A few weeks ago, I was invited to be the speaker at a neighboring school for their Pay It Forward day. The students completed acts of service throughout the day, and I spoke twice in the afternoon, once to senior high and later to junior high students. Many hours of preparation went into the big day, because the message would be life-changing – not because I spoke it, but because kindness is transformational. Intertwining stories of my family and our darkest hour with humor and heartfelt truths of compassion, not only from friends and family but also from complete strangers, was a beautiful tale to tell.
The oldest students would have been nine or ten years old when our tragedy occurred; so other than the few in the audience who know us personally the story would be new. Delicately balancing the human side of a major news story is hard work, exhausting at best and gut-wrenchingly aching at worst as my mind, body, and soul are transported back, reliving each moment. ALL. THE. MOMENTS. The beautiful ones AND the ones so painful that some days I look in the mirror and want to high five the girl on the other side because I don’t know if she truly knows how awesome and amazing it is she survived.
In the end, I wanted my young friends to leave not feeling sorry for us, but rather to be inspired by the acts of kindnesses lavished upon our family.
Early in my presentation, I wanted a gauge of how honest and sincere my audience would be. The measure of sincerity was simple. Raise your hand if someone somewhere at some time in the world has been kind to you. Every hand in the room was raised.
Then, I upped the ante. Raise your hand if you have ever felt lonely, isolated, different, afraid, left out, unsure or insignificant. Only one brave hand was raised. The rest were liars.
Little did they know, I completely expected those results, because I wanted them to squirm a little bit before I shared my mission – creating revolutionaries. Genuine change requires some struggle, including confronting your own battles.
Sharing some basic facts about my family, I eventually expounded on our loss and pain but mostly explained why I could be considered an expert in receiving kindnesses. I wanted the precious scholars to know no matter how limited they or their budgets may appear to be, there is no kindness too small which does not leave a person transformed. If something appears to be an obstacle, plan big and DREAM BIGGER to reach out to those who are hurting.
What I didn’t share was the firestorm known as the political hot button issue at the center of our sadness. Truth be told, I lied (in omission) to them all. I never spared the truth about the hardships we have had (and still endure) as a part of that day. I openly told how the girl, who went from doing everything, relied on everyone else to do most anything. My heart was bare when sharing how much these acts of compassion truly taught me about community and love – transforming, selfless revolutionary love. What I didn’t share was the black part of my heart early on in our story.
Very few know this story, but given the news of recent days and weeks, it is time to finally come clean.
I hold many different titles, but even fewer know that for a brief period in my life I was our town’s chief crane inspector. Okay, not really. My then three year old was. I was just the chauffeur. The rebuilding of our lives came agonizingly slow, while our little town’s infrastructure was booming. The baby of our family has been and most likely always will be infatuated with construction cranes. After dropping off the big kids at school, we would drive from construction site to construction site “inspecting” the crane’s work. The final one in our tour was completing a new expansion at our county jail which at the time housed the woman who killed my son and ripped our lives apart.
Every day, while sipping on sweet tea, I wished for the crane operator to be unsuccessful in his endeavor to securely place the large preformed concrete walls. Just drop the wall and she will hurt as much as I do. Dark was that corner of my heart. The news of the amazingness known as my son and the other three children who were gone tapered off and all that was left were court cases, commentaries on illegal immigration, and sound bites from her attorneys, who in an attempt to humanize their client crossed the line when suggesting a conviction would mean her elderly parents might not ever get to see her again. Really? I am fairly certain I am not ever going to see my child again on this earth. EVER. It was all too much for me and my brokenness.
But it was through that brokenness, God showed me how much my darkness was only hurting me and how it was not now or ever going to be a part of the solution. I wanted to be better. Different. Transformed by my heart and through my darkness. Realizing my son would never want hate and bitterness to be a part of his legacy, I chose forgiveness and began carefully and tenderly (with God’s divine grace) choosing love over everything else.
With every tragedy (and by every – I mean EVERY SINGLE ACT – especially the ones on the news, where someone is left hurting), I am reminded that choosing love is a revolutionary act of defiance. The world perpetuates evil. Choosing to love in the face of darkness is an uncommon act. Everything about my sweet boy was not common, and in honoring him, choosing love was the granddaddy of all antidotes to hurt and a slap in the face of darkness.
Hate mongering, fear inducing rhetoric, social media memes shared virally, and us vs. them mentalities will never solve any problem. Evil will never go away, but none of these go-to platforms offer any sincere opportunities for hope. So here’s a thought: STOP doing them. STOP saying hurtful things. STOP posting divisive things. Stop teaching this rhetoric to your children.
And while we are at it STOP focusing on our differences. STOP pointing them out.
STOP taking tragedies like mine, Sandy Hook, Ferguson, or San Bernardino and reducing it a sound bite, a meme, a rally cry, an ideological platform, a banner flag because behind all of that chaos are real people who are truly hurting and who never asked to be a poster child.
The real issue is HURT. Even if my young friends lied it about it, pain is real and isolating. At the root of every hurt is a genuine, amazing and awesome person – who deserves better in this world and of this world.
While real conversations can and SHOULD take place, the issues have never been illegal immigration, gun control, skin color, terrorism, or mental health issues.
The real issues are the lack of understanding, the lack of respect, and the LACK of love.
How do we uplift and honor instead of tear down and divide?
After we stop doing all those other things, let’s lead with kindness. Let’s call it our gift to the world. They will never see that one coming. Look for ways to help others. Make that our new habit. Have real conversations with eyes and ears that can see the hurt others bring to the table. Be the voice of change for those who have no voice. Stand up, beside, and behind those who are hurting, especially those different from ourselves. Give generously with your time, your resources, your mind and your soul, and not to mention your heart. Smile at everyone. Read to your children about all kinds of people and whisper in their ears they are what make the world a better place. Buy a stranger a meal or a cup of coffee. Celebrate you and celebrate others! Hold hands and pray, and when it doesn’t look like that is working, hold on a little longer. Envelop those you love (and those who are hurting) in hugs that leave everyone better.
Be brave and inspirational and kind.
Never forget kind.
The world is watching.
High five that guy or girl in the mirror, for at least trying to change the world.
And, be revolutionary in your love!