Sometimes it’s the cashier
I was in line to check out at a small store and there was a delay. The cashier of the lane where I was standing had to leave unexpectedly and her boss was getting frustrated. The manager apologized and told me someone would be right with me. I waved it off and said I wasn’t in a hurry. A few minutes later, a woman about my age came running breathlessly from the back of the store to the cash register. She apologized to me and as she began ringing up my things, she explained that she was in the middle of a bad divorce and that she had to take a phone call. Her husband was making her pay for everything and she couldn’t afford the truck to go get her belongings.
I voiced my concern and so she continued telling her story about finally getting her and her young daughter out of 12 years of abuse. She talked about her past like someone who was fresh off the battle field, coming home from war. And she was. I could see the weariness of the last 12 years hanging on her skin like a garment she was trying desperately to remove. I saw deep pain in her eyes, but I also saw a glimmer of hope…a bravery and strength in her step, as she leaned off the edge of sadness into a new, unknown beginning. She was sharing private details of her life with a complete stranger and I was honored to be the recipient of so much vulnerability. I gathered her words one by one as she spoke. I listened intently and told her she was brave and I was so sorry she was having to go through this struggle.
As I grabbed my bags and walked out of the store, I felt the weight of her words like heavy stones on my heart. I carried them around with me the rest of the day. I couldn’t get her face out of my mind.
I told my girls about her when I picked them up from school. I said her name out loud, shared a little bit of her story and before I knew it, the words came tumbling out of my mouth that God was nudging me to do something for her and her daughter. Within a couple of hours, I went back – my arms outstretched. I wasn’t sure if she was going to be offended or embarrassed. I didn’t know what her reaction would be for sure, but that wasn’t for me to worry about. All I knew was that I felt a nudge to love on a woman I didn’t even know.
It wasn’t what I was holding that made a difference to her. I could tell by the look on her face, the tears in her eyes, and the lump in her throat as she talked that she was more overcome by the fact that someone noticed. Someone paid attention to her story. It wasn’t about what I gave her that day as it was that I saw her, all of her — including the pain and hurt, the areas where she felt shame, the mess of the situation along with the relief – weighing so heavy on her heart that when taken off guard in a single moment, she had humbly vented it all to a stranger. I listened without judgement or fear, recognized her pain, and my offering, in a way, was to lift a stone of burden off her back. It wasn’t much, but it was one less stone she had to carry.
I’d love to say I have responded in this same manner every time I have felt nudged, but it’s far from the truth. There have been many times I felt the “push,” but I pushed it right back, because life can be complicated and there are a million little excuses and “what if’s”. I’m learning how good it feels to slow down, pay attention, let go of myself and my fear, and just obey.
It isn’t always a stranger
There will be times in life that when a friend says they need support, you show up. No matter what. You sit in a court room hallway for 8 hours so that she knows she has people in her corner. When things look bleak, you cry with them and cover the ache with an arm and hand tissues to keep up with the tears because sitting in silence for hours next to someone who is hurting is what love looks like. You help interpret the lawyer’s jargon because when emotions are high, none of that makes any sense. Even when she says it’s ok if you need to leave, you stay because you know – she still needs you there. As they are closing down the building and the doors lock behind our steps, you realize in a new way, just how messy life can be. In those moments, we need our friends by our side to tell us we aren’t crazy and that it’s going to be ok.
We all need someone to see us.
To offer to carry a stone for someone — if only for a little while, can mean everything, it can mean they are finally able to let go and lay it down at the feet of Jesus.
Agreeing with someone in their grief or pain can be a powerful aspect of their healing process… and maybe even our own. What is revealed in those moments, is truly life changing. I have also been the recipient over the years of others offering to carry some of my stones when I couldn’t set them down on my own and those acts of love – no matter how tiny or how big, changed me indefinitely.
Not in your neighborhood
Our family is sponsoring a child through Compassion International. His name is Juan and he is precious. He just turned 6 last week and he is from Columbia, South America. We saw his picture sitting on a table during an intermission of a C.S. Lewis play and there was no need for much discussion. I gave Ryan a nod, picked up the form, and signed us up. Since we have been communicating with Juan through letters and online, I feel moved to do even more. We found out recently that when children are told they have been sponsored, the typical response is for them is to burst into tears of joy. Then, the entire school and family celebrates. It’s a big deal to the entire community. It turns into an instant party when someone across the world says to them by their words and actions, “I see you. I’m for you. You are loved. You have not been forgotten.”
For me, that says everything I need to know about how to serve others.
We volunteered as a family at local refugee outreach center awhile back and I feel strongly that I am supposed to do it regularly. I felt this prompting a few years ago, but was too sick to volunteer. Again, I had a million excuses, but I know there will never be a perfect time to do all the things I feel led to do. This is now and now and now…. and I must act before it’s too late. Esther’s story comes to mind…
“Perhaps this is the moment for which you have been created.” Esther 4:14
And even more importantly, Jesus’ own words…
“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:40
I believe that this is behind everything God calls us to do: LOVE ALL.
It is simple. But it is holy: Love others so much that it makes you go back. Maybe it will cause you to change course or be uncomfortable. It may shift your mind set, cause you to open your home to a foster child, broaden your perspective, change your world view, or maybe even cause you to drop your politics at the door.
Because in the end, all that will matter is that you loved your neighbor.
“You should love the Eternal, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second great commandment is this: “Love others in the same way you love yourself.” There are no commandments more important than these.” Mark 12:30-31
Do you know someone who might need you to help them lift a heavy stone off their shoulders? How can you meet them in their pain? Think of ways you can show them that you are right there with them in the middle of the mess.
“Love isn’t love until it’s given away.”