Naked Lady, Atlanta Airport

At the Atlanta airport yesterday I was sitting at a burger joint finishing up my meal when I heard a commotion and curiously looked up from my plate. To my surprise, there was a completely stark naked woman strolling down Delta’s B Concourse. She was screaming as she walked. Walked, not ran.

Call it instinct, but I was ready to hit the floor because in this day and age you never know what a commotion in an airport might mean for your safety. I expected to hear a thud or a thump signifying that airport security had intervened and were in the process of detaining her. I heard nothing but her continuous rant as she strolled on past our point of visibility.

Somewhere in graduate school I learned that laughter is one of people’s go-to responses when they are uncomfortable. It’s why you see television captions read, “nervous chuckle” when there’s a depiction of someone in an uncomfortable situation. So, it’s no surprise that as the scene transpired, my lunch bunch all turned to each other wide-eyed and open mouthed…and laughed.

We laughed at the incredulity of the situation. We laughed at the lack of urgency with which airport personnel seemed to be escorting this woman.

As we gathered our things and exited the restaurant, we cringed as we watched people’s reactions throughout the concourse. It became clear to us that this woman was allowed to walk a pretty far distance judging by the faces of people around us, snippets of conversation, and people huddling around phones in little pockets as we walked.

By the time we were seated at our gate, we laughed in disbelief that apparently, this woman walked the entire concourse. My main question was, “How in the world did they allow her to get so far???”

I attended Orange Conference 2017 (#OC17) this week with a team from my church; we were on our way home when this little incident took place. One of the main things I think we as people wonder in situations like this is, “Why?”

The way we figure out why in our society today is the internet. We soon discovered that the proper terminology to search online was, “Naked Lady Atlanta Airport.”

Sure enough, people had begun posting what they witnessed.

The video that came up showed this woman as she was disrobing in the middle of the walkway, her clothes and purse strewn around her. The video had about 3 seconds of R rated material before you saw a woman and man rush to bend down and pick up articles of clothing and attempt to hand them back to her. They both stood shoulder to shoulder, cocked their heads to the side and seemed to try and engage the woman as she continued to rant.

The conference theme this year was, “For Our Neighbors,” a plea for ministry leaders to approach not just ministry within the church being neighbor-minded, but to approach the rest of their lives with that mindset as well.

When the video ended, I realized that of course, I had not gained any more information about, “Why” this woman was causing a scene. I did however get a real life picture of what brokenness looks like. Then I got a real life picture of what being, for your neighbor truly meant. For that woman and that man it meant engaging in someone else’s mess and simply seeing if there is anything that can be done. It meant standing shoulder to shoulder in that endeavor, because you can’t do ministry alone. Standing shoulder to shoulder because when you do that, you also help shield that person’s mess from exploitation.

When that woman (prayerfully) regains her faculties, she’s going to be grateful for the people that stood shoulder to shoulder and blocked her mess from being broadcast, at least from that one camera phone.

As a student ministry leader I was convicted by two strangers in an airport who leaned in to a woman’s very public struggle. There was probably not a lot they could offer to the situation, but they offered what they could and in that 30 second video clip, it was enough.

Being neighbor-minded isn’t glamorous but it’s what Jesus called us to do. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve got work to do in that area.

Uncommon Insecurity

Middle Schoolers are weird and I love it.   Insecurity, self worth and body image are rampant issues as a rule.  My youth group traveled to BigStuf summer camp the other day in Panama City; it was there that I had the opportunity to engage in a conversation with a student who seemed to struggle with insecurities that were very much opposite to that of her peers.  I ended up giving her what seemed to be a reverse pep talk.  First time for everything.

Where I am very used to encouraging 6, 7 and 8th graders to be confident in who they are even through the awkward teenage stages and to overcome the feelings that they are ugly or too skinny or too fat and all the usual teenage insecurities; I found myself face to face with an 8th grader who was not in fact awkward and whose peers could not keep their eyes off of her, not because of her gawkiness, but because of her natural beauty.

Racially ambiguous, flawless skin, petite figure, stylish fashion sense, a welcoming smile…this kid has a lot going for her when it comes to the outward appearance alone; that’s all before getting to her fun personality and sense of humor.

“I just feel like everyone is always looking at me, trying to figure out what I am.  And I’m like humble and stuff…so I don’t really know like…what to do…” she explained.

Well what do I say to that? The usual, “you’re beautiful because you are God’s creation “doesn’t really apply here.  Neither does the, “Your body is going through an awkward stage…hang in there and you’ll grow out of it,” speech.

This is where I’m thankful that as a Small Group Leader, you can never get too much help or too much training.  One of the authors that helped write the book Lead Small gave taught an hour long leader training at summer camp this year.  In the session, one of the things he said that stuck out to me was, “Change is not an option, but how you respond to it is. You can either ignore it and drift nowhere, hold on and let it drive you where you don’t want to go, or make an adjustment so you can move in the right direction.”

So here I am standing next to this frustrated 8th grader and it hits me, she’s struggling with how other people are treating her regarding her appearance and it is effecting her feelings and the way she views life.  The way that she is letting other people effect her is the same way that we as humans get bent out of shape when change happens.  But just like we must learn to accept that change is not an option, she has to learn that her God given beauty is not an option either.  She can’t change the fact that people are going to double take when she walks down the street and she can’t change the fact that people are going to want to know what combination of races created her gorgeous skin tone, eye color and the placement of her cheekbones.

She has the option to ignore it and just drift through life, miserable.  Or she can hold on to the discomfort and anger she feels and let it drive her somewhere she does not want to go in life. Or, she can make an attitude adjustment so that she will be moving in the right direction.

After getting through that whole thought process, I was at least able to use the classic ending of, “You just do you no matter what,” but it was really interesting to see how different people struggle through those young years regardless of whether you are considered pretty or awkward.

At the end of the day we all have to come to the conclusion that we are going to be in charge of our attitude about things that happen in life and the ways in which we react to them.  There may be a different journey to that conclusion for all of us, but we get there nonetheless.

Through that one conversation with one student I saw the importance of being open to establishing community with a student and building relationships.  That one conversation was the only time I talked with that student during the week. Every other time we crossed paths it was simply in passing, but the foundation is there and the door is always open.  That’s when “leading small” gets big.