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My twins turned 15 last week so we have 2 new permit-drivers in the family.  I won’t embarrass them here – they’re doing as well as can be expected with five days’ experience on city streets.  (And as a passenger, I’ve cut the gasping and dashboard-gripping to a minimum, and I only screamed out loud once on Sunday, so we’re all improving together.)

I did not tape the DMV-issued “PERMIT DRIVER” sign to the window of my car, because 1) I still drive it the most and 2) a friend told me her whole philosophy of why she didn’t put one in her window because it can make your kids a target for jerk drivers, and her view made perfect sense to me at the time, so I thought, not necessary!

But on Sunday, after another slow drive down a busy street, two near complete stops during efforts to simply change lanes, and a VERY WIDE right turn that brought raised eyebrows and a visible flinch from the driver we came just a teeny bit close to, Annie begged me to put that sign in the window.

“Please, mom?  I want people to know there’s a reason I’m so bad right now.”

She created a perfect illustration for the study I’m doing right now, related to Hope & Healing, Kindness & Grace.  Grace:  the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it.  Not because we’ve done anything to earn it – He just desires us to have it.  And He gives it right where we are, just as we are – not when we “clean up our acts” or  “finally have it all together” or “do that one more right thing.” He meets us right where we are.  And we are to extend mercy and grace to others as well.  Even when we are mistreated – in big ways or small ones – it’s important to be kind to others.  So many people walk around with varying degrees of pain and broken spirits, but they hide those feelings & struggles behind masks of happiness and put-togetherness.  They don’t wear signs (permit driver!  bullied at school! suffering from depression!  overwhelmed by parenthood!)  that alert us to the reasons for their bad behavior, or the true struggles behind their facades.  I’ve learned through deeper friendships and relationships that often a false front masks deep pain:  childhood abuse.  Marriage struggles.  Sickness. Addiction.  Mental illness.  Crippling low self-esteem.  Or even just exhaustion with trying to keep up with the demands of life/marriage/motherhood/work.

Connection with our loved ones and friends and strangers is so important.  What signs would they wear – or would we wear – if we could?  Struggling. Overworked. Under-appreciated.  Feeling unloved.  Grieving. Depressed.  Something that alerts us we should Handle with Care.

This study I’m doing is a good reminder to take notice and take time with people.  To ask how they’re feeling.  To meet up for coffee when someone asks, even if I’m busy –  because there may be a reason they want to talk that day.  And to extend kindness and grace, because they may be walking a tough road I know nothing about.

Some mornings I’d love to wear my own sign – “Having a tough day.  Handle with Care.”  Of course I don’t, but a kind word or favor or someone else’s grace toward me can really shine a light.

I went ahead and marked one of our cars with the “Permit Driver” sign.  So at least for now, other drivers might give Annie some patience & grace, and the room she needs to go slow for awhile.

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