I'm reading a good book right now. The Help by Karen Stockett. It's a civil rights era fiction that takes place in Jackson, Mississippi. Good story... not quite done with it, but really enjoying it.
There is a part of the story I keep going back to. One of the characters, Aibilene has been a maid for years and years. Part of her duties include caring for the white children of the people she works for. The 'society' people that employ her have little time or patience for their children... which breaks Aibilene's heart, as she loves each of them as if they were her own. At one point in the story, a little girl asks her if she has any children, and she laughs and says-- I've had nineteen! Referring to all the white children she has raised.
One thing that really struck me in the story is Aibilene's pondering one day about the fate and lives of these children. She is scared they will grow up like their parents, to treat their children as their parents treated them-- with indifference, annoyance, and often anger. She makes a point of telling one of the little girls she is raising 'good things' every day as she rocks her to sleep. She tells her-- you are a GOOD girl. You are a KIND girl. You are a SMART girl. You are IMPORTANT. She prays every night that good things she tells the little girl will be a stronger influence on her life than the frustration and negligence of her parents.
As she is praying for the little girl she starts to wonder about other children she raised and how their lives might have been different had she spoken words of love and encouragement into their lives. If someone had told them they were good, important, smart... instead of ignoring them or beating them because they were 'different'.
I found this portion of the book so striking because I think everyone knows what it feels like to hear and believe lies... that we are wrong, or bad, or unlovable. I keep thinking about my own life and the places I have heard these lies... from people I trusted, from people I wanted to love me, from the church I grew up in.
The character in the story loves these children unconditionally, with a love that doesn't see the color of their skin, the mistakes in their past, or the faults in their belief system. She prays that even though her voice is a single voice in their lives, that the example of love and the words she speaks will be louder than the lies the rest of the world tries to tell them.
I think about my own life... and the places I go, the people I come into contact with. As I go through my daily life, am I living an example of love that tells people they are important, valuable, worthwhile? Or do my attitude and actions portray judgement, or even indifference? What if my voice were the only voice to speak love and worth into a person's life... would the person that needs to, ever hear it?
I know it is just a passing section of a fictional story, but it has been on my mind the past week, and has been a great challenge to me.
What if those broken, beaten, and discouraged around me heard words of encouragement?
What if those forgotten or deemed unlovable heard they were loved, valued?
What if just one voice rang out over the lies our ears are assaulted with daily?
What if just one person chose to live out a relentless, scandalous, unconditional love in the midst of the turmoil, injustice, and hurt so many live in...
How would lives be different?
How would my life be different if I lived and loved like that?