I finished teaching my weekly sign language class and felt my nerves subside. I’d been sick over this class in particular all day. Those who know me personally would find that odd, considering I’m a very outgoing person, totally comfortable in front of a crowd, and I’ve taught classes and workshops all over the Southeast for several years.
But I had been physically sick over this class all day long. Why? Because some old friends of mine would be my special guests for the evening. These weren’t just any old friends. These were two of my very closest friends. Deaf mentors of mine for fifteen years and friends for more than twenty. I have called them my “second parents” for as long as I can remember.
So why the anxiety?
I hadn’t seen them in nearly five years. I had never even introduced them to my four-year-old son, these people who had me at their house countless times. Who invited me to join them for day trips and taught me sign language from the time I was twelve years old. He would drop everything to help me if I ever needed it, and she would drive half an hour every week to come eat lunch with me at the middle school so I could practice sign language.
These folks had freely given me their time and their language. I have been professional sign language interpreter for the past eight years because this couple was so generous to me. I owe them a great debt of gratitude for the way they shaped my life.
But I had been sick to my stomach for hours over the thought of having to face them.
Sounds ridiculous, right?
That’s what fear does. Fear turns our stomachs inside out as it buries us under a truckload of irrational thoughts and behavior. Fear weighed on me like an overcoat in the summer I couldn’t seem to take off. Why? Because I hadn’t seen this couple since the suicide attempt. I hadn’t faced them since I lost my job. He didn’t even know. I was so scared of their disappointment. I feared they would no longer approve of me, just like so many others who didn’t know the full story.
I swallowed my fear for the duration of the class and picked up a mask I hadn’t worn in several years. I know how to perform. I am a master at “fake it til you make it,” and I used that old skill set last night. The class went as planned and my students had a wonderful time. I was satisfied and ready to go home.
After the crowd left, the three of us walked to the parking lot together. My old friend, my mentor, this man who had been a father figure to me for so many years, dropped his countenance. His face was calm and his eyes were gracious. I had seen this look many times before. He began to move his hands in a way that told me I was loved.
His fingers silently wove a tapestry of grace in the cool night air as he told me that he had heard the rumors but those words meant nothing to him. “Because I know you. I know Steve,” he said to me. I thought the old man might cry as he let me know how glad he was that I made it through the suicide attempt. He asked me to no longer put him and his wife in the same boat as the others who had turned their backs or given up on me. He told me that he wasn’t interested in the gossip.
What he was saying is that I mattered. He did not believe the words of those who would spread judgment. He believed in me.
Grace shows up in unlikely places if we keep our hearts and minds open. What fear buries, grace resurrects. Fear pushed me to withdraw from precious friends for years, but grace promises to redeem lost time. Fear convinced me to lump these friends with everyone else who had hurt me, but grace is a reconciler.
What about you? Has fear tried to separate you from those you love? Maybe not a person--maybe a dream or gift you've run from. Like me, have you found your self-worth wrapped up in fear ? If your self-esteem has been torn down, grace promises to build back up.
Perfect love continues to cast out fear as it shatters judgement.
I wish the whole world could be deafened to the noise of condemnation the way I was that night. Grace can be heard in any language.
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