Whether it was too-short shorts, funky socks, or neon-bright colors, Matt Hoffman always wore something that made you look twice. He often paired it with a mischievous look in his eyes, then added a waggish grin. He could make a room feel light and lively.
I remember reading a news article about him getting into trouble once somewhere downtown. He had lost his temper and was yelling at someone in a public place. Though he didn’t hide the fact to us that he had issues, and he let us know of his struggles with anger, I had never seen that side of him. Around me he showed the utmost respect. I believe he was the same with my husband Matt. He would make us laugh, he would entertain our kids, he would offer deep and insightful thoughts. There were times that I could feel his longing for family and connection so tangibly that it was as if it was an item he carried around with him in his bag.
I have vivid memories of our encounters with Matt Hoffman, but I don’t clearly remember the last time I saw him. What I do remember is getting the news that he had been hit by a car in Charlotte and was dead. My heart felt like it had been punched. Tears came freely. Matt and I might not have known all of Matt Hoffman that there was to know, but what we did know, and the world he created with us, we valued and loved. We miss him still.
Over the last ten years of working at Speak Up, we have seen people come and go. They come to us and the life behind them—the circumstances and people and choices that all led up to their finding Speak Up—is often a mystery. We get snippets, but it is difficult to know the hard facts and clear answers. It doesn’t matter. We take them as we find them, we take them as they present themselves to us. We take them with a clean slate. Here, perhaps for the first time, they find the freedom to be something else. To be free of the shackles of their failures, the weight they carry for all the ways they’ve disappointed others or themselves.
What is fascinating to me is that often they act toward us in a way that baffles those who have known them before—with effort, with respect, with dignity, with humility, with grit. Eyes that stare at them through the pain and disappointment of the past are like black holes with a gravitational pull that is hard to get around. The eyes of the beholder can be a powerful thing.
It is easy for me to look at those I do not know—those who have not hurt me—with fresh eyes. Much harder, if not near impossible, to look with hopeful eyes at someone I have loved and believed in, but who has let me down more than once. For that I need a supernatural power to overcome and overwhelm the barter system that is human love. In order to bypass the limited capabilities of my mortal heart, I need the trump card of forgiveness that invites the Divine. I won’t feel like I can do it, in fact, one almost never “feels” like forgiving. It starts with a choice, an act of will. That single resolve becomes a red carpet that ushers in the Holy One who then changes everything. He makes the heart new. He makes the eyes new. And He makes all things new.
Perhaps this is the gift most needed in this season—the gift of grace for others and grace for ourselves. The gift of realizing that we are not our failures. We are not our past. They may be a small part of our story, but there is much more to the story. The ways that we have disappointed others and disappointed ourselves does not get to define who we are. We want this kind of grace for ourselves, we even recognize how we need it.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
So after the really hard year that has been 2020, let’s offer something powerful for the next one: the gift of fresh eyes.