When I was 11 years old – just on the precipice of young adulthood – I became fascinated by both the immense capacity and frustrating limitations of my own memory. I remember reflecting back on my childhood and wondering why some of my memories were vivid enough to smell and taste, while others were vague and pale like smoke – utterly irretrievable no matter how hard I grasped at them.
I remember feeling a sense of tragedy and despair about these lost memories and forgotten moments. They seemed to me like paintings stolen from a gallery: images that belonged to me but that I could never again gaze upon.
So, at 11 years old, I created my own little memory experiment. Inside my mind, I built an imaginary filing cabinet. Whenever I noticed something striking – something I wanted to remember forever – I would take a mental picture and consciously store it away in my mind’s filing cabinet where I could retrieve it again whenever I wanted.
I guess my experiment worked because I still have those
mental images today – nearly 20 years later.
One of them is of a crisp-orange October day:
It has been one month since two jets slammed into the twin towers, and I sit in the back seat of my mother’s car dressed in black. We are driving home from the funeral of a 16-year-old boy who was killed in car crash. We pause at a stop light. Wind gusts through a clump of nearby trees sending thousands of golden leaves into the intersection, where they dance around our car, floating and spinning, suspended in midair like thousands of glowing human souls. And I wonder at a God who creates such beautiful things in world so darkened by death.
I take a mental picture.
Another of my pictures is of wintertime:
I pull our old wooden sled up our street, heading home after a long day of sledding. The sun sits purple-gray on the horizon, and heaps of shoveled snow glisten like the inside of a purple geode. The street lamps flicker on, and I realize I am late for dinner. I know I’ll be scolded for being out after dark, so I slow my pace – putting off the inevitable – and I drink in the cold, quiet solitude of a winter’s walk.
I take a mental picture.
I have dozens of remembered snapshots from that year – tinsel in Christmas candlelight, pencil races down rain gutters, flower crowns in my best friend’s hair, warm mud between bare toes.
But somewhere along the path to grown-up land, I misplaced my mental camera, or it broke, or my filing cabinet got full – because I stopped paying attention to such details. I stopped noticing.
I stopped storing up my mental pictures.
Instead, I began hurrying (and worrying) through life’s
motions. After all, there were exams and papers and practice and obligations
and interviews and jobs and checklists and dates and appointments and schedules
How life passes us by.
A few months ago, some friends and I formed a women’s bible study. On a whim we started reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts together. In the book, Voskamp argues that living life in this distracted way – that is, always worrying about the next obligation or the next potential failure – leads to a life of discontentment and a kind of zombie-like existence. She writes,
It’s the life in between, the days of walking lifeless, the years calloused and simply going through the hollow motions, the self-protecting by self-distracting, the body never waking, that’s lost all capacity to fully feel – this is the life in between that makes us the wild walking dead.
Voskamp’s remedy? To start actively paying attention to the gifts God heaps up around us. In doing so, we grow in fellowship with God our Creator and experience both contentment and joy that lasts. She challenges herself (and her readers) to create a list of 1,000 gifts – to record a life of surplus instead of deficit. Her list begins like this:
Morning shadows across old floors
Jam piled high on the toast
Cry of blue jay from high in the spruce
Leafy life scent of the florist shop
The creak of her old knees
Wind flying cold wild in hair
At first, my friends and I chuckled and rolled our eyes at Voskamp’s list: How silly and little these gifts are! Who is thankful for creaky old knees? But then we challenged each other to make up our own collective gift-list using our five senses.
“The smell of spring rain,” one of us said.
“The taste of this wine,” said another.
“The sound of laughter.”
And on we went, actively fighting our discontentment with
gifts made tangible simply by our effort to notice them.
Slowly, I’m learning to notice again: The sound of fresh coffee dripping, the earthy-sweet smell behind my dog’s ears when he snuggles close, the way light glows soft through white curtains, the sound of thunder rolling. These snapshots remind me of a Creator who gives gifts heaped up like golden leaves, like mounds of glistening snow – if only we have the eyes to see.
I was about to take off with my mom for our girls’ weekend away. The sun was shining and warm, the convertible top was down, we had just finished watching all 3 boys play baseball and we would be on our way to our free afternoon of whatever we felt like doing in the city.
I put in the name of our hotel on the phone for directions and the screen went into a white blank search. I waited, but not too long.
“It’s not pulling up. Ugh! My phone has been acting up lately! Nothing. It won’t load much at all!” My husband was still just outside the car and I was yelling that out for his benefit too. Like it was my desperate plea to please fix this annoyance in my life. It had been doing this for days and I was sure I would be shelling out money for a new one soon.
At the same time he and my mom say a version of the same thing.
“Power off and on again.”
Every time someone says that to me I feel 2 things. 1. How could I have forgotten to do something so simple? 2. How can something so simple really fix this?
I listened, turned the phone off (but not for long, I had places to go), and sure enough, it worked like a charm. GPS was up and moving along with all the other apps that were holding out on me. *Sigh*
Could it all really be so simple?
Last time I told a story at the fire I recounted my husband’s deployment. It’s been almost 4 months since he’s returned home. 4 months! In that time he has done nothing but transition from one change to another. He was home for a month, went back to his old job in the civilian world for a month, put in his notice that he was leaving in a month, then immediately started his new job on base for almost a month. Count ’em up. 4 months of change.
My boys moved along from their basketball season to baseball, and Thomas (husband) is even coaching the older boys’ team. He also joined the church softball team so he could play too.
I started a local writers group with some moms from our school and meet with them twice a month for encouragement and learning. Then I mentioned to our Moms group leaders that I could write some curriculum for them and they took me up on it. We found out we were approved for a trip to Orlando for work and so I spent a week learning and planning Disney for our family’s first trip there this summer.
Now its May and apparently any and every event in school, church, and life needs to happen these last few weeks. Every time I finish one activity, I turn around to realize that a volunteer assignment or field trip is quick on its heals. Fast food is too commonly our dinner plan and juice boxes are strewn across the floors of my minivan.
All the sickness that stayed at bay for my boys and I in January when daddy returned, came to cash in this month. Seriously, we have had random vomiting, pink eye, fifths disease (we had no idea until the rash came and then its not contagious-go figure), itchy feet, sore throats, and a current fever and cough that won’t relent for my youngest. He had to miss his last days of school. My voice was completely gone on Mother’s Day weekend and my husband who almost never takes a sick day had to come home early from work because he’s struggling with the same thing as my 5 year old.
We are CRAWLING to the end line folks.
I usually welcome the end of the school year because it’s a nice break. This year, I feel like a marathon runner who’s going to straight up pass out over the finish line.
The Holderness family nailed it with their “Maycember” music video. If you haven’t seen it, its worth a few minutes of your precious May time. It reminds me I’m not alone and makes me laugh instead of cry. When I ask a friend if they heard about an upcoming event, it’s not unusual for me to receive a blank stare as they search their files. If they are even willing to search. It’s like the blank white screen of my phone. We’ve got little to nothing left and our circle is just spinning while our page remains blank.
The reminder comes. I need to POWER OFF.
Isn’t it funny that we can relate ourselves to a piece of technology? Aren’t we more complex than that? Is it really so simple, and if that’s the answer, how do I even do that?
Jesus was having a “May” himself throughout much of his ministry. It wasn’t his entire life. He spent the first years growing up in a family and learning the trade of his father. But when it was time to start his journey towards the cross, it became MAY. Open your nearest Bible and take a look at the book of Matthew, starting about midway of chapter 4 and then glance across the black letters (if your Bible has red letters they’re used to show the words of Jesus) that describe the setting at the tops and bottoms of each titled section. Scan through chapter after chapter. Phrases like this are found:
“From that time on Jesus began to preach,”
“When he came down from the mountainside from teaching, the crowds followed him”
“When Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him asking for help.”
“When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever.”
“Then he got into the boat and the disciples followed him.” (This is where he was sleeping in the boat during a bad storm. After reading all this, I think I can understand WHY.)
“Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat.”
“While he was saying this, a ruler came and knelt before him and said, ‘My daughter has just died,’”
It goes on. Jesus moves from one place to the next and the people flock to him. As he travels around, there are sick, hurting, confused, and dying people all around him begging for his help. As a mom of 3 sometimes I dare to think, “this is what I feel like”. But really, they are just 3. He was often surrounded by crowds of hundreds to thousands. And yet, Scripture says, “he had compassion on them”.
Luke 5:15-16 reads, “Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”
Jesus was fully human. He surely got tired and felt the aches of this body and life. But we are also told that he was fully God. His personal aches were overcome with an ache of compassion. He loved people fully and gave them more than what they sought. Physical healing, yes. But spiritual life and newness? That’s a game changer. This man, this son of God brought LIFE beyond the here and now.
But he also needed a moment to power off. He slept through storms, he stepped out on boats to preach from a distance, he withdrew to be on his own and pray to God. He was showing us an incredibly important lesson in his actions.
You have a job to do? Do it and work hard.
You have children to care for? Do the 3680 tasks that are necessary to keep them safe and growing.
You have a school, church or organization to volunteer at? Please serve with your whole heart.
You have a sickness that has taken over? Go to doctors appointments, ask for help, reorganize the schedule.
BUT, (yes a big but), in order to keep going, function properly and do so with love—take the moment to power down.
Find that quiet place and pray. I think one of the reasons Jesus chose ‘lonely places’ is so that he could hear. Hear nature. Hear his own breathing. Hear God. The crowds and people were always around him. He needed space…
to hear God whisper the sweet words of encouraging life back into his soul.
When we do this, this simple little action, our mind and heart reset. We have just what we need to make it to the next power off. When you find your mind spinning and nothing but an empty page of a heart, don’t forget that step, friends.
I’m going to wrap this up and find a lonely place. Because if you made it with me to the end here, you and the Lord know I can use it.
I have the guy who sold me kale one time in college to thank for one of my more important personal growth moments. Here is the progression: I interviewed him as part of my responsibilities for a club I was a part of. He talked about the fact that he grew vegetables on a farm. It was November, and I needed vegetables. Kale is one of a few vegetables that grows in Michigan in November. I do not particularly love kale, but when I texted him for veggies, and he said he had kale, I did not want to be the ungrateful person who won’t accept that, miraculously, something green has grown in Michigan in November. I bought some.
I met him at the university coffee shop to pick up the kale
I only kind of wanted, and he stayed to chat for a while. I asked good
questions about his interesting farm life, his interesting interest in books,
etc. I successfully got him to stay and talk about himself for half an hour,
after which he paused and asked/stated, (paraphrase) “I haven’t really learned
anything about you. We’ve been talking about me this entire time.”
Which, of course, was my exact plan for the conversation.
Not consciously, but at the time that was my move. I’d ask questions, nod and make good eye contact, thus fading
myself out of the conversation because I thought that’s probably what people
wanted. I have my kale guy to thank for being the first person to explicitly
tell me that I was allotted a whole half of a conversation, and I wasn’t taking
up my fair share, and that someone wished I would.
I found that I couldn’t find something
to say, and the conversation quickly fizzled. The whole thing unnerved me. I
mean, really – a complete stranger asked me to tell about me and my mind went
blank. I don’t think it was for lack of knowing. I think I was aware of some
things that I liked and that I didn’t, of what I believed about some things,
and who my friends were. I think the issues was that I was out of practice when
it came to acting on those things in front of people. Somewhere, I had picked
up the idea that I, and what I thought and loved and did, was about as relevant
and important as an automated telemarketing call, or something equally bland
(This is a lie.)
It feels healing to do things that remind me that things
about me matter. These things are very small: doing what I like for simply that
purpose (not because it’s useful, helpful, logical), saying what I think to
other people, making a decision, saying no to things and saying yes. In one way
or another, being who I am in front of people, on purpose. It’s empowering.
I’m lucky to have picked up a new belief, too, through
various books and podcasts and parts of the Bible that I’ve found myself
thinking about since the kale guy conversation. Being who I am in front of people,
on purpose, doesn’t only make me feel confident and empowered; I believe it’s
sacred. (Let me acknowledge, for a second, that it feels bold to declare THIS
IS WHAT I BELIEVE IS SACRED from my kitchen in my pajamas with only my bachelor’s
degree in psychology to officially back up my Bible-reading authority. Regardless,)
Here’s what I know: if I believe that God made me on purpose, and made me the
way I am on purpose, and is powerful and in-charge enough to understand and
coordinate the world, it makes sense for me to trust that he was on to
something when he made me.
I mean, imagine being God and having made someone the way you
wanted to – and knowing you’d gotten it right, and having it all laid out as
far as what would happen to and around them that would just fit with your plan for who they were. I imagine so much joy as
he watches the times when I embrace that. And I picture a sad-tinged voice saying
“If only you knew” while I hide out thinking that things about me don’t matter,
or are really all wrong. I think that finding out who I am, and being that
person in the presence of God, is an act of worship and trust all by itself.
Which, by the way, is exactly the point I think the kale guy
was trying to make.
If it weren’t for Allie I would know nothing of blogs…
If it weren’t for Allie I would know nothing of podcasts…
If it weren’t for Allie I would know nothing of Chacos, milk frothers and fish tacos.
If it weren’t for Allie I would know nothing of motherhood.
It brings me great joy to welcome our next friend to the fire… My firstborn and my inspiration for writing in the first place..
I can say I knew her when.
When she spoke her first word, scribed her first letter, colored her first picture, wrote her first story. Her dad and I saw her gift for communicating through the written word at a young age. When she started her own blog it brought me great joy to know that others would benefit from this gift as well.
She brings joy as well as wise perspective to any situation. She is determined and delightful and lovely. Over our life together we have butted heads and hearts and in the process developed a trusting relationship that is one the the most important in my life. I am confident you will appreciate and love her as much as I do… well almost as much. Duh – I’m her mom.
Welcome to the fire Allie…. we’re so glad you’re here.
It was an out of body experience. It was like I was floating outside myself, watching ( in horror) a woman out of control. The words coming out of my mouth were not those of a mature, college educated professional but an outraged, maniacal 3 year old. My tone wash harsh and my volume was maxed. I vaguely remember recalling, “I wonder if my neighbors can hear me?”, but not seeming to care based on the chorus of anger that raged on. Rather then staying calm and modeling the behavior I was desiring of the 3 year old I was attempting to discipline, I decided a better plan was to become a 3 year old myself. Irrational, irritable, slightly insane. This makes perfect sense – just what my sweet daughter needed when she was just trying to navigate emotions that were simply bigger than her little body could hold… a mom that forgot all she knew and went right back to Preschool her self.
It was not one of my prouder mothering moments.
My 3 year old did not need another 3 year old to guide her to her next best behavior decision. She needed an adult.
I’ve noticed a trend lately. It shows up in my social media feed, the t-shirt section of Target, college advisory panels, even on cross stitched plaques hanging on college dorm rooms. It shows up in print, and in voice…
and I hear it loudest…
Its a message that makes me cringe and reminds me all too much of the woman that I saw standing in my hallway years ago. The woman that needed to get a grip, that needed someone further along the parenting path to show her the way, to love her enough to hug her while pointing her in a very different direction.
What is the trend you ask? ( be careful- I may start stepping on toes- but I’ve just about had enough). The “I Just Can’t Adult today” and “I’m just a HOT MESS” and “I’m declaring a lay on the couch and drink wine all day Holiday.” Trend.
When you google Women’s T-Shirts – its EASY to find attire that proclaims the above messages. We are wearing it, posting, yelling it – Loud and Proud.
And I just have to ask…
What I find interesting is that you can do a google search for Girls T-Shirts and not one of them says …”I want to grow up to Not be able to ADULT.” or “My Life Goal is to lay around and drink wine all day.” or “Im a HOT MESS.” Instead, you’ll find this…
“My Dream is my Future”
“I believe I CAN.”
or ” One Amazing Kid.”
Something is getting horribly lost between the girls section and the womans and its impact is much bigger than jumping a few sizes in the T Shirt department.
I am one year away from being an empty nester which is probably why I have chosen this particular box of soap to camp on. This battle to fight. This mountain to climb.
This cause of which I speak has generational impact.
Welcome to my NOT so sweet, truth laced with grace Mothers day message.
Ladies of all ages – it’s time to come to grips with your…..
Yes – your amazing, talented, beautiful, gifted, wise, kind, courageous, brand of
awesomeness that make up all women.
This awesomeness comes in different packages, different personalities and different skill sets. It is not perfect but it loves itself despite the flaws. The imperfections are what keep it humble and able to empathize with the women coming behind it – they’ve been there. This awesomeness that shows itself when we show up in our role as adults to the children that so desperatly need us.
The adult my daughter needed when she was 3 is the same adult she still needs now at almost 22 to show up when life’s questions seem bigger then any answer. When any of my children send a text that simply says “Can you talk?”.. ..the last thing they need is to get an auto reply…
“Sorry, I Can’t Adult Today.”
Over the past 3 years I have had the privilege of leading groups of Junior High and High school students. It has brought me back to my youth ministry roots of years ago – when I lead but didn’t have children of my own. Coming back to the teen scene after having raised 3 children I have a heightened awareness of what these students need.
They need adults willing to Adult. period.
We have all heard the reports of dramatic increases in reports of anxiety and depression.
The CDC conducted a report in an Ohio county that reflects a national trend. “The Report also says more than 1 in 20 students attempted suicide during the same period while 1 in 10 had suicidal ideation.” Our own high school had an anxiety outbreak in our girls dorm last year when one diagnosed report spread like a cancer to many other girls. When my daughter asked me if there were people that had “anxiety” when I was in high school, I told her I honestly cannot even remember the word being used.
Many point to an increase in the use of social media, cyber bullying, the comparison trap that lulls us all in at rapid speed as we scroll aimlessly through our insta feeds. All of this has valid data to back it up and I 100% agree with the need to help children navigate this very uncharted world. I agree with the plan implemented by the county mentioned in the above report to support teens:
“Create protective environments.”
“Teach coping and problem-solving skills”
“Train community members to identify and suppose those at risk.”
I also believe though that there is another important if not equal area where the spotlight needs to turn. The enemy has convinced us that it’s not a big deal – it really doesn’t matter – that we can let anything fly out of our mouths with no adverse effects. This silent killer of hope you ask? It is the WORDS we as adults specifically female adults are allowing to come out of mouths, onto our fb posts and our clothing. The WORDS that have started as thoughts, beliefs in our hearts and minds that are blasting the air our impressionable children breath. I cannot help but think that the picture we paint of adult hood is making a considerable impact on our children’s fatalistic view of their future. Why would they believe they should ” Dream BIG!” when those dreams will certainly end on the couch with a glass of wine and the inability to “adult.”
Words have POWER –
When God created the world – he did it with WORDS – spoken out into the universe. Genesis 1:3 “and God SAID…. let there be…”
When Moses spoke the WORDS of truth from God he said to Israelites,”Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you – they are your LIFE. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.” Deuteronomy 32: 46-47
The above narrative shows God asking parents to pass on words of LIFE to their children. What we are forgetting as adults is that our children are watching. They see our FB posts, they view our T shirts and the listen to our rants. They will believe what they see lived not what they are “told” is the right way. As we know – Much more is caught than taught.
The words we speak have power beyond our imagination. The words we speak regularly over our selves, our minds and our lives will become our reality.
The hot mess you claim is the hot mess you become. It’s a fact.
Now I realize that the flippant comments made about adulting, or being a hot mess may be intended to make us more relatable to those we are attempting to influence. At least thats what I hoped when I sat in on a panel of three college administrators that were leading a forum on the impacts of social media to a room full of college students. I did actually cringe when I heard the words leave the professors mouth, “I’m just a Hot mess.” The nervous laughter from the crowd made me wonder if this made a connection or fueled the internal question of the students, ” Is this what I have to look forward to? A life that always feels out of control in which the “hotmessyness” of college life doesn’t change once entering the world of adult hood?”
As I watch my 3 young adult offspring enter the world I am praying for mentors that will show them how to handle their next steps. I want adults that do not claim perfection but show signs of wisdom and confidence that have come from learning from their adult experiences. When they face adversity, I want them surrounded by peers that point them to the opportunity in their situation not the ones that tell them to run and hide, that this adult situation is clearly too much for them. When they achieve great success I want them to have wise counsel on how to humbly walk though the season of abundance. When they receive challenging phone calls I want them to have a tribe of adults surrounding them in a new, hard journey on which they may now need to embark.
I have a friend that had struggled with neck pain for many months. She recently was diagnosed with a tumor in her neck along her spine. She has had a pin inserted into her back to help hold her head up while her tumor is shrunk with chemo treatments. I am certain her adult journey is currently feeling a bit much. She has two teenage children and an amazing husband. She is in desperate need for her posse to show up in true confident, selfless ADULT fashion. No sitting on the couch for this crew. They are in full out battle mode. They need too because the reality is there will be days that feel too hard, too much. There will be seasons that will be too dark and too desperate. I know – I have walked those seasons myself. When I needed my inner group of friends to circle up and adult alongside me, often times stepping in to be the adult I needed.
The friend that stood by my side as the doctor spoke gigantic words regarding my sons prognosis. I was numb and she was clear. She made him repeat himself over and over until she knew I understood.
The friend that purchased all the fixings for my children’s easter baskets because my home was the hospital while the above sons health battle raged on.
The sister in law that took my baby out of my arms to snuggle while I sat in the other room with a cup of coffee and a book for a much needed break after a night with little sleep.
I needed these adults – the ones that showed up to their best adult life those days.
When we flippantly throw phrases around like I’ve discussed in this blog, and we start believing that we are what we speak we set ourselves up for a bleak future. One that tells us we cant possibly serve our neighbor or answer the phone of the friend that needs to talk.
When we claim we can’t ADULT, we claim we can’t live.
My prayer for this generation of adult women ( and men) is that we reclaim the truth of who we are. The WORDS we speak start as a belief in our hearts. Jesus reminds us of this in Luke 6:45 – “For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” What I’m hearing and seeing in women and many times myself … is that I need a heart check…. what’s really going on in there?
We are told in Psalm 139 that each human, adults included are “fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful.” V. 14
That we believe in the vision and encouragement God has for all people “Be strong and courageous. Do NOT be terrified, do not be discouraged – for I will be with you where ever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (even into adulthood).
That we remember the adults that have gone before us and shown us the way. “Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders us and run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith.” Hebrews 12:1
Ladies – It. Is. Time.
It is time to burn the T-shirt.
It is time to delete the low bar facebook posts.
It is time to stop making light of the words we allow spoken over ourselves and the lives of the people around us.
You are so much more than a hot mess. SO much more. And you can adult today…
You really, really can.
Lets try this list of accolades on for size…
You are able and amazing.
You are beautiful and bold.
You are confident and courageous.
You are delightful and determined.
You are……… ( fill in the blank of all that you hope to be….)
If wearing that above list makes you feel slightly uncomfortable, like it just doesn’t quite fit….
If its a style new to you ….
you may be believing the lie that it is a list for all the other women out there and never for you…. the lie…
if this is so – I know a great girls t shirt section that may point you in the right direction.
I’m Believing in YOUR greatness – May you do the same.
The Easter service was over, and the young mothers
approached our row of women with shy smiles on their faces and babies in their
arms. As they came near, we shook hands and they held their children up close
to us. Many in our group reached out to place our hands on the children’s heads
or hold their little fingers.
One mother stopped directly in front of me, and her little
girl stared at me with big eyes. In an instinctive “mom” move, I gently placed
my hand on her and kissed her on the forehead. It was something I would have
done with my own children, but I quickly glanced at the mother, wondering at
This was not familiar territory. My husband, son, and I were with a church group on a mission service trip in Vietnam. With special governmental permission, we had worshiped with other Christians on Easter Sunday at a Vietnamese Catholic church. As you can imagine, 23 people of mostly European descent were hard to miss, and not only because we looked different. The women in our group had chairs to sit on in the back of the congregation, while the men stood behind us. This was special treatment we appreciated, because the hundreds of local worshipers had sat Vietnamese style—on their haunches with feet flat on the ground—for most of the long outdoor service. After the service the local women sought us out.
In this unusual setting, I looked in the mother’s eyes to
see if she would be shocked or offended at my kissing her child. Had I
committed a cultural error? But
she returned my gaze and gave me a gratified smile, while the next mother eagerly
moved forward and held her child up so I could touch and kiss her baby as well.
At this point I heard a sharp intake of breath to my left, and turned to see a panicked expression on the face of the woman who stood next to me. She was looking at the baby I had just kissed as the mother smiled and held it forward. Suddenly I realized that this little girl, like many of the children, had probably been sitting or playing on the ground near her mother during the long worship service. Her little face and hands were smudged with dirt that I had not noticed.
Gingerly my American friend reached out and patted the
baby’s head. As I leaned forward and kissed the next baby in line, I thought to
myself that I was not doing this lady any favors. The smudged and dirty little ones were touchable for me in
that moment, but she was not feeling quite so free about it.
Let me describe another scene from this trip. Our group included some couples,
singles, and other family groups from the English-speaking church we attended
in Hong Kong, and at one point we visited with some local people in the
walled-in yard of a home in one of the villages. In the universal language of
children, our middle school kids and the younger Vietnamese children were chasing
each other around the courtyard in an informal game of tag. As we adults looked
on, a friend of mine leaned over to me and said, “I wonder if those are bug
bites or a rash on that one little girl.”
I froze, and there may even have been a sharp intake of
breath, because “that one little girl” was playing with my son. I soon responded
to the situation with another instinctive “mom” move, taking my boy aside and
quietly telling him not to get too close to the little girl, and not to touch
her, since we didn’t know what had caused her rash. He glared at me, but he knew I was serious.
Later that day, my husband related that our son had
indignantly reported me for my insensitivity. “Mom told me not to play with
that little girl. She thinks I
might catch something from her!” Another parent might understand my reaction
and concern; he did not appreciate my fear. A little girl with a rash on her arms was touchable for him
in that moment, but I could not allow it.
While we may not even be able to explain our reasons, we each have situations in which we find other people to be untouchable. For me, there is usually something about a person that I fear, don’t understand, or can’t control that makes me discreetly put my hands behind my back. Apparent dirt and germs may trigger a “hands off” reaction, but sometimes I just stay away because a person is different.
Oh—and I can point out any number of things that make a person different! People who are not from the same place I am from are different, of course—whether they come from another country and speak a different language or from another part of town and I understand them just fine. Or they may be different because of their approach to life, of what they do or fail to do, of real or perceived injustices and slights that they don’t seem to regret and “should,” of the things they believe and value, of other people they associate with, of their hostility to me or in general, or of an overbearing or unreceptive personality that I cannot approach. The list is long and you only have so much time to read this. And in the same moment that I may proudly point to all the people I AM willing to touch, pat on the back, hold hands with, embrace loosely or hug closely, my behavior can also say that different people are just…untouchable.
Less than two weeks ago we celebrated Easter again,
rejoicing in the glorious resurrection of our Savior, Jesus. Jesus is God but
came as a man into a world full of rules about not touching unclean
things or people and he touched them all—he touched the sick, the unwashed, the
outcast and even the dead. He
allowed others to touch him because they believed in his power to heal with his
touch. He approached the unapproachable and laid his hands on them.
These were not hesitant, fingertip touches. Jesus essentially leaped into the
cesspool of evil, disease and guilt that is the world we live in, and he stayed
immersed in that filth to take hold of us and lift us all out by his own
suffering and death. He actually became
untouchable in our place, and thereby purchased for us the great gift of forgiveness.
Easter means that before God Jesus
has made us pure, clean, and touchable.
And in a seriously miraculous turn of events, Jesus’ death
and resurrection mean that our eternal well being is locked up—untouchable by
any force of evil—as we trust in Him, the living Savior. These forces that we
encounter and give in to every day may win many battles, but Jesus has won the
My cousin Becky once related a story from her travels to Africa that has stayed with me for over a decade. Her work often took her to places where there was a clear contrast between her very light skin and the very dark skin of the local people. She especially enjoyed being among the children, who (as I recall) would surround her and were fascinated by her lightness. In one instance, a young girl reached out and took her hand. Becky described it as a simple and powerful action, which we might do well to emulate—“If someone’s different, hold their hand.”
This is what Jesus did. How “different”—how untouchable—I was. Yet He took hold not only of my hand,
but of my very self. How different—how
untouchable—others can seem, but the eternal touch of Jesus also brings a
different perspective. His grace and
forgiveness allow me to see beyond my fear of people and situations I can’t
Each day I am reminded that Jesus has work for me to do that means I sometimes touch—literally and figuratively—untouchable people. Each day I pray that by the power of His Spirit it will be my instinct to hold the hands and touch the lives of people who seem different—perhaps an instinct as familiar as reaching out to kiss the forehead of my children, or a baby in Vietnam.