I had a recurring dream during childhood, occasionally experienced even now. It goes something like this.
I walk through a slight fog. The fog lifts as I enter a featureless place where people are doing or discussing some unidentifiable act or topic. I then experience a powerful thought. Everybody else knows something necessary to the task or topic, that I lack. Nobody taught me that.
It’s hardly a mysterious dream, if you know my circumstances.
My father, the laconic man with the slight Texas drawl, a hint of native American heritage his family didn’t talk about, and the height that makes me the tallest Korean Irish Federal Public Defender in America (far as I know)? He died when I was 12, on his second attempt at taking his own life.
My mother is a native of Korea. The only woman to earn a political science diploma from Yonsei University in 1959, after growing up in World War II and the Korean War. But book smarts and surviving wars doesn’t help you teach the nuances of growing up an American boy in the northern Virginia suburbs of the 1960s and 1970s. Especially when nearly nobody looked like me, and she, quite understandably, had other concerns on her mind after the suicide of the husband whose devotion to her had previously seemed unshakeable.
Obviously, I had anxieties growing up, before and after my father’s death. But those anxieties ultimately taught me two great lessons: there is power in being different, and there can be even greater power in need.
Lloyd, the painfully awkward kid picked on in third grade? Even mundane childhood cruelty irked me, provoked just because he was different, even if it meant less cruel attention my way. I started making him get off at my bus stop, and taking him to my house. We would play cards or have a snack and he would walk home, or get a lift from my mom.
Andy, the kid who seemed to always be hungry, and too often wear the same clothes? I brought him home regularly for a while. The first time, my mother offered him a second glass of juice to go along with an afternoon sandwich. Andy’s eyes bulged. He had 8 siblings, he explained, and nobody got seconds. Ever.
As for me, my little brother, and my emotionally crushed mother, our needs turned to blessings in many ways. The most notable was through two couples who saw a family in need, and just included us in their own. I visited one for the first time in many years last summer, while vacationing with my son in Oregon. He had met the Kinneys only twice, too long ago for him to recall. But I described them often as simple and loving and caring and funny and genuine, even after weathering their own tragedies, like having now outlived both their biological children. My son saw all those traits in spades, in just an afternoon with them on the glorious Oregon coast. He understood how precious they were to me, and why.
Exodus 3 describes God’s insistence on using Moses, an octogenarian, fugitive, murderer full of fear and doubt, to lead the Bible’s greatest pilgrimage. This scripture, joined by many others, practically shouts its lesson: there is power in being different, or afraid, or needy.
I am no Moses, and—no offense—neither are you. But perhaps you, like me, have been awkward and broken before. We probably would not wish those experiences on anyone. But often, they invite other, remarkable ones—opportunities and motives to give compassion, to receive it, and to marvel at the simple, healing power of being on either end of that exchange.
I am grateful for reminders of God’s presence and capacity to use all things for Good. I am also grateful for you, my church family, and the opportunities we will have, individually and collectively, to be part of God’s good purpose.
As an incoming member of our Session, Paul Gill is the latest contributor to our blog’s summer series from the Session class of 2020.