God has a way of showing up in the most unexpected places. Unkempt, ordinary, broken places, where He reveals His strength in the weak, His beauty in the ugly, His glory in the lowly. He brings refreshment in the desert seasons.
The lessons I’ve learned personally in the desert places, have been many and I presume there will be many more. Betrayal, abandonment, grief; feeling forgotten, quit on, and alone. We will eventually need to submit these to Jesus if we don’t want to remain in the bitter lands. He can lead us with cool breezes to oases of refreshment.
Our eyes met across the crowded foyer… and before you either become eager or queasy in anticipation of a cheesy love story, I’ll set the record straight. While this might be a love story of sorts, it might not be what you expect and hopefully it won’t turn your stomach. Our relationship began – as many do – with a look. Being recognized and seen by another matters. I was still reeling in some ways from the lessons the Holy Spirit was still revealing to me as He had wooed me through the desert. Lessons about letting go, how to let Him choose friendships for me, how to dismantle the walls of “protection” I had erected around my heart. The problem with walls is, that while they can protect, they can also hold captive.
On this particular day, I was gathering my children on my way to leave. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed another mom gathering her young; two boys similar in age to my own, one toddling and one bucket. Like me. One slightly older girl. Like me.
I felt the prompt rather than heard it: say hi. Immediately, I answered back: who am I? Not unlike Moses in Exodus 3:11 (not that I’m comparing myself to Moses and yet… maybe…). The deception of false humility: why should I assume she’d like for me to say hi to her?
And so I busied myself with collecting my family to exit and load up the van. On our way out, my husband chatted with the children while I regretted the fact that I had ignored and disobeyed the Spirit’s prompting. I asked Jesus that if it was His will, please orchestrate another opportunity for me to reach out. He is so gentle with us. I had no sooner buckled my seat belt when there was a tap at my window. I looked up and there SHE was. I put down my window and she introduced herself, telling me she felt compelled to connect with me. She was NEW to the church where I had grown up and was looking to plug in.
Father forgive me and thank you for your grace. We exchanged contact information and became fast friends. I learned that it doesn’t matter who I am and who I am not. All that matters is that the I AM sends us (Exodus 3:14) and that it is His Spirit who lives within us empowering us to love. I learned to love her.
Another time, I pulled up at the school drop-off line in my van when I felt the Holy Spirit prompting me to to put down my window and tell the ‘intimidating woman’ that I liked her coat. While her kids were in same grades as mine, like me, she owned a presence that will never be mine; different colour of skin, unlike me.
I argued my case with the Spirit once again: who am I that she’d even ever care whether I liked her coat? What difference does it make? I’d just be feeding into every stereotype that she could have against me… “Tell her.”
“Okay… but she might not want to receive it from me.”
“Not your problem. Trust me. You have NO idea what I may or may not be up to. Tell her.”
So I did. She was surprised and smiled big (I hadn’t seen her smile before) and her stern facade dissolved for a moment as she took me in and thanked me. We didn’t become fast friends… right then… but God. He worked out the rest. While unlike in many ways, we were alike in others. Builders of walls around hurting hearts, seekers of Jesus, forgiven, redeemed, and healing. I learned she had a great big laugh and a greater big hug and while gritty and tough, she was a big softie who longed to trust and she was super good at listening and asking thoughtful, challenging and growing questions. I learned to love her.
Time and time again I could regale you with tales of encounters of learning to love. The woman in Walmart (interrupting my errands – and yet my errands could have interrupted God’s work), the lady I let get away in Starbucks because I was too busy. Missed, squandered, or ignored opportunities, awkward conversations, confrontations, toxic manipulations, tears and sarcasm. Serving and being served. I usually don’t do it right.
Community is hard. But difficult and messy and broken is what Jesus entered when he moved into our neighbourhood. Our neighbourhood is messy, because we who live here are messy. Praise the Lord, He did! We NEED Him with us. Like His Father in deity, and made flesh, like humanity. Like me. Unlike me. Loving me despite… Placing me in community to serve Him by serving others. I have learned to love and am still learning. It’s why I felt called into Women’s Ministry. I learned to stop choosing whom I’d like to be friends and let Him choose these women for me. It’s never dull. There are “issues” because we all have issues. We – ALL – have issues, some of us just hide them a bit better and some of us have turned them over to Jesus, but we can remember and we are yet far from perfect.
As an introvert I have frequently teased on the basis of Charles Schulz’s cartoon where Linus says: “I love mankind… it’s people I can’t stand!!” Community is where grace can be realized. All of us can be extenders because we have been receivers (and not always by other people, but always by Christ). Grace for those fakers and takers, pretenders and wanderers, hiders and liars, laughers and criers, scoffers and cynics, snappers and huggers, insiders and outsiders. While the neighbourhood is full of us, guess what? None of these labels define who we are – these are not our names nor our identities. Christ gives us each who ask for it, His identity! Unfailing love, faithfulness and one-of-a-kind glory abound where Jesus lives! He lives in us whom profess Him, “Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.” Romans 15:7 NLT
God chose to love the undeserving and the unlikely and sent His Son to show us how and gave His Spirit to empower us to do so. Consider yielding to Him and enjoy the community He chooses to move you into and to embrace the unlikely and unexpected friends. Might you get hurt? Probably. Might you do some hurting? Likely. Keep at it in His strength, reaching out and welcoming both the likely and the unlikely. Jesus did it, now let’s do it too! Celebrate God and learn to love them.