You will hear us say at the retreats and trainings, "you are always having impact." What does that mean for you? How do you measure if you are having an impact? Sometimes, the impact we are having shows up in unexpected and surprising ways.
I had an experience recently that showed the impact I was having in the life of a 14-year-old girl here in California. DISCLAIMER: I met this girl at the Catholic Church/school where my husband (JP) works - so there will be references to God which are important to the context of this blog.
A few months ago, I was standing at the back of church charged with a really important job: watching JP’s (my husband) guitar and briefcase while he gathered the incoming school kids to prepare for their procession into Mass. I said to two of the eighth-grade girls: "you girls look beautiful!" One girl responded, "I don't, she does." I asked her "Now where is THAT coming from?" She said, "I'm ugly." I asked what her name was. She said, "Brianna" (not her real name). To which I responded "I love that name. It's BEAUTIFUL!" "No, it's not". (Do you see a pattern here...notice how early those start. This girl is 14.) My heart hurt for her...or perhaps I was seeing myself in her negative self-talk and low self-esteem. The kids all gathered and processed into the church and I made a mental note to talk to Brianna after Mass. After the service, I pulled her aside and asked her where all this negative self-talk was coming from. She said that she had been bullied (always having impact) and was told she was ugly. She has a mild cleft palate and wears braces….no doubt she is comparing herself against what the world says is ‘beautiful’. “Comparing is Despairing”…wisdom for all of us. I said to her “Brianna”, now what would God say to you RIGHT now? How do you think HE sees you?" She paused for a minute and then quietly said, “that I’m beautiful.” “Yes, He would. And He is soooo proud of you!” I shared with her how I also had to wear braces when I was 14 and just entering high school. In addition, I got to wear "head gear"....a metal brace that wrapped externally across my mouth and was held in place on either side by what looked like a plastic football helmet. I have no doubt there are many reading this article who can relate to the awkwardness of those teenage years. I hugged her and said I hoped to see her soon.
I left and yet Brianna's words stayed with me. More like they haunted me. I decided to write a note to her and send it with JP to school the following morning. In the note I said something like: "Brianna, kids can be mean. In those moments, you have two choices. You can either believe what those kids are saying…which is NOT of God or true, or you can put your attention on what you know IS true…that God loves you JUST the way you are. You are an amazing, beautiful young woman. You are strong and will be able to help other kids who have been bullied because you have been there.” JP got permission from the teacher to give the note to Brianna.
I didn’t see her for a few weeks. Then graduation arrived last Friday. I was flying back to LA and had hoped to be able to make it on time to see the graduation. I missed the ceremony but arrived just as it finished and the kids were congregating outside with their families. JP and I found Brianna. She came running up to me, hugged me so tightly and was weeping. (Naturally, that caused me to start crying, too). I just held her and kept telling her what an amazing young woman she was and that the best was yet to come. I was absolutely taken aback by her embrace. She was crying so much that her Mom came up and asked what was wrong. We asked if we could take her to dinner the next week to celebrate her graduation. Which we did. She sent me a “thank you” note ala 14 yr old style, (i.e. via text): “Thank you guys so much for taking me out today…I’m glad I met someone like u (sic). Someone who can always brighten up my day next to my friends. I can see now that God is driving me in the right direction and I hope I meet more people like you and my friends in my life…” WOW. Can you say humbling?
So what’s the moral of this story? We are ALWAYS having impact. Sometimes it shows up big and dramatic. Other times, it’s in the everyday ordinary fabric of our lives….transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary. “We make space for hearts.” Only this time, it was Brianna who inspired me with hers.