April 2011


Last night I was at work until 11pm. Planning to take this morning off, I woke up at 7:30am to drag myself to the DMV in order to pick up my registration stickers. (It has be a miracle that I haven’t received a ticket yet. My tags expired in February. A miracle. Well, maybe not, considering I’m a White woman who drives a car only 6 years old.) I finally passed the smog test on Tuesday, and the guy who helped me out said that although they were sending in the paperwork electronically, I could pick my tags up sooner if I went to the DMV in person. Not wanting to press my luck, I did so. But not without stopping at my favorite local coffee shop, Primera Taza, on the way.

I spent the majority of my time studying for the NCLEX-RN last summer in this coffee shop. Newly arrived to Boyle Heights and under the stress of passing (what I hope will be) the biggest test of my life, I sought out the familiarity of a coffee shop.

The man who owns Primera Taza is a community organizer extraordinaire. Juan started the Boyle Heights Farmer’s Market last summer, is opening a second coffee shop in South LA, started a community center, and knows pretty much everyone in BH. He gave me a contact at White Memorial when I was applying for their New Grad Nursing Program. He gave my housemate and I free T-shirts. He has offered to help out my church’s high school youth group in any way possible. He is an amazing networker. Juan wasn’t working at the shop this morning, but I asked the girl who was if she had been to the Lincoln Heights DMV. She hadn’t.

Off I went, contemplating the variety of experiences I might be having in a matter of minutes. This would be my first trip to the DMV alone. I had done my research – if Yelp-ing the DMV was considered research. On the website plenty of people complained about the time they had to wait, but one of the most recent comments was that the attractive staff made this patron’s hour-long wait better. ‘Ugh’, I thought. So when I arrived I, of course, scouted out the staff to follow up on this stranger’s comment. No attractiveness out of the ordinary, it seemed.

I collected my ticket and plopped down next to a young man in his twenties who appeared to be of mixed race, wearing a black hat, ear buds in place, playing a game on his iPhone. Behind me and to the left was a Latina woman in her thirties keeping her 4 year-old son occupied by tickling him – the kid had a GREAT laugh. I only saw one other White person. The room was pretty full but I only waited half an hour, content reading The Connected Child for a book discussion group on adoption hosted by Project Hope at Grace EV Free. I have 3.5 more chapters to read by Monday.

After only a few minutes of waiting, I realized that I was having a pleasant feeling. ‘Okay, what is that…’ I’m trying to become better at reading my emotions. I almost laughed – I was enjoying my experience at the DMV! Wha?! I realized that I felt connected, a sense of community, with the other people who were waiting. We were all there with the same sort of purpose – get in, get out. We were all there waiting – stuck, powerless. We were all there with expectations – to wait a long time, to deal with rude and impatient people. I smiled to myself. It felt good to be able to relate, to be in the same boat with strangers. We all have to go through this.

My ticket was called and Patricia at window #5 informed me that my stickers had already been sent out and I wasn’t able to pick them up in person. She explained that if I were to be pulled over the cop would be able to see that I had paid for my tags. She was cordial and friendly, not the exhausted and emotionless worker I expected. I thanked her by name and left.

I wasn’t disappointed. I felt full in a way I hadn’t experienced before. I hadn’t expected to feel a sense of community in the DMV lobby, or to hear a child’s rich laugh, or to have someone nice help me. I love that the Holy Spirit meets me in unexpected places. And I feel as if I know a little more about what it means to be human.

Confession #1: I have an aversion to Christian fiction.

I didn’t used to – my favorite book series in middle school was Adventures in the Northwoods, I was proud of owning most of the Mandie collection, and I adored the short-lived TV series Christy.

Confession #2: Actually, I still have a soft spot for Christy

But along the way, books or films that were labeled “Christian” became synonymous to me with “cheesy”, “poorly done”, and “cliché”. That we consider any work of art “Christian” is something we should also address – for more on that, visit my friend Matt’s blog post.

So whenever a Christian novel becomes popular I immediately resolve that it isn’t worth my time to read. Some of my college girlfriends can attest that I was never persuaded to read Redeeming Love. I just couldn’t. do. it.

But when a housemate whose taste in books I admire said that he enjoyed The Shack and encouraged me to read it, I began to have second thoughts. And when I spotted the book on another friend’s bookshelf and she offered to let me borrow it, I shamefully smuggled it home in my purse.

Confession #3: I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised.

I’m no literary critic – practically the opposite – but I can tell you that I enjoyed it and I learned a lot. I don’t think it was superbly written, and I could usually tell where it was leading, but I appreciated what seemed to be the purpose behind the book: that God desires for us to be as whole as possible here on earth.

While some Christians may have severe critiques of the book, I choose to focus more on the process and less on the content. The book reminded me that God is wholly other than what I could possibly imagine him to be; that his grace supersedes any of my good intentions and self-righteous sacrifices. I was reminded that God is about relationship; I appreciated seeing God as three diverse individuals interacting with each other and the main character. My perception of God was changed to see him a little bit closer and more connected. It sounds trite, but because I’ve struggled with legalism for most of my life, this was freeing.

So next time a ‘Christian’ novel becomes big, I’ll take a little more time evaluating whether it’s worth reading or not. My aversion is beginning to lessen.

One of my favorite quotes:

“Mack wasn’t convinced. ‘But don’t you want us to set priorities? You know: God first, then whatever, followed by whatever?’

‘The trouble with living by priorities,’ Sarayu spoke, ‘is that it sees everything as a hierarchy, a pyramid, and you and I already had that discussion. If you put God at the top, what does that really mean and how much is enough? How much time do you give me before you can go on about the rest of your day, the part that interests you so much more?’

Papa again interrupted. ‘You see, Mackenzie, I don’t just want a piece of you and a piece of your life. Even if you were able, which you are not, to give me the biggest piece, that is not what I want. I want all of you and all of every part of you and your day.’

Jesus now spoke again. ‘Mack, I don’t want to be first among a list of values; I want to be at the center of everything. When I live in you, then together we can live through everything that happens to you. Rather than a pyramid, I want to be the center of a mobile, where everything in your life – your friends, family, occupation, thoughts, activities – is connected to me but moves with the wind, in and out and back and forth, in an incredible dance of being.’

‘And I,’ concluded Sarayu, ‘I am the wind.’ She smiled hugely and bowed.”

The Shack, page 206-207