Your Words Matter, Lady I Knew From My Childhood Church

Written after a stunning and disturbing conversation with someone I’ve known for over 45 years.  The person I talked to that day wasn’t anybody I recognized, and it jarred me to my core. I’ve cried so much over this.  But sometimes, it’s time to wish someone well, and exit the toxicity.  I wonder how much of any of our past interactions have been masked to hide the intensity of the divisiveness.  It’s so sad.  I wrote the letter not with an intent to mail it (no point in sending something to an elderly woman with a healing husband in a nursing home that has COVID-19 who sees nothing wrong with her views, and compares anyone with differing views as dirt on the bottom of her shoes that she wants to scrape off- there’s no reasoning with that).  Evidently I don’t have that same right to MY views as she has to hers.  I’m dirt on her shoes- not because I’m a Democrat (I’m not registered anything since mid-2016), but because I don’t tow the GOP line. She told me she doesn’t use the computer (which she’s said before), so this seemed the safest place to vent so I can sleep again.  And if she finds it, I hope it is something that gives her an idea of the weight of her words… not to be mean.

Dear W,

I hope you are well, and that H has been able to get the rehab services he needs- and has been safe.  I know this has all been so stressful. I can’t imagine the concern and sleepless nights.

Now, comes the painful part, but written in a tone of compassion and well wishes always. I’m not angry with you.  A bit stunned, and very hurt, but not angry. If I didn’t care, it wouldn’t be worth writing.

I will ALWAYS be SO very thankful for your friendship over the years.  You made a difference. I am truly grateful.  After one of our last conversations, along with one in early 2017, I am not sure I know you now. Maybe I never really did, as so much was formed on that when I was a kid.  When you said you considered Democrats to be the same as the dirt at the bottom of your shoes that you wanted to scrape off, and the 2017 reference to Mrs. Obama as the ’N’ word (I won’t use it- it’s vile and never justified in my view), I was stunned. I didn’t recognize you as someone I knew from the evangelical church I loved growing up. That was sad. It tore through my heart.  It made me question every conversation and interaction we’ve had.  How did I not know of such intense hate?

I may not like or respect Trump, but I don’t consider him to be “dirt on the bottom of my shoe”.  My specific prayer to God about Trump is “Lord, please help Trump be the president You want him to be.”.  Essentially, thy will be done.  I don’t consider him ‘dirt’, and hate takes too much energy; I have better things to do with my time. All I heard from you was what sounded like a hateful rant about something with no specifics other than a generalized view of  Democrats.  Nothing specific, just a tone of voice that was like a knife dripping with venom.  That’s not the person I grew up knowing.  And, I also thank you for that, because it’s made me more aware of my own views on a few things. And one thing is certain; I won’t initiate contact again. I won’t discuss this. It’s clear that it’s pointless.  You aren’t the only one whose blood pressure is a problem with stress. Mine can knock me unconscious. I won’t interact again with the comments I heard.  I don’t know where that came from, but it’s not from God.  I can see things I don’t respect without hate.  I don’t respect Trump, but I certainly don’t hate him.

I’m so thankful for the Bible, and the wisdom and guidance it so consistently provides.  I’m thankful that the Bible talks so much about love, and treating others with compassion and kindness. I love how it lets us know that God knows our hearts.  I love how it helps me when I feel like I’m completely alone.  I love how it is infinitely more important and stronger than humans in its influence in my life. I love how growing up at the old church shaped me;  those years were amazing, and have been the core of my being for as long as I can remember, as were my summers at camp on the staff.  

I’m not a teenager anymore, by a longshot. I have very specific reasons for my views, and base my decisions (as much as possible)  on compassion (and those who exemplify it), and mostly “as much as you’ve done to the least of my brethren, you’ve done it to Me.”.  I focus on “faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love.”  I fail often in my goals of exemplifying the Fruit of the Spirit and the description of love in 1 Corinthians… but I am working on it daily. I have to focus on what God says. He’d never condone shunning people simply because of different views. HE gave us free will. Who are we to demand otherwise?  He uses all who are willing.  Face it, there were some sketchy folks He used for His purpose in the Bible. He sees our hearts.

I will always disagree about Trump’s “integrity” and I know you’ll never see any other view, so there’s no point in any discussion- and I wasn’t looking for one with a single comment that wasn’t an attack on your beliefs. And I won’t be a part of the hate towards any group of people. God created those people, too.  And what if they’re pushed away by Christians? How does that give glory to God?  I will always defend your right to your views. And I won’t be shut down with comments about your blood pressure; you’ve used that before.  If it’s that fragile, we shouldn’t speak. I don’t have any interest in  having to censor myself with someone who had been a close friend.  I guess I was expected to have your views.  When I made the very superficial, flip comment that led to that rant, I was caught off-guard with the intensity of your response- and yet it’s your view, so I have to accept that. I respect your right to it. I don’t have to agree with it. Or put myself in the position to be blind-sided again with the negativity of excluding anyone who thinks for themself.

I have met so many types of people as a nurse, and I am so thankful for that.  People are not simply labels or categories. They each have their own views that are not stereotypes- there are shades of gray, not just black and white. Many are surprising. Regardless, it’s not my right to judge them.  The plank in my eye is big enough to keep me busy; I don’t have time for the splinter in someone else’s. 

I’ve met Christians among the LGBTQ community. I’ve had good friends of many races. I’ve met “WASPs” who are some of the  most cold, superficial and negative people I’ve heard (often on TV).  I’ve known people who agonized over deciding to have an abortion, and felt such compassion for the magnitude of that decision. I’ve met people who I have nothing in common with who were kind and inclusive. I have family (biological & adoptive on both sides) who are mixed race, gay, and non-believers- and they have been incredible to know. I thank God for them, and the chance to be kind, and not the Christian they expect to find.  God meets people where they are… and I try to do the same, as best I can. He uses defective humans for His Divine plans… and I can only hope I am who He wants me to be, especially with my sponsor kids. 

I’ve met Christians who see love above all, and some who are basically in it for profit. I’ve met non-believers who have shown me great compassion.  I’ve known people (directly or ‘second hand’) who were pure evil.  And I’ve met one in particular who altered my life permanently when I was 23.  I’ve forgiven him. It doesn’t condone or excuse what he did, but it’s not my fight to punish him. Forgiveness is also an act of obedience. It’s the least I can do in gratitude to God for letting me survive that day. I focus on protecting others from Numbnuts every 3 years with parole protest letters- and I pray that the prison chaplain gets through to him.

I’ve met many people who were turned away from Christ by Christians.  My goal with my sponsor kids is that they see that they are loved (including the Muslim twins in Bangladesh). I am working hard to give them sound Christian support, and have gotten child and teen (boy’s and girl’s) study Bibles to use with little lessons in each letter I write to them. With that, I ask for the help of the Holy Spirit.  Kindness is free, even when the specifics aren’t clear. It costs us nothing but the desire to share it.  IF not, then the parable of the Good Samaritan was just a story, and not a lesson.

You said I only want to see “the bad”.  With the things I’ve been through, I’ve always tried to see the good, and apply Romans 8:28, because I do believe that God can make good out of anything, if we let Him.  I think that comment hurt the worst.  My greatest earthly happiness comes from people doing well, and doing kind things for others. I cry tears of joy when someone does well (I’m a mess during the Olympics, no matter who wins- their story and hard work led them to their dreams).  It’s amazing I don’t see only bad. The murders, rape, leukemia, disability and not being able to work as a nurse, and many other things would give me reason to do so.  But that’s not who I am. I wasn’t brought up to look for the bad.  But you think that of me? After 45+ years?  Then you don’t know me at all. I question everything about our friendship with that comment. 

When one of my sponsor kids makes the drama team, my heart explodes with joy for him. When the twins start to feel comfortable asking me questions, I am so happy they feel safe to do so.  When another asks me to pray that his goats keep “reproducing well”, I’m overjoyed that he has a little ranch going (he’s 8).  When my sensitive one needs reassurance from me that I’m proud of her, my heart aches with gratitude that she is doing well.  I don’t see their ‘conditions’.  I see that God created these 8 kids with amazing potential.

I don’t see conservatives or liberals. I see a country failing to see the big picture. We’re here together. Everybody has to make choices about what is worth destroying the country over. I don’t see anything worth that.  And prophetically, the US will fall. We’re on that path. And God will deal with things as He sees fit for His ultimate plans. In the meantime, I just want to be the best I can be with His help. His opinion is my beacon.

I was hoping that hydroxychloroquine would be a ‘game-changer’, and it was no matter that the idea was pushed by Trump. What mattered was that it would be help to those suffering.  Like everyone, I’m so much more than my views on politics- and they vary by the issue-not the party.  Yet my non-GOP views have made me dirt on your shoes.  I can’t stick around for that. I have to let you go. I’m glad for the clarity. You said what you feel. Let the chips fall where they may.  I can respect your right to your views, even if my difference of opinion is in your crosshairs. But I won’t engage with venom. 

I will always wish you, H, and D all of the best in life. I will be glad to see you in THE place of no more crying or pain when we meet again.  It’s where so much of my hope lies. It’s where the people who gave me a life of church values are waiting.  It’s where the baby I lost is- in a place where its conception by rape won’t matter. It’s where a lot of people I’d expect to see will be, and very likely some I didn’t expect to see, and some I expected to see, but won’t… because I can’t see their hearts. But God can. He knows why I believe what I do, and why I think how I think, before I even think or believe anything. His omniscience and omnipotence blow me away, as does His undeserved Gift of grace, mercy, compassion, and great hope of everlasting life through  Jesus. Take care of yourself, and know that you will always be in my prayers for peace, health, and safety.  I absolutely did not intend for one flip comment to trigger such damage.  For that I deeply apologize. 

Until the time when the earth is long in the past, where a thousand years will seem to be but a minute, I say goodbye.  The pain of that conversation isn’t fixable. And I, again, wish you and your family everything good.

Talking About Things That Hurt…

I think that for the most part, people mean well.  Even with blinding avoidance of some topics, I don’t think malice is behind what seems like apathy, or even repulsion.  My guess is that it’s more a matter of just not knowing how to approach some topics, especially if that topic is linked to some sort of instability or potential ‘trigger’ for harm.  In my life, that applies to anything related to my hospitalizations for being suicidal, or having attempted suicide (though I never really wanted to die…I just didn’t know how to get out of the pain associated with eating disorders).  It’s just not something that is covered in “Social Conversation 101”, and add a church background that repels any sort of mental pain as some type of spiritual weakness, and the doors and mouths are shut when the exact opposite is needed.

I love that I grew up in a church that was a great social and spiritual setting. The kids’ and high school programs were a lot of fun, and the place where most of my friends hung out.  I have deep gratitude for being raised in a church, and while I haven’t been to any particular building for many years (related to my job for a lot of that time, and otherwise my health limitations), my belief in God and Christianity are strong.  I’m not ‘rigid’, as is often associated with evangelicalism.  When I was growing up, the beliefs I learned were just how it was.  I then spent time as an adult reading through the Bible on my own, and found so much less judgement and hostility towards ‘non-believers’…that those who hurt are who the Bible is meant to attract, as well as give guidance to those who do believe. It’s not meant to be  a ‘weapon’ of pompous piety.  I was embarrassed at the narrow-minded acceptance parameters that I’d grown up with, and I also felt that I understood being on the ‘wrong’ side of what was acceptable.  My high school and  post-high school years were an intense period of  general unrest, eating disorders, and suicidal depression that never happened unless I wasn’t eating properly. During those years, suicide was something that came up more than once… yet I couldn’t really discuss it with anybody who knew me very well.  My parents found out I was mentioning some dark topics, and then chastised me for ever talking about such a thing; I had nothing to be all that upset about, why did I want to make THEM look bad?  All about them.  So I didn’t talk anymore. Until I got away from home.

I had worked at a wonderful church camp during the summers before my senior year in high school, freshman year of college, and half of the following summer. I’d met some incredibly caring people, and I’d disclosed a bit about the depths of despair I’d felt with the eating disorders and accompanying depression with a select few of them.  I did talk about suicide with one of them, that I remember, during a semester break when I was working at a missions conference that she attended at the University of Illinois, where I went to school.  She was also quite young at the time  (though older than I was, so I was sure she knew just about everything, being in her 20s !), and she was a major source of encouragement.  When someone is in the midst of not knowing if they even want to live, it’s not that helpful to tell them they’re not doing something ‘right’, and she didn’t do that. She did focus my thinking towards the lies in my head, and more on my/our Christian belief system.   I adore this friend to this day, and while  it  wasn’t her ‘job’ to be my counselor, she did the best she could.  Now, many years past those miserable early adulthood years, I do agree that focusing more on being what Christ wants of me, and less on the superficial things like weight  and human perception (at least how it was then) is very much what I want to do, and needed to do back then.  But as a scared, malnourished, ashamed, and depressed eighteen year old, I didn’t really get it.  But at least she talked to me at all… I didn’t feel safe talking to about %99.9 of people I knew (or didn’t know, such as therapists).  And she listened, which was ‘enough’ to help me hang on.  She gave me her time.

Sometimes,  just having something to hang on to is ‘enough’ to get through another day, and maybe that next day isn’t so bad, so it’s easier to see making it through the day after that.  I don’t think it’s a sin to have ‘negative’ emotions. I think that there can be sinful choices in how they’re handled sometimes, and I also think that there are times when people are so deep in the weeds that they need someone to look to while they try and climb back to tended ground.  I also don’t think that mental illness is a sin or sign of spiritual weakness.  It’s an illness,  and those who suffer from it (and it is suffering) are seen as being spiritually weak  in many church settings.  That is SO sad.

I can only imagine Jesus looking down at those who are hurting emotionally, and wanting those who claim to know Him to reach over and encourage and gently nudge the ones in pain so they  keep adding days to their lives until the oppressive clouds lift, and they  see daylight again.  I don’t see Jesus adding shame and judgement to someone who is already struggling to see that the next breath is worth taking.

There is a time and place for instructional discipleship, and a time and place for compassionate encouragement.  But silence in the middle of a rotating thunderstorm just doesn’t make sense.  It’s that silence that can be the last opportunity to reach out to someone who is spiraling out of control, and into a place of absolute helplessness and hopelessness, and ultimately suffocating darkness.  Even ‘just’ asking if someone wants to talk, and ‘just’ sitting with them can be enough to let them know that they matter enough to keep taking up space on the planet.  Nobody has to know all of the answers.  And it’s possible to have more questions than answers and still be a temporary rock in the middle of pain that feels like it’s going to last forever.  Being so afraid of doing something wrong that nothing is done is sometimes beyond useless. To someone who hurts, being glossed over by those who know them is worse than having something not be ‘perfectly’ helpful.  Perception in the middle of pain is often very ego-centric and inaccurate.  But a kind word in a gentle tone can ease so much.

There is nothing wrong with saying “I really don’t know how to help you, but I am so afraid for how much pain I see you in.  What can I do? I am here for you. You matter to me.”.   Having human limitations isn’t going to cause irreparable damage to someone. But apathy and inaction might.  I don’t think that anybody is ever the ’cause’ for someone else taking their own life.  If someone is resolute in their decision to at least try and end their life, they will do so. But when there are signs that something is wrong, I do believe that at least offering some human compassion and understanding can’t hurt.  And, no matter what, I’d rather know I at least tried.