer people, no lines for the bathroom, and a far greater selection of food and drink.  Then we found that our seats were a mere six rows back from the balcony, our view was stellar, and we were on the aisle.

The whole situation was beginning to feel like a winning lottery ticket covered in sprinkles and delivered by carrier pigeon with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing the Hallelujah Chorus in the background.

Without a doubt, the concert lived up to what we had hoped it would be.  I can’t believe I’m admitting this, but I actually cried — more than once.  I couldn’t get over our deep sense of gratitude, the beauty of the music, and the magic of seeing the greatest band on Earth.

Knowing exactly how cheesy it would sound, but unable to contain myself, I turned to Mike in the middle of the concert and said, “Merry Christmas!”

He just laughed and pulled me in for a hug, which is how we stood for the rest of the song.

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Switching Seats

As Mike and I boarded our plane for Cabo two weeks ago, we prepared ourselves for the battle to sit together.

I was 23A and he was 25F.  We thought that since neither of us was a middle seat, we had a pretty strong chance of someone trading.

When I arrived at my seat, however, it was already filled.  With a four-year-old.

I politely told the gentleman next to the boy that I was 23A.  He looked up at me with the most pleading eyes I’d seen since Mike last saw a puppy.

“Would you mind sitting across the aisle next to my wife?” he asks.  “We’re trying to seat the family together.”

That’s when I notice a six-year-old boy next to the four-year-old, and across the aisle a smiling woman and a two-year-old girl next to…my new empty seat.

“Sure!” I reply quickly.  “I totally understand.  In fact, we were trying to switch too.”  I said “were” because of course now I had zero chance of anyone trading with me to sit in day care.

Mike leans over to me and says, “Who cares? I’m going to ask somebody to switch you anyway.”

I exchange hello’s with the wife next to me, and five minutes later from behind me I hear, “BABE.  IT’S NOT GOING TO WORK.”

I look back to Mike’s row where two grim-faced elderly people made it perfectly clear that they had no intention of joining my row of potential screamers.  I decide to make the best of it.

The husband turns to me and asks if this is our first time to Cabo, and I tell him no, my husband has been many times.  His mouth falls open.

“Your husband?!”  he replies.  “Oh my gosh you must be newlyweds!  You look so young!”

“Actually we’re not,” I answer, because I get this reaction all the time.  “We’ve been married for three years, and I’m 26 years old.”

His whole demeanor changes.  “That’s fantastic!  We’ve been married five years and we come here every year!”

I look at the three children surrounding them and realize this couple has had three children in five years.  My mind reels.

“Oh and we’re pregnant so we have one more coming!” he adds.

Suddenly I felt the need to defend our lack of children.  This also happens often.

“Oh wow!  That’s amazing,” I tell them.  “We don’t have any kids yet…we’re just having too much fun!  I mean, once you have kids you can’t just jet off to Cabo…or…um…” I stop myself mid-sentence because jetting off to Cabo is exactly what they are doing — with 3.5 children.

The wife smiles at me and leans in to give sister-to-sister advice.  Suddenly I feel as if we’ve been friends for a decade and we’re discussing family matters over margaritas.

“You know what?” she says.  “Your kids are the ones joining your family.  You didn’t join theirs.  Once you have them, you have to keep living the way you want to, and they just come along for the ride.  You don’t suddenly lock yourself in your home and orbit around your kids.  Believe me, we are still loving our lives.”

I wanted to kiss her.  Or hug her very hard.  Her words were like a happy birthday present from Jesus straight to me.

I don’t discuss it often, but one of my biggest fears about having children is that my life will turn into a scene from The Shawshank Redemption — starring me as the prisoner.  I’ve just met too many moms who complain about how fun their life used to be.  But meeting this woman punched that notion out of my mind.  She’s right; Mike and I are going to continue to live our lives even if little people are in them.

…though it may be slightly more complicated; after all, they were carting approximately 57 pieces of luggage.

And then it dawned on me: my sister-in-love was doing the exact same thing.  She was meeting us in Cabo with her three kids.  She didn’t have to stay at home in single-digit temperatures to appease her kids; she packed her bikini and got on the plane.

The point was really driven home with her next question.

“And how long are you guys in Cabo?” she asked.

“A week,” I replied.  “And you?”

“Three weeks!”

Blink.  Blink blink.  You have to be kidding me.  This woman isn’t just my hero, she is officially my idol.

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