Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Open Ears, Open Eyes, Open Heart

I was making the kids lunch when he came up from our dank Michigan basement, nodded toward the door and ask - "Do you mind if I smoke out back? I mean, I figure you're Christian because you have so many kids. If you weren't, why would you."

It was a statement, not a question and it caught me off guard. "Sure...go ahead...yes we are but that doesn't mean, I mean, I like kids..." I shifted from one foot to the other and tried on my brightest smile. He paused with his hand on the doorknob, ready to head out behind his van with the Heating and Cooling decals parked in my driveway. He tossed it over his shoulder as an afterthought. "I think it's wrong, personally. No offense, but having six kids...yeah I think that's just not right. And I'm one of six so I know."

Out he went for a nictotine fix and I turned back to the kids sitting around the dining room table, waiting for their lunch. It felt like a gut punch here - more so than before when I've been out and about. Something about hearing it here, in the center of my home with my kids all around - yeah, it just smarted that much worse. This is my domain. My safe place. Who is he to come into my world and rain down judgment on my family?

Over the next few hours with him in and out, working on our furnace, I pieced together more of the story. More of the background. I listened and, once I let go of my initial defensiveness, I learned something.  Through his story, I was reminded to be careful with my kids, to treat them as individuals, to make sure everyone is doing well. I learned that parents putting their own happiness ahead of that of their kids is a recipe for lifelong bitterness and loneliness. I looked and I saw how childhood pain can leave lifelong scars. The more I tried to understand, the more the initial flame of anger subsided and was replaced with something warmer - something like compassion.

It takes practice, doesn't it? Setting aside initial defensiveness and being willing to look closer. That's how to mine the goodness out of any situation - even those meant to harm us. By opening our ears, eyes, hearts - and refusing to throw up walls. I wish it came easily to me. The truth is, it was hours after his initial comments that I was able to let go of that last little bit of a grudge. The very thing I try to train my children in, I mess up on so often myself. Turning the other cheek, allowing for vulnerability and extending understanding - that's a daily practice in setting yourself aside. A self-effacing lifestyle that I'm not sure I'll ever master.

It's the struggle, after all, that sanctifies. Striving to see people as more than the sum of their prejudices, past and pain, I get a front row seat to see them as Jesus does. And when I do, I can love that much better.

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