“Life is just hard,” I said on a recent morning to a co-worker as we caught up with one another.

Having just returned from a weekend away from ministry, I am acutely aware there is no such vacation. The pain, sadness and senseless hatred do not rest.

In my four days “off,” my ministry hat did not leave my head; my location merely changed.

As I traveled, I had the opportunity to visit with three women, all over 80, precious beings who have contributed deeply to my life.

We talked about their challenges both physically and mentally, about decisions they face, about what worries them.

I saw vulnerability in their eyes as they reflected on what they can no longer do. I felt a longing in their words for the complete independence they once knew. I listened quietly and hugged them tightly.

I have not walked through their stage in life; advice from my mouth would be nothing but arrogant and all-knowing, not what they needed. The best I could offer was a listening ear and an “I love you.”

I also spent time in the presence of someone whom I love like my own son and who is learning to walk confidently as a gay man.

It was my joy to meet his boyfriend, an outgoing expert in the beauty industry who immediately gained extra points with me by complimenting the color in my hair and my “amazing” skin.

Our time together included a conversation with tears overflowing from this young man’s eyes as he talked about the prejudice he faces even from those who love him. The pain is raw enough for him to disclose it to someone he had just met.

“I just want to love everyone,” he said.

And I offered the words, “You are a worthy and valuable child of God.”

Later in the weekend, I would have a difficult conversation with two people I dearly love and respect. They felt comfortable in their level of acceptance of homosexuality until it became part of their family.

When asked what, as a minister, my thoughts were, I pray I provided valuable input.

I ended our conversation by saying, “I find it hard to believe that God, the God of love, would create one of his children and then deem that child wrong for being who they were created to be.”

I held the hand of a young woman who, with her hippie ways and determination to let her free spirit shine, reminds me of my own daughter.

With tears rolling down her cheeks, she allowed me to listen as she described the pain of rejection by someone she should be able to rely on.

From my own experience, I aimed to reassure her, proclaiming, “This is not about you. This is the result of someone who cannot see outside of themselves.”

Deep conversations continued as I took my “break.” I listened to the pain as one of the women in my circle of support spoke honestly about her struggles and fears as her husband faces a life-threatening condition.

I cannot change the circumstances no matter how much I wish I could. Again, an “I love you” and my presence were all I had to offer.

While I was “vacationing,” two mass shootings also occurred a mere 14 hours apart. Unexplainable crimes and innocent lives lost.

“Why?” I cannot help but cry out to God in my prayers. I do not understand, and I am overwhelmed.

The book of James is one I regularly rely on. The Voice translated James 3:13-18 this way:

“Who in your community is understanding and wise? Let his example, which is marked by wisdom and gentleness, blaze a trail for others. If your heart is one that bleeds dark streams of jealousy and selfishness, do not be so proud that you ignore your depraved state.

“The wisdom of this world should never be mistaken for heavenly wisdom; it originates below in the earthly realms with the demons. Any place where you find jealousy and selfish ambition, you will discover chaos and evil thriving under its rule.

“Heavenly wisdom centers on purity, peace, gentleness, deference, mercy and other good fruits untainted by hypocrisy. The seed that flowers into righteousness will always be planted in peace by those who embrace peace.”

I pray to be part of the peace in a world that has much darkness. May all who follow Jesus be inspired to listen, comfort and educate. And may love be our first response.

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