People often ask me why we are reading stories during Lent. Well, that’s not true. Nobody’s asked me, but it makes for a good lead for this blog post about my friend Tim. Our first Lent reading concerned the laundromat. Since then, we’ve done three more and tomorrow will be our final reading. You can explore the full text archives and a video here. Tim hasn’t attended any of the lunch time readings but he tore through the archives last week. Before moving to Flagstaff, AZ last year to work as a running coach and other related projects he was the Athlete in Residence at Downtown Church.On Sunday after tearing through the Lent reflection archives he determined to write an essay capturing his own Laundromat experience. It appears below, make sure you read it. Remember all the unnamed people who often ask me why we are going to all this trouble for simple stories? If they existed, Tim’s essay would be my defense.
The essays we wrote are focused on short episodes, small things, and simple people that will appear to be strangers to you. But what they lack in transcendence, they make up for in accessibility. They are sparse enough for you to find your own story in them. They are elementary enough to serve as a model. The stories belong to us, but in sharing them, they serve as an invitation for you to recall the simple, sparse, and elementary moments and people that witness God’s grace in your own life. If we don’t tell the story, these subtly provocative encounters with God will remain latent and impotent, right beside us, while we chase after the big, obvious, and extraordinary. God is as much “in here” as God is “out there”. We troubled ourselves to tell our stories, because we need you tell yours. If you have a story to share, you can use the contact form for now. Thanks Tim.
The Laundromat by Tim Jeffreys
I was eighteen years old the first time I washed my clothes. The first two decades of my existence consisted of me building piles of dirty clothes, throwing them in the laundry bin and hoping days later they would magically appear in my drawers. Somehow they always would. The laundry fairy was diligent in her pursuit to keep me the cleanest kid on the block.
Fortunately, as a college freshman, I was forced to learn the ways of the magical power wash and heated dry. It was not easy, and the inaugural visit to the laundromat in my college dormitory was definitely prolonged as long as possible. Eventually I conceded to the powers of Bounce and Tide with apprehension. All of my clothes were dirty. They needed to be washed. There was no way I could ask the cute girl in math class out to dinner with a coffee stain on my shirt.
I was worried as I strolled into the laundromat with my overflowing clothes hamper. My fears quickly dissolved when the first quarter was inserted into the machine. As I threw my clothes in for the first time, I remembered thinking “so this is really happening, I’m doing my own laundry.” That was a big moment for me. I had been living on my own for about two weeks but it was not until then that it occurred to me that this was real life. From this point on my life was never going to be the same. A little over an hour later, I emerged victorious, conquering my fears that I would have to buy a new wardrobe because the scary monsters inside of the dryer shrunk all of my clothes.
What is so daunting about washing clothes? The act of putting your clothes in a machine followed by a few quarters is innocuous. For me, what it represented was much more meaningful than the act itself – it signified a new era in my life. The previous eighteen years I relied on someone else for tasks such as washing clothes. However, starting now, I was being thrown into an unknown world. A world where my clothes were not automatically washed and where food was not prepared for me daily. It was strange, yet exciting.
I got better. My folding skills improved. My knowledge of fabric softeners expanded. Even though I have yet to iron a shirt in my life – I will do so with no fear (someday). While I was struggling, some of my friends went home to do their laundry. They came back with ironed shirts and perfectly scented jeans while I was wearing one large wrinkle on my chest with different color socks because they got dyed when I washed them with my towels. I could not have been happier. I had done it myself. From the simple act of putting the quarters in the machine to beating out the guy on the fifth floor for the last dryer, a change had come. It was my first tangible step towards independence.
The eighteen year old mind is fragile and easily altered. It needs to be nurtured and cultivated in a way that is counter intuitive. Less is more. Independence cannot be learned, for it is something only acquired through experience. It is something only acquired by washing your own clothes.