Life feels really heavy right now, because it is heavy. Last night we attended our city’s annual Red, White and Blue Blast. It was the first time I felt intense pain with the celebration. I probably should have felt this pain a long time ago as I sit and listen to people who have not had the same America I have had ever. When we got to the fields, I sat down and noticed how tired I am – emotionally, spiritually, and physically. I have tried over and over to write something inspirational, funny or just anything at all, and I keep coming up with nothing. So I thought about simple things that I have heard or experienced that has made a dramatic impact bringing hope and joy. They also changed the narrative of the story being told.
Years ago when I attended Oklahoma State, there was a Tuesday Night of Praise gathering I would attend from time to time. One lesson that never left me was listening to the OSU quarterback at the time give his testimony. He grew up in the projects and told his story using his street slang. He told us if we went to the streets saying Jesus did this or Jesus did that – he knew we would be killed. What he challenged us to do instead was not to be scared of people. His world changed by a couple who smiled at him instead of turning away in fear. That confused him, and he wanted to know why they smiled and were not scared. He turned his life over to Christ because someone smiled at him. I loved this story because I really had no idea what to tell people about Jesus at the time. I really did not have a story to tell at that moment, but I could smile. Smiling made sense to me.
The other day I was listening to a podcast Julie Rodgers was a guest on. She is a writer who speaks about all things sexuality, social justice, angst, and Christian hope. There was so much she said, but one sentence in particular hit on a feeling I felt too; she said when she goes to church her pastor lights up when she and her partner show up. You can tell this is a new feeling for her by the way she said it. There is power in lighting up when you see someone. I remember one Sunday Mark, Heather and George all gave me these beautiful smiles from the chancel. Those smiles did something for my soul that changed me dramatically. Can just a smile do that? I am here to testify – Yes!
Knowing I am enjoyed just by showing up has changed my way of being in the world. I am taking more risks like writing for the church blog, I am going to facilitate my first Bible class to adults, and speaking in front of the church. I love all things theology, and I am thankful to have found friends who want me to participate in that journey. I would not have done any of this a year ago. I will say speaking in front of the church almost did me in. I have never shook so much in my life, and I was only reciting the opening sentence. My heart started pounding frantically, so much so, I was trying to find my husband Jake to trade me places because I felt like I could not do this. Since I could not find him, even though he was right in front of me, I decided it would be more humiliating to run off the stage. Then I started doing what means so much to me when I sit in the pews, I started smiling at people. When Dawn Hallman smiled back and gave me a thumbs up, my heart rate slowed down and I knew I could do this. Doug Haney smiling and nodding at me when it was time for me to approach the podium was also enough encouragement to just do it.
When we attended America’s celebration last night, I was reminded of what is still good. We can still march and protest. We love America, and we can criticize her when she isn’t who she is supposed to be. I was also attending with new and old friends. Our kids are forming friendships that are only getting stronger because of the chaos. They will lead us one day. We have to notice these little things that are happening in the midst of a bad system so we won’t faint. I think of Garth Brooks song “The Change” that was written after the Oklahoma City Bombing, “It’s like trying to stop a fire with the moisture from a kiss”.