This weekend writing ideas were free floating around my brain. Probably because I was hunkered down trying to get a writing assignment completed. It was technical writing, which is still writing, and so it’s good. But, my creative side becomes suffocated and thus, infiltrates my thoughts with imaginary blog posts, quotes, and potentials for a great fiction novel. I was all over the map, people.
One thought that kept coming back was the idea of valuing people’s stories; those unique pieces each of us hold, that are only ours. Lately, in life, I’ve been trying to pay attention to those stories. And what I’ve learned is when we listen to the stories of others, we begin to have more compassion for people different from us. When we put stories to faces, and stop judging everyone by our perception of their lives or actions, we make room to see their humanity, their extraordinary, ordinariness.
A person I have been blessed to know better in the past few months is a lady, who happens to be transgendered. I got to email back and forth, and have a cup of coffee with her. I got to hear her story, in her words. You see, she happens to be transgendered, but that is not her whole story. It is a piece. She also happens to be a fabulous writer, who has children, and loves her family and friends. We have a lot in common. She spent her career serving our community at home and abroad.
During our conversation over coffee, we talked about her transition. She graciously gave me glimpses into what life was like then. I will not go into detail. It’s her story to tell. But, during the telling of that story, she repeatedly mentioned how she did not handle some things right. She said she had some unrealistic expectations of people. She described how she wished she would have had more patience with people, been more understanding of their fears.
I sat and soaked up her message. Here was someone who very publicly faced something seen as controversial to many people in the area we live. And instead of talking about how some mistreated or spoke badly of her, she spoke of how she learned to have more compassion. She proudly talked of reconciling relationships with old friends, of how kindness and love win in the end.
Our conversation had a profound impact on me. And this is how it has been in my life over the past ten years. I have met people through my job, church, and social life, who at initial appearance seem very different from me. We talk, hear each other’s story, and suddenly, what seemed like an immense gulf, starts to narrow, and our humanity begins to span the divide.
In the last year, I have learned a lot about people, my faith, and who God is, and who God is not. I have skirted with the fringes of some of these ideas for years, but have just never quite been able to put my finger on it. Here is what I’ve learned.
God is perfect love, and most of us aren’t there yet (myself included).
God is compassion, even towards those of us who struggle with showing compassion.
God is love in action, and we are His hands and feet.
God’s love is sacrificial, and ours should be too.
When I look back on my life before this journey in faith, I cringe a little bit. I think of all of the times I spoke before I thought. Let’s be honest. It still happens from time to time. I think of how I let the cynical voice in my head dictate my expectations for people and judge them because of their circumstances or choices. I think about how I was so sure that I knew the “right” answers and all others were wrong. It makes me cringe. It makes me sad to think of the people I hurt; the relationships I missed. I still struggle at times with that cynical voice.
But on the days I wrestle with guilt, I look at my kids and have hope. With this generation, in my family, they are being raised to do life different. We are raising them to seek out the story of others, especially when they don’t understand them. Not that you have to try very hard to do that with children. They are naturally inquisitive. They don’t know anything about assumptions, stereo-types, or cynicism. Not yet at least.
The other night I was reading Ann Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird. In it she quotes a man as saying, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image, when it turns out God hates all the same people you do.” It is a quote that cuts to the heart of who we are, and what we believe. Who have we created God to be?
Today, while dropping of my son in the car rider line at school, I got to witness more extraordinary ordinary. My little man got out of the car and stepped up onto the sidewalk, about the same time as a darker skinned little boy in the car in front of us. When they saw each other, both their faces broke into huge grins. They literally ran to each other, gave each other a giant hug, and then proceeded to hold hands all the way into school, totally oblivious to any outward differences with each other. They are four, and apparently life doesn’t get any better than having a good buddy’s hand to hold on the way into school. It was such a beautiful thing to see, and I cried all the way out of the parking lot. The little extraordinary ordinaries get me every time.
So, today, dear reader, as we are bombarded with images of hate from around the world. As we struggle with judgement and sometimes focus on what separates us, let’s just stop. Let’s sit down with each other, have a cup of coffee, hear each other’s precious story, and challenge ourselves to see beyond the surface issues. Because though there is much darkness, there is also light. And light always drives out darkness.