I’ve constantly struggled throughout my life at having to do something a particular way because folks told me there was only one way I could do it.

Since middle school, I’ve dug in my heels on plenty of hills of resistance, starting with any math teacher who ever stood before me.  To a kid who hated numbers, my eighth-grade algebra instructor was the stuff of adolescent nightmares.

For a type of eternity only a 13-year-old can know, I tried for a year to stay out of his sight, attempting in vain to blend in with the cheap linoleum floor and painted concrete walls.

Perhaps it was the attention-seeking haircut, overly ripped jeans and a pair of Converse so abused that copious amounts of duct tape were required to hold them together that made this endeavor difficult? I imagine my first expletive-laced sincere prayer was released as an inaudible whisper during class.

Every petition I lifted up through clenched teeth for momentary invisibility went unheard, leaving me called upon time and time again to come forward and show my peers how I achieved the answer to the previous evening’s homework assignment.

“Come on down, Mr. Cox. Let’s see what you came up with,” his authoritative voice would say.

Chewing broken glass would have been less painful. What kind of sadist gets excited when they come across ac + bc = c(a + b)? I’ll take the prose of Beowulf any day.

With chalk still sliding, I’d hear, “Can anyone tell me where Mr. Cox went wrong?” The cult of the arithmetic-inclined would raise their dirty paws.

“He forgot step three,” an eager voice would chime from behind my knife-exposed back. As always, my formula was off. I’d pose faux positivity, roll back to my seat and begin counting the remaining minutes of suffering I had left.

Sometimes, while my method was off or out of sync, I’d still luck out and get the correct answer. Sure, my way took longer and created what many saw as more complicated and unnecessary steps, but it worked for me.

I came away from algebra class with one certainty; my way was never the right way.

Since then, I’ve done enough self-work to realize my self-worth does not need squaring or to be perfectly placed between parentheses. I now see my unconventional approaches to problems and situations in the same light as R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball: uniquely beneficial and a thing of beauty if brought out in the right moment.

Case in point: what some of my more refined collar-wearing colleagues might appropriately label a “pastoral counseling session.”

These types of sit-downs are typically done in a relaxed and non-threatening environment. The office of a minister is a likely go-to spot. Another, an open and empty sanctuary. A cliche coffee shop might work in a pinch for a more informal sit-down. At-home visitations go over well too.

All expected suggestions and part of a relied-upon formula. However, sometimes you have to let go of the expectations and formulas.

“Did you remember that I was coming?” This was said with a smile, but I could tell my visitor was reeling a bit.

In the doorway of the church’s commercial kitchen, she loomed. Looking intrigued but hesitant. On the other hand, I was a man in motion, stringing movements together in a dance of fluidity as she looked on.

“Of course,” I say back. “I just thought we could make some cookies while we met. That alright?”

Apparently, it was. For the next hour, she emptied herself, telling me everything from how she came to be part of our faith community to the current dark night of her soul. All the while, I spun, added chocolate chips and scooped cookie dough on trays.

My busyness never came close to stifling our conversation. Instead of sitting across from one another, positioned between an office table of separation and continuing to climb a frozen mountain of rigid unmoving expectations of what we should be doing, we rolled unexpectedly like the sea tide.

Our dialogue advanced and pulled back until finally crashing into one another in an explosion of recognition of the other’s presence.

It must have been the second batch when I offered her a cookie. They were warm but, thanks to the whole wheat flour, already developing a snappy texture worthy of mastication.

Their crunch acted as a third voice in the room, calling us to grow quiet while we enjoyed their deliciousness. Finally, she broke the silence.

“You know, I didn’t know I needed a cookie today. This is wonderful. I’ve never done anything like this before.”

I had to agree. It was different, unscripted and experimental. A way of counseling I had never tried. An example I hadn’t run across before in any book with Wayne Oates’ name printed on the cover.

After she left, and I’m alone cleaning the kitchen, I hear the voice of that math teacher in my head: “Let’s see what you came up with Mr. Cox.”

“Something better than you could have imagined,” I reply with a confidence I didn’t possess all those years ago.

And somewhere deep within my spirit, I know this is true.

Maybe, just maybe, my roundabout way might be the right way after all.

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