Gentleness: Our Power Under Control


A long while ago, a friend sent me a quote and its poignancy has sunk deep into the fibers of my brain and heart.

“It’s like being in love: giving somebody the power to hurt you and trusting (or hoping) they won’t.”

Marina Abramović, Rest Energy

When I speak of (and write about) love in gentleness, I don’t mean a lamb-meek, soft-as-kittens, never-raises-my-voice kind of gentleness. What I mean by gentleness is the recognition of humanity in ourselves, our need for grace and mercy, and the pouring out of what we so deeply need onto others, recognizing that they, too, share this flawed, fallible thing called humanity. Gentleness is our choice to be for and respond to others what and how we ourselves have often most needed. If love is indeed giving someone the means and power to destroy you and trusting them not to do so, then gentleness is giving to others what we so desire for ourselves: grace, mercy, and understanding.

Gentleness has also been defined as power under control. We all bear extraordinary power in the lives of others–power to heal or to harm, power to give life or to take it away–and gentleness is choosing the merciful road, to heal and to give life with our words and actions. Gentleness is choosing to bring that power under control, to use it to do good to those into whose lives we act, speak, and interact. As Jennifer Dukes Lee wrote: “Our words always fold into the souls of other human beings. That is no small thing.” How many of us think of or remember that? Of how far or deeply our words can go into the souls of others? Our words, our reactions, and our responses can often make all the difference in and to someone’s heart. An ungentle word, a rash response, these things can sometimes do irrevocable and lasting damage, even though it takes less than a moment to happen and be over.

Gentleness cradles the trust that someone has placed in us, holds it softly and lovingly, recognizing their humanity calling out, and responds with the understanding of our own humanity and fallibility. Gentleness sees what we have needed and responds by being that person for someone else. Our power is put to the good of another’s soul.

Together, we can show gentleness, we can be the person that we have needed for someone else. We can bring the power we have, wrap it in love, and speak life to someone else who may be standing in the same hard place(s) where we have stood.

Sparrow on human hands

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Prepared to Give an Answer


It’s been a month!? Goodness! Well, yes, it’s summer, and I’m trying to enjoy it and be productive with some goals at the same time. So here I am.

Yesterday was a very interesting experience for me. Early in the morning, I checked a Facebook notification for a friend and saw that she had posted this:

This rather encapsulates how I feel about my faith and the subject of the human sexuality spectrum. So I commented on the post: “Yep! That’s exactly it for me.” I didn’t think there would be much more to it than perhaps a comment like or two. But then another friend whom I have known for about ten or eleven years replied:

So I do have a follow-up question that is something that I’ve been dealing with lately. While there is no judgment, does that mean you still think that being gay is necessarily a “bad trait”? For example, you wouldn’t judge thieves, but you wouldn’t promote their behavior as positive and godly. Any thoughts? 

I immediately knew in my soul that this was one of those situations that the Bible talks about where Christians need to be “prepared to give an answer”. I replied that, after I dropped my little girl off at daycare, I would sit down so I could answer her question thoughtfully and properly. And I did. I thought about it all through the drive to school and during my time at the gym afterward, drafting up responses and making notes of a Scripture that came to mind. Finally, I was able to sit down and arrange my thoughts into the following response:

Okay. Here I am. Honestly…your question is something that I have struggled with thinking through sometimes. However, after thought and reflection, I cannot bring myself to a “love the sinner, hate the sin” mentality. I just can’t. I can’t tell someone that I love them or that God loves them but, in the same breath, call them wrong. I have done too much wrong in my own life to pass judgment. Do people do things that are wrong? Yes, we all do. But if I’m so busy judging or telling someone their faults or, as you put it, bad traits, there’s no room left to love them or for them to BELIEVE that I love them. I am not God. I don’t know His mind. I don’t know the minds of any other person on this planet. I am not called to judge. I am called to love. To love all of someone. Do I want to help people grow in life? Yes, I want to encourage, support, and help them in that growth, whatever that may mean for them. I will love and pray for them, no matter what. 

What immediately springs to mind (and sticks there) for me is John 8:1-11 and I’ve quoted it below.

“Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd. “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust. When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” ” (New Living Translation)

Jesus didn’t condemn this woman; He didn’t judge her. He said, “Go and sin no more.” He didn’t lay her sins, whatever they may have been, out before her. He doesn’t tell her what’s wrong with her or bad about her. No. He just told her that He didn’t condemn her, to go live her life and do what’s right. In the same way, I will not condemn someone. I will not lay what I, in my fallibility, think are their sins before them. I am called to love and I will love and love and love. I will do what I can to help those I come into contact with to live the best lives they can in the spaces they are in. I have been so deeply loved in my life, have met and known and loved so many amazing people from all walks of life, but I have also seen what damage and pain and separation condemnation and judgment can cause. Such things are not of God and I will not perpetuate such pain. The Church is called to love God and love others. This is most important and it is what I have built my life on and will continue to. 

To be sure I answer your question, no, I do not think that being gay is a “bad trait”. Some of the greatest people of faith I’ve ever known are gay, and I will thank God for them from the rooftops and point those who need love and prayer and counsel to them all the time as people of God and some of the deepest, strongest, and most loving Christians I have ever known. Thank you for asking and making me think, love. 

I am called to love and loving is what I will do.

My Holy Discontent


Last weekend, I listened to speaker Bill Hybels talk about passion. One of the questions he asked was, “Where does your passion come from? A beautiful dream or a holy discontent?” I was more than a bit fascinated by the phrase “holy discontent”. Can discontentment be holy? Then Mr. Hybels explained. Sometimes our passion can come from a complete and utter discontentment with the way things are, along with an inability to leave things the way they are. We simply must do something about it, so our passion is born in and borne out through this discontentment.

I realized that I live in a state of holy discontent. That is where my passion wells from. I am utterly discontent with how much of a lack of love, mercy, and grace there is in how people treat each other in our world. I cannot let things stay that way. I see people hurting, pieces of hearts broken off, cracks gaping in souls. I cannot let things stay that way.

I cannot let those who are hurting remain in their pain alone without holding their hand and telling them that they are safe to feel as they feel.

I cannot let those with broken hearts suffer without knowing that they are loved, cared for, and considered worthy.

I will not let those with gaping souls go hungry without telling them that God calls them good, wonderful, and beloved. And so do I.

My passion for hearts, my soul for people, is born out of a holy discontent. I believe that God has allowed this particular seed of discontent in my soul with the aim of fueling me to fulfill the purpose for which I was created: to love big. God has filled me dissatisfaction in seeing the lack of love in the world, and He pushes my heart to offer it. Day after day, as much as I can: love, encouragement, mercy, and grace.

There are people who walk around each day, dear ones and strangers, with broken hearts, cracked souls, and empty eyes. People who think themselves failures, unlovable, alone, and bereft. People who are suffering, and I cannot stand it. The heart that God has given me yearns to see souls, people, dear ones, strangers, live loved.

I want to help others breathe a little more easily and deeply.

I want to respond with grace, gentleness, truth, and love.

I want people, you precious people whom God has made, to know that you matter, you are significant, you are beloved, and were created with a unique purpose in mind. Yes, each of you. You are here on purpose.

My passion is not one that is big (well, it is–to me. But not like attention-getting big, I mean.). It is not one that is loud, will make me famous, or maybe birth a movement. I do not lead workshops. I haven’t written books. And that’s okay. I do what I do. I post, I call, I listen, I write, I pray, I hold hands, and I give hugs (and mugs of coffee/tea/hot chocolate). These are small things, but please don’t underestimate the small things you can do. They can effect monumental change in a person’s life and soul. I am living proof.

What is your passion in this life? Where does it come from? Are you working towards a beautiful dream or are you striving to change the source of your discontent? And, yes, these things that you see wrong with the world: that is indeed a holy discontent. Perhaps you feel that your passion is not that big. Not big enough for people to pay attention, not big enough to make a difference. Please, hear me when I tell you this: it is! Your passion is big enough. The small things you do are big enough. The steps you take in your passion are big enough. Yes, they are! Keep dreaming, keep doing, keep stepping.

My passion is born of a holy discontent. A discontentment with a world lacking in goodness and love. I want to find it, highlight it, give it, infuse it. I want to change the world. I want to see love change the world. I want to be a love that changes the world. Let love be the overwhelming response to and result of my holy discontent.

Holding the Days with Gentleness


2016 is almost over and what a year it’s been. I’m not entirely sure what to make of it now that I sit and think about it but I will try to put word to thought.

This year, my watchword was grace—to give grace as well as to recognize it when it is given me and to also give it to myself. I have spent this year trying to be mindful of opportunities to show grace, as well as to accept it when I receive it. I also worked to be mindful of opportunities to study and explore grace and its facets. This year, I spent my NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) in November centering my writings on grace. I explored what I knew, what I have experienced, though, and considered, and even found new levels of thought on what it means to give grace, experience it, choose it, and even to be graceless. It was, honestly, one of the best writing experiences of my life and it renewed a desire in me to write, and I am determined to write as often and as much as possible in the coming year.

This year, I went back to teaching full time. It was a quick decision after many, many applications, interviews, and then coming to terms with being home with Elizabeth for a final year. I got a call, interviewed, and made a decision all in two to three days. I had to sacrifice some things, such as seeing my baby off on her first day of daycare/preschool, but I knew that it was the right decision for my family. Has it been easy, such a quick and large life transition? No, not really, and it has taken me almost the entire semester to feel as though I have found my feet or that I belong in teaching again (still not entirely sure on the latter but for now, functional will do). I am still struggling a bit to find a life balance again—to find the correct levels in time for daughter, husband, my self-care, and my writing–but I have learned and am learning a great deal from the teachers and students I am working with now. At the same time, my girl is enjoying school and missing her friends now that we are at the tail end of Christmas vacation. She is doing wonderfully, growing quickly, learning so very much, and I am thankful beyond measure for that.

My husband has just completed a leadership development program, which I am buttons-bursting proud of him for sticking with. I know that it was a testing for him and I am ever so proud of his perseverance and determination to get everything out of it that he could. He works hard each and every day and gives all he can as a teacher and a pastor and I am constantly awed and inspired by him. This year, we celebrated ten years of marriage surrounded by friends and full of laughter and good food. It was the best method by which to celebrate (well, that and the new Star Trek film) and I am so glad that we were able to do so. I love you, darling, today and every day and even beyond that.

As 2016 ends, I have been thinking and praying about a watchword, a word of intention for the coming year. This year’s word was grace and the year before was intentioned by courage and kindness. So far, the word that has come to me is gentleness. What does it mean to be gentle? To act and react, listen, speak, and be with gentleness?

With all the fear, the worry, the anger, the darkness, what does it mean for me to be gentle? How can I be gentle with the hearts that are afraid and hurting? How can I be gentle with those who do not understand or don’t want to?

How can I be gentle with my dear ones? Gentle with their feelings, their thoughts, with honesty, in my reactions and discipline as we raise our daughter, with my loved ones’ precious hearts and souls?

How can I be gentle in my job, with my students and coworkers, with their humanity that may break out in difficult ways sometimes, much like my own?

How can I be gentle in my faith, in speaking love and kindness and giving grace to others? In following the example of the God I claim to believe in and the Jesus I claim to follow?

How can I show gentleness in my craft, in what I write and how I post on social media, the corners that I build in the world around me, both real and online? How can I be gentle and bold and courageous at the same time?

I want to hold what people give me, what they trust me with, gingerly and carefully. I want to be gentle with souls, with words, with trust, with hearts and feelings. I want to do this for others because I know how much I want it for me. I want people to be gentle with me, with my thoughts, feelings, words, hopes, dreams, heart, and soul. Just as I know how much I need grace and so I try to give it, so it goes with gentleness. I know how much I desire it; why should others not be the same? Why should I not try to give the reactions that I would want to receive?

Everyone is going through or has gone through something; everyone could use some gentleness in a world so rough and tumble. This year may be hard, this year may be scary, but I will not let that stop me. I will not let it harden me either. I will not let it take my softness away but, if anything, I will let it increase, let it seep into my touch, fill my words, prompt me to listen more than I speak. May this coming year find me holding others with gentleness and radical love, continuing to act in grace, having courage, and being kind.

Farewell, 2016.

Welcome, 2017. I call you blessed and look forward to what we have to learn together.

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Turning on the Lights


BloPoMo Day 11

“Turn toward grace and you turn on all the lights.” – Ann Voskamp

When I was little and I was scared, I turned on all the lights in the house. That way nothing could jump out and frighten me. I could see what and who was around me and know that I was safe. This week, I feel like I have been running around trying to turn on all the lights. Not just for myself but also for those I love, those who are worried, despairing, angry, or fearful. I want them to see who is around them. I want them to know that they are safe with them, with us.

But I’m also turning on the lights so that others can see. I am turning on the lights so that others can see they are scared. I am turning on the lights so that they can see each other. So people can see people.

I am turning on the lights so that people can see what they are forgetting: that we belong to each other.

I am turning on the lights so that hopefully we can remember to have courage and be kind.

I am turning on the lights that we can remember to love fiercely.

I am turning on the lights so that hopefully we can really see each other, and that we can hopefully choose to sit with each other in the real and have the strength and grace to stick it out through the hard.

I have spent my week running around, trying to turn on all the lights I can, shed all the love, all the light, all the grace I can. I know that things are not okay. I know that people are not okay. I’m not going to tell them–tell you–to be okay; I’m not going to tell you that. I’m not going to tell anyone–ANYONE–to not be angry or worried or scared or upset or to feel anything other than what they feel.

I am turning on the lights so you can see something other than the darkness. I am turning on the lights so that you can see my hand held out to you. So you know where to reach if you need or want it. I am turning on the lights so you can see me sitting next to you, can see my arms held open.

Don’t worry, dear one: I’m turning on the lights.

Love Is a Superpower


Check out that title again. Go on. Don’t worry, I’ll wait right here for you.

See that? Did you know that? Think about it! Love is a superpower.

Love is versatile. Love is strong. Love is life-saving. Love is world-changing.

Love is a superpower.

See that girl standing against the wall over there, her head bowed? That head covered in luminescent teal and aqua hair, hair that perfectly matches her outfit? Imagine how proud she must have been of that radiant ensemble after meticulously planning and putting it together. Then no one complimented it. No one noticed the bravery and care it took to live her unique beauty and truth. Now imagine her face after you step over and tell her, “I love your mermaid hair!” Imagine the smile that might brighten that beautiful young face. That’s the power of love. That’s the supernal magic of expressed kindness and compassion.

Love is a quiet word. Love is a genuine compliment. Love is an acknowledgement of trying.

Love is a superpower.

When we extend even a little love outward, it ripples, reverberates, snowballs, and multiplies exponentially. It may not always come back to us but we can absolutely count on it surging forward like a wave swell, building and increasing in power as it courses onward until it finally hits and explodes, sending uncountable, shining, shimmering pieces of itself out into the air and the world.

Love is what compels children to pick up their plate, walk out of a restaurant, and hand it to a hungry soul huddled outside.

Love is what compels neighborhoods to rally around their sick, elderly, and downtrodden to lift them up to hope.

Love is why children who are left to grieve the death of a parent are gathered close and taken in by family friends. People who have always treated children like their own are taking them into their families as their own, ensuring that they know they are loved, protected, and wanted.

Is love always easy? No. I love always accepted, lauded, or thanked? No. Like courage, love does not derive its definition from simply doing it when it is easy. Courage is doing what’s right or what’s needed in the face of being scared. Love is doing good when we could do otherwise.

Love is we choose to step into an isolated corner or a lonely cafeteria table and speak to the soul that’s hidden there.

Love is when we choose to wait for someone rather than rushing ahead.

Love is when we choose kind words and a soft voice rather than the explosion our feelings tell us is warranted.

Love is when we choose to see the child needing help coping rather than the little tyrant throwing a fit.

Love is when we choose to accept as is. When we choose to sit with, hold close, listen intently, speak encouragingly, handle gently, defend boldly, and act mercifully. Watch what happens. Watch the changes, the improvements; watch the vibration, reverberation, and snowballing of that love as it is passed on to others. Love never remains stagnant, unchanged, or even in one place.

Love is supernatural. Love is supernal. Love is superb. Love is absolutely a superpower!

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In the Letting Go


Letting go. People talk about letting go all the time, its need and necessity to mental and emotional health. It is a definite truth for me that I sometimes fight so hard for relationships/friendships because, to me, letting go feels suspiciously like giving up. And I don’t like to give up. Giving up is being defeated. Giving up is having failed. I don’t like to give up.

I believe that human beings are built for relationship as part of growth and maturation and support through life. Relationships, friendships, these are important, with meaning and ties and implications. Growing apart is one thing that does happen, yes. But, in my mind, giving up is an entirely different thing and not something that is strong in my repertoire. However, I am learning an important lesson (I say “learning” because I am still very much in process). Letting go is not about giving up. Letting go can mean a myriad of things. A few of those could be:

This is not good for me/my soul.

This is not good for them/their soul.

I need to make a choice.

I need to let them make their choice.

I need to live in the present and not the past.

This is my life, not theirs.

It is their life, not mine.

I need to live my life, not theirs.

This list is by no means exhaustive, of course, but it represents what I have run across and considered in my own processing and experience. Sometimes letting go is a quick cut, an immediate severing brought on by extreme situations and circumstances. I’ve been there. Sometimes letting go is a slow process, the last step and sometimes the absolute hardest one. I’ve been there, too. Letting go is moving past (even if just past) the hurt, the anger, and the bitterness and acknowledging that you still have a life. You still have family, friends, and loved ones, hobbies and talents, happinesses and joys, growth and change and renewal, a hope and a future.

And so do they.

It still doesn’t mean that letting go is easy. As I said, it can be the last and hardest step in a process.

We have recently been introduced to the concept of toxic relationships and people. Toxic as in “not abusive per say, but [that is] in some form or another bad for us. Limiting. Unhealthy – even if that lack of health is innocent (Priebe)”. There are times when, despite effort from one or even both sides, relationships or friendships do not work, no matter how badly we would like the contrary to be true.

One of the hardest lessons we may ever have to learn is that sometimes, the best way to love someone we love is from a distance. That no matter how much we want them to thrive and expand and be happy, we will never be the people who facilitate that expansion.

And that’s okay. (Heidi Priebe)

This quote is both striking (intellectually and emotionally) and incredibly apt. I think that we have often come to equate a separation, a need to let go and move on, with a lack of love or care. It really couldn’t be further from the truth at times. It is entirely possible to love someone deeply, want every good and happiness for them, but know that your active presence in their life doesn’t serve that wish, or theirs in your life serve it for you.

We [may] prioritize things as X, Y, Z, not realizing that our friends or our partners or our loved ones prioritize them as Y, Z, X. And our relationship spirals into toxic territory without us even realizing it. […] The truth is, you can love someone with 100% of your whole heart and still be toxic to them. You can care for them and still be toxic. You can want what’s best for them so badly that it tears you apart, and still have a negative impact on their life for the sole purpose of your two elements combine to form an inexplicably toxic reaction. Neither of you are to blame. But the result is what it is (Priebe).

When the realization does come, it does not necessarily make it any less difficult emotionally but it really is a healthy realization. Sometimes, there can middle ground found, communication made, rifts repaired, and toxicity dissipated. Sometimes not. Sometimes, the best thing is to let go, to walk away. Not stomp, or rage, or huff, or fire shots across the bow as we do. But step back, wish them all the good, and walk away.

Life does not end in the walking away. Let me say that again. Life does not end in the walking away. In the letting go.

You can still wish them every good and happiness. You can still care deeply, even beyond your own understanding. But you can let go. And you can move on. Your life will continue.

And it will be okay. No, it will be better than okay. It will be good.

 

Endnotes:

Priebe, Heidi.   http://thoughtcatalog.com/heidi-priebe/2015/12/547554/, 1/3/2016.