<A little background.  I am home recovering from a major surgery three weeks ago.  For two of those weeks I was mostly immobile with a catheter, I can’t lift more than five pounds for three months. All of this during a pandemic with so much hurt and anger and unrest in our country.  I had to make an effort for my health to take myself off social media, for my own anxiety and my healing.  In all of my downtime I have had so much time to pray and listen, and then pray some more. >

        “At last I have found my vocation.  My vocation is love.”  -St. Therese of Lisieux                                                                                   

About two years ago I sat in an auditorium during a huge conference with a bunch of teens and listened to a speaker be not only divisive but the opposite of pastoral. Immediately a chill, and very strong urge from the Holy Spirit, settled over me and I knew what He said was wrong. I knew He was using this platform to hurt, in the name of God.  Suddenly I also knew I needed to go to confession because my urge to make a scene and tackle this person was so strong.

What happened next changed my life.

Jail was the worst.  Bad food. Itchy clothing.

Just joking…

Instead, I grabbed a priest nearby and asked right then and there if He could hear my confession.  And He said yes.  We sat up high in the same auditorium away from others and I just started to spill, all my messiness and sins, all my feelings, all of it.  I don’t even know how much He heard because by that time the auditorium was getting so loud.  But there was this moment when everything froze.  Those are the moments when God speaks to me the loudest, when my discernment is the best, and when my sins are out in the open.  The words that were spoken went straight to my heart after I shared my horror at what I had heard spoken from a podium… the Priest then asked me “Kristin, where do you think Jesus would have been during that time?”

And I knew.

Because suddenly I saw all these broken kids in the hallways.  Kids who were told the way they were born was wrong.  Who were told that if only they prayed enough God would heal them, from them.

Where would Jesus have been?  He would have been with them. 

That moment changed the course of my life.  I spent the next months pouring over scripture, but also the gospels and reading about Jesus. Reading Jesus’s words over and over.  I read theologians’ works and began to really study what people wrote. I read books that made me really mad.  I discovered writers who had started to search like I did, for where Jesus would actually be and they confirmed what I knew in my heart.  Jesus wouldn’t be sitting and waiting on an altar for people to come to Him, He would be seeking them out and loving them right where they were.  Jesus wasn’t a high priest or a Pharisee, and he turned tables on them and crossed lines in the sand to love those who were told they weren’t loveable.    I had been in youth ministry for over 20 years at this point, and I had never spent so much time intentionally and spiritually opening myself up in this vulnerable way to listen, and to hear.  I knelt before the blessed sacrament begging for clarity, and all I got was the same burning desire to love more, to be more like Jesus.

And the more I desired to love like Him, the more I began to see His love for the kids in the hallways. And to be convinced of his love for me.

Of course this all happened during our family year of Job (read older posts if you need context), and so I was also just very broken.  But being broken kind of cracks you open to so much.  And it took away some blinders I had put on.  I saw some things I needed to see, for my family, and for the youth I serve and have served for years so I could love them better. At the exact same time through his own prayer, my husband started coming to the same place in his heart and his faith.  I knew I needed to make some changes, set boundaries, and stand up for those that were fearfully and wonderfully made, who were not broken or made wrong.  Who were just as much children of a living God.

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Because I serve a living God.

When you look at God face to face and really bring these things to Him, he is very clear…He would Love.  He will Love first.  He will always wrap us in Love.

So, last summer after much prayer two of my dear friends and I went and wore “Free Mom Hugs”  and gave hugs to anyone who needed one at a festival. All of us are Mamas. All of us have a story for why we were there, brokenness that we carry close to our hearts, and brokenness that we can bind for each other.  And we can hug.  Because human contact is important.  A girl came up to us and asked if she could hug us, and we all hugged her with big mama bear ferocity.  And I realized looking at our faces afterwards, streaked with our own tears, that we all needed those hugs too.

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Today I looked at those pictures and I remembered.  I dream at night that I get to hug people. It has been so long.  And I can’t imagine what it would be like to be someone who hasn’t had a good Mom or Dad hug in a long time.

You know those kind of hugs right?

Those hugs are unconditional.  Those hugs wrap us tight and give us a chance lean in, to exhale and just rest in the arms and know we are okay.  We’re okay.  We were always okay. Those are the sort of hugs I get when I’m in prayer and feel that peace knowing that I’m loved by Jesus, exactly how I am.

“Kristin, where do you think Jesus would have been during that time?”

Those words ended up changing my life and my view on ministry.  For so long I was caught up in how I didn’t want to offend or upset people. For so long I was so worried because I so desperately wanted to please people.  But when the blinders came off I realized the criticalness of people is usually because they have their own stuff they haven’t dealt with.  And if they don’t like me?  That’s ok.  Because while I can pick apart so much of how I look on the outside, for the first time in a long time I’m ok with who God has called me to be on the inside.  Loving others first completely is never ever a bad thing.

 

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One of the the writers I discovered in all my searching is the brilliant late Rachel Held Evans, and she said something that was spot on of what I learned while studying the word, ““What makes the Gospel offensive isn’t who it keeps out, but who it lets in.” The gospel and Jesus drew people in. It was for all of us.  Not just some of us.  It is not meant to be a weapon.  Instead Jesus came to save all of us.  Not just some of us.  Not just those who fasted for an hour before seeing him.  Not just those who were worthy, because someone else decided they were.  He came to embrace all our messy.  And it’s a good thing, because on a good day I’m a word class mess.  But I know I’m loved.

A few months ago a friend lost a former youth group member after they tragically ended their own life.  This was someone who was told for years by a couple people in the church that they were made wrong, that if only they prayed harder, if only they confessed more, if only they did better God would see fit to heal them.  Something about all of this, the wounds inflicted by someone who was supposed to work for God, and speak life and love, were too much for me. Those are the kinds of wounds that fester and become infected, because they seep into the heart and the mind.  This person should have been wrapped in the arms of Love, and instead was cast outside. I pray daily that this person is wrapped in heaven with the arms of Jesus holding them close now. I so wish they had been granted that love here on earth, in those formative years when they needed to be reassured of it the most. I just pray they know it now. There are so many.  Did you know LGB youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth¹? That is inconceivable.  But it’s real.

And we all answer to God some day. I believe this with every part of my being.  I don’t want to be on that end when God asks if I turned people away from him in his name.  I want him to know that with every part of my being I tried to serve him in the way he served us.

So I will love.  And I will offer that love freely.  Because I know where Jesus would be.

During this time of quarantine I’ve had multiple dreams of hugging people again.  Gosh I miss giving people really good hugs.  I miss telling people how loved they are, while hugging them.  I can’t wait to hug the crap out of people.

I believe in the art of a good hug. I believe in the power of it.

I hug my kids when they are wet getting out of the pool.  I hug my kids when they are sweaty from a soccer game.  I hug my kids when they are feverish, and have spent the night being sick.  I hug my kids when they are fresh from a shower and smell little again. I have hugged my kids after their worst days.  And I’ve hugged them when they’ve felt their best. I hug my kids when they are broken.  I hug my kids when they are full. I’ve fallen asleep holding them close when they were infants, and I’ve fallen asleep while Grace cried herself to sleep after a rough day.  I hug them because they are fearfully and wonderfully made by God who made them exactly how he intended and He is good. My hugs are not conditional, and neither is God’s love.

In our family we all wear bracelets as a reminder of this.  One side says, WWJD, or What would Jesus Do?  And the other side says HWLF, or He would Love First².   It’s a constant daily reminder of our mission in all things to love first.  It works for everything.  I can react with all my big feelings sometimes, and it’s put me back in my place. Little reminders can lead to big changes in who we are.

A speaker and a situation didn’t change my life. One sentence said to me in the confessional by a priest didn’t change my life.  Jesus did.  I always knew my mission was to love but it’s been etched into my soul now.  Because I serve a living God.

My mission is to love.  And give good hugs, when this whole pandemic thing is done.

Until then I’ll wear my mask, and dream of giving a great hug again.

To the kids in the hallway,

I’m here. I’m not leaving. I will fight to make sure you always know you are loved.  You are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are loved by a living God. He is good.

Need a hug?

 

 

 

[1] CDC (2016)

[2] https://.hewouldlovefirst.com for the bracelets we wear as a family.