When I was in elementary school, the tiny private K-12 I attended had only one small campus, and after school I would often hope for a glimpse of my babysitter Emily who was a high schooler at the time. One ordinary afternoon, I found Emily hanging out with a boy who was eager to win her favor. Simple minded kid that I was, I didn't think anything about the underlying motives of the flannel clad boy handing me a pony bead cross necklace. I kept that necklace as a treasured gift, and it might actually still be in my jewelry box in my parents' garage. I didn't wear it past grade school, but I always saw it in my jewelry box and thought of the kindness of others.
I didn't connect the necklace to John Mark when I started attending the thriving young adult ministry at the mega church Emily's ex-boyfriend then pastored when I was in high school and college. I did, however, think of that necklace as I read JM's latest book this week and contemplated his message to the masses to slow down in his internationally renowned The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. I'm not actually sure what reminded me of the necklace, but I was thinking about the simplicity of the autumn afternoons in elementary school as I pondered how I want to live now as an adult surrounded by the pressing tyranny of the urgent.
We all slowed down globally during the initial lockdown last year, but now so many things are picking back up. After reading John Mark Comer along with Aundi Kolber's Try Softer both during this week, I've spent several hours in contemplation about what things I want to pick back up in my own life. I have been delighted to have less demands during Germany's national restrictions on movement, but I want to be intentional with the movements I make when my restrictions lift. Trust me, I definitely want to be the one picking up my prescriptions and grocery shopping for myself, but maybe I don't want to fill up every night of the week on my calendar (Taco Tuesdays is another non-negotiable). Both these books talked about being kind to yourself with your limitations and not feeling guilty about them. Kolber talks about widening your "window of tolerance" in healthy ways but giving grace when you reach limits. Comer talks about living well within the boundaries of those limits.
I often get book, movie, and tv show recommendations from students, and I'm happy to release the guilt of not being able to keep up with all their media. I only have 24 hours a day, and I try to sleep almost half of them (which I definitely don't... but that's discussed at length in other posts), so I need to cultivate my consumption patterns to match the kind of person I want to grow into. You become what you consume, as we all know. (On that note, my genuine thanks that you consider this post worth your time.) One of my students is planning to go into filmmaking, and he recommends three different movies to me in nearly every conversation we have. He knows I'll never watch them all, but we talk about why he finds them worthwhile, and many of them end up in my watch later list, a smaller number of them actually get played on my screen. I still welcome the recommendations, but I know the real value is in the conversations we have - like when he sat outside with me Wednesday and compared the book of Jude to Pulp Fiction (there was some facetiousness involved). There was also a beautiful moment where we compared my heartbreak over the unfortunate twisting of Scripture to his frustration with people misunderstanding the message of Fight Club. My time was well spent in the conversation, and whether or not I go watch Pulp Fiction this week, I know I can continue to have quality engagement with that student on a deep level.
Our conversations are frequent because he gets stir crazy alone in the house with his parents and skateboards around the neighborhood often stopping at my house. I hope that someday he will rewatch Pulp Fiction or Fight Club and think about something I said about the Bible. I hope that it's a positive memory for him as he contemplates writing scripts and making thought provoking movies that promote quality engagement just like that pony bead cross necklace stands as a positive memory for me of a teenager being kind to a little kid because he knew kindness to me was kindness to Emily.
That lesson of kindness reminds me of the interactions I had with an alumni this week as well. Eun Su is visiting again for her school break, and she shared her heart with me last year as she was waking up to new intentional choices in following Jesus; she also came and baked a cheesecake for me with her sister for my birthday last year. This year, she came by on my birthday the week after sharing joy and excitement about growing in her relationship with the Lord to help me clean and pick up my prescriptions at the apotheke. She also brought me tulips. I taught Eun Su over four years ago, but she still chooses to make an effort to connect with me when she is in Kandern, and she goes out of her way to be kind to me. Having interacted with her mom the past couple of years, I can see the joy Eun Su radiates is something she has had modeled by her mom growing up.
This year for my birthday I asked Veronica to make me a rainbow cheesecake because why the heck not and Veronica is a baking genius. She blew me away with her skills and sent me home with half the cheesecake on Thursday. Friday evening I shared it with my neighbors and kept the joy going.
What a beautiful thing that acts of kindness have such a rebound and ripple effect.
I still have limited interactions with people right now, but I'm optimistic that I can use them all intentionally as acts of kindness that might have a ripple effect of positivity instead of thinking that because I do so little it won't go very far. It might just be a slice of amazing cheesecake, but maybe something as small as a pony bead necklace makes a bigger impact than we realize a couple decades down the road.