“God is kind, but he’s not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.” Romans 2:4 (MSG)
Seven years ago I stood on the edge of a major decision. I knew if I kept going the way I was going, making the decisions I was making, I would never be the mom I wanted to be. I would never be the wife I wanted to be. I would never be the woman I wanted to be.
I was taking the boatload of blessings I had been given and flushing them down the toilet. And I knew it.
I was focused on the negative in life. I was looking around and seeing the way the world attained happiness and thought that was my avenue too.
Sex sells. Partying is the pathway to popularity. If you don’t have anything nice to say, at least make what you’re saying interesting.
Yet as I inched closer to what the world was trying to offer, I felt farther away from what I knew I was created to be.
So, I prayed. I prayed to a God I barely even knew.
I took every bit of my brokenness and laid it at the feet of my Savior. I said, This is it. This is all of it. Every last bit of the hot mess that is me. Think you can put it all back together again? I sure hope so. I want to be your vessel God, but I can’t seem to get out of my own way.
And you know what God did? He took my hand, gently but firmly.
God took my hand and led me down a path heading in a whole new direction.
When God told me to stop drinking, I argued. I couldn’t fathom the thought of never having a rum and coke with my husband again.
One by one, I brought my concerns to God.
What if we go to Mexico? It can’t possibly be fun without an all-inclusive drink pass. What if I get really super stressed and need a cigarette? How will I get over that craving? What will I say to my friends if I stop gossiping? I’ll have nothing to contribute.
(On a side note, Saul and I have not been back to Mexico and we have not missed the all-inclusive drink specials one bit. Stress still comes but the cigarette cravings are long gone. And my friends seem to appreciate the fact that I don’t talk about other people because they know I also won’t talk about them.)
God knew how much change I could chew at one time. As long as I was faithful about holding His hand, He was faithful about giving me only what I could handle.
Friend, if you’re scared of coming too close to God because you’re afraid that He’ll ask for more than you can give, I understand. Me too.
But I assure you, He loves you more than you love yourself. Any change He asks will be for the better. And you will never regret taking His hand.
“I have a confession to make.”
I had never met the woman standing in front of me, but I could tell whatever she was about to say was serious.
“When I first heard that you were going to be our speaker, I rolled my eyes. I thought, What could a former Miss Wisconsin who looks like that possibly teach me? She’s got it all together. What could she possibly know about suffering?”
I stayed quiet. I had a feeling this woman wasn’t done sharing her revelation.
“Then you started talking… about your childhood and the prison and the cancer and everything else. I was wrong. I was wrong about you and I was wrong to judge. I am so sorry.”
She nearly had tears in her eyes as she finished her thoughts.
What could I say? It’s not like she booed me from the crowd when they introduced me. She was quiet about her contempt. Polite. She was just throwing daggers from her mind.
I thanked the woman for being so honest. As she walked away, I thought, Me too.
How often do I do that? Decide how I feel about a person just by the way they hold themselves? See a woman on television and assume it’s gotta be easier for her? Turn down a possible friendship because we’re too different?
What is my internal dialogue falsely determining? What is your internal dialogue falsely determining?
I don’t know that I would be bold enough to say to another woman, “Ya know, I really didn’t like you when I met you” but I’m so glad this woman found her brave.
Her confession changed me. It turned on a light bulb in my head. And that light bulb is illuminating the dark corners of my mind, the crevices where the evil thoughts hang out.
Kindness starts in our minds. It’s not the $5 we spend on a stranger’s coffee. It’s not the condolence card we send to a friend. It’s the words we speak to ourselves and others in our head.
Everyone has a struggle. Everyone. No one is left unscathed from this world.
We each have a story to tell. Just like a good book, some chapters are tragic and some are light-hearted. Perhaps when we see someone who looks like they have it all together they are just going through a chapter of ease. But perhaps not.
Thanks to one woman’s conference confession, I’m going to work much harder to never judge a book by its cover.
My husband and I have had a little game going since we got married. It’s called, “Things I’ve never said before.” When one of us says to the kids, “How did the toothpaste get on the ceiling?” or “Did you poop in the tub?” we will look at each other and say, “Well, that’s something I haven’t said before.”
It’s diffused a lot of tenuous situations and left us giggling at ourselves instead of standing in a hot lava pit of angry or frustrated emotions.
I spoke at a women’s conference this weekend and although I don’t think I said anything off-the-wall that I haven’t said before, I definitely heard something that I hadn’t heard before.
Saturday morning, I gave my testimonial… basically explaining the story of my mom falling in love with a prison inmate and my Saturday visits to that prison as a child. I love to share the beauty of God’s redemption and the power of kindness to help us through life’s sticky situations.
Saturday afternoon, I gave a workshop on kindness. For 45 minutes, I basically told the group everything I’d ever done wrong when it comes to kindness; the misconceptions I had in the beginning and tools I use to reroute my brain when being kind becomes difficult.
I was sitting at a table signing books later that afternoon, when a white-haired woman slight in stature with sparkly eyes came over to say hi. Those bright eyes locked into mine and with a bit of a smirk she said, “Nicole, I ran right over to confession after I listened to your workshop!”
Then she proceeded to ask me to sign her book to “Sister (her name)”.
Did you catch that? She’s a nun. I made a NUN feel guilty! It’s probably some sort of a sin, but I think that’s hysterical! With all I’ve done wrong in my life… all the ways I’ve failed to do right… a CATHOLIC NUN is going to confession to get right with God because of me?
I choked and then I laughed out loud. I said, “Sister, that is definitely something I haven’t heard before.”
I still smile as I reflect on that conversation.
We do that to ourselves sometimes, don’t we? We feel like if we’re not helping everyone, if we’re not making the most of every single opportunity, then we are failing. Maybe you don’t think that way, but I do.
That’s why I love this week’s memory verse. I’m committed to memorizing it because I know it’s important to remember the basics. What does God expect from us? What does he want from us? What would make Him happy?
It’s all there in Micah 6:8: “The Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
We don’t have to save the world. We just have to be kind to the people in it as best we can. No guilt or confession required.