When our hardships mold us for the better

We had just checked out at the grocery store, and I scooted the cart over to the loading area to bag my groceries while Brenna sat patiently in the front seat of the cart chattering away.

We were at least 10 feet away from where the grocery store clerk sat at the cash register, when the clerk turned to a woman next in line and asked “Darlene, how ya feeling?”

“Oh, not so good,” the elderly woman admitted, and the clerk continued to chat with her about her ailments while other people checked out and loaded groceries around us.

It was a conversation happening in the background of my grocery packing and talking with Brenna, and I didn’t even realize that she had overheard.

But a few minutes later, we were loading our groceries into the car when the older woman slowly made her way to her car near us in the parking lot.

“Mama,” Brenna said. “Why does that lady not feel good?”

“Is she sick? Is she hurt? Does she have to go to the hospital?” she asked.

It was the sort of side conversation that any other person would have probably brushed off and not given a second thought to. But for Brenna, who very acutely understands what it means when someone says they “don’t feel good,” it was concerning. She wanted to know more. She wanted to know why, and she wanted the woman to feel better.

I have been struck by my daughter’s intense empathy when it comes to others who are sick or hurting, which I can only assume is largely because of her own experiences with illness and pain. We have realized over the years that our efforts to build Brenna’s self-awareness when it comes to her skin care have seemed to be resulting in a deeper sense of empathy – as she learns to be aware of how she is feeling, she has also become much more concerned with how others are feeling.

Today, Brenna has such a developed sense of empathy and compassion, at just 4 years old, and even at this young age, she has allowed her pain to be transformed into care for others.

Our personal battles can feel isolating, painful, debilitating – from chronic illness to a severe injury to a job loss to a natural disaster. And as parents, the last thing we want is for our children to experience anything hard, especially anything painful. But while I would never intentionally choose pain or discomfort or struggle for myself or my family, I have seen how much those things can mold us for the better when we allow them too.

No one’s life is without struggle, and the hard in life can look so many different ways. But one thing our hardships can do is to lead us into better connection with others when we explore and express our self-empathy and empathy for others.

When my daughter is concerned about the hurting of an elderly woman who is a complete stranger, I realize that all of her pain that comes with her severe skin disorder is not for nothing.

I realize that God is using her to reach others, to connect with others, to bring people closer to Him through her empathy and compassion.

When our differences feel isolating, God is connecting. When we are struggling, God is redeeming.

Nothing is too different and nothing is too difficult for God to use for His great purpose when we choose to be better instead of bitter, when we choose to redeem instead of regret, and when we choose to allow our hardships to connect us to others in compassion.

Interested in reading more with your kids about differences and being yourself? Subscribe to my monthly email newsletter and download a guide to the best children’s books on differences and disabilities. Follow me on  Facebook and Instagram.

Standing Together in Humanity

My beautiful child,
Last night during your bath time, you asked me something for no apparent reason… something that made my eyes well up in light of the recent tragedy of a mass shooting in Orlando. You questioned:

“What’s a human?”

My child, a human is a person, and we as humans are so vastly different from one another, across the globe, because of culture and appearance and beliefs and financial status. But one thing that we will always have in common, no matter what, is our humanity…that we were each created uniquely by God in His image.

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I am so deeply saddened for the 49 lives taken, stolen in violence, just a few days ago in Orlando, and for the families of these innocent souls who are assuredly steeped in overwhelming grief. But I am also devastated to see the fighting and the backlash across our country, across social media, as a result. Our fears manifest themselves in anger and mistrust, and then eventually our fears turn into hate.

My friend Stacey had a college professor who used to say “where you stand depends on where you sit.” In other words, what we stand behind and who we are comes from a great many feelings, experiences and backgrounds. It is a strong reminder that we can never know exactly why people believe what they do, feel how they do, or make decisions the way they do (or let’s not forget, look the way they do) without having experienced what those people have throughout their entire lives.

It’s no wonder there are disagreements and differences of opinion, and there always will be, because we are human and flawed and sinful.

Yet sometimes, my child, I think perhaps through all of the arguing about rightness and wrongness and fairness and unfairness, it takes even more courage to stand up and say that you just might not know every answer. In our school system, not knowing the answer is a wrong answer. But in life, admitting that you don’t have all of the answers when it comes to things like policies and labels opens you up to connecting better with others. Even more important than having all the answers is being willing to always love and to always listen and to always learn.

The truth we stray from too easily when tragedies like Orlando’s mass shooting occur is that the Jesus we are using to fuel our own arguments is the same Jesus who commanded us to love our enemies and turn the other cheek. The same Jesus who loves people who are gay and people who choose unthinkable acts of murder just as much as He loves me. God gave us all one Perfect Answer to live by when He sent His Son.

When we let incidents like this drive us from each other, rip us apart, divide us even more, then hate wins. Evil triumphs. But when we turn toward each other, look in each other’s eyes and admit to not knowing all the answers but pledging to stand together and love each other…well, it is then that we can begin to bring Light from the Darkness.

Even when we don’t love what someone says or don’t love what someone does, we can show love for who that person is, deep within, because everyone is His.

You ask what a human is, my child? A human is a precious life created by God in unconditional love. It is through our humanity that we can find our most important point of connection, and it is through that connection that we can choose to seek love over fear and hate, constant learning over self-righteousness, listening over shouting, our sameness instead of our differences.

It is my one of my greatest hopes for you, and for us all, that we always strive, even and especially in the depths of despair, to focus our hearts on the incredibly precious humanity that we all share.

Interested in reading more with your kids about differences and being yourself? Subscribe to my monthly email newsletter and download a guide to the best children’s books on differences and disabilities. Follow me on  Facebook and Instagram.