By Sherry Hougard
I sat next to a gal on the plane to Portland recently. She was maybe in her mid-to-late 20s…hard to tell with the mask. There were actually two masks, which I understood as a non-verbal queue that she didn’t want to engage in conversation at three-feet distance with a stranger. So, I tried to look past her out the window with an air of disinterest so as to let her know I was respecting her boundaries.
After a while though, I wore her down with all my disinterest and she asked me if I was on my way toward or away from home. I told her what my deal was and asked her her’s. We chatted, mostly small talk, until the conversation turned to family. She spoke about her “family of choice” who she had been visiting in San Diego, and slowly the pain of her family of origin unfolded… about her mother, and about a strict Catholic upbringing that left her not that interested in God. I shared with her that Catholicism, like other religions, is a man made deal. God isn’t about religion. God is about grace and love…and he is definitely interested in her.
After laying out some of the details about her growing-up years, she told me that she finally just had to move far away from family. Though she was now living on the other side of the country, it was easy to see that the pain was still very close. We talked about forgiveness… why it’s so difficult… why it’s so necessary, and how it really is our choice. “The baggage of pain, anger and resentment is a heavy load to carry for the rest of your life” I said. “God gives us forgiveness so that we can put that load down.” Above the mask her brown eyes rimmed with tears as she told me that her mother could never admit to the neglect and warped priorities that had left her so wounded. Forgiveness seemed like an impossibility. She just looked wide-eyed at me as I told her that for her to forgive didn’t require anything from her mother. Forgiving her mother was a gift that she could give herself. Freedom.
When we forgive, we free up our mind and heart to receive something new… something better. Jesus said in 1 Peter 5:7 that we can cast, literally huck our heavy burdens on to him because he cares for us. We were never meant to carry those things which decay our joy and peace and cause disease in our minds and bodies. In Matthew 11:28, Jesus says that if we do things in his way, the way of gentleness, humility and love, that our burden will be light and we will find rest. His life was the ultimate example of what that looks like when it is lived out. All kinds of healing is the outcome when we can receive his forgiveness and grace first for ourselves and then for others.
We wrapped up our conversation and the plane landed. As we gathered up our things I instinctively reached out and gave her a big hug that she melted into. She went her way and I went mine…but with the prayer that God would continue this conversation within her.
As a stay-at-home mom whose children are now mostly grown, I find myself wondering about and struggling with what my daily purpose is. It’s moments like this one that remind me that my real purpose is to be ready and willing to engage with the people that God brings across my path in a way that draws them to him. It takes me out of the “works” mindset and lets me live peacefully in the “grace” space. I’m thankful to be in this new season of life that has me less hurried, with some gaps in my schedule that allow time for this kind of unexpected appointment. …a time to love on other mother’s children.