How has your fall been so far? Ours has been full of goodness.
Happily sending Q17 back to in-person school for his senior year and Dave back to work post-sabbatical for a bigger, more joy-filled job and almost-regular work weeks for the first time since March 2020. A wedding in Tahoe and a pastors’ retreat in Santa Cruz. Online workshops on topics from nutrition to growing my platform to writing. Lots of writing, including launching my monthly email newsletter (are you on the list?).
Recently I’ve done a lot of writing over on Instagram, including this series I’ll share here. Over a few weeks, I had four different conversations that made a lasting impression. You might relate: for the last year-and-a-half most of my conversation has been with family, which lends a refreshing novelty to having conversations outside of my home with strangers and old friends.
You’ve had that kind of conversation that unearths a treasure, right? Something you need to know, ponder, and perhaps live differently as a result. Each of these conversations gave me a gift. One of them led to another conversation which I can only describe as a miracle. I’ll share the startling conclusion to one of these conversations at the end of this post.
Day 1: It’s Not All on You
Catching up with a friend, the conversation meandered to forgiveness. I mentioned a particularly difficult relationship, one in which I had tried countless times to work through issues. We found something like peace for a while before things got messy again. Eventually, I had to walk away.
Still, I wondered aloud if I should try one more time. My friend encouraged me: “Hey, Siv,” she said, “you don’t bear all the responsibility. He could have come to you.”
I knew that, but it helped to hear it.
Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
I’ve done my part, my responsibility before God. Sadly, some relationships can be peaceful only at a distance.
Do you have a difficult relationship? If you haven’t done your part of the hard work, then get to it. If you have, then be encouraged. It’s not all on you.
Day 2: Get Personal
On a recent visit to Napa, we met the owner of a wine tasting room. When we asked how the pandemic had affected business, he said business had dropped by about 10%. Something, but not devastating.
He explained: the 2017 Napa earthquake had been devastating. He had been on vacation when another local business owner called to tell him that his building, and likely his business, had sustained significant damage.
Wine bottles crashed to the floor. Among bottles that survived, labels were unrecognizable. The building itself was unsafe.
They learned to pivot, like so many of us have in the last year. They established outdoor seating. They sold “mystery bottles” at a discount. They reached out to established customers with deals on their personal favorites.
They looked at the big picture – business will pick up eventually; and the individual – how can we best serve those we already know?
After the earthquake business dropped 20%, yet they learned more effective ways to do business. When the pandemic hit, they felt prepared and business dropped less than it might have.
His story spoke to creativity, positive attitude, resilience, and the power of personal attention. It encourages me to consider how I pull myself up after life’s “earthquakes” knock me down. In particular, how can I best serve those closest to me?
Day 3: Be Positive
Though his demeanor reeked of unhappiness, I suspended judgment and waded into conversation. The more we talked, the more clearly I heard that he defined himself almost entirely in negatives.
He doesn’t like sweets.
He doesn’t practice the faith of his childhood, because he doesn’t believe they take their faith seriously.
He doesn’t attend church, because he doesn’t believe in biblical interpretation.
He doesn’t believe churches should preach anything beyond the Bible.
The one positive thing he told me is what he does for work, but even then, he clarified that he had informed his supervisor from the beginning that there are certain things he simply will not do.
As he trudged on, my brain began flashing a neon “sour puss” sign over his head. I politely excused myself.
Sometimes we hear our inner critic’s voice so loudly that those words come out of our mouths. I’ve been the sad sack in conversations; we all have. It helps to talk out circumstances, negative feelings, and grief with safe listeners. This conversation, however, reminded me to be positive, to encourage, to find the good.
Define yourself by what you’re for, not against. Write down your most common negative thoughts, then turn them into positive affirmations. For example, “I don’t have enough creativity to become a writer” can become “I will invest my time and energy into learning to be a better writer.”
Throughout this week, practice your affirmations. Tell your critic to get lost.
Day 4: Make Small Deposits
When our children were younger, a friend and I got together weekly. I recall her often saying: “Your relationship with God is like investing. You regularly deposit small amounts, quarters, dimes, nickels, like prayer and serving others and participating in worship. You keep at it throughout the days and years, because you never know when you’ll need a big withdrawal.”
Raised Catholic, the rosary was among my friend’s earliest consistent faith deposits. As we chatted recently, she mentioned that she had returned to praying the rosary. When she suddenly found herself in a desperate situation, when she needed a big withdrawal, she counted on the accrued deposits of her youth.
Heartbroken, she didn’t have her own words to pray. The familiar prayer brought comfort.
For personal reasons, she couldn’t share her heartbreak with friends. The familiar prayer offered the Lord’s companionship.
Our relationship with God is obviously more involved than making deposits to and withdrawals from a bank account. But you recognize the truth of this in your personal relationships, don’t you? Sometimes you need to give; other times, your friends give to you. Relationships require two people investing in each other.
James 4:8 says, “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” Those small investments are how we come near to God.
What regular, small deposits have you made to your relationship with God? Or what small deposits can you begin making today?
Which of these conversations stuck a chord for you? Do you need to be at peace in a difficult relationship, or learn from the earthquakes in your life, or quiet your negative voices, or invest in your relationship with God? Which conversations have you had recently that left you with something to ponder?
Now for the miracle: Within days of posting this series on Instagram, the person mentioned in Day 1 unexpectedly came to me. He asked if we could talk about reconciliation; we met that afternoon.
He apologized for not following up on a significant conversation four years ago, the one that ultimately turned the tide of our relationship. He asked to hear about my experience, my perspective of the before, during, and after, and he listened intently. I saw my pain reflected in his eyes as he continually told me how sorry he was.
I asked why he had reached out. He had not seen my Instagram post. No one had mentioned me to him. Rather, the fall sermon series at church has been on reconciliation, he explained, and he had heard the whisper of the Spirit that we had unfinished business.
The details no longer matter and we were able to let them go in exchange for the big lessons. The pain no longer matters, and we were able to locate the gifts. I was able to receive and extend grace and to tell him that I had forgiven him. The miracle of this conversation almost – almost! – makes the whole mess worth it.
Situations have changed and we won’t resume our regular interactions. That’s fine. Now, instead of seeing the shadow of a little black rain cloud over his name when it comes up, I see the surprising, blinding light of God’s love. God has confirmed for me that, really and truly, he still does miracles.