You Will Know, When You Know

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At my first church I moved only a few hours from my Aunt and Uncle whom I didn’t really know. My parents were the older siblings in their families and had children young, my sister and I are almost a decade older than our cousins. My aunt, then having small children watched as I officiate Easter Worship and interacted with my congregation. I was 25 years old. I had been married for 2 years and she could not fathom how “grown up” I was.

“You have a very adult job” she told me. I really wasn’t sure if it was a compliment or a criticism (in my head I heard “you’re playing with fire, you cannot handle this”). I did have a very grown up job, and I was (and still am) good at it. Sure, there are times when my “youth” equates to poor judgement, but as I get older, it’s simply moments of poor judgement, guess what? Who has two thumbs and is human? This chick.

But it is scary for all of us. How do we know we are saying or doing the “right” thing? Sometimes I have to impart wisdom in life or death situations and it’s scary. Yet, I can say this with confidence, I’m a smart girl, I actually do have a lot of wisdom to impart (through the grace of God), despite the fact that I am only 36 years old. So… here’s some tidbits.

When you’re mad at God, it means that you love God with your whole heart, mind, and soul. Scenario: I am a chaplain in a hospital. A family is trying to care for their mother who is dying, it will be hours, not days. She is cursing God, she is in pain, she is grieving for her life. The family (a more conservative type of Christian) is sincerely worried that she will die and “not be right with God” and therefore go to hell. They believe this despite a lifetime of Christian service and faith. I sat with them, I talked through it with them, and then I asked them a question. When is the last time you were angry at someone, I mean really angry? Was it with someone you knew casually? Or was it someone you loved?

The last time we were truly mad is not over the guy who cut us off on the interstate.  The truth is, we only are truly angry at the people we love most. Our partner, our children, our parents, our friends, ourselves. When your mother is cursing God, it’s because she loves God, if she didn’t she wouldn’t care.

I know it hurts, but that’s how you know it is love. Scenario: I had trouble getting pregnant and high risk pregnancies, so much so that I became friends with the ultrasound tech. For over a year I saw this woman bi-monthly, weekly, and then bi-weekly. Each time we would talk for about a half hour. When I went back for baby #2, she had just returned from maternity leave with her first. “I’m scared all the time, and I cry, constantly, at everything, does this ever end?” Yes, sometimes, no- no it does not. Yes, the hormones subside and you will cry less, but this feeling of dread, fear, and hurt? This feeling that you no longer have full control of your heart? No. She looked at me with massive amounts of dread.

It’s the consequence of experiencing real love. Any relationship involves risk, it’s the nature of relationship, but putting yourself out there in the most vulnerable ways possible and allowing yourself to experience real love, well, there is always a fear of losing. I have said this with new parents, with people grieving for someone who died, and to people at the end of marriages. When the pain is so devastating, so raw, so real – that’s when you know it is real love.

You will know when it’s time. Scenario: A woman sits before me in kidney failure, she is tired of dialysis, she is exhausting her children and she hates it, she has been talked to about hospice over a dozen times. “What do I do?” she asks me. Of course I can’t answer that, so I say to her what I have said a hundred times in the past.

When it comes to life and death, you’ll know. And when you know, you know, until then, you’re not ready. When it comes to life and death – of a person, of a marriage, of any relationship – if you don’t know (no matter how hard and painful it is) then you’re not ready. Because when it comes to a death, you and the ones you leave behind have to know, beyond a doubt, in the midst of their grief that they did everything possible and that you are sure or they simply will not be able to live with themselves. I have seen it time and time again, the moment where the wrestling ends and every fiber of their being knows what to do. 

All these scenarios happened within the first 5 years of my ministry. They are words of wisdom I have repeated time and time again. They are not “new” and I did not “think of them” they were gifts of the spirit. Moments in which I got to be the incarnation of Sophia (God’s wisdom). Yesterday I was reminded of them again and I wanted to share. Love to you all.

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Be Kind, Rewind

So today this article (Social Scientists build case for Survival of the Kindest) was floating around Facebook, at least on my timeline. The article is from 2009 when I remember writing a sermon about downside to all the “happiness” going around. In the years post 9-11-01 we obsessed with staying positive, we possibly still do.

This is particularly true for us in the church, church has to be a place where only good things happen. Where Mary accepts the announcement of the angel, where a beautiful baby is born and where Jesus concurs death. People have to come to church in their best clothes, with their perfectly behaved children and their saintly, unwavering faith.  God forbid we acknowledge that there were hardships and difficulties like overcoming the possibility of being stones to death by her family and fiance, the slaughtering of the innocents, and a horrifying betrayal and crucifixion. God forbid we acknowledge that we are not perfect and all sin and sometimes do not believe.

There are difficulties in life, we all have bad days, but we still preach kindness, love, goodness- because in our faith, everything did work out in the end… just not the way we expected. This is not necessarily because of kindness, but generosity, love, and commitment, all of which we can embody in kindness. So here are some thoughts:

Take Initiative – My kids and I were shopping for groceries and they were handing out free samples (my kids LOVE this by the way) and one of the samples were apples- yes apples.  My kids (6 & 3) both ate an apple the rest of the trip. At checkout my 3 year old choked on the skin and gagged. He proceeded to spit up in my hand (yes, the things we do as parents). Just then a woman who had seen what was happening ran over with a wad of napkins for me. I was eternally grateful. I never would have asked anyone for help out of my embarrassment, but when I needed it, it was there.

Know When to Restrain Yourself- So the opposite of helpfulness is well, getting on my nerves… There was another time, over three years ago when I was in the grocery (hey- we all spend a lot of time in grocery stores). My son was no more than 2 weeks old and I was using the grocery as an “outing excuse” to walk around, etc. All of a sudden a middle aged woman comes running up to the cart and yells “I just HAD to come see”.  Really… you have so little self control that you just HAD to come see my baby. Try a little restraint, look from afar, I’m not in the mood. Just pay attention and ask yourself if you’re being helpful or selfish.

Keep Hands, Feet, and All Other Objects to Yourself – My daughter and I were in the bank and she was flicking herself, you know where you take your middle finger to your thumb and push, well anyway, she was. She was telling me it didn’t hurt and then she did it to me. It didn’t hurt, but I told her it did because she shouldn’t go around flicking people (off, on, or otherwise). Then I said, “You can do it to yourself, but you shouldn’t do it to anyone else”. The teller looked at me and said “sound advice for many things”.  hmmm… not sure about that, but it worked in this case, and in the cases of little white lies and anytime it involves people’s hair, butts, etc.

Give Generously– Of your time, your talents, and your money. This summer I was working with a seminary intern and a friend called, it was one of those moments where I spent an hour on the phone calming and supporting them. When I came back to my office I looked at her and said, “One of the most important things we do as ministers is to take or return phone calls.” This is true for everyone, it’s what makes us human and able to be kind, we have to support and be supported by our friends. Some people have more time than others and have preferences for phone, text, email, etc. I have people I talk, text, Facebook or twitter to daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or yearly. But I take their calls whenever possible, I followup with them when I can’t, and I tell people when I’m thinking about them. Those conversations, these relationships nurture me and them. Without them I would be but a noisy gong or clanging cymbal.

Finally– always, always, always over tip. 20% is the minimum, unless they were REALLY, REALLY terrible and even then it’s 10-15% trust me, they need that dollar or two more than you. Smile at people, all the time, look them in the eye, and even when they are annoying the crap out of you- suck it up, it’ll be over soon.

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