Dave Brisbin 7.23.23
Over sixteen years at theeffect, we’ve only had to ask two people to leave a gathering. We want everyone who wants to be with us to be with us, unless they can’t maintain themselves enough to allow others to have their own experiences. Years ago a woman living on the streets would come on Sundays from time to time, usually under the influence. We and the donuts didn’t mind, until one Sunday she was acting so violently, we had to escort her out. But at the end of the gathering as we were all mingling, she came back and made a beeline for me.

I stiffened, wondering what was coming—may have actually taken a step back, but gave her direct eye contact, listening while she speed-talked about things I can’t remember. On full alert, I was ready for anything, all sensors tuned to signs of distress, but the more she talked, the more it seemed her difficult moment had passed. Then she stopped, and after a beat said, I guess I just need a hug. Didn’t see that coming, hope I had the presence of mind to smile, sure that I hesitated, but moved in for the embrace.

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You know about first hugs…head and shoulders, arms and hands. I was still thinking through it all, waited what seemed right number of seconds, then relaxed my grip to back away. She maintained pressure, not letting go. Oh, ok…I re-engaged and waited what again seemed right lapse of time, relaxed, but she still held on, saying in my ear but not necessarily to me: sometimes it’s hard to get a good hug. The human condition in eight words. And as my humanity recognized hers, all the categories in which I’d placed her, all my interior boundaries, my tension, fell to the floor. I reeled her back in and held on until I finally felt her relax.

Jesus always seems out of order. Touches a leper and calls a paralytic his son before healing them. Loves before forgiveness. For Jesus, even when our need is lowered through a hole in the roof, the touch and forgiveness of family are the healing itself. Physical healing is almost an afterthought. And for all our focus on miracles, I think Jesus is trying to redirect us. Get us to see that sometimes a good hug is hard to find.

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