Every February I host a Valentine’s brunch where I ask my guests to show up, eat my favorite baked goods and bring something in return for a women’s shelter: nail polish, makeup, socks, lotion, conditioner – any beauty item they choose. And not leftovers or things they do not like, but things that could make someone feel new and pretty again. It is a simple thing – emails to my friends and co-workers but it is one thing I look forward to hosting every year and almost do not mind picking up my house for. I certainly don’t mind buying 4 kinds of creamer, bacon and every kind of scone. There are no committees or sponsors or stress. It is totally unofficial, I have simply dropped off the items afterwards. People come. They bring their daughters. There is no speech or sales pitch or request for money, we just eat and laugh and our kids play outside. It has sparked conversation after conversation and it amazes me how people want to help and do things and donate but are often unsure how or where to start. To that I say, it starts with nail polish (and maybe a mimosa or two). I wrote the post below six years ago…and this morning the picture showed up on my Timehop. I can’t help but repost.
A while back I painted my daughter’s toenails for the first time. I know she is just a baby but I couldn't resist those little pink piggies. As soon as I set her and her new pink toes down on the ground she literally pranced around, beaming, and just stared at her sassy new toes. At 15 months old she already seemed to know what a fresh coat of paint can do for a girl.
Many spring breaks ago, the kind before kids, I went to Atlanta. I had a friend there doing some inner city mission work and I wanted to have my own pretend mission trip to the week. I played with kids after school. I filed paperwork. I painted a house. I ate some really good food. Stayed up late talking. On my last full day I went to a Women’s Shelter and met a women named Constance. She went every Thursday and told her story and then painted toes. And it may have been the best thing I did all week. Here is what I remember about that day:
Constance met me at the car. She was fifty or sixtyish African American woman who you did not want to mess with. She was dressed simply and elegantly. I suddenly felt a bit underdressed in my jeans and t-shirt. On the ride to the shelter she briefed me on what to expect. The kinds of people I would see. What to do if someone asked me for money. I was pretty nervous about what to do when I got there. These days I am well versed in how to behave at a shelter or homeless park, but this was my first trip. I was unsure how to engage these women in conversation, unsure how to love on them without pity.
The inside of the facility is really nice and it is kind of hard to tell the difference between the women working there and the ones living there. I am not ready to see all the kids. And they break my heart. They are cute and clean and missing front teeth and playing and totally normal. And homeless. And bruised –either on the outside or on the inside. The women are talking in groups, listening to their cd players, picking out clothes for interviews and playing cards until Constance began to talk and sing. Then some of the women begin to listen. Others just carry on their conversations louder and crank up their music. But the crowd starts to grow and a few people began to notice the tubs of nail polish sticking out from under the table.
Constance finishes up her story and you can tell a few women are really getting it. Because you see she had been here. In their very shoes. With sore and tired feet.
And then it is my turn. I am supposed to give pedicures to anyone who wants one.
I have a small plastic tub to soak tired feet in, some lotion and about a dozen assorted colors. Alice. A six year old with thick braids and a toothless grin is my first customer. She wants each nail a different color and I oblige while a line grows.
Before Alice I don't think I had ever painted anyone’s toenails before...except mine and I am really bad at it. Spots of pink end up on skin in addition to nails, but no one seems to complain. After Alice, I do about a dozen or so grown up feet.
Some of them are really gross. They smell and are rough and tired and yellowed and aching. Just like these women and so I smile while I lotion and rub them.
But I have to try and not think about it and breathe through my nose because these feet are so bad from living on the streets in the same pair of socks day after day.
As I soak and rub I wonder what the apostles feet must have looked and smelled like. And I paint toe after toe and wish that I was better at it. Because these women deserve something good. I take my time and try and paint a little love and warmth and encouragement into each toe. I know that painting toenails wasn't a very practical service. I wasn't feeding or clothing or training these battered and bruised women. But Constance was on to something. For at least a few minutes that day these women got to feel normal instead of afraid. Beautiful instead of bruised. Seen and cared for instead of invisible. Hopefully after we left they felt a little bit prettier and ready to take on the day with a fresh coat of nail polish and a clean pair of socks. Because sometimes, that's really all a girl needs, no matter how old you are.
In all the ways I have gone small...my friend Rhonda has gone big. Watch this video and check out her event http://choosecourage.org/