These photos I’m using don’t really have much to do with what I’m writing about other than to show that even during hard seasons, there is still joy. So much joy. As long as you’re looking for it, you’ll find it.

My youngest child is an external processor. So am I.

You know what this means? Sometimes, a lot of times, we say things without thinking.

But the thing is . . . you don’t get to say stuff you’d like to take back then say “Sorry, I’m an external processor” and expect everyone to excuse you and move on.

What I keep telling him is the same truth I tell myself: it’s OK to be an external processor because that’s just who you are. But external processors still also must know when to restrain that thought and when it’s OK to let it out.

In other words, we must hone the very difficult skill of knowing when to speak and when to listen.

Never was this more apparent than during the last presidential election.

I don’t even know where to begin on that horrendous season in our country. Regardless of your political persuasion, I think we can all agree that a whole new level of mudslinging, a level that dumbfounded me on most days, was achieved. And it wasn’t just the opponents slinging the mud – it was all of us.

The bottom line I learned during this season: it makes not one bit of a difference what you believe politically. I hear arguments from both sides of the aisle and often see both points. At the end of the day, it’s not about who’s right, who’s wrong and who wins.

But it is about respecting another person’s thoughts, opinions and beliefs – even if they don’t align with yours.

I watched, aghast, as arguments blew-up on Facebook. I heard and read the points go personal and for the jugular. I watched hate-filled quarrels that made me think of the shortest scripture: Jesus wept.

Because I think if Jesus were physically present in the human form during that season, that’s precisely what He would have done. He would have wept. All the live-long day for the entire season.

Somewhere along the line during those wretched months, we stopped listening to each other. I mean, we heard each other, yes. But there’s a big difference between hearing and listening. Listening involves the heart while hearing is just acoustics.

When we listen, we aren’t formulating what we’ll say next in response to what’s being said. We don’t have an agenda to persuade, to “win,” to shame the person whose opinions are so different from our own. We aren’t judging them by thinking how stupid and uninformed they are. We aren’t trying to secure our spot on the high school debate team. We don’t tell them how wrong they are for believing what they believe.

Nope. None of that.

Instead, we listen because we want to genuinely hear their hearts. People are complex. None of us arrives at what we believe without some blood, sweat and tears and the path is different for everyone. The process of walking the path is what shapes those beliefs and sometimes, the path twists and turns, taking you right back from where you came or to a distant land altogether.

They’re all different, each of our paths. One is not better than the other. One is not more right than the other. It just is what it is.

When we listen to a person share his or her path, we better understand the heart. When we understand the heart, we humanize the person to whom it belongs. And when we humanize the person, it’s no longer about the issues that make us clench our fists and say bad words.

It’s about the flesh and blood that sits across from us – flesh and blood with a path that may not look like ours but a path still traveled and still traveling.

During that season, I learned to say things like “Tell me more about that” and “It sounds like you’ve really thought this through.” Sure, I failed miserably at times but I give myself grace. I’m still under construction. I hope I am until the day I die.

The few times I did post anything on social media that reflected where I stood, I was dumbfounded by the onslaught. Personal messages telling me how wrong I was to believe what I believe. Attacks in comments. Unlikes. Unfollows. Unsubscribes. Un-whatevers.

I suspect I’m not alone either. I’ve spoken to so many of you who, like me, were backed into a corner in which silence was the only way to make sense of what just happened.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

I tried to write during that season, I really did. However, I was so grieved at what I was seeing, hearing and experiencing, the words just wouldn’t come – and trust me, I tried.

When you pour out words and speak them, too, sometimes, God call you to just be quiet and re-center.

Which is what I’ve been doing the past two years. Just being quiet and re-centering.

But now . . . oh, now. I am who I am.

You don’t have to believe what I believe.  We don’t have to vote the same. We can disagree and still love.

I won’t shout at you until you see things my way. I won’t tell you how Jesus would vote (that one was my favorite – I mean, really. I heard it from both sides and it made my skin crawl.) I won’t try to “win” you over to my side. I won’t send you personal messages and tell you how terrible you are for believing what you believe.

Nope. You are so much more than that and so am I.

We will move forward. We won’t take the bait. We will smile and say “Tell me more about that.”

We will choose love.

Always.