Before I get into my talk this morning, I’d like to try a little bit of visualization. If you feel comfortable, please close your eyes for a moment. I want you to think of someone who gets on your nerves. Someone other than me, Nina. Someone who gets on your nerves. Picture their face if you can. Hear the sound of their grating voice. Smell their obnoxious cologne. Or think of someone who’s been really rude to you, someone who hurt your feelings in some way. Imagine their stupid clothes and their stupid hair. What about that person you’re still having that same argument with in your mind over and over? How could they possibly be so obtuse? Seriously?
Alright, open your eyes. Now, take a deep breath and exhale all those negative images. But I do reserve the right to bring those folks up again later on.
Now, I want to recall for you an incident that I was a part of a couple of weeks ago. I knew immediately that it would end up being part of a Sunday talk. I just didn’t know in what context. I needed time to process it to figure out what the lesson was.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to pick up Subway sandwiches for the family. The Subway near my house is in the entrance to Food 4 Less. When I got there, I saw a man wheeling a grocery cart out of the store. He walked by the handicapped parking space right before I pulled into it.
When I got out of my car, he yelled something. I looked over and asked, “Are you talking to me?” And he said, “Yeah, fat man, you need to watch your driving!” I said, “Oh, really?” He said, “Yeah, you just zoomed right into that space.” I said, “Oh, I just zoomed right in, huh?” He said, “Yeah, fat man. Next time I might not be so nice.” I said, “This is you being nice?” He said, “Yeah, next time you might not be so lucky, fat man.” He kept yelling at me and I kept telling him that his behavior was over the top. At one point, I very calmly told him that this wasn’t about me, it was about him. Finally, I said, “You know, you’ve got a lot of growing up to do and not much time left to do it.” To which the silver-tongued devil replied, “You do.” Well, ‘brevity is the soul of wit’, as they say. Eventually, I said, “Ok, well, I hope you start having a better day.” And he countered, “I hope you do!” So, I said, “Thank you,” and walked into the store.
As I said, I knew that that was an extraordinary incident, and something from which I could draw a lesson. But, once again, I wasn’t completely sure what that lesson was.
One thing that was apparent to me is how differently I handled that circumstance from how I might have handled it in the past. There was a time when I would have gotten into a screaming match with him right there in the parking lot.
So, the fact that I remained outwardly calm was a victory. Maybe recognizing how I had grown emotionally was my lesson. Maybe it was a sort of cosmic graduation ceremony. But that just didn’t satisfy me.
I want to go back to part of my exchange for a moment. I said there was a point in the conversation when I told him, “You know, you’ve got a lot of growing up to do and not much time left to do it.” And I actually said those exact words. The reason I remember them so well is that I had rehearsed them. Those, in fact, were the words I wished I had said to the guy who yelled at me in front of the grocery store a few weeks earlier. I was actually carrying that around in my pocket. He just gave me the opportunity to use it.
But the reason I commented on his immaturity was not only him being a hot head, but specifically about his schoolyard taunt of calling me fat man.
Let’s put that in perspective. As an adult, childish insults like that don’t have a lot of effect on me. But he obviously thought that it would get to me, because he said it repeatedly.
Of course, he chose fat man because it was the first, most obvious thing. If I had been bald, he would have called me baldy or cue ball. Or if I was short, her would have called me shrimp, or pip squeak. Whatever he immediately recognized as a difference, he jumped on it.
He was angry. He felt I had challenged his manhood by getting too close to him in my car. So, he lashed out and tried to hurt me by calling me the first thing that came to mind when I got out of the car.
When I said that childish insult like that don’t affect me much, I mean that. It’s not like I didn’t know I’m heavy. But the words stuck with me. Words that are yelled at you repeatedly in a parking lot tend to do that.
And each time I went over the story in my head, searching for my lesson, I heard those words again and again. Fat man. Fat man. Fat man. And while I could recognize and appreciate how I had grown, there just didn’t seem to be a whole lot there. What was there, and what remained to be there, was those words, fat man.
And I finally realized that the lesson for me was to get back to taking care of my health. Fat man was the lesson. I could relive the incident a hundred times searching for some mystical, esoteric meaning, but it was always going to come back to fat man.
Before the pandemic, I decided that I need to work on my health. And a big part of that is losing weight. That’s something I decided that I wanted to do for myself. I dramatically changed my eating habits and began an exercise regimen. I lost 70 pounds, and received all the benefits that go along with that.
But then the pandemic hit. And, over time, I allowed the pandemic to become an excuse to slide back into my old habits. I got complacent about my eating and exercising. And a lot of the weight I lost, I found it again.
And so, the Universe, in its boundless wisdom, sent me a message, a loud, brash message. The message was, “Fat man.” And that message was heralded by someone who I have come to refer to as ‘The Food 4 Less Angel’.
He wasn’t wearing a halo and wings. He didn’t have a shining countenance, or even a clean t-shirt. But he was an angel, nonetheless.
Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” Our angels are among us. And we normally think of angels as being sweet and loving, but that’s not always the case. A story in the book of Genesis tells how Jacob wrestled with an angel that actually injured his leg.
I want to make clear that addressing my weight is something that I chose to do for me. I’m not here to preach to you about looking after your health. But it’s an issue for me because I chose it. And because I chose it, the Universe is going to help me deal with it.
We live in a loving Universe. And sometimes the Universe needs to express tough love. There’s a story of a Missouri farmer who went to buy a new mule. The stable owner brought him over to a huge mule and said, ‘Wilbur, here, is my finest mule. He’s smart and extremely strong. The thing is with Wilbur, you have to treat him with tender loving care. He’s quite sensitive. So, tender loving care is the only way to get through to him.” Then, the stable owner hooked Wilbur up to a plow to show him off. “Pull, Wilbur,” he said. But the mule didn’t move. Come on, Wilbur, good boy. Pull.” Nothing. “Come on, pretty boy. You can do it. You’re such a good boy.” The mule didn’t move. So the stable owner picked up a two-by-four and slammed it against the back of the mule’s head. The farmer said, “I thought you said you have to treat him with tender loving care.” “You do,” he said, “But you’ve got to get his attention first.”
The Universe wants to treat us with tender loving care. But sometimes, it has to get our attention first. In which case, it may send an angel to kick us in the shins.
Back in the early 90s, Rev. Mario went to a weekend workshop. The next week, he was talking about how horrible it was and about the abusive facilitator. I remember him saying that he wouldn’t send his worst enemy to that workshop. Well, it was a two-part workshop, so he completed the second weekend a month later.
After the second weekend, not only had he changed his mind about the workshop and its facilitator, but he was encouraging members of the congregation to go, and arranged for the church to provide partial scholarships.
That workshop was You and Money, facilitated by Maria Nemeth. I was among the first group to go, along with Bev, and several others who are no longer CCU regulars.
Maria’s method is to poke at you until she finds your buttons. And then she points them out for you to do with as you will. Let me be clear: she relentlessly needles you until she finds your breaking point. She’s like a dentist poking around in your mouth with a sharp instrument. She finds those soft spots and says, “Don’t you think you should work on that?”
It’s not fun.
But at the same time, it’s extremely transformative, if you’re willing to embrace it.
Our affirmation from today, ‘I am willing to accept coaching from wherever it comes,’ is a pledge that every participant is required to make at the beginning of the You and Money workshop.
Maria wisely begins that way in order to preempt some of the resistance she knows she’s going to encounter. Mario said he almost got kicked out. She had to stop the workshop and take him aside. The same thing nearly happened to me. I was pushing back so hard during my reaming that she asked me if I wanted my money back. I was within a whisker of saying yes.
And I thank God that something made me stay. I had one foot out the door, but thankfully I stayed.
Anyone who has taken You and Money will tell you its like being pulled through a knot hole. It’s uncomfortable. It’s difficult. It’s painful.
At the end of the second weekend session, we gathered in a circle to reflect on our shared experience. I took the opportunity to thank Maria for letting me hate her.
Maria was an angel—not an angel with shiny golden locks playing a harp. She was an angel with a blowtorch and sandpaper.
Maria was helping me recognize areas where I needed to grow. She was doing intentionally what the Food 4 Less Angel was doing out of ugliness. The only difference was intent.
Bottom line is intent doesn’t affect me. As Rev. Mario once said, “If somebody hits me on the head with a two-by-four, it hurts the same whether or not they did it on purpose.”
In the end, I can benefit either way, if I choose to.
The Food 4 Less Angel and the Angel Maria both came into my life to help refine me. They’re messengers of God. And they didn’t come to rub my head and tell me how precious and beautiful I am; they came to kick me in the butt. Sometimes angels come to rub your head and tell you how precious and beautiful you are; but that isn’t always what’s needed.
Sometimes, an angel needs to call you fat man.
Helping us to see our areas of stretch is one of the ways angels can help to refine us, to knock off our rough edges, if you will.
My Uncle John used to polish rocks as a hobby. He would go out and pull rocks from the stream behind his house. The rocks were pretty ordinary looking when he started.
Then he put them in a tumbler with some really coarse sand and left them tumbling for a day or so. The sand would knock off the roughest edges. Then he repeated the process a few more times with increasingly finer sand. In the end, the rocks were beautifully smooth and shiny.
We can allow our angels to do that for us—knock off the rough edges, and leave us smooth and shiny.
I want to back up to where we started now. I want to go back to those irritating, frustrating, maddening louts that we imagined at the beginning of our talk. Remember those people. I told you they’d be back. Guess what? They’re your angels.
Those people who make you climb the walls, who drive you to distraction, who make you want to pull out your hair by the fistfuls—angels. That person who always seems to be standing in your way, making things more difficult, perhaps forcing you to try harder or to show more focus—angel. The person who broke your heart and forced you to find the strength to start again—angel.
It’s easy to look at the challenging people in our lives and see them as the adversary. It’s not fun to be insulted or to be marginalized. Nobody wants to feel attacked or otherwise mistreated.
But if we are determined to look for the good in every situation, we can find a blessing there; and those challenging people become unintentional angels. It doesn’t matter whether or not they knew that they came to bless us.
I want to close with the illustration of the pearl and the oyster. You often hear that a pearl is formed when a grain of sand gets inside an oyster’s shell. Actually, it’s usually that a tiny parasite invades the oyster. A parasite is a creature that gets its energy by leeching off of its host. So, the parasite is stealing the oyster’s energy. In response, the oyster covers the parasite in a layer of calcium carbonate. Eventually, the layers of calcium carbonate build up and form a pearl.
We can do the same thing. Sometimes, people come into our lives and try to steal our thunder—they present themselves as parasites, of a sort. But we can choose to surround that other being, in this case with white light rather than calcium carbonate. We can see that person as an angel come to bring us a message. And then, instead of getting affected and infected by their actions, we can turn the situation into a precious gemstone.
In the end, it’s our choice. We can choose to find the blessing if we want to. All we have to do is decide that everyone who comes into our lives is an angel. Some of them have come to stroke our hair and say,
“Oh, you precious child of God,” and others come wearing a pair of army boots to kick us in the butt.
You said you were willing to accept coaching from wherever it comes. Did you mean it? I did. And in that regard, let me say, “God bless you, Food 4 Less Angel, wherever you are.”
Who’s your Food 4 Less Angel?