These are strange times. I don't think any of us would've predicted where we'd be in June 2020. I know I didn't. I have been walking around in a cloud of heartbreak and disgust and frankly, exhaustion. The headlines and pandemic and confusion seem to be all around us, boxing us into a prison of fear and unrest. Certain issues that continue to rear their ugly heads are repugnant to me.

Thankfully, there is still kindness and good in the world. In fact, sometimes the hardest moments can catalyze some of the greatest change for good. And that is an encouraging thought. I do wish, however, it didn't take tragedy to illuminate things that should've changed already. And should have never been in the first place.

BUT, speaking of change: Change happens when people change. That leads to a change in opinion in our communities, states, nation, and onward. A life truth I fully believe is that we can't make people change. Not really. Oh, we can do our best to control behavior and coerce, plead, or demand change. That may work for a little while. But we can't make people change at a heart level. That's something they have to decide on their own.

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Like me, you may feel that our nation seems more divided than it has in years. This post does not aim to delve into politics, although certainly we are bombarded with it every moment. What has struck me hard is reading the comments of those polarized on extreme sides of the spectrum about a myriad of issues. These discordant voices that, the more extreme the view, seem to get the most attention. It's a sad reality these tend to be the voices that seem to get the most attention.

However, I've noticed on a more personal level, when you're talking with people in real life here in East Texas, we aren't all as divided as we think we are. Sure, we have our share of extreme points of view, and the trolling cacophony of those voices on social media can start a storm of conflict between even more even-tempered people that can rage on and on. I find that heartbreaking.

I know some people who I had sadly pre-judged who have surprised me in their views on things. Many people are much more nuanced than we may think. While we never want to close our eyes or pretend that injustice or harmful and destructive ideas are okay and do all we can to make sure we fight for that change with all of our hearts, I believe it's important to give people a chance on a personal levelI'm referring to those people who just don't fully understand yet--but they want to learn and grow. Some people don't. That's a sad reality.

The shortest distance between people is feeling that they're heard by the other. When we seek to lean in and truly listen to those with whom we disagree, we can start to see change in people that will truly surprise you. Sadly, some seem so eager to attack other points of view that we can alienate each other and would-be allies, if we just gave people a change to express their hearts, minds, anger, confusion and listened to them with grace.

That certainly doesn't mean we have to agree with them. In fact, listening to them may even help you more fully realize why you believe what you believe. Either way, when you truly listen and then respond graciously and with empathy, you'll find many people's defensive shields deactivate and they are more willing to listen to you, as well.

I am not the same woman I was ten years ago--in many ways. Over the years, I've learned new information that has inspired me to change my mind about all kinds of things over time. There are also some things I've always believed that I very much still do--like, for example, racism is a great evil. But I would never trade the time invested in seeking to learn and grow and change and then, to do better. And I certainly wouldn't have been able to do so, without people who have me the emotional space, and the grace, to change.

Dear fellow East Texans, I know these are difficult times. We are tired, frazzled, worried, and in need of peace. We want things to be "okay" again. We want truth, beauty, love, and a sense of justice. How we all define those things may be different. However, by having compassion for one another and extending grace in these difficult times, may very well be the most important step we can take toward healing the heartbreak in our nation right now.

Most importantly, love one another. We are all human and we need each other. We are stronger together--every single one of us.