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Thinking Beyond Binary

Today I have been thinking about two small words. They are the conjunctives. But is one. But interrupts something. It is a contrast. It provides an objection. And is the other. And connects. It conjoins. These small words and the way we use them can be highly important in life.

A dear friend of mine’s mother died last week. As I prayed for her this morning I knew I needed to send her a text of love and support. I struggled with what to say. That is when these two conjunctives came to mine. I often hear people who are going through challenging times acknowledge their grief and then quickly add, “but I have so much to be grateful for.” It is as if they contrast the grief of life with the good. Perhaps a better way would be to say, “life is hard right now and I have much to be grateful for.”There is a way of looking at life that is binary. Good stuff makes us happy or grateful. Bad stuff makes us sad. Life can be seen, however as a whole. Life can be seen as a mixture of that which causes us to delight and that which causes us to despair. To run from either is to miss the richness of life.

Often the things that cause us our deepest despair do so because they are things that brought us the most delight. When we love deeply it is wonderful. When we lose those we love it causes us the deepest pain. This thanksgiving will be the first in several years that Kim and I have not had all the kids home. Does that make us sad? Yes. We are sad because of deep affection and many fond memories and for those we are grateful.

To live life focused only on our grief or to focus solely on what brings us joy would be to miss the fullness of life. We would wallow in despair or our ecstasy would render us useless.

So here is what I texted my friend. “Neglect not your grief and forget not your gratitude.”

I know several in our Habitat family have recently faced and are facing significant challenges in their lives. The sickness and deaths of loved ones, challenges with children, health concerns, relationship troubles, depression, unmet expectations are being experienced in this work family. There has been much happening in our world that troubles our soul. Mass shootings, incivility in our social and political discourse, injustice, pandemics and economic insecurity cause strain for us all. These are real. And so are love, joy health, opportunity, kindness, generosity, achievement, movement towards a more just world . Progress is real, help can be provided.

Habitat’s vision of a place where everyone has a safe, decent, affordable place to live is overwhelming and we are making progress toward that vision. We come to work embracing both of those realities. It makes work meaningful.

Life lived well lives in and rather than but. Grief and gratitude are the fabric of life.