"The best advice I've been given when I'd failed - was a hug."
I've loved giving hugs for as long as I can remember.
My pre-school teacher, Mrs. Upton, first emphasized the power of a good hug. One day during circle time, she taught us how to give "bear hugs." One at a time, we walked over to her and gave her this new kind of hug.
In third grade, I had Mrs. Severson. She had the most amazing energy. She truly treated each child in her class like they were unique and significant. She stood at the entryway every morning and gave each one of us the best hug ever. (She always smelled amazing, too.)
Even as an adult, I love a good hug. Hugs are warm. They make you feel good. And a hug is incredibly useful non-verbal communication. Much like Olaf, I like warm hugs. 🙂
Decades after my time with Mrs. Upton and Mrs. Severson, I became a teacher, too. I believe in the power of a hug so much that I took Mrs. Upton's "bear hug" lesson, plus Mrs. Severson's best hugs ever, and made them my own. Each morning, I made it a point to hug every child as they entered my room. I think it's so good to start the day with a hug.
To me, a hug says:
I'm putting aside everything else to be present with you.
FREE MOM HUGS
Immediately, I felt validated that another person of faith had wrestled with this, and decided that the best choice is just to love. Love is not a religious issue - it's a human one.
Love is not a religious issue - it's a human one. via @iamsteveaustin #freemomhugs #loveislove #lovewins
Unfortunately, I couldn't participate because of my work contract. I had to uphold the values of the institution, even if they weren't my own. It was a real struggle - I couldn't live my love out loud because I also needed to pay my bills. That became increasingly more difficult because I have several gay friends who feel like family.
Read my husband's post: I Found God in a Gay Bar.
SMILES, GLITTER, AND DRAG QUEENS
A couple of weeks ago, I resigned from that job. For this reason and several more. One of the first things I thought about was PRIDE. Now, nothing was holding me back. I called my mom, because she's a fantastic hugger, too. I knew she'd be all about giving FREE MOM HUGS at the Birmingham PRIDE Parade.
My husband was so bummed he had to work, but mom and I got a babysitter for the kids and headed downtown to give a little love away (thanks, Ellen).
I was blown away by the turnout of other moms. There were at least fifty, covering four street corners. We were decked out in bright colors, big smiles, and enough glitter to make a drag queen swoon.
DO YOU HAVE AN AWESOME MOM?
Before the parade started, we mingled and shared our stories. Some moms had gay kids, and some were just like me - caring about the gay community and wanting to show their support with a hug.
As the parade started, our corner was so crowded that my mom and I decided to hang back and talk to people more. I loved this because rather than just giving a hug, I got to start conversations with everyone I met. I started each encounter with this one question, "Do you have an awesome mom?"
If someone said yes, we both shared a big smile. If the person said no, it gave me another chance to say, "Well, I'm a mom, and I care about you." It was a simple but profound way to validate the identity of another human being, made in the image of God.
One guy said his mom lived thirteen hours away, and he hadn't had a mom hug in a long time. So I squeezed him real good. Why give only one hug, when you can give two? 🙂
CONNECTION, NOT CORRECTION
As the night came to a close, we were hot, sweaty, and covered in pounds of glitter. I laughed and cringed a little as I remembered my days in Bible college when we would come to this very same part of town and try to convert "sinners" (whatever that means). We would pass out tracts and talk to people, late into the night, evangelizing and proselytizing.
But last Saturday night was different. Rather than focus on correction - I was passionate about connection. In a world that is so polarized, I took my straight privilege and power - and broke down walls by offering a hug. This experience further cemented a truth I've known for a long time: it is more important to be kind than to be right. After all, the only way anyone will know I'm a Christian is by my love - and my hugs.