I’ve been thinking this week about people who are really good at their jobs and how they might not always know the ways that they are making the world a better place.
My aunt’s beloved dog Sloan got very sick. When my aunt took Sloan to her remarkable veterinarian, he diagnosed the dog with cancer. They did a scan and found that the cancer had spread everywhere. My aunt said that the vet was almost as upset as she was when they determined that there really wasn’t much hope for saving Sloan. This dog was dear not only to my aunt, but had also served a larger purpose. Sloan served as a breeder for service dogs. She had several litters of puppies that are now helping many people with disabilities all over the country. When they agreed that putting the dog to sleep was the only option, the vet shook his head, looked at my aunt and said, “Let’s send her out in style.” He went to another room and came back with Snickers for Sloan. Sloan gobbled up those candy bars with sweet abandon. The vet eased my aunt’s grief by giving the dog a joyful exit. The vet couldn’t save the dog, but I’d still say that he was really good at his job.
My friend is a pastor at a church that is struggling financially. The church has become welcoming to people in the gay community and several families, who were generous givers, have left the congregation. My friend performed a same-sex wedding recently and those men are now faithful church members and love to serve as ushers on Sunday mornings. They have found a home. As we were talking, I was struck by how faithful my friend is. He is welcoming people who have felt unwelcome their whole lives. I hate that this bold and Christ-like act has him worried about how to balance their church budget. He and his congregation are doing life-changing work, but they are paying a price for this faithful discipleship. On paper, losing these families might make it seem like he isn’t good at his job, but I see in my friend a servant leader who God will not abandon. Love lives in that church. It might not be the biggest church around, but they are doing really important work.
My child’s teacher was much younger than me, but much wiser. My oldest child was struggling to learn to read and I was alarmed. I’d been volunteering in the classroom and my job was to run through the sight word list with the kids. Some of those first graders were reading on middle school level. At my house, we were sounding out words at the bottom of the page that we’d just sounded out at the top of the page. We weren’t making much progress on sight words. At a teacher-parent conference, this sweet young teacher looked me in the eye and said something like, “Mrs. McArthur, the child with the highest reading level doesn’t necessarily get the best life.” Her words changed something in me. She was an amazing teacher to the kids, but also had a gift for dealing with panicking parents like me. She didn’t miraculously turn my child into a fantastic reader, but she provided us with a much needed compass and map.
None of these people have been able to change the whole situation, but they are still really good at their work. Even with really capable professionals at the helm, my aunt’s dog still died, my friend’s church is still struggling and my child still has a learning disability. These are the cards on the table. None of these people could suddenly make it right, but they chose to show kindness and love. They didn’t run away from other people’s pain. There is such honor in standing with people.
I know that many of us wonder if what we are doing is making much of a difference; I hope you will learn this week that, even in small ways, you are indeed easing suffering. I hope that we will all take time to thank one another when we see someone being faithful or kind. I am grateful that there are vets who keep Snickers around just in case, pastors who show outrageous hospitality, and teachers who know what really matters in life. Stories of goodness and grace give me hope and strength in our broken world. They make me want to do better. I thank them for reminding me that in the end, only kindness matters.