It was August 1988 and I was a couple of months from my 14th birthday. I was starting high school in a new place and feeling all of the apprehension and nervousness one might expect. My insecurity focused on my status as a late bloomer. The incredulous remarks questioning if I was old enough to be entering high school had begun. I had not officially entered puberty and I had never been kissed.
The only excuse I have for what happened next was an adolescent brain and ill guided advice. My best friend, also a Jennifer, decided the cure for my anxiousness was to make me feel more like a woman with something we could control--getting me kissed. (I know. I am cringing still 26 years later.) Jennifer had a plan & I jumped on board as co-conspirator. She set her sights on an unsuspecting neighbor, then invited him over to her house that afternoon to hang out.
Later that night we stuffed our beds and snuck out to his front yard down the street. (This is why my home has door chimes enabled on the alarm, kids.) We giggled as we threw rocks at his window until he came outside. I can still feel the nervous adrenaline of walking around the neighborhood awkwardly talking about nothing, exhilarated by our taste of rebellion. Then, under a lamp post at the corner of his street he kissed me.
Our mission was complete. We giggled all the way home. Back in Jennifer's room I stared in the mirror trying to see if I looked any different. Had I been legitimized as a young woman? I certainly didn't feel changed. I marked 'first kiss' off my mental list of teen experiences and never saw him again.
It wasn't his fault. He called me--several times actually. I wasn't interested. I had an agenda and it had been accomplished. (As a Mom of boys, this too makes me cringe.) So over the next several days as he called my home--this was 1988, landlines only and no caller ID--I made it my mission to avoid having to speak to him.
My initial strategy was simply to not answer the phone. My mother found this ridiculous and the incessant ringing annoying, so she would generally answer. She made it clear that she did not support my dishonesty, so when I spat out a panicked, "If it is him, tell him I am not home" I got a disapproving look and the reply. "I will not lie for you."
The resulting strategy was to make my "not being home" a truth. Any time the phone rang I would dart out the back door--I can still hear the slamming of the brown wooden screen door behind me as I made my escape. With my heart pounding and my back against the brick exterior of my childhood home, I strained to hear my mother's voice in the distance.
"I'm sorry, she's outside."
As the kitchen phone clicked back into the cradle I would reemerge. With a sigh and a shaking head, Mom would report who had called. Sometimes it was him--other times a friend I would quickly call back. Just typing this caused me to deliver the same familial sigh and head shake 27 years later. What silly wasted energy!
The story is entertaining and excusable because I was immature and cowardly at 13 years old. I would like to think things have changed, but I was recently thinking about the propensity in all of us to avoid calls.
We are slicker now, with caller ID, voicemail, texting, etc. but the temptation towards avoidance is still there. Literally, I have felt it over the last few weeks as I have attempted to wrangle volunteers for Vacation Bible School. Figuratively I have felt it as hard news of current events has come across my twitter feed, my news pages, my television screen. Personally I have felt it as there have been stirrings in my heart about issues in my community and my relationships.
It is not the sound of an old fashioned ring tone these days that sends me scurrying and making excuses, it is the stirring in my soul, the quiet whisper, the gulp, the gnawing sense that I should answer, respond--even if it is just to speak the truth of my disinterest or fear. Honesty is always more courageous than avoidance.
Since I have started paying attention to it, I can almost literally hear the screen door of my heart slamming as I make my excuses and scurry out of ear shot. Although these days my avoidance comes in more clever forms like making myself busy with respectable tasks like purging closets, family time or "getting my life together." As I hide from a call I rehearse my excuses and fluff the pillows of my comfortable life.
My objections are not always excuses. Sometimes they are legitimate, wise, prayed through Nos. Every call isn't from the Lord and every ask doesn't deserve a yes. I just want to learn to be truthful about my heart. To honestly evaluate, even when I am scared and risk being inconvenienced--to answer according to what Love would have me do instead of comfort.
I want to be one that makes a practice of running toward a life of service and love instead of running away to protect my self interests.
I don't want to fall prey to the lie that the point of this life is comfort, safety and ease. I want to point to be Him. Ironically, the avoidance tactic often leaves us fearfully breathing heavy in our cramped hiding space instead of stepping out with shaky knees into the sunshine of a deeper more meaningful life.