Keep Kindness Alive

Are you wondering how to keep kindness alive in this political season? Aibileen Clark has some good advice.

But the fruit of the Spirit is
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control;
against such things there is no law.
Galatians 5:22–23

You is smart. You is kind. You is important. Aibileen Clark says these powerful words over and over to little Mae Mobley in the 2011 movie The Help. The context in which the words are spoken only make them stronger. The year is 1963. Aibileen is an African American maid in Jacksonville, Mississippi. She works for Mae Mobley’s parents. Though the little girl is a privileged white child, her looks fall far short of her socialite mother’s standards. But Aibileen loves the little girl. Every day she affirms Mae Mobley’s worth by holding her and saying the same three sentences. You is smart. You is kind. You is important.

Every child needs an Aibileen. I certainly did, and I the memories of my Aibileens are dear to me–Dad watching TV with me when I was sick, an uncle and aunt who took me camping, a second grade teacher who encouraged my creativity, a neighbor who helped me with 4-H projects. Not only did those precious people affirm my worth, they showed that kindness has a greater impact than being smart or important.

If your childhood was blessed by an Aibileen, you know the value of kindness, too. You know isn’t taught through books or lectures. It can’t be mandated. It is taught and caught by example. One reason Jesus came to earth was to demonstrate the power of kindness. His example was and is crucial. Because when kindness isn’t passed down from the faithful of one generation to the next, it dies. And our world suffers.

Politics and kindness are rarely bedfellows. But this political season has been marked by an appalling lack of kindness. Maybe it’s because technology makes it too easy to pass along crude sound bites and disparaging images. Maybe it’s because our presidential candidates value being important and smart more than being kind. Maybe it’s because cruelty gets better ratings than kindness.

The reason for the lack of kindness doesn’t really matter. What matters is the effect the dearth of kindness is having on the next generation. When we rip into people who venture opinions different from ours, when we pass along Facebook memes and articles that destroy people instead of confronting issues, when we use language we scold our children for using, the world is observing what we say and do. Our example shows the world that feeling important and sounding smart is of greater value than kindness. Our example teaches them how to kill kindness. Worse yet, when we call ourselves Christians while our behaviors and words are devoid of kindness, we crucify Christ and put him to open shame (Hebrews 6:6). Such examples increase the likelihood that those watching us will turn away from a faith so lacking in kindness.

So when we are tempted to wade into the political fray, let’s honor our Aibileens by asking ourselves a few questions before we speak or act. Is what I want to say or do kind? Will my words and actions make me look smart and important by making someone else look stupid and worthless?

If your answer isn’t worthy of your Aibileens or the Lord Jesus Christ, abandon your plan. Pause and ask the Lord to plant the seeds of kindness in your heart. Ask Him to make you into an Aibileen who passes the precious harvest of kindness along to a new generation.

Words As Precision Weapons

How kitchen knives and our words can be dangerous weapons when used incorrectly.Let your speech always be gracious,
seasoned with salt,
so that you know how you should respond to each one.
Colossians 4:6

About a month ago, I was wrangling the label off a jar when the knife slipped and jabbed my left hand right below the thumb. A tiny puncture, no more than a centimeter long. Very little pain. Very little blood. But very well-aimed. Deep enough to slice the tendon to my thumb in two. Which resulted in hand surgery, almost 2 weeks in a ginormous splint, 4–6 weeks in a smaller splint, and months of physical therapy to regain motion and full functionality. All that because I didn’t stop to consider the consequences of using a knife as a weapon in a wrestling match with a jar label. As my daughter so sweetly put it, “Mom, you’ve made handling kitchen knives with impunity your hobby.”

I am typing, the splint firmly in place, and contemplating the similarities between that kitchen knife and my words. Sometimes, I think carefully and prayerfully about what I am about to say. I lean into God and ask him to speak wisdom beyond my own through me. In those cases, God consistently uses my words to heal relationships and create unity.

Too be honest, those situations are often the exceptions rather than the rule. More often, I speak without thinking. If I do pause before speaking, it isn’t to pray. I pause to shape my words into weapons and then aim them at soft spots where they will plunge deep. Once that’s done, I let the words fly off my tongue and hit their target with astonishing precision.

On the surface, the wounds I cause appear tiny. Bloodless. Painless. But over time, the damage below the surface becomes evident. Hurt feelings. Misunderstandings. Severed relationships that require massive amounts of time and energy to heal and always leave a scar. Nothing is ever the same after my barbed words spew forth without considering the consequences of using words as weapons.

I’m not the first person with this problem. James 3:6 describes how New Testament believers used the power of speech to harm others. The tongue is also a fire. It exists among our members as a world of malice, defiling the whole body and setting the entire course of our lives on fire. Not a pretty picture.

Paul also talks about the power of the tongue and sprinkles advice to believers throughout his letters about how to harness their power. Colossians 4:6 is my favorite. Instead of dwelling on what believers shouldn’t do–because if we’re honest, we already know what shouldn’t be said and still chose to say it anyway–Paul describes how we should speak. With grace, enhanced with salt so the listeners will savor, eat, and be nourished by them.

Those words are ones believers should commit to memory, to have ready to pull out and pray in the moments we are tempted to speak before thinking. When we do so, our moment of contemplation and dependence upon God’s wisdom instead of trusting our own can avert accidents. It can strengthen relationships rather than sever them. The pause to pray Colossians 4:6 allows us to channel time and energy toward kingdom building rather than damage control. They’re words I’ll be reminded to pray every time a glance at my hand reminds me of both the power of ordinary words…and kitchen knives.

Family Saints for Friday

Geranium Roots

This week’s Fantastic Friday post comes from way back in March of 2011. Four years later, my geranium slips are rooting in mason jars, and I’m as crazy about them as ever.. The Man of Steel, now four years older after celebrating another birthday on March 8, is as kind and quiet as this post made him out to be.

My husband is a wise man. He has yet to say a word about the four, count ‘em, four mason jars sitting in front of the east windows, hogging daylight.

He hasn’t commented about how the jars are crammed with geranium slips or how the wintered over geraniums, from whence the slips came, now look like skinned rats in their flower pots.

He never complained about the dozens of gallon milk jugs in the basement full of last summer’s rain water, some used to water the potted geraniums through the winter and much it now slowly evaporating from the mason jars chuck full of geranium slips.

Yes, Hiram is a wise man. He knows better than to editorialize when I go on one of my heritage horticultural tears. This month’s tear is all about Grandma Josie Hess’s heritage geranium, the sainted family flower given to Grandma Josie by her mother, Cora Newell. Grandma Josie gave slips to her children (including my mother), who gave them to her three children, one of whom (that would be me) has become slightly obsessed with propagating the sainted plant.

To tell you the truth, I’m pretty pleased with myself for remembering to cut down the wintered-over geraniums this early and setting the slips in water. Usually I think of it in late April when it’s too late for either the old plants to recover from pruning or for the new slips to root before it’s time to plant them outdoors. But this year I thought of it in March. A minor miracle considering how forgetful I’ve been this winter.

Come to think of it, Hiram hasn’t said a word about my minor memory miracle or my more normal forgetfulness. At least I can’t remember if he’s made any comments about either one.

In any case, my husband is a wise man. Almost a saint. Right up there with the sainted family flower.

Quiet.
Lovely.
Hardy.
Enduring.
Patient.
Faithful.

No wonder I love them both so much.

Top 10 Nuggets of iPhone Wisdom

iPhone wisdom10. iPhones are smarter than people over the age of 50.

9.   Using iCloud to keep a fleet of Apple devices in sync isn’t nearly as satisfying as eating apple crisp.

8.   Scrolling through the list of iPhone ringtone options is similar to strolling through the cereal aisle at the grocery store. Both involve way too many choices.

7.   Do not assume that apps available on your old iPad are also available for a new iPhone.

6.   The pedometer feature can become addicting.

5.   The earbuds that come with a new iPhone are excellent.

4.   If you buy an iPhone around Thanksgiving, it’s wise to buy an iPhone case immediately instead of adding it to your Christmas list.

3.   If you don’t buy a case immediately and if no one gives you one for Christmas, your iPhone might break when you drop it on the floor and cost much more to replace than a case does.

2.   On the other hand, the retro rotary dial phone case you buy using the Etsy gift certificate you mom gave you for Christmas is really, really cool.

1.   If you drop your iPhone on the floor and your very thoughtful spouse takes pity on you and calls the phone company to find the cheapest way to get a new phone and then goes to the store to buy it and tells you to quit being so hard on yourself because everybody does stupid things now and then and it’s okay, you can make that very thoughtful spouse’s day by giving him the excellent set of earbuds that come with the new phone.

Top Ten Reasons to Be Kind to Teachers Going Back to School

Back to School Teachers

My teacher friends and former co-workers in our school district went back to work yesterday. Speaking from 25 years of personal experience, here are 10 reasons to be kind to teachers for the next few days and weeks.

10.  Contrary to popular opinion, most teachers didn’t sit around the pool eating bon bons all summer. Most teachers spent much of the summer going to school to hone their skills. They even turned in assignments, sat at the other end of the red pencil, and received grades.

9.   During summer school classes, teachers wore flip flops. At home they went barefoot. And now they have to shove their feet into teacher shoes. Remember those teacher shoes? Not a pretty sight.

8.   The first few days back to school, before the kids return, are packed with meetings about exciting topics such as Proper Procedures for Cleaning Up Bodily Fluids (I’m not making this up) and the latest No Child Left Behind government regulations. The powers that be grant these topics higher priority than things allowing teachers preparation time in the classroom.

7.   Teachers know those meetings will eat away their preparation time, so they’ve already donated several unpaid days to get their classrooms ready, plan lessons, and prepare materials. And because of budget cuts, they often pay for materials out of their own pockets.

6.   At some of those meetings before the kids come, teachers learn about newly assigned duties that take away their scheduled planning time and in some cases much of their lunch hour.

5.   Once the students return, teaches spend much of their lunch hour doing one of the following: running home to let the dog out, eating at their desk while preparing for afternoon classes, or supervising students.

4.   You know how hard it is for your kids to adjust to the school schedule every fall? It’s that hard for teachers, too, because they’re big kids at heart. That’s why they’re teachers.

3.  Teachers would rather help kids succeed than mark assignments with red pencil and fill out report cards. But their job description requires they do both.

2.   Teachers spend all day supervising 25–30 people who are crowded together reading and doing paperwork in a small space without privacy cubicles. Can you think of businesses that ask adults to work in conditions like that?

1.   Your child’s teacher cares about your boy or girl. A lot. Your child’s teacher cares about every student. But teachers know they can’t give students everything they need. Teachers know that no matter how hard they works, at some point they will fail students. They will obsess over every failure and try to do better the next day, knowing they will fail again. But they keeps trying because they believes kids are worth their best effort. And if you tell teachers they’re doing a good job, they’ll remember your kindness and pass it on to a child. Because that’s what teachers do.

What would you add to the list? Leave a comment!