Have you ever been in a place that you wonder how you even got there at all? Have you ever looked around and everything seemed foreign and unfamiliar? Did you ever wonder how Alice got further and further down the rabbit hole before she realized that she could no longer find her way out?
James 1:23 “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.”
Over the last decade or more our society has experienced a breakdown in our humanity. Exposure to social media has revealed some great gains, but even greater losses. Communication, now in its peak since inception, is at best a misdirected attempt at coming together while forcibly, if not purposely, pushing each other away. We retreat into our “protected” technologically created shells to become an unrecognizable force fueled by media enhanced images of who we crave in the words of Shakespeare, “to be or not to be.” But, Shakespeare was correct, “that is the question.”
The recent school shooting in Florida has once again fueled the gun debate, creating yet another wedge between people of all race, class, age, region and religious or political agenda. People want to blame the POTUS, law enforcement, religion, races and AR-15’s. The real issues of desensitization, the demise of moral and ethical principles, lack of accountability and respect, and indoctrination through controlled media resources, agenda-themed music, and film still remain. Instead of coming together as a people in support of those grieving and mourning the loss of their loved ones, people choose to use the platform to ego-boost their opinionated ideas and agendas of how much things in this world would be different if we would do this, this way or not do that, that way. The reality is most of us are incapable of just doing the small things needed daily. The small niceties in a day that can cause a infinitesimal ripple in the present, later resulting in fantastic or all to often catastrophic outcomes in the future.
Today, while shopping in Walmart, I had the unfortunate opportunity of witnessing a ripple of irresponsible behavior. There was an older Caucasian, well-to-do woman, standing one person ahead of me in the “10 items or less” line. Directly in front of her was a father and son of Mexican descent, which was apparent by their facial characteristics, skin shading and traditional clothing. The woman was obviously annoyed by the fact that this father and son had more than “10 items or less”, and she had no intention of hiding her disdain or contempt. Firstly, she spoke brazenly with another woman standing behind her, making several remarks under her breath while noticeably glaring their direction. But then suddenly after a deep sigh and rolling her eyes back into her head, she stated aloud for all to hear, “I guess they can’t count!” The father and son looked her direction briefly, peered around, then hastily looked away. As I studied their faces I could see the sizzling sting of pain that comes with being ridiculed and singled out. Their body language displayed silent efforts to make themselves appear smaller so as not to draw any more unsolicited attention.
Now, the “ignorant” person will immediately make this whole observation about race or color or even counter-racism (if such a thing exists). But the truth is most of this dreadful display just solidified the already obvious direction our society has been headed in for a long time. I can not explain the barrage of emotion that washed over me in that moment. Sadness, disgust, and shock filled my body. What bothered me most was the impatient, vulgar reaction of this woman who was obviously part of the Baby Boomer generation. A generation known for their fortuitous tolerance mixed with the ability to express wisdom and knowledge that comes from a life of reflective existence. Instead, she displayed bitterness, hatred and inexplicable rage more than likely related to the over-exposure of mainstream media combined with a silver platter attitude in which she thought herself better than those around her. She even had the nerve to say something about “karma”, as if it had something to do with retribution undoubtedly she felt due to the man and his son. And all of this because of a possible 5 items over in the “10 items or less” line. (Some might say “well it is a ’10 Items or Less’ line for a reason”, however, is it possible that the man and his son did not even see the sign?) Maybe the man and his son were just trying to get a few things for their family from Walmart and in their haste were completely unaware of all the “turmoil” they had just “caused”.
In my astonishment I began to shake my head side to side unable to wipe the judgement from my face. The impertinence of this woman reconfirmed the reason so many outsiders look at America in disgust, scoffing at our elite self-assessment of who we think we are. Just then I heard a voice speak out, “wow, shameful behavior”. The resonating disappointment at the center of that voice momentarily stopped me from recognizing it was my own. I could not believe the audacity with which this woman conducted herself, because I knew she was capable of better. As much as I wanted to stand in the gap for the man and his son I could not lower my standards. Although it might have gratified my flesh, using some cleverly humiliating quip on the woman so she could feel the same sting the man and his son felt, I resisted. But the one thing I did do was pray.
I prayed for the woman to be released from the bondage of her pride. I prayed for the man and his son not to be bound by the embarrassing, dehumanizing example displayed by this woman at Walmart. I prayed for those around who may have witnessed the exchange and ignorantly sided with the injustice. But mostly I prayed for my loved ones and myself. I prayed we would not become so jaded in our experience with others that we would thoughtlessly discount who they are as fellow human beings. I prayed we’d remain humble remembering that not one of our lives are better or more important than anyone else’s. I prayed we would remember the example of unconditional love the Father left us through His son Jesus. Jesus epitomized this fact. And unlike Jesus we did not have to prove our unconditional love by sacrificing everything till the point of death. My final thought was a desire to at least try my best to emulate the gracious example left by Christ and to not jump so quick to judgement instead remembering the grace that had been extended over my once wretched life.
James 1:25 “But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.”
Friendship, though sometimes overwhelming, can be a fulfilling experience. Overwhelming in that we can feel pressured to be something we are not, misguided in our understanding of what it truly represents.
Every youth at some point in their childhood has an epiphany-charged moment in which they realize the kind of friends that they want in their lives. As you examine each individual relationship you begin to lean towards some, more than others. You start to understand that being with certain individuals makes you feel either better or worse about who you are and who you want to be.
Friends are the people along the journey that force you to stop and examine the qualities inside you that make you, you. Those qualities that make you examine your likes and dislikes, motives, boundaries, passions, dreams, fears and future. They challenge you to test your limits. They help you decide how deep you choose to allow your parental roots to flourish while building your persona and establishing the reasons behind your “joie de vivre”.
But they are not just there to contribute to who you are, but also to receive. Because let’s face it, we all want to be accepted. We all want to be a part of something mutually satisfying. We want to know that being with someone or spending time on someone is going to be worth the effort that we put out. We want to feel that at any moment we can reach out and know that this person will have our back in no matter what situation we are facing and that they won’t ever let us down. But, the truth of the matter is that they will. No matter how close we think the friendship is.
Friendship is not about perfection. It is not about always telling someone exactly what they want to hear. It is not about pretending that everything they do is sufficient to sustain the relationship. It is not about becoming who they are, in order to feel connected. It is not about compromising who you are, in order to prove your worth. It is not about holding the friendship hostage using manipulative methods and deception. It is not about taking advantage of their positive qualities and exploiting them to boost your own ego. It is not about any of these things.
Friendship is a bond that is created through commonalities shared between people involving sacrifice, truth, respect and unconditional love. It must be unconditional in order to see past the imperfections that make us human. These types of relationships are what keep us connected. Sometimes, as individuals and as a society we become so disconnected that we begin to wonder who we are at all. It is through personal bonds that we become.
Friendship does not just happen. It must be on purpose. There must be a desire to want to have certain people in special moments of life, some good moments, some bad. There must be an effort to reach out, allowing yourself to become vulnerable and accountable to another. We must choose to celebrate these bonds and make it known to them that they are irreplaceable in our lives. We must assure them through words and actions that nothing they do will change our feelings. We must follow-up with them despite miles of separation and varying seasons in life. And we must reciprocate and allow understanding to grow when gaps of time would suggest loss of connectivity. When inspired and led by the Spirit of God we must not hesitate in using the instilled gifts and talents God placed in us to be a blessing to them.
When Jesus came to earth, he not only came for the purpose of salvation. He also came to be an example of loving others the way we want and desire to be loved. He came to show us that even our enemies deserve to have a hand extended to them in friendship. After all, one of his closest friends even betrayed him with a kiss, and yet he loved him. Although this extreme may be foreign and difficult to us as humans, we must still strive for it. It is in the striving that we stretch ourselves and allow God to continue to shape us for greatness, with God and man.
Friendship is the pathway that leads into the introduction for greatness. It allows us to be ever-evolving, sharpening others and allowing them to sharpen us through the privilege of a co-starring role in the story of their lives as well as in ours.
John 15:15 “Instead, I have called you friends…”.
Proverbs 27:17 ” Iron sharpens iron…”.
“I once knew a girl named Kay, she grew up and still wanted to play, so she made up her facie, like a clown, then came Gracie, who sent Kay running out the doorway…”.
A friend of mine once told me a story. She said that she had always wanted to be a clown. She enjoyed making people happy. She wanted to bring joy to children where she had been deprived of it in her own childhood. She shared stories. Wonderful stories of laughing, smiling children standing in long lines filled with noisy, ruddy little faces of all shapes and sizes. Each little face had a shiny expression of uncontained excitement, patiently and not so patiently, awaiting their turn to see the clown. Small chubby fists tightly clenching dollar bills in anxious anticipation of being next in line to yell out their favorite color that would be magically and swiftly transformed into an animal, with a twist of the clown’s hands, from an ordinary latex balloon.
Kay the clown was amazing and colorful with a neverending smile, big floppy feet and bright red hair. A colorful satiny outfit with vivid dots of colors in red, blue, yellow, orange and green made all the children squeal with delight because it alerted them to Kay’s presence. She began to enjoy it so immensely that she not only wanted to attend public events but expand it into a personal experience by bringing it into peoples homes. One of the most popular venues for her growing business was children’s birthday parties.
Children’s birthday parties were always so much fun. Excited little faces would anxiously greet her at the door with wonder and delight. Parents would smile with sighs of relief knowing that Kay the clown was about to bring varied entertainment and distraction to their children giving them a well desired break. There were always some kids that would cry initially but when they would see all the other children participating and all the amazing things Kay could do they would be drawn into a blind state of awe mixed with curiosity. By the time the show was over and Kay was done she would be exhausted, but it was all well worth it knowing that parents and children were equally satisfied with her performance. Word of mouth would prove invaluable marketing for her clown parties. Her desire to be a clown had been fulfilled. She had built up her clown empire and had accomplished her goal of making people happy by doing so. Kay had successfully discovered her talent and had used it to bring joy to others. Life was good until one day appeared a girl named Gracie.
Gracie was an unhappy child which was made apparent by the sneer on her face and the snicker in her voice everytime she made some adultish comment. More than likely she was just a product of her home but the reality was that as a child she was difficult, to say the least. Nothing made Gracie happy and Kay the clown, not through lack of effort, would change that.
When Gracie met Kay something invisible transpired and they were somehow connected in some universal bond that rivaled that of the Montagues and Capulets, unbeknowest to Kay. From their very first encounter Kay knew Gracie did not like her and the kid made it a point to antagonize her every chance she got.
“You ain’t no real clown, clown!” Gracie would yell at Kay the moment she would arrive, often seperated from the other kids waiting outside at the mailbox leading up the given home’s entryway.
“Those aren’t real clown shoes, clown!”, she would scream as she stomped heavily on Kay’s real toes with her patent leather Maryjane shoes and lace fringed socks.
Kay would only smile and grumble under her breathe at what a rotten kid Gracie was. She could not believe that someone so small could be so mean and hateful. After about a year of Gracie run-ins it became apparent that she was not going away. It was because of so many encounters with Gracie, combined with other issue, that resulted in Kay the clown deciding that her clowning career had finally come to an end. And so she decided with a heavy heart to hang up her clown suit and pursue other talents.
We are all born with God given talent. Life throws in unexpected situations that affect us in all sorts of emotional and spiritual ways, both negative and positive. How we deal with those obstacles become crucial to our development and will determine whether our talent is strengthened or weakened, transforming us into who we are to become. Discovering our talent, though transformative, can also be daunting. It happens when we come up against a “Gracie” shaped in the form of opposition to the goals that we are trying to acheive. Opposition can overshadow our circumstance and blind us to everything that is involved. Sometimes there is a bigger picture. We fail to realize that there is a lesson to be learned. A lesson that always begins with us.
Grace is a gift given by God even though we don’t deserve it. God gave us Jesus the Christ who died on the cross serving as an atonement for our sins. Whether we receive that grace or not does not change the fact that we can not earn our way to it, God or heaven. Life obstacles are for our benefit so that we learn to face challenges head on and work through the storm to continue developing our talents to be used for the benefit of others and God’s kingdom. When we fail to recognize that opposition is a humbling experience that ultimately strengthens us and builds up those around us in the process, we can miss out on some of life’s greatest rewards. Others are constantly watching us to see how we react to situations and our response to difficulty unintentionally affects their lives and habits. Extending grace to others can be challenging, but extremely effective. When we can see past our own self, look beyond the pain of another usually disguised as depression, anger, disrespect, or even blatant hatred, we have tapped into the very grace that God extends to us daily. Then when that obstacle shows itself through another we can look up into the beautiful blue sky and realize that through our choices we can be the difference, and that without the grace there is only Gracie.