I can remember when I first started travel nursing that the first thing people noticed about me was my thick, Southern drawl. Heck, even now it’s the way people will differentiate me from others. If I’m not known as the “singing nurse,” then I’m described as the one with a Southern accent. I’ve been called Reba, and if I had a dollar for every person that tried to do an impression of my country twang I could have retired last week.
Yeah, people are not as good at impersonations as they assume, but I’m sure many a Brit would raise an eyebrow at my Monty Python impressions, so I can’t say a word. The thing is, though, if I’m being totally honest, it’s not near as amusing as people assume. Repeating a word I’ve said in your own impression of my pronunciation as you laugh hysterically isn’t funny to me. In fact, it’s eye roll worthy as I fake laugh along. But even now, as I bristle at the harmless prodding at my expense, I don’t react like I used to.
I used to be terribly offended. See, I was born in San Diego, California by a world-traveling mom, and we only moved to Mississippi to settle down when I was about eight. I could have quickly adapted the accent of my local peers, but a part was always held back by my mother’s suggestion. She raised me to enunciate my words, to use a vast vocabulary, and to make a point to sound as educated as possible. She fought hard to ward off her own Southern drawl as it crept into everyday vernacular, as her experience had impressed one, huge thing upon her.
A Southern accent = stupidity.
That was the majority assumption, anyway.
This was what she had experienced. It was what traveling the world had taught her. And as such, she raised me to understand the same. When I began my own world travels so many of the things I encountered nailed home her point. In Naval Bootcamp I achieved the highest scholastic scores among my peers, earning my parents a special seat next to the Chief Officer of the base during my graduation, and allowing me to march at that ceremony in a special company. As we practiced the drill we would execute at our graduation a senior enlisted gentleman commented on my upbringing.
“Where are you from?” he asked.
“Mississippi, Petty Officer,” I replied quickly.
“Well,” he commented in surprise and sarcasm, “I didn’t know they made smart people in Mississippi.”
While I served in the Navy in the Washington, D.C. area I was on the receiving end of reverse racism, with people assuming that since I was from the South, I was automatically a bigot. My mother had hated this aspect the most. She had told me once that people saw movies like Mississippi Burning, and they assumed everyone from that area wanted to wear white hoods and hang black people. In my experience, I even had someone report me to my boss. I had been singing a country love song that came into my head about a man who committed suicide when his girlfriend left him (hey, I didn’t say country songs were known for their great lyrics). The guy in the song hung himself in grief, and the secretary who heard me singing reported to our superior that she feared for her life when she was around me. Because of the accent, where I was from, she assumed my song was something about hanging black people, even though the lyrics never said something even close to that.
This is turning out to be a bit longer than I intended, but I guess I want you to understand why it offended me so much when people poked fun at my Southern accent. In a way, I felt discriminated against for my accent. In my experience, people assumed I was ignorant, racist, uneducated, and the like. My upbringing and my own negative experiences had caused me to be easily offended when my accent was brought to the forefront. I think we all have really good reasons we get offended about things.
As a nurse I’ve gotten offended when a patient is rude. I mean, do they know the responsibilities I handle with limited time and resources? Why are they being angry at me? It’s not my fault they’re sick! I’m just here to help! I don’t deserve such anger aimed at me like an arrow for trying to help!
As a customer I’ve gotten offended. They’re here to serve me. What’s with the attitude?! They must hate their job!
I get offended on the interstate when people cut me off in traffic. I’m going five miles above the speed limit here, buddy!
I can get offended when my husband doesn’t read my mind like a good spouse is supposed to. Doesn’t he know I don’t really mean I’m fine?!
I can especially get offended when people don’t agree with me. As a writer I put out a lot of opinion posts, and not everyone agrees. I’ve had people say some pretty heinous things to me via comments or email. I’ve had people tell me that they feel sorry for my children being raised by me, such an awful person. I’m leaving out the graphic language, mind you. Sometimes I’m so certain that what I’m speaking is truth; I’d bet my life on it! Yet people disagree, and they tell me so quite strongly.
I’ve had close friends and family say or do despicable things to me that have hurt me so badly. I mean, when someone cuts you to the bone, isn’t that a legitimate cause of offense?
See, I’m not saying I don’t have reason to be offended. I’m not saying you don’t. Can Christians be offended? Of course they can! I suppose the better question would be… should they get offended?
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[a] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.
An interesting thing happened as I began to dive deeper into my walk with Jesus. As I began to read God’s Word more and more, I found myself taking on the pages. I mean, I began to act more like scriptures said I should. It wasn’t like I was trying to follow some religious teaching or law. It’s just that the more time I spent reading about Jesus, the more I loved Him. And the more I loved Him, the more I wanted to be like Him. I wanted to see with His eyes and love with His heart. I wanted to be a servant, not selfish. I wanted to encourage people, and help them to see their worth in Christ.
When a patient was undeservingly rude to me, I laid down offense, and instead I asked myself to imagine how hard it must be to be the sick person in that bed. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t my fault, or even if it was theirs. It didn’t matter that I was trying to help, or that I didn’t deserve a cussing. Why would it?
See, we get offended a lot because of bad treatment we don’t deserve. Check. I get it. It’s offensive. Jesus didn’t deserve to be crucified. Remember what He said?
“They know not what they do.”
As a follower of Christ, I realized the best way I could show His love (a commandment He gave me, by the way) was to love like Him.
When people hurt my feelings, I laid down offense. Instead of thinking of my own hurt, I wondered what hurt they must be under to make them act that way.
When someone cut me off in traffic or a cashier was rude, I offered grace. I smile really big at them!
When my husband doesn’t read my feelings I remind myself that we are different.
When people don’t agree with me, I remind myself that everyone won’t. That doesn’t change my eternity.
And speaking of eternity? Have you ever stopped and realized that 99% of the things that offend us actually have no eternal impact? But, how we respond to the people who offend us, well, that can have an eternal consequence. We may push people away when they offend us, but we shouldn’t push them away from Jesus. If someone stumbles because of me, well, I don’t even want to think about it.
I am who God says I am. Thirty-four years ago, in His great wisdom, God placed me and my mom in Mississippi. He orchestrated my mom meeting my adoptive dad, and my subsequent adoption, the one that would positively impact my opinion of fathers and my life. God placed me in the South, and God loves my Southern drawl. After I laid down my offense I realized that most people love my accent as well. They weren’t all making fun of me or judging my intellect. My offense told me that, but it wasn’t true. I’ve discovered that my patients love the soothing sound of my slow, Southern drawl. It puts their souls at ease in a harried, uncertain environment. It implies caring and it easily earns trust. I cherish my accent, and I’ve found lately that in difficult situations at the bedside, like when I must break bad news, I draw out my syllables a little longer, and I dredge them in sugar a bit more. The patients like that.
I’ve learned that although many times I have every right to be offended, and that God won’t love me any less because I am, I am better able to fulfill my calling when I let go of offense. When I can turn the other cheek I am actually showing the face of Jesus. When I take off the red rage that veils my eyes under my own offense, I am better able to see where and who needs love most.
Will every situation we encounter require us to lay down our offense? No. I’m not saying to let yourself be filleted open for the masses. But I am saying that when we can let go of ourselves and see other’s pain, Jesus smiles. When we can love someone despite their hurting our feelings, they’ll see Jesus in us. When He calls us to lay down our life for a brother, He even means the ones who disagree with us. We can lay down offense, and we can pick up love in its place.