Living in a Neighborhood 101

Living in a neighborhood is new for us.

My kids have lived  their whole lives in a house on a busy street where cars sped around corners and it wasn’t safe to get your mail out of your mailbox,  much less bike ride or walk to  a friend’s house.   We had neighbors on one side of our yard, but an empty, wooded lot on the other side.

There was no communal place to play.  No sidewalks.   If my kids wanted to see friends, I arranged a play date and drove them back and forth.

When I wanted to  take a walk, I drove into town, unloaded the stroller, walked my son down Main Street and back, climbed back  into the minivan to drive home.

Now, though, we’re slipping into something new: Neighborhood life.

Friendly dogs pop over to  our house for random visits and we say hello to “Abby” the red-haired retriever and “Bruno” the little black and white fellow with the stubby tail from next door.

My daughter rides her bike for the first time pretty much ever and we take walks and wave to  people we know and even those we  don’t.

We call out to others about the beautiful weather when a summer’s evening feels unusually cool and we are blessed with extra tomatoes out of the abundance of a backyard garden nearby.

I feel held accountable to keep up with the garden weeds, even in the heat of July, even when I’m busy, even after a summer rain shower that makes everything grow like a jungle overnight.   No more calling it quits in my yard the first time the temperature hits 90 degrees.

After a week or so in our new house, my husband actually had to explain some neighborhood-life  tips to our kids.

  1.  You don’t have  to  ring your own doorbell when you get home from being outside.  This is your own house . You can just come on in.
  2. Don’t just invite yourself over for dinner at a friend’s.  If they are ready to eat dinner, come on home.

We’re all learning and adjusting a bit.

Maybe learning to  live in a neighborhood is a lesson for all of us.

Maybe it doesn’t come naturally, this staying close, being held accountable,  giving and taking and sharing and caring.

After all,  even Jesus’s followers didn’t always know what to  do.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Great!

But, who is my neighbor anyway and do I really have to love ‘that guy’?

The disciples surely had some growing to do in the neighborhood-life department, too.  They weren’t alike and perhaps didn’t have that much in common outside of Jesus.

They were fishermen and a tax collector, a zealot, and Nathaniel sounds to me like a well-educated skeptic.

Some were related by blood, some were friends, others were outsiders.

And, as people in close  proximity are wont to do, they fought over superiority and responsibilities and decisions.

What drew them together wasn’t their “sameness.”  It was  simply going where Jesus was going, following where Jesus led them,  working together as a team to  minister as Jesus sent them out.

They were fellow-travelers and “bunk mates.”  Surely, they had to learn to be each other’s neighbor along the way.

In the Old Testament, Ruth declared her never-ending,  stick-to-it loyalty to her mother-in-law Naomi like this:

But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God (Ruth 1:16 ESV).

This is what she promised :  “I’ll go with you.”

There can’t be many sentences in this life more powerful than that. 

Not just “I’ll pray for you” or “I hope you have a nice trip” or even “I’ll watch your stuff until you get back.”

Not that.  This:  I’ll pack my bags and put on my walking shoes and I will  go with you.  

The disciples traveled together.

Ruth and Naomi traveled  together.

Who is  traveling with you?

Stacey Thacker writes,

The presence of a friend can encourage us to not turn back in grief, but to look forward with hope (Fresh Out of Amazing). 

We all need a little  whisper  of hope today and we all know someone who needs us to whisper hope to them.

None of us can traipse along as fellow-travelers with every single person we meet.  We’d be drained and exhausted.

But we can’t  set off all by our lonesome selves  either.

Instead, God draws us to the right people and we choose to follow His lead.  We whisper the words to them….or maybe they whisper to us:  “I’ll go with you.  We can be neighbors.”

Bible Verses on Compassion

  • Exodus 22:27b NIV
    When they cry out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.
  • Exodus 33:19 NIV
    And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.
  • Exodus 34:6 NIV
     And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness
  • Deuteronomy 13:17 NIV
    and none of the condemned things are to be found in your hands. Then the Lordwill turn from his fierce anger, will show you mercy, and will have compassion on you. He will increase your numbers, as he promised on oath to your ancestors—
  • Deuteronomy 30:3 NIV
    then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you.
  • 2 Kings 13:23 NIV
    But the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion and showed concern for them because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. To this day he has been unwilling to destroy them or banish them from his presence.
  • 2 Chronicles 30:9 NIV
    If you return to the Lord, then your fellow Israelites and your children will be shown compassion by their captors and will return to this land, for the Lord your God is gracious and compassionate. He will not turn his face from you if you return to him.”
  • Nehemiah 9:17 NIV
     They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them,
  • Nehemiah 9:19 NIV
    Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness. By day the pillar of cloud did not fail to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take
  • Psalm 51:1 NIV
  • Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
  • Psalm 86:15 NIV
    But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.
  • Psalm 90:13 NIV
    Relent, Lord! How long will it be?
        Have compassion on your servants.
  • Psalm 102:13 NIV
    You will arise and have compassion on Zion,
        for it is time to show favor to her;
        the appointed time has come.
  • Psalm 103:4 NIV
    who redeems your life from the pit
        and crowns you with love and compassion
  • Psalm 103:8 NIV
    The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
        slow to anger, abounding in love
  • Psalm 103:13 NIV
    As a father has compassion on his children,
        so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
  • Psalm 111:4 NIV
    He has caused his wonders to be remembered;
        the Lord is gracious and compassionate.
  • Psalm 112:4 NIV
    Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
        for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.
  • Psalm 116:5 NIV
    The Lord is gracious and righteous;
        our God is full of compassion.
  • Psalm 119:77 NIV
    Let your compassion come to me that I may live,
        for your law is my delight.
  • Psalm 119:156 NIV
    Your compassion, Lord, is great;
        preserve my life according to your laws.
  • Psalm 135:14 NIV
    For the Lord will vindicate his people
        and have compassion on his servants.
  • Psalm 145:8-9 NIV
    The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
        slow to anger and rich in love.
    The Lord is good to all;
        he has compassion on all he has made.
  • Isaiah 14:1 NIV
    The Lord will have compassion on Jacob;
        once again he will choose Israel
        and will settle them in their own land.
    Foreigners will join them
        and unite with the descendants of Jacob.
  • Isaiah 30:18 NIV
    Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
        therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
    For the Lord is a God of justice.
        Blessed are all who wait for him!
  • Isaiah 49:10 NIV
    They will neither hunger nor thirst,
        nor will the desert heat or the sun beat down on them.
    He who has compassion on them will guide them
        and lead them beside springs of water.
  • Isaiah 49:13 NIV
    Shout for joy, you heavens;
        rejoice, you earth;
        burst into song, you mountains!
    For the Lord comforts his people
        and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.
  • Isaiah 49:15 NIV
    “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
        and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
    Though she may forget,
        I will not forget you!
  • Isaiah 51:3 NIV
    The Lord will surely comfort Zion
        and will look with compassion on all her ruins;
    he will make her deserts like Eden,
        her wastelands like the garden of the Lord.
    Joy and gladness will be found in her,
        thanksgiving and the sound of singing.
  • Isaiah 54:7-10 NIV
    “For a brief moment I abandoned you,
        but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
    In a surge of anger
        I hid my face from you for a moment,
    but with everlasting kindness
        I will have compassion on you,”
        says the Lord your Redeemer.
    “To me this is like the days of Noah,
        when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth.
    So now I have sworn not to be angry with you,
        never to rebuke you again./
    10 Though the mountains be shaken
        and the hills be removed,
    yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
        nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
        says the Lord, who has compassion on you.
  • Isaiah 60:10 NIV
    “Foreigners will rebuild your walls,
        and their kings will serve you.
    Though in anger I struck you,
        in favor I will show you compassion.
  • Isaiah 63:7 NIV
    I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the Lord has done for us— yes, the many good things he has done for Israel, according to hiscompassion and many kindnesses.
  • Jeremiah 12:15 NIV
    But after I uproot them, I will again have compassion and will bring each of them back to their own inheritance and their own country.
  • Jeremiah 31:20 NIV
    Is not Ephraim my dear son,
        the child in whom I delight?
    Though I often speak against him,
        I still remember him.
    Therefore my heart yearns for him;
        I have great compassion for him,”
    declares the Lord.
  • Jeremiah 42:12 NIV
    I will show you compassion so that he will have compassion on you and restore you to your land.’
  • Lamentations 3:22 NIV
    Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
        for his compassions never fail.
  • Lamentations 3:32 NIV
    Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
        so great is his unfailing love.
  • Ezekiel 39:25 NIV
    Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will now restore the fortunes of Jacob[a] and will have compassion on all the people of Israel, and I will be zealous for my holy name.
  • Hosea 2:19 NIV
    I will betroth you to me forever;
        I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
        in love and compassion.
  • Joel 2:13 NIV
    Rend your heart
        and not your garments.
    Return to the Lord your God,
        for he is gracious and compassionate,
    slow to anger and abounding in love,
        and he relents from sending calamity.
  • Jonah 4:2 NIV
    He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.
  • Micah 7:19 NIV
    You will again have compassion on us;
        you will tread our sins underfoot
        and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.
  • Zechariah 7:9 NIV
    This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.
  • Zechariah 10:6 NIV
    I will strengthen Judah and save the tribes of Joseph. I will restore them because I have compassion on them. They will be as though I had not rejected them, for I am the Lord their God and I will answer them.
  • Malachi 3:17 NIV
    “On the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty, “they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him.
  • Matthew 9:36 ESV
    When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
  • Matthew 14:14 ESV
    When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on themand healed their sick.
  • Matthew 20:34 NIV
    Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.
  • Mark 6:34 ESV
     When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.
  • Luke 7:13-15 ESV
    And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her,“Do not weep.” 14 Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” 15 And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.
  • Luke 15:20 NIV
    So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
  • Romans 9:15 NIV
    For he says to Moses,

    “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
        and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

  • 2 Corinthians 1:3 NIV
    Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,
  • Ephesians 4:23 NIV
    Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
  • Philippians 2:1-2 NIV
    Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.
  • Colossians 3:12-13 ESV
    Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other;as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
  • James 5:11 NIV
    As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
  • 1 Peter 3:8 NIV
    Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble

Bible Verses about Loyal Love

verses-loyal-love

LOYALTY TO OTHERS

  • Ruth 1:16-17 ESV
     But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”
  • 1 Samuel 15:21
    But Ittai answered the king, “As the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king shall be, whether for death or for life, there also will your servant be.”
  • Proverbs 3:3-4 MSG
    Don’t lose your grip on Love and Loyalty. Tie them around your neck; carve their initials on your heart. Earn a reputation for living well in God’s eyes and the eyes of the people.
  • Proverbs 17:17 ESV
    A friend loves at all times,
        and a brother is born for adversity.
  • Proverbs 18:24 ESV
    A man of many companions may come to ruin,
        but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
  • Proverbs 19:22 ESV
    What is desired in a man is steadfast love,
        and a poor man is better than a liar.
  • Proverbs 27:10 ESV
    Do not forsake your friend and your father’s friend,
        and do not go to your brother’s house in the day of your calamity.
    Better is a neighbor who is near
        than a brother who is far away.
  • Micah 6:8 MSG
    But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, And don’t take yourself too seriously— take God seriously.
  • Matthew 26:33 ESV
    Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.”
  • John 15:13 ESV
    Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
  • 1 Corinthians 13:7 ESV
    Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
  • James 1:12 MSG
    Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life.

GOD’S LOYAL LOVE

  • Exodus 20:4-6 MSG
    No carved gods of any size, shape, or form of anything whatever, whether of things that fly or walk or swim. Don’t bow down to them and don’t serve them because I am God, your God, and I’m a most jealous God, punishing the children for any sins their parents pass on to them to the third, and yes, even to the fourth generation of those who hate me. But I’m unswervingly loyal to the thousands who love me and keep my commandments.
  • Exodus 34:6 MSG
    God passed in front of him and called out, “God, God, a God of mercy and grace, endlessly patient—so much love, so deeply true—loyal in love for a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, rebellion, and sin.
  • Numbers 14:18a MSG
    God, slow to get angry and huge in loyal love,
            forgiving iniquity and rebellion and sin
  • Deuteronomy 5:10 MSG
    But I’m lovingly loyal to the thousands who love me and keep my commandments.
  • Deuteronomy 7:9 MSG
    Know this: God, your God, is God indeed, a God you can depend upon. He keeps his covenant of loyal love with those who love him and observe his commandments for a thousand generations.
  • Deuteronomy 7:12-13 MSG
    And this is what will happen: When you, on your part, will obey these directives, keeping and following them, God, on his part, will keep the covenant of loyal love that he made with your ancestors:
    He will love you,
    he will bless you,
    he will increase you.
  • 2 Samuel 22:26-28 MSG
    You stick by people who stick with you,
        you’re straight with people who’re straight with you,
    You’re good to good people,
        you shrewdly work around the bad ones.
    You take the side of the down-and-out,
        but the stuck-up you take down a peg.
  • 2 Chronicles 5:13 MSG
    The choir and trumpets made one voice of praise and thanks to God—orchestra and choir in perfect harmony singing and playing praise to God:
    Yes! God is good!
    His loyal love goes on forever!
  • Psalm 36:5-6 MSG
    God’s love is meteoric,
        his loyalty astronomic,
    His purpose titanic,
        his verdicts oceanic.
    Yet in his largeness
        nothing gets lost;
    Not a man, not a mouse,
        slips through the cracks.
  • Psalm 66:20 MSG
    But he most surely did listen,
        he came on the double when he heard my prayer.
    Blessed be God: he didn’t turn a deaf ear,
        he stayed with me, loyal in his love.
  • Psalm 100:5 MSG
    For God is sheer beauty,
        all-generous in love,
        loyal always and ever.
  • Lamentations 3:22-23 MSG
    God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
        his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
    They’re created new every morning.
        How great your faithfulness!
    I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
        He’s all I’ve got left.
  • Lamentations 3:31-34 MSG
    Why? Because the Master won’t ever walk out and fail to return. If he works severely, he also works tenderly. His stockpiles of loyal love are immense. He takes no pleasure in making life hard, in throwing roadblocks in the way

Giving and Living Generously

2-corinthians-9

“No one has ever become poor by giving” ~Anne Frank

I tell my kids the reward doesn’t matter.

They’re collecting nonperishable foods and paper goods for their schools to give to the local food pantry and homeless ministry.

They tell me which classes are in the lead in the school competition and whether they’re eligible for a pizza party if their whole class participates.  All these incentives are fun and good. I love how the school encourages the kids to participate in loving others in our community.

But the contests and the competitions, the rewards and prizes don’t matter in the end.

I tell my kids people in our community need food. People in our community are homeless.

I tell them how I drive past the food pantry on distribution days and see the long line of people waiting.

And we can help.

We’re not rich.  We can’t give huge donations of money.

But we want to give generously and that means giving whatever we can and then giving some more.

When we fill shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child , we want to press the lid down on a box full of good gifts to send to children overseas who may have nothing.

My kids do extra chores throughout the fall to earn money to buy a goat or some chickens, some soccer balls or school supplies for needy families.  On Christmas day, we go shopping on the Samaritan’s Purse website and buy these presents with the money they’ve earned.

When we bring in our food pantry items,  we don’t want to just reach into the back of the cabinet and clean out the extra cans we never used that are about to expire.

What if we planned out our donations instead:  spaghetti noodles and sauce…canned chicken and mayonnaise….juice, crackers, and fruit cups for lunch for the kids?  What if we donated as much as we can of Thanksgiving dinners for families?  Some canned yams and marshmallows, corn, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pumpkin and condensed milk?

Other families I know ring the Salvation Army bells together or serve up free community meals or cook dinners for those who are sick or hurting.

Families can give together and serve together because God wants us to live generously.  While we can’t do everything; we can do something to help others.

And living a generous life is about so much more than money.

How many times have I felt defeated, worn, overlooked or undervalued, and someone slips me that word of courage?  You are doing a great job.  I see you.  Well done.

Kind notes from a sweet friend can be an act of generous grace.

And how I have struggled, oh I have struggled, in anger about someone’s hurtful actions or words.

When I pray in the night and tell God all my woes, I hear it back, the whispered reminder:

EXTEND GENEROUS GRACE.

After all, God extends generous grace to me.  So surely I can overlook offense, can forgive, can pray for my enemies, and can respond with kindness.

We can be:

Generous with our money.

Generous with our talents.

Generous with our time and our attention.

Generous with encouragement.

Generous with grace.

Generous with forgiveness.

Generous with patience.

I consider Paul on those days when I want to stop answering the phone, stop reading emails, stop answering to the name, “Mom,” stop being responsible and doing things like making dinner and washing laundry.

On the days when I feel there’s more need than I can handle, I remember Paul, who said:

I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls…. (2 Corinthians 12:15a ESV)

and

Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all (Philippians 2:17 ESV).

and

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come (2 Timothy 4:6 ESV).

Paul chose to be spent, to be totally poured out for the sake of Others.

Oswald Chambers wrote,

Are you willing to give and be poured out until you are used up and exhausted–not seeking to be ministered to, but to minister?

Some days not so much.

And, while I understand the health of caring enough about ourselves as women and as moms so  we are healthy enough to care for others, I recognize this:

The calling to a generous life is a calling to pour out, to empty yourself in service, to love sacrificially and selflessly, not for our own purposes and not just for the benefit of those we love–but as an offering to the Lord.

And we can trust Christ with our supply and trust Him as our source–trust Him to fill us up, to enrich us so that we can “be generous on every occasion”  (2 Corinthians 9:11).

The Kindness of Strangers

love-is-kind

By the time I made it to the checkout line at Wal-Mart that day, I was a bit frazzled.

The shopping with children while sticking to a budget and using coupons and planning meals for the week on the fly had done me in.

I ran the gauntlet, that candy-displaying aisle that also comes fully equipped with toy cameras, play cell phones, matchbox cars, and other wonderful overly expensive nothing toys that every child “must” have!

Finally, I was done.  Groceries in the cart.  Coupons handed over.  Total amount deducted from my checking account.

Freedom!!

We made it to the van.  My kids piled in.  I loaded every last grocery bag into the back and slammed the door shut.

Then I realized I had left my wallet inside.

Because that’s what tired, frazzled, totally stressed and generally scatterbrained women do.  We leave our personal identification and all access to our financial lives sitting around the Wal-Mart.

I re-opened the van door and started unbuckling my confused children so we could go back inside and hunt for the missing wallet when I heard him: The man who saved my day.

He ran over to me holding my wallet outstretched.  “The cashier let me run it out to you,” he explained.

In A Streetcar Named Desire, the character Blanche DuBois frequently says, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

Don’t we all?  At some time or another, haven’t we all depended on the kindness of somebody, whether stranger or friend?  They’ve saved us from a rotten day and might as well wear a cape and some tights because it’s as good as being rescued by a superhero.

But, here’s the catch, showing kindness always involves at least a little inconvenience.

My kind stranger abandoned his own cart of groceries and delayed his day to run out to a parking lot and find the crazy woman who can’t keep track of her things.

Too often we don’t make the choice he did.  Instead, we choose convenience over service and comfort over love for our neighbor.

We’re busy. We’re tired. We have important ministry commitments that keep us from  ministering to an individual in need. We hope another will offer help.

And that’s how we can miss the point.

Just like the disciples did in Matthew 19:

“When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there”(Matthew 19:1-2).

They were accustomed to Jesus drawing a crowd so this was business as usual. Everywhere He went, a mob of searching, needy people followed.

It must have been thrilling to be a disciple of this Rabbi—to see His Spiritual power, His draw, to think perhaps He was the Messiah they had long waited for.

And He didn’t just attract a crowd of needy paupers or country-folk.  Oh no.  Where Jesus traveled, so did the powerful elite to examine and cross-examine this religious phenomenon.  So it was on this day “some Pharisees came to test him” (Matthew 19:3).

The disciples were the closest people on earth to a superstar with mass appeal and the attention of big-shots.

But then some parents did the unthinkable.

They “brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them.  But the disciples rebuked them” (Matthew 19:13).

Jesus loved the little children.  That’s what we see, say and sing about this passage.  And yes, that’s there.

But there’s something else here, too.

It’s not just that He stops for children, but that He stops at all. 

To the disciples, these families and kids were time-wasters.  Jesus had crowds to attend to, miracles to perform, Pharisees to spar with.

If anyone in the world was too busy for the little, it was Jesus.

But Jesus took time for kindness.

He accepted a little inconvenience in order to show love to the small, undervalued and overlooked because “love is patient; love is kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4).

Sometimes in that Good Samaritan story in Luke 10, we’re the priest and the Levite, so busy with important tasks maybe we’re too busy to show kindness to the people who lie along the road we’re traveling.

 

Could we choose to change?

Could we choose to turn aside?  To take the time? To value people over schedules and agendas?  To sacrifice for others?

Could we choose kindness?

After all, it hardly mattered if the Samaritan arrived late at his destination.  He had helped the hurting and that had far more significance.

The kindness was worth the inconvenience.  It always is.

 

Originally published 9/12/2011

Letting Go of the Agenda and Choosing to Love

1 john 4-11.PNG

It happened in the middle of what I call, “The Great Cold of 2014.”

All four of my kids were sick, including my youngest who was still a baby at the time.

I let one of my daughters sleep in late to make up for a near-sleepless night thanks to the stuffy nose.

At about 5 a.m., this daughter had shone a flashlight in my face and tearfully announced that she hadn’t slept all night and she’d never get any sleep so she’d fall asleep at school and never make it to ballet…..and the world was just absolutely going to end!

I’m not the most compassionate nurse of a mom anyway.  Seeing as how that was about the bazillionth time a child had woken me up in that one night, I had to muster some grace for the end of this night shift. I had spent most of my night slathering on Vicks, refilling water bottles, rocking a baby and fetching more tissues.

So I went through the motions one more time:

Walk the child back to bed.

Vicks—rub, rub, rub.

Hand tissues.

Hand plastic bag for placing used tissues inside instead of dumping them on the floor next to your bed (please and thank you). 

Refill water bottle.

Speak truth: The world is not about to end. If you cry, you will feel worse.  You have not been awake all night; I have and I can assure you that you were asleep for some of it.

Place hand on child’s head, smooth back hair, reassure her that she does not have a fever, and pray for her to sleep.  Dear God, please let her sleep.

Make it back to the bed in time to fall asleep before the next child wakes up an hour later.

So, that morning, I woke her up late.  “Twenty minutes until you need to be outside waiting for the bus.”

Here’s breakfast.

Here are clothes.

Here are tissues.

Lunchbox in backpack.  Book in backpack.  Zip it up!

Brush your teeth and I’ll brush your hair while you do that.  Saves time.

But then I paused in the rushed rhythm of this morning blitz and looked at her in the mirror.  She was still crying and was a mess of red-faced blotchy miserableness.

I could push her out that door to meet the bus.

I’m a workaholic.  I’d said it to her already that morning, “No fever.  No throwing up.  This is just a cold. You’ll feel better in an hour.”

But something in me stopped the stampede of my pushy, workaholic, drill sergeant self all over the tender heart of this beloved girl.

I heard it: this strong voice telling me to just stop right there and Love her.

The day before, I had read this in Pathway to Purpose:

“It is a cure for an affliction may of us have, which my friend calls destination disease. That great phrase describes being more concerned about getting to our destination than in finding delight on the journey. Learning to love causes us to linger in the company of others and find enjoyment and companionship along the way” (Katie Brazelton).

Learning to love isn’t just a begrudging necessity of this Christian life, a small blip in the journey on to bigger and better purposes and plans.

Loving others is Christ’s command.

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. (John 15:12 NIV).

Loving others is what we’re here to do.  It is the great purpose.  It is the great design.

Am I too busy pushing my agenda in this moment to show God’s love and grace?

Katie Brazelton writes this in Pathway to Purpose also:

“Love, then, is spending ourselves, investing ourselves, in the daily and eternal well-being of others” (pp. 64-65).

I could have pushed that daughter out the door to the school bus and she’d have survived the day.

But that wouldn’t be loving her, not at that time and not in that way. This child not a hookie-playing, school-skipping, excuse-making kid. She’s a good girl and a diligent student who was sick, got too little sleep, and felt rotten.

I love her and I wanted her to know that I love her.pathwaytopurpose

So, I sent two kids out to the bus instead of three.

I wrote a note to her teacher.  I made her a cup of tea.

An hour later, she felt a bit better.  She still had a cold, but she said she was ready to go to school.

I drove her in, and she said it to me twice on the way, “Thanks for taking care of me, mom.”

Don’t we all need love like that at times, the kind that gives space and grace, the kind that chooses tenderness over toughness?

Originally published September 12, 2014

 

The Craziest Thing Anyone Ever Said to Me at Target

psalm 30-11I’d been married a week.

A week.

We visited my great-grandmother and she asked me, “So, when are you going to give your mom some grandbabies?”

A week.

I thought the question was mildly shocking, moderately annoying and mostly downright crazy talk.

But, you know, what can you do?  So, I giggled awkwardly or something and dodged the whole wildly uncomfortable conversation.

Not long after that, I was having dinner with a dear friend in a crowd of other friendly folks and someone asked her the question.

“So you’ve been married for a few years now.  When are you going to have kids?”

I thought the question was mildly shocking, moderately annoying and mostly downright crazy intrusive….

It was so much more than that for her.  It was deeply painful, treading like heavy steel-toed boots all over the most tender places of her broken heart.

That’s what she told me later.  How no one ever thought before they asked her that question…and people asked her ALL the time.

When are you having kids?  When are you having kids?  When are you having kids?

The truth was that she was desperate for a baby and yet it isn’t just that easy for everyone, is it?  Hadn’t she prayed and prayed?  Hadn’t she tried and seen the doctor and then had to answer the clueless questions of nosy onlookers?

We just think we’re making conversation, but we’re really battering and bruising the sweet soul we’re chatting with over dinner.

Sometimes, it’s ridiculously comical.  Like when I stood in the shoe section at the Target with my three blond-headed beautiful daughters, my youngest at the time less than 2 months old.  Such precious gifts to me.

And this random lady waltzed right on over and gave me creepily personal tips on how to have a boy next time.

In the Target.

With my kids there.

And I didn’t know her.

Good gravy.

Or when people see my beloved little boy and say right there in front of my three precious girls, “So, you finally got your boy.  I bet your husband is happy.”

Like my daughters were just three attempts at having a son gone wrong.

We just say things, don’t we?  We aren’t meaning to be mean or hurtful.  We just say….stuff….  It seems innocent enough and we just don’t think maybe there’s a world of hurt left trailing after our destructive conversation.

It doesn’t get any harder than when we see a loved one grieving. We want so much to say the right words, soothe the hurt, ease their throbbing pain because we love them so.

But sometimes we get it all wrong.  We try to cover over their hurt with platitudes that sound so right, “It’s God’s will.  It’s for the best.  He always works everything out for the good” and yet what we’re essentially saying is, ‘Suck it up and get over it.  You’re a Christian so you shouldn’t be sad.”

Holley Gerth says in What Your Heart Needs for the Hard Days:

While we mean well, comments like those are like stripping off someone’s sackcloth. Instead of helping, we leave their hearts even more exposed. What our hearts need is something new to cover them in hard times. And that’s what God offers.

We leave their hearts raw and exposed, open to further wounding.

Yet, God, such a gracious God, covers us with protection and love.

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you forever” Psalm 30:11-12

It takes time, yes, it can take so much time.  But he does this—he removes our sackcloth and clothes us with joy.

And what I want to be is the kind of person who shares this grace with others.

We won’t get it right all the time.  We’ll say the wrong thing and maybe mess it all up.  Maybe we just don’t even know what to say when we are eyewitnesses to the hurt inflicted by a sin-stained planet.

But we can start here.

Dear friend, I don’t even have the right words, but I love you.  I am praying for you.  I am here for you.

And we can start here—-thinking through our questions before we ask them, so we don’t leave a hurting heart raw and exposed after what we just thought was casual, totally normal small-talk.

And we can start here, praying this:  Dear God, May we be wise and grace-filled in our conversations with others today.  May we speak the words that show Your love—and nothing less than that.—Amen.

Originally published 09/24/2014

Choosing Words that Heal

proverbs 12

As a girl, my dream height was 5 feet 8 inches.

I didn’t quite make it.

When I eventually made it to oh, about 5 feet 6 inches, though, I thought that was a nice, comfortable height, not tall, but not short either.

Then in my early 20’s, a doctor measured me for the first time in years.

Turns out I’m only 5 feet 4-1/2 inches.

That rocked my world a bit. That’s short.  Not extremely short.  But short.  It’s not tall or even a comfortable in-between.

I walked in and out of that doctor’s office exactly the same, but my perception of myself changed, and it felt a little disheartening.

Now, I have one daughter built long and lean and another daughter built more like me.

This is difficult.

My daughter complains about her lack of height all the time.  How she’s the shortest.  How EVERYONE in her WHOLE class is taller than she is.

I’ve navigated this body image issue for years, but it’s a tempestuous journey.

I ask her—So, you’re built like your mom.  Is that terrible?

I remind her she’ll grow.  It just takes time.

I tell her God made her beautiful, just right, totally lovely.

But this is the tender part of her soul, the soft-skinned place where Satan wreaks havoc and she’s easily bruised.

Any hint whatsoever about her size sends her into a 5-minute diatribe and withers her spirit.

A friend tells me what she said to her own daughter and I hold onto these words of wisdom until just the right moment.

It’s at church.  My daughter launches into another session of, “What’s wrong with me and why am I so short?”

I step in close, look into her eyes and say the words I’ve been storing up:  “The best things come in small packages. Diamonds come in the tiniest of boxes and yet they are a treasure.”

She blinks in surprise.  She never expected those words, this new thought to take hold of her heart.  It changes everything.

I haven’t mocked her or ignored her. I haven’t reasoned and rationalized.

I’ve cradled the most tender part of her soul in my hands and shown gentleness and unfailing love.

This is what we need to give and to receive from those we love most: our husbands, our children, the dearest friends whose secrets weaknesses we’re privileged enough to see.

They entrust us with their messes, weaknesses and failures.

We know their most honest struggles and their most common sins.

We know when the gray hairs arrive and when the scale numbers rise.

We know the flaws and the blemishes.

We know them at their grumpiest and saddest.

We know the things they dislike most about themselves and the things they wish other won’t see.

In fits of rage and bursts of anger, right in the most intense point of conflict, we have to choose:  Use our knowledge as a weapon and wound them where they are most sensitive….or lay it aside, choosing to protect the most tender parts of their soul.

Proverbs says:

Rash language cuts and maims,
    but there is healing in the words of the wise (Proverbs 12:18 MSG).

Our words can wound or they can heal.

Let us be healers.

We are the ones who can say: I  see you.  I love you.  I think you’re beautiful.

Jesus made that choice.

He was abrupt and forthright when necessary, confronting pharisees and those who lacked faith with blunt firmness.

But when he cradled a broken heart in the palm of His hand, it’s what He doesn’t say that is striking.

A sinful woman washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and anointed Him with ointment from her alabaster box.

The pharisees criticized.  Jesus could have done the same.  Instead, he defends her, saying:

Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little (Luke 7:47).

Her sins—her many sins—are forgiven.  He didn’t list them.  He didn’t drag them out for public examination.  He  protected her honor and gave her dignity.

He did the same for the woman caught in adultery and dragged out for public stoning.  She was likely thrown onto the ground naked, exposed, humiliated.

Jesus saw the weakest, most vulnerable moment of her life.

Instead of capitalizing on it and sermonizing about her sins, he covered her shame with His gentleness and grace:

Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more (John 8:11).

When we entrust our hearts to Jesus, weak as they are, sinful as we are, He covers us with His gentle grace and unconditional love.

He sees the ugliest parts of our soul and says, “I love you.  I forgive you.  You are beautiful to me.”

How can we show this gentleness to those we love?

What her message to me said and why I needed to hear it

1 john 3

I surveyed the possible outfits and an empty suitcase.

I hovered a hand over the teal scarf, pulled it away and then reached for my favorite top and jacket…pulled my hand away again and flopped back onto my bed in defeat.

I was heading to my first writer’s conference where there’d be thousands of women, most of whom I was sure would be perfectly coiffed and fashionably dressed in matching high heels and handbags.

They’d probably have cute haircuts with tons of highlights.

They’d have dangly earrings and other bling.

They’d wear lipstick.  Lipstick!!!  And probably even eyeshadow.

I was in way over my head and I had outfit-picking paralysis.

It was a crisis moment for me.  Yes, a crisis over scarves and skirts.  Suddenly I wasn’t worrying about fashion.

I was stressing over not belonging.  I was worrying about the expense and the time and whether it was worth it. What if I was just fooling myself about this whole writing thing and this was a complete waste?!

I feared failure and laid out the question again and again to God, “What is it you want me to do?”

And then….the follow-up questions, “Does it have to be this hard?  Can’t we take the easy way?  The one where I get to stay home in jeans and sneakers?”

I opened up Facebook to avoid making decisions about what to pack in that suitcase.

That’s when I opened up the message.

A writer I’d never met, but who was also going to the conference, wrote me a note.

She told me not to worry about my outfits.  How I could just be myself.  I didn’t need highlights in my hair or lipstick or high-heeled shoes.

She told me Satan attacks before the conference so be ready and stand strong in the Lord.

She told me not to fret over my calling, not to feel like I have to fight or make things happen and not to feel for a moment that it all depends on me.  God could do the work.  All I needed to do was show up in obedience.

She obeyed God’s prompting, and she blessed me because she was obedient, speaking words of encouragement to me just when I needed them.

I read in Acts a powerful story of the church’s impact:

 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead.  But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe (Acts 14:19-20 ESV).

It’s a two-verse miracle.  A little encounter, barely noticeable in the book of Acts, but a miracle nonetheless.

Paul is stoned, dragged outside the city and left for dead–not just seriously injured or barely alive.

They thought he was already a corpse.

But then….the disciples gathered about him, and Paul stood up, walked back into the city, and went on another journey the very next day.

He didn’t even need a week to fully recover.

Maybe the disciples prayed for him.  Perhaps they gathered so they could plan how to bury him. The Bible doesn’t fill us in on the details.

All it says is that in the moment he was broken, they gathered around him and he had new strength.

They could have left Paul there as a hopeless case.

They could have been busy, forgetful or too focused on their own problems to care.

They could have feared being stoned themselves.

No, they gathered around the wounded one, and God performed a miracle.

God works miracles of healing through His people when we choose to love another.

I feel the challenge.

If Paul were stoned today, would I choose to gather around him?

Or am I too busy, too self-protective, too self-focused, too self-indulgent, too self-seeking, too prideful, too forgetful…..to minister to one in need?

To write an email….to send a note…to share a meal…..to make a phone call….to invite a friend….to pray for the hurting…to take the time.

And what if it hadn’t been Paul, a leader in the church?  What if it was the smallest of the small who’d been stoned and left for dead?

Would I still take the time?

We love others with Christ’s love when we choose compassion over comfort.

We love like Jesus when we reach out instead of draw in.

That day as I flopped back in my bed in frustrated annoyance and insecurity, a  woman I didn’t know ‘gathered’ around me.

She had her own bags to pack.  Her own plans to finalize.  Her own life to manage.

But she reached out to me with kindness, and God moved.

How can we show someone that love today?

(Just a note that Luke wrote about this miracle in the book of Acts, and as a physician he seems very careful to say that Paul appeared dead or seemed dead.  He does not claim that Paul actually was raised from the dead, only that he seemed dead for a moment and then got up, walked into the city, and was recovered enough for a journey the next day.  Still a miracle–but a miracle of healing, not resurrection.)

Choosing to love by choosing to listen

Psalm 116-2

My daughter didn’t talk for a long time.

Oh, she understood everything I said and communicated in lots of other ways, but she just refused to really, truly talk as a toddler.

Then one day she opened up with a tidal wave of language.  She didn’t learn how to talk one tentative, uncertain word at a time.

She just talked.  It was as if she’d been storing up years of language until she could express anything and everything she felt.

And now….

Now, she’s a talker.

She wakes up in the morning talking.  She leaves for school talking.  She climbs into the minivan after school still talking.

We live with a steady stream of conversation from the first “good morning” to the final “goodnight.”

I love to watch her face and her hands.  She throws every part of her body into what she’s saying.

Her head bobs and her hands fly to her hips as she says, “Really!  I did that.”

She arches her eyebrows.  She scrunches up her nose.  She’s a non-stop flow of enthusiastic communication.

My introvert self sometimes recoils from conversation.  Sometimes I’m bound to slink away where it’s quiet, even if it means hiding in the corners of my own mind and ignoring the noise around me.

I have an insatiable need for nonverbal time.

Besides that, I’m a task person more than a people-person.  I think tasks.  I do tasks.  I complete tasks.  And sometimes I let those tasks take priority over people because I’m mixed-up that way and this is the pit of sin I fall in over and over.

So a few weeks ago when this little girl would sidle up to me ready to chat, chat, chat, I started turning my whole body toward her so she could see my face.

I put down the book.

I closed the computer.

I  left the dinner on the stove to simmer so I could listen to her.

Sometimes, life is a whirlwind of crazy in my house.  There are moments when it’s not possible for me to flip off the activity so I can flip on my listening ears.

So, I tell her that.  I say, “Give me five minutes.  Let me finish this and then I can listen.”

Then I keep my promise.

I don’t know if she can feel the difference between the distracted me and the attentive me, but someone once told me, “Listening is an act of love.”

And I choose to love her in the way that her soul needs to be loved.

I learn this, but I never seem to master it. Could any of us?

Could we ever get to the place where we’re experts at loving through patient and compassionate listening?

Yet, God does this for us.  He bends low to hear our cries, leaning into us so He hears our every word and our every heart’s cry.

Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath! (Psalm 116:2)

More than that, He quiets the noise of heaven at the sound of our prayers.

In his book, The Great House of God, Max Lucado highlights the volume of heaven based on the first eight chapters of Revelation:

The angels speak. The thunder booms.  The living creatures chant, ‘Holy, holy, holy” (4:8) and the elders worship…The souls of the martyrs cry out (6:10)…The earth quakes and the stars fall…One hundred forty-four thousand people…shout in a  loud voice (7:10).

Heaven is louder than my house in that mad rush through our after school routine of homework and piano and change your clothes quickly for dance lessons and make dinner and pack lunches and sign agendas and rush out the door (hurry, so we won’t be late!).

Heaven is louder than my minivan.

But,

When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour (Revelation 8:1 HCSB).

Half an hour of total heavenly silence ticks by.  In the quiet, an angel steps up with:

…a large amount of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the gold altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up in the presence of God from the angel’s hand (Revelation 8:3-4).

The prayers of the saints enter God’s presence in the hush of heaven.

The way I listen to my kids, my husband, my friends should be how I want to be listened to….should be how God listens to us.

He bends down to us.

He quiets the noise.

He gives us access to His presence.

How can we be better listeners for those around us today?