“I think the modern church gets it wrong,” Amy said. She set down her coffee so she could passionately gesture along to her words. “Everyone should feel like they belong in the church, not like they’re an outsider. Regardless of who they are, they should be welcomed. Then maybe they’ll start to believe the same things and that’s wonderful. And behavioral changes will accompany that. Belong, believe, and behave is how the church should function. But these days, you have to behave a certain way and believe certain things, and only then can you belong.”
Amy had been in different English classes with me for the past three semesters. I knew some random facts about her: she loves whales, she works at a tea shop, and she became a vegetarian because someone challenged her. But being intentional, asking her to coffee and questioning about her past, her influences, and her family taught me so much more about the girl with purple hair sitting before me.
“I grew up in California. I was an only child for awhile until my family decided to participate in foster care. We were a halfway house where kids came to stay with us before they were adopted.” She told me that the number of boys and girls who moved in and out of their house was close to 10. “We adopted two. An older brother when I was five and an older sister when I was seven. She was fourteen years old and had moved to so many foster houses, my dad decided to put an end to it and adopted her.
“When I was 10 we decided to move to Tennessee, but my parents were in no rush to get there. We took a road trip that lasted 3 1/2 months, visiting Disneyland, Vegas, and other destinations until we finally ended up in Tennessee.”
Amy lifted her shirt to show me the tattoo on her side. She got it when she was eighteen at Safe House Tattoo Studio, it was a picture of an iris flower and a poppy flower. “The iris is the state flower of Tennessee while the poppy is the state flower of California.”
It was a clear indication of the path that brought her to where she was now, a path that is not always easy. Those two flowers stand for where she was, where she is now, and perhaps where she is going.
“I love writing, I have always loved writing, but I was always looking for a ‘real’ occupation, something more stable than creative writing. It wasn’t until my later high school years I finally called myself a writer and decided to go to school to be a ‘writer,’ no matter how scary or uncertain that is.
“I may even end up back in California. I am a film minor, so I might need to go back to get started in the industry.” But as she spoke, I could tell her home was here in Tennessee.
I asked about the tattoo on her wrist, a picture of an eye with six lashes on the top and two sets of two lashes on the bottom.
“I got this tattoo the day after I turned eighteen, it was my first,” she said, holding her wrist out so I could look closer. “My dad wasn’t too happy.”
She described how she came up with this design after reading Matthew 6:22. “It says to keep your eyes wide in wonder so your body will fill with light. It is a reminder for me, that’s why I got it on my wrist. I look down at it when I’m driving or writing. It reminds me to keep my eyes wide and to observe the world around me, especially as a writer.
“I went to a super conservative, Christian high school. That’s when a lot of my beliefs began to change, I started thinking for myself and becoming my own person. In 10th grade, I decided I wanted to be a hipster, so I threw out all my clothes and bought everything from Goodwill, but by junior year I calmed down. That’s also when I started researching and learning about feminism and gender equality.” She laughed. “I have so many feelings about feminism. In one of my classes, my professor brought up a bunch of verses that seem to be oppressing women in the Bible and we stripped them down of any supposed meanings and learned what the writers were actually trying to say. It was so interesting, and so many of them are taken out of context.”
One cup of coffee from the Well Coffeehouse and two hours later, I heard about feminism, about the foster care system, and about peeing in a high school soccer field after a breakup. I heard someone’s story for the first time, even though I had known her for over a year. Because everyone has a story, all one has to do is buy a cup of coffee and ask.
Thanks to Amy Peabody for sharing her story.
Photography: Kayla McEathron