Chicken Feet and Kindness

She owns “the house that chicken feet built,” as my friend Katie says. Just inside the edge of Kayamundi shanty town is Momma Shummi’s guesthouse. Almost everyone knows her because she is kind, and because she is the one who sells chicken feet outside the school yard. And everyone loves chicken feet.

My wife and I wanted to see what real life was like in South Africa, not just be tourists. We stayed at Momma Shummi’s two nights. Each morning we would see and smell the boiling pots on the stove, but didn’t know what was in them. Not until our second morning, when we spent a couple of hours talking about her life. She told us how she would get the cast off chicken feet from the slaughter houses nearby, boil them up in a couple of flavors, and sell them by the school during recess and lunch. An entrepreneur. A self-made woman. Starting with nothing in an apartheid world, she scrapped together enough to build a life.

What impresses me most about people is when they live life without bitterness. It would be easy to do so living under the oppression in her country, but she chooses not to dwell on that. She had lost much over her life…family members, personal property, who knows what else. Some people focus so much on what they have lost, that they can’t see what they have. Bitterness is a natural choice if you only focus on what you lose. Here is a woman who would have every right to live in bitterness and anger. But, instead she thanks God who gave her these opportunities and protected her life. Momma Shummi chooses differently. Instead she exudes this powerful kindness, and a gentleness that defies her upbringing. I love to see and talk to these kind of people. I want to be that kind of person.

How could you possibly choose differently? Each day you get to choose which way you will live. It is hard to stop yourself from going down those mental rabbit trails and getting angry about what we don’t have and what challenges we have to face each day. Living in anger and bitterness is a very unsatisfying existence. It never has a resolve, and there is always reason for more. Who needs that? But how do you choose differently when that is all you know?

Consider the concept of forgiveness. Somehow when you forgive those who hurt or take things from you, a release of debt happens. The power of owing is broken. You are free. You no longer need to hate or hurt back.  We have heard stories of people forgiving and they seem crazy. Like the families at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, SC forgiving the man who shot their loved ones. Jesus said, “he who is forgiven little, loves little.” This was his summation of a moment when a woman showed an undignified amount of love to Jesus, when others showed none. Jesus said she had been forgiven so much that she was able to love abundantly, willingly. When we understand being forgiven, we can then understand how to forgive. Momma Shummi understood she was forgiven by God, and was then able to love others and show an unnatural kindness.

There is much written about experiencing forgiveness and extending forgiveness. It is not an exclusive concept to Christianity. There are major health benefits to forgiving others, you can read about it in this Mayo Clinic article. But I would say that understanding that we ourselves are people who need to be forgiven a heavy debt and God has made a way for us to truly experience forgiveness because of Christ’s death, is something that causes Christianity to stand out in it’s uniqueness among world religions. We can show kindness regardless of where we stand with this truth, but life defining kindness is the result of truly experiencing deep forgiveness.

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