On Mother's Day I received an email from my father-in-law and mother-in-law. It was addressed both to me and to my sister-in-law, who is married with one young child.
It went like this:
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[My name], [SIL's name]We just wanted to take a moment to express our warmest thanks to both of you for being such wonderful mothers. Our grandchildren are truly blessed to have you for their Mom.A big part of being a good Mom is showing your children what real love between a husband and wife, and within a family should be. We see that with both of you, and are forever grateful for the loving example you set.You know that we love you with all our hearts and always will. Thank you for being you, the wonderful women, wives and Moms that you are. We are so proud of both of you, and live with the joy of having you as a part of our wonderful family.Best wishes for the happiest of Mother's Day.With all our love and blessings,Mom & Dad
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I paused and read this email over and over before I was ready to sit down and compose a reply thanking my in-laws for such kind words and for being the role models that they are to me.
In one sense, a message like this is completely unremarkable. It is the kind of thing that they do and say for the people around them all the time. The two attributes that I admire most in Mark's parents, the ones I aspire to: they are kind, and they are reasonable. Everybody, I think, should try to be kind and reasonable. On top of that, they are people of faith. This is less a thing that people can "try" to be or can "aspire" to be; it's the sort of thing that comes to you as a gift. It is a thing to be thankful for and to appreciate. I do appreciate it.
Perhaps it is a small thing, for a kind and reasonable and faithful person, to send such a message.
It is not always a small thing to receive one.
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Jen Fitz wrote an almost-entirely-unrelated blog post that I saw yesterday right before leaving for church, when I was feeling down about all the things on my list that I was not going to be able to get done. The post was aimed at pastors who felt they were preaching into a black hole. The line in her post that lifted my heart up was this:
"Your stalwart troops aren’t uncrushable, like Wile E. Coyote. They need to hear the truth over and over again, because life in the world sucks the spirit dry."
I thought: She is right. I am not anxious today because there is something deeply and particularly wrong with me. I am anxious today because like everyone in the world, life in it sucks my spirit dry now and again. I need to hear the truth over and over, as a corrective to the false promises and threats that are taken in with the air we breathe. And my heart was lifted because I was about to leave the house to be immersed in truth for just a little while, and I knew that it would do me some good.
(The biggest falsehood our society tells is the utilitarian one: the idea that a person's worth is measured in production and consumption. I don't believe it anymore, but I fall for it sometimes still in small ways. "Success" and worth are not the same.)
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Here is something you may not know about me:
I have a relative who makes a point of telling me directly, when this relative gets a chance, that my children receive "horrible parenting."
Those are not scare quotes. The words appeared in writing to me. I still have the communication in my possession and can double-check it. Pointing to a particular disapproved-of behavior the last time we were invited to visit: "Just another incident of horrible parenting."
There was more. There has always been more.
I grew up hearing -- not from everyone in my life, but by one significant person -- that I had no common sense.
I grew up hearing that I was heartless and that my actions proved that I didn't care about other people.
I grew up hearing, repeatedly, that I was full of shit.
This is not the only thing I heard, of course. I got excellent grades. I won awards. I was offered scholarships. Those earned me praise. They were the only way I knew for a long time how to measure the worth of a person.
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As I grew into adulthood and watched other people raising their children, married and began to have my own children, I came to understand how very unhinged from reality all those words were; how unhinged they still are.
They must come from a place that is small and pinched, a place I cannot understand -- a place I thank God I cannot understand, at least as long as it is not my vocation to provide care for someone who lives in such a prison.
I understand that these are not words that have ever been meant to mean anything. There is not a reason behind them. They are meant to go out into the world to try to make a different reality, because people loving each other and being kind and reasonable somehow offends.
Some people, they say, do not really want to be happy.
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So I know that there isn't any there there. I do.
And yet. It is good to be washed in the words of kind and reasonable people from time to time.
I respect and love them -- not because they say nice things to me that I want to hear, but because I see their lives of good work and reason. I see that they are honest in everything they do. I have reason to believe people of integrity. I have reason not to believe people whom I know not to be people of integrity.
But none of this would be worth anything if people of integrity minded their own business and kept to themselves. To set the record straight, the kind and reasonable people have to testify.
All this is to say:
Tell the people you love that you love them, and tell them that you see and know and appreciate the fruits of their work, the fruits of their love. Tell the people you meet in passing that you see their good work and appreciate it. Tell people they make a difference, even a small difference, in a good way.
It matters. It matters so much.
You might think it's obvious (especially if you are kind and reasonable and you expect to see kindness and reasonableness everywhere).
It isn't always obvious.
You might think, "Other people surely tell them."
Maybe. But not everyone finds it easy to speak kind words, because sometimes kind words are punished.
If you have the gift of being kind and reasonable, spread it. Tell people. Say, "Good job. You are loved. You are worthy."
Go out on a limb.
Everything we say or do to someone else bears fruit, and we do not know the impact we have.
Here are two quotes from Elisabeth Leseur, whom I've written about before:
[N]eutrality is impossible where it is a question of doing the good... Every person is an incalculable force, bearing within her a little of the future. Until the end of time our words and actions will bear fruit, either good or bad; nothing that we have once given of ourselves is lost, but our words and works, passed on from one to another, will continue to do good or harm to later generations.
This is why life is something sacred, and we ought not to pass through it thoughtlessly but to understand its value and use it so that when we have finished our lives we will have increased the amount of good in the world.
The first thing to do is to try to become our best selves... And God will do the rest. Our effort, our sacrifices, our actions, even the most hidden, will not be lost.
This is my absolute conviction: everything has a long-lasting and profound repercussion.
This thought leaves little room for discouragement, but it does not permit laziness.... I am unable to despair of humanity.
Despite all efforts by the Opposition, neither am I.