By Naomi Zacharias
I am a country girl at heart. I love the city with its bustle, skyscraper views, hotdog vendors, and tailored trench coats. But recently I have been reminded that the old oak trees, rustic fences, acres of pasture, daffodils, easy smiles, and cowboy hats of the South are ultimately for me. A good friend asked what I would be doing in an unrealistic life. (She admitted she would be a ninja, so that explains the creative bar we were aiming for.) Several days later when I was listening to one of my favorite singers, Willie Nelson, a smile came to my lips. I told my friend: I would be a classic country singer, wearing weathered jeans and antiqued brown cowboy boots with a smoldering bluesy voice like Lily Meola, singing a duet onstage with my pal Willie.
One thing I love about country music is the storytelling. I was listening to an artist I recently discovered as she sang the story of a horse with a wild and wounded spirit, rendering her no friend to any rider. Until one day a man from another town came to visit and tried something no one had. He sat quietly nearby, but no further. He offered her space, and he waited. Eventually the bruised mare hesitantly moved toward him. He assured her he wouldn’t hurt her and reached out his hand. The mustang lowered her head and her guard, and thus began their journey together.
It is a simple country kind of song, but a complex reality. It is a story that reminded me of my own. I haven’t written about this before. In part because some things I carry close to my heart out of respect for the sacred—either mourning something lost or celebrating something won, for both travel to profound depths within the soul. And in part out of reverence to the gift of privacy that we are all growing ever closer to forgoing entirely. I share now purposefully and with due care and respect for the details that will stay in the recesses of my heart, appropriately sheltered.
Fixing the Broken
I was the daughter of a public leader in ministry. I was full of hope, anticipation, and naivety. I experienced the death of divorce twice before I was 30. I was broken.
Several years later I traveled to Italy to write a book. I had come to terms with the life I had, though it was not the life I wanted. The experience of knowing hope that lands in demise, the profound sense of failure to succeed in something I deeply valued was a painful reality I still wished I could change. I did not seek love again. Yet through some seemingly random but divine events, I met someone who changed my life and the way I saw my life. There is a significant difference between the two. One is something he offered, the other is something he gave.
Today I was driving my little boy to school, and we were talking about heroes. He asked me what a hero was, and I said it was someone who does something extraordinary, something right and courageous and to help other people. “Who can you think of is a hero?” I expected him to name someone from PJ Masks, a favorite program about children who turn into superheroes. My son looked out the window thoughtfully and then he said, “Daddy.” I smiled and asked him what he sees in his daddy that is heroic. “He fixes things that are broken,” he answered. Yes, he does.
I do not mean it in the sense of a Hollywood script, where one person “fixes” another, because that really doesn’t happen. But a person can have the tremendous ability to influence another toward faith and hope, to fan the flame of an innate desire to choose to walk toward healing.
Handled with Care
There are hundreds of things I could tell you about my husband. What I have chosen to share here is a trait we underestimate. It is frequently overlooked and misunderstood. In a world growing ever cruel, it is a lost art.
My husband is kind. And that makes him exceptional. He chose to stand nearby in the field of my world and sorrow, somehow able to see the ghost of a spirit that once lived and the fiery fear that currently reigned and needed to be handled with care. His kindness stirred a frozen place in my heart that had lost hope—in my story, in love, and in myself.
When we got engaged, many people commented on how lucky I was. They likened him to a “kinsmen redeemer,” willing to take my past upon his back and extend a gracious love with an understood “in spite of.” Admittedly it did not feel good. While I genuinely agreed with a layer of that perspective, I had the distinct feeling they saw him as the better person willing to love the lesser person. Here is the reason why our relationship has lifted me toward healing rather than falling into the pitfall of shame: he has never once made me feel that way.
My husband has treated my story and my bruises with kindness. His intellect is sharp, and he could bench press our family (I know this because he actually has done it, accompanied by the thunderous laughter and sheer delight of our handful of toddlers). He carries physical and intellectual strength with the capacity to overwhelm me, but he chooses to use such strength to care for my heart.
A friend recently showed me an article written by Gary Thomas with recommended traits to look for in a spouse. The first on the list is kindness. I hadn’t seen this before. Perhaps we have forgotten or neglected its power, influence, and saving grace. This messy journey called life takes us through the exciting, the mundane, the beautiful, and the wearisome. We need kindness in them all. It continues to provide a balm to the cracks in my spirit, both old and new. No, I will never be without scars, but kindness has provided an unexpected luminosity to the previously sharp and angry lines of the breaks.
Bolder Than We Think
A few years ago I was enjoying dinner with friends. I described my husband’s parenting as kind. It was a compliment. I am grateful every day that the father of my children treats them with care; he would rather manifest his strength and authority in grace than through consequence. To my surprise, a dinner guest swiftly and strongly scolded me for publicly emasculating my husband.
Is it possible that in our earnest desire to protect against a legitimate concern for emasculation, we have overreached? By no means does kindness imply a lack of strength. On the contrary, it takes self-control to resist the impulses of our humanity and choose compassion, not merely when things are pleasant but when they are downright hard. It takes intention to extend a hand in the face of conflict. It requires maturity to offer kindness with sincerity rather than in manipulation. It takes wisdom to know what makes kindness distinct from passivity, for there is a grand difference. It requires discipline to demonstrate this throughout your life. It takes strength and confidence to put another’s well-being before personal interests. Kindness is critical to extending a love that enriches, emboldens, and endures. That is both masculine and feminine enough for all of us to admire, seek, and cultivate.
Through kindness the Kenites succeeded in saving their very lives; it so impacted King Saul that he warned the Kenites to flee so they would not be destroyed when he attacked the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:1-6). Rahab’s act of kindness won her the loyalty of Joshua’s spies, leading them to declare “our life for yours even to death,” and promising to show the same kindness to her family in the wake of battle (Joshua 2). Kindness is the second attribute listed for love in the famous passage of 1 Corinthians 13. It is named throughout Scripture as an attribute of God himself, including the beautiful Ephesians 2:5-7. “Even when we were dead in our trespasses, God made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (English Standard Version).
Perhaps kindness is bolder than we think. To anyone seeking a hero, a friend, a partner, I would suggest that kindness makes the difference between a relationship that is life-giving and one that can leave you with wounds that long for healing.
My husband is a hero. Because he can hold and behold things that are broken. Because he knew even what couldn’t be fixed could still be loved and valued. He has that kind of kindness, that kind of vision. This has added beauty to my story, affecting the way I live with all of my story. It is helping this horse think I could run, and some days, be brave enough to try.
Naomi Zacharias is an author, speaker, and director of Wellspring International, the humanitarian arm of RZIM that provides international support for at-risk women and children.