I wish I couldn't say it. I wish it wasn't true of me. But I am so guilty of judging people on appearances. At a very young age, I noticed things like, "If pictures of Jesus had long hair, then why is it a sin for a boy to have long hair?" or "Why does a female have to wear a dress to church? What if she doesn't own anything decent enough to be considered 'Sunday clothes' (as a friend of mine didn't)?" So from early on, I questioned basing people on just appearances... at least sometimes.
However, though questioning the status quo was something I have done my entire life, it took a while to realize that I was still judging people. I remember looking down on fellow church members because they weren't there every Sunday. I remember feeling superior to a friend who had parents who were divorced and they lived in an apartment. I remember finding out that a school-mate was Catholic and thinking that was just plain crazy (didn't she know the "truth" about God?).
Even the phrase, "But for the grace of God, there go I," is actually judgmental, as you are assuming with that phrase that the grace of God doesn't extend to that person, which makes you better than him/her.
Maybe my questioning eventually helped me get past, at least a little, how incredibly judgmental I tend to be. But at this stage of my life and because of what I've recently been through, I am seeing things I have never noticed before.
This thought hit me yesterday when I was at a food pantry, trying to get something to contribute to my household since I'm not able to work at the moment. I saw a sweet woman with a big smile with very greasy hair. In the past, I would have noticed her hair more than her smile, but this time, it was different.
You see, even after I lost my job I kept buying the things I always assumed everyone has in their houses... until I started really, really struggling financially.
If you've read my blog for any length of time, you know that I live with my daughter and my parents. When I first moved in, I was able to give them something towards the utilities and I helped buy some food. To be honest, the only way I was able to do that at the time was my heavy reliance on 0% credit cards.
I know; I know... I shouldn't have been racking up more debt in my situation. Here is where the tiny optimistic part of my brain was my downfall. My ex-husband owes me a LOT (and I mean, a LOT) of money for back child support. He has been "about to sell his house so he could pay me back" for several years now. For some reason, I thought that this time it would actually happen. The years before this period were rough financially, but this time I really, really, really needed for it to happen. What I owed on credit cards was about what he owed me. As long as I stayed in that range, I felt I would be okay.
That was... until the 0% offers stopped coming. He was actually no closer to selling his house and paying me back. I couldn't play the game anymore. 25+% interest adds up quickly. I started panicking.
Thankfully, my part-time job at the time was next door to a financial advisor. He used our services so I got to know him. One day I asked if there was any way he could help me with my situation.
His suggestion was the last thing I ever dreamed of - he suggested I declare bankruptcy. As one who had always before paid off debts and made payments on time, I couldn't imagine doing it. But he explained that bankruptcy was actually set up for people like me - those who had unexpected job losses, a lot of medical bills, and no child support to help with expenses.
I thought about it for a while, prayed about it, talked to others, and did a lot of research on my own. Finally, I came to the conclusion he had - it made the most sense.
So, I started the paperwork to file for bankruptcy. I had to stop using credit cards completely. Back when I worked a regular job, I paid off my credit cards in full every month. I thought it was essentially the same thing as using a debit card. I always kept the total spent less than my paycheck.
What I didn't realize was that this system still gives you a little bit of leeway. You don't have to have the money in hand to go on and buy something - you know you'll have it in a day, or a week, or at least by the due date. I also didn't realize how much I had come to rely on that "little bit of leeway."
Now I can't buy anything if the money isn't in the bank. My lowest point came when one day, I got low on gas while I was across town doing rideshare. For some reason I let it slip by me and there was a stark realization when I figured out that I didn't have enough gas to get home and no money in my bank account to buy some. With Lyft you can cash out any time with a $.50 fee, but I had only done one Lyft ride that pay period, like a $2.50 ride, not enough to make a difference. I prayed I would get another Lyft ride and thankfully I did. After that ride, I cashed out and bought enough gas to drive home.
Anyway, it was around this time I started really watching what I bought. I've never been a big spender and I've always been on the frugal side, but I had to ramp it up. I ran out of conditioner and I decided it wasn't necessary so I didn't replace it. Please don't think I'm gross, but I decided it would make my shampoo go further (and have a lower water bill), if I only took a bath every other day, unless I really needed it. (Did you know that baby powder works as a cheap dry shampoo? It's become my friend.) Bathroom sinks don't need fancy cleaners when you have water and a washcloth. I started rationing my "coffee" (Diet Dr Pepper) and limited myself to at the most one a day. I also had to be frugal with doctor and therapist appointments - if it wasn't necessary, I canceled.
Back to the theme of this post and what I realized yesterday - about judgment. I grew up lower-middle class. We didn't have much, but we always had the basics. In the past, I would have assumed that the woman I saw at the food pantry was lazy or depressed and had let her hygiene go. Now I know that it's very possible she can't afford the water bill for daily baths, or maybe for shampoo.
I know because I've been there. Will my experience make me completely stop judging? Probably not, as I've done it for so long. But I pray when I start to judge someone based on appearances, I'll stop and remember that not only "But for the grace of God, there [could] go I," I have been there and though it's tough, it's not the worst place to be.