I walked through the doors to check in, and almost instantly felt deflated. I knew it was supposed to be big, but I don’t think I was prepared for the crowd I walked into. There were A LOT of people and they all seemed to have and know their place. I saw writers and authors I knew OF, but didn’t actually, personally KNOW, and I felt like an imposter for thinking I could brush shoulders with people like them. Before the opening session, I barely knew what to do with myself. You can only pretend to be doing something very important on your phone for so long. I decided to try to make some connections as we were all waiting, but found that most of the people who seemed to be in shoes similar to mine were actually waiting for someone else they knew, and our conversations were cut short. It was like being the new kid at lunch on the first day of school.
I convinced myself I didn’t belong. I’d made a mistake in coming. I wasn’t a REAL writer, not like these impressive people. I didn’t have anything valuable to add to the work that had already been created by the hearts and minds of those around me. I promised myself I would make the best of the next few days, but the excitement and anticipation was long gone. I’d never felt more alone in a sea of people and I couldn’t wait for the first day to be through.
And then, I met Annie. We’d signed up for the same writing circle, which was basically a small group of writers focusing on a particular subject throughout the conference. We sat down next to each other and I thought she looked familiar, but I couldn’t figure out where I might know her from, and decided to just keep to myself. But luckily Annie decided to reach out.
It turns out, I looked familiar to her, too. And so instead of turning inward like I did, Annie introduced herself to me and started a conversation. We never could figure out how we might know each other or why we seemed to recognize one another, but we just chalked it up to the idea that maybe we were supposed to be friends. It turns out she knew quite a few people at the conference, but that didn’t stop her from meeting and getting to know one more. And by the end of that writing circle, we were making plans to have dinner together and all of the sudden, I didn’t feel quite so lonely anymore.
The next night we went to dinner along with a couple of her friends, and we had the best time. Good food and deep conversation. I learned so much about and from those few incredible women, and I also noticed they were genuinely interested in me, even though I felt like I didn’t have anything the least bit interesting to offer.
Throughout the rest of the conference, whenever I saw them, I felt like I belonged. I began to believe that my words might matter. And I was emboldened to continue making other connections during my time there, even if it felt awkward or out of my element. Their kindness and welcome and noticing reminded me of my value and my purpose, and my new friendship with them reminded me that I was not alone. They were the reminder I so desperately needed.
In the same way, you and I have the opportunity each and every day to BE reminders. Yes, we will probably need to be reminded often ourselves, hence this podcast, but the purpose in being reminded is that we can then go and remind others - through our words, our actions, our presence, our generosity, our hospitality.
But I've learned that in order to do this, it’s important to stay focused on who we are reminding others of - on the characteristics and mission of Jesus. I think of passages in the Bible like Colossians 3:12-15,
“...as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.”
Compassion. Kindness. Humility. Gentleness. Patience. Forgiveness. Love. Peace. Gratitude. All characteristics that we are called to exhibit in our little slice of the world. All reminders of who God is, and of the Person we choose and try our best to follow. Being intentional about cultivating these characteristics is vital to being an authentic reminder. We will never be a perfect reflection, but that doesn’t mean our faith is worth the investment.
And while we are intentional about cultivating those characteristics, it’s also important to be willing to turn outward and look beyond ourselves. This is one of the many lessons I learned from Annie.
See, it is so easy to allow our fears, our insecurities, our selfishness, and our pride to dictate the way we operate in the world. Hi Hello preaching to myself here! And when our default is to turn inward, we are rarely aware of the needs around us. I want to be clear - your inward life, your personal faith, is important and should not be neglected. But we are also created for relationships and for community, and we need to be intentional about those things too. If we’re only reminding ourselves, well, maybe we’re doing it wrong.
At the time of this recording, we are in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we’ve learned that one of the best things we can do to protect the vulnerable is physically stay away from one another. Social distancing is weird and seems unnatural, and yet that is what we have been advised to do. And on the surface, it might seem like a circumstance that makes turning outward more difficult. We are literally supposed to keep to ourselves. So what are we to do? How are we supposed to be reminders during this time?
Well, we look the grocer in the eye instead of rushing through the checkout line. We call those who live alone more regularly. We support healthcare workers as best we can, whether it’s through a word of appreciation, a delivered meal, or a listening ear. We ask for and offer forgiveness when the tension builds between family members at home. We are patient when others are adjusting at a pace different than our own. When we do have to venture out, we take the necessary, although often inconvenient, precautions to help slow the spread.
But really, the answer isn’t any different than it was before, or than it will be in the future. Our current methods might be different, but the call is the same:
When we see fear, we comfort. When we sense loneliness, we draw near. Aware of a need, we give generously. In the middle of despair, we bring hope. In anxiety, peace. In difficulties, patience. In conflict, humility. In brokenness, healing. In darkness, light. And in all things, love.
We reflect the One we follow. And so today, remember, you ARE a reminder.