School Lunches (and the Path of Liberation)

In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott says that, if you’re not sure what to write, you can start with school lunches.

And so today I am remembering the sound of crinkling brown bags, and the insecurity of youth. Lunch was a litmus test. Would you fit in? Were you acceptable?

Lunch at College

Lunchtime at Vassar (much less stress)

I remember being harangued in elementary school having whole-grain bread on my sandwiches when white bread was all the rage.

One girl would say, “Ew, what are those weird things in your bread? Are they bugs?!” She was referring to sunflower seeds, but it was pointless to explain. She was going to make fun of me, and I was going to writhe in humiliation.


My school lunches — and my family — were ‘unusual’. When I started packing lunch, I brought what I ate at home: a salad, with an apple and whole-grain crackers and real cheese and turkey pepperoni. It was food that made me happy, and also self-conscious.

It wasn’t a safe bet like a sandwich, or the cafeteria’s hamburger and fries. It was different, and therefore suspect. (Nowadays, my lunches would seem even ‘weirder’ and healthier too. Viva the Whole30!)

So even though I ate with friends, I kept my food inside its brown bag. I would assemble bite-size mouthfuls ‘under cover’, then quickly pop them into my mouth, as though people couldn’t judge me if they didn’t see the food. (Yes, this was almost as neurotic as having an outfit calendar.)

It sounds silly now, but those of you who remember middle school and high school with any kind of honesty can understand. Socially speaking, it was all about judgment. Did you measure up, or were you too ‘weird’ to be accepted?

But I grew tired of being so timid, and one day, I took my lunch out of the brown bag for all to see.


After that, an interesting thing happened. Another girl who sat at our table started bringing … salad, whole grain crackers, cheese, and turkey pepperoni. I was all astonishment. The lunch I’d feared was ‘uncool’ was actually being copied. Not just accepted, but imitated.

The veil had lifted. In that moment, I realized how arbitrary and ridiculous it all was. We feared other people’s criticism and tried to be ‘normal’, but in reality, everyone was longing for acceptance. The people we were trying to impress were trying to impress us.

So what if we just gave ourselves permission to be who we were?


Laughing together

Sharing wild laughter, the best ‘currency’ there is

If you’re struggling with how others perceive your choices, remember school lunches and take heart. If you feel self-conscious about, say, admitting that you love hanging out with your friends with special needs, listening to Fleetwood Mac, and re-reading Jane Eyre for the thousandth time, know that you’re not alone.

Beautiful things happen when you stop trying to ‘get it right’ and start being yourself. A weight lifts as you release the burden of trying to please everyone. You’re liberated. You get to laugh, and take yourself less seriously. And you free up others to do the same.

As is said in Almost Famous, “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we’re uncool.” We can’t connect with one another while we’re trying to be what we’re not.

But when we meet each other as we are? Magic can happen.


What was in your school lunches? Join the conversation in the comments!


5% of proceeds from the first month’s sales of my new Kindle* Single, I Was a Stranger to Beauty (ThinkPiece Publishing), go to support the vital work of L’Arche DC. The month is almost up, so be sure to get your copy today!

*If you don’t have a Kindle, don’t worry! You can read Kindle books with Amazon’s (free) Kindle Cloud Reader.

AWCC Around the Web:

Upcoming speaking engagements – if you’re in the area(s), I’d love to see you there!

  • Florence Lauderdale Public Library, Sunday, February 24, 2013, 2-3pm
  • Living Spirit Church, Florence, AL, Sunday, March 3, 1:30pm
  • Redeemer Presbyterian, Florence, AL, Sunday, March 10, 10:30am
  • Faith Inclusion Network, That All May Worship Conference, Norfolk, VA, Friday-Saturday, March 14-15

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Commitment Is (Not) For The Birds, Or, Show Up and See What Happens

Sometimes, it’s all too much!

I’m going to tell you a secret: I don’t always feel like showing up to write posts every week.

Much as I love to write, sometimes, I just don’t feel the love. My mind kicks in with complaints: “Again? Can’t I skip it?!”

Often, I feel resistance because I’m scared to write about what’s most alive in me, but other times, I just want to play hooky from the written word. And I have a feeling that it’s true for you, too. It can be hard to summon the dedication it takes to do certain tasks regularly.

Much as you love your kids, sometimes you want to fall asleep instead of getting them ready for bed.

Much as you love your sport, sometimes you want to go out with friends instead of practicing.

Much as I love to write, sometimes I’d rather watch Parenthood and eat almond butter straight from the jar.

But here’s the crazy thing: we show up anyway.

You get them ready each night and tuck them in tenderly.

You lace up your running shoes and move through your workout.

I compose, keeping to my posting schedule.

And we deserve credit for that.

Yes, everyone needs a break now and then. (I allow myself to miss a post or two when I’m on vacation.) There is value in leaving tasks undone. And yet there’s also tremendous value in commitment.


An ‘ordinary’ caregiving moment that captured my heart.

When I was a direct-care assistant at L’Arche, I noticed something remarkable: assistants showed up for routines. Day in and day out, we the caregivers dragged ourselves out of bed in the morning. Yes, it was hard, but it was made easier by the absence of choice. We didn’t give ourselves the option of not doing our routines (and, come to think of it, neither did Medicaid).

If we didn’t show up, beloved people didn’t get care … and that simply wasn’t a possibility. When an assistant did miss a routine, we could be fairly certain that they were either sick in bed or stuck in traffic, that they physically couldn’t be there. We were committed to the core members and to one another, and we proved that by showing up … even if it meant coming downstairs in pajamas.


L’Arche showed me how much consistency matters in caregiving. In fact, consistency makes a crucial difference in everything we do. For example, I have a commitment to work on my forthcoming book first thing each workday. I don’t give myself the option of working on other projects or checking email until I’ve spent an absolute minimum of one hour on that book.

But even though writing books is what I have always done and always wanted to do, I still have to coax myself at times. I say, gently, “I know you’d rather be checking Facebook, but that’s just not an option right now. You promised to put in one hour, and it will go by so fast once you start.” Starting is always half the battle.

Some days, I’ll put in the minimum and move on. Other times, I’ll look at the clock to find that two hours have flown by. And that’s the beautiful secret of commitment: when you show up, magic can happen.


Sign on a church, Alabama.

There’s a mysterious correlation between the difficulty in showing up and the likelihood of magic happening. Days when I have to push myself to work on my book often yield the greatest progress in my writing. And some of the L’Arche routines that I would have rather skipped gave me the best surprises. Showing up regularly can be hard, but it brings its own rewards. When you show up for what really matters, you get … what really matters.

When you show up for your kids, you get to be present to the people you love the most.

When you show up for your sport, you get to give the best of what you have and become better.

When I show up for posts, I get to do what I love and connect with amazing people (you!)

And when you keep showing up, you start to see how it all fits together … even the pieces you thought weren’t a part of the puzzle at all. As it turns out, even my Parenthood habit isn’t separate from my writing life. (This week’s edition of my Leaving Normal column will reflect on Parenthood‘s portrayal of a special needs family.)

If you show up, you’re available for alchemy … ready to see ‘ordinary’ days transformed into extraordinary ones.


What are some of your most important commitments?

Join the conversation in the comments!


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“Enthusiasm is more important to mastery than innate ability, it turns out, because the single most important element in developing an expertise is your willingness to practice.” – Gretchen Rubin