sitting in the middle of someone else's pain

Recently I had some time to myself so I spent it at one of my favorite places... Chick-Fil-A. Their sweet tea is one of my favorite things on the planet so it's not a hard sell to get me in the door. I usually take a book or my laptop with me in hopes of spending some time reading or writing while I sip my on my bottomless cup of sugar and caffeine (mixed with a touch of tea). When I walked through the doors on this particular day I immediately noticed something was different. The line was long. Normally, it's not. The restaurant was loud, and crowded, and bustling with energy. And then I noticed the difference. It was a group of about twenty-five young adults with special needs and just as many aids to help them. I had a hard time taking my eyes off of them because they were precious. Some with greater disabilities than others. Some being spoon fed pureed food by their aids, others carrying their own drinks to their tables. Some talking, some not. Some smiling, some not.

Once I got through the line and had my food it was time to find a seat. There weren't a lot of choices because the restaurant was pretty full but I noticed a few high-top tables near the back and right next to the group of young adults. For some reason my heart just wanted to sit next to them. Among them. With them. I knew there probably wasn't going to be any conversation between us but it was as if in my own head sitting among them was a decision of solidarity. I see you, I hear you, I'm with you. So I sat. And it wasn't what I expected.

It was uncomfortable. And at moments even a little disturbing. At one point a young man started to yell very loudly about every 60 seconds which was a little disturbing in itself, but it also seemed to upset one of the other students because he also stood up and started yelling and smacking himself in the head. This went on for 15 or 20 minutes. I thought about moving to a different seat but I just couldn't. What would that say to them? "Your challenges are inconveniencing me on this lovely day as I'm trying to enjoy my lunch." Where some of them in physical pain? Probably. Emotional pain? Maybe. Psychological pain? Possibly. I'll never know exactly but I knew that if I got up and left it would speak volumes about how society ALREADY treats them and views them and I wasn't interested in jumping in that boat. So I sat. And I stayed.

This experience might not mean anything to you but for me it sparked so many thoughts about sitting in the middle of someone else's pain. And how necessary it is.

But here's the honest truth when it comes to sitting in the middle of someone else's pain....

It's uncomfortable.
It's awkward.
It's disturbing.
You might not know what to say.

But more than any of those things, what I learned at CFA that day is it speaks volumes when we do. It speaks volumes to the person you're sitting with and it speaks volumes to the people around you watching. I'm pretty sure no one noticed where I sat at CFA that day but I know there are plenty of times in life when people DO notice. There are so many people in this world who are aching for someone to sit with them in their pain. To join hands in solidarity. To know that they are seen, heard, and valued.

Who can we stand in solidarity with today? Refugees? The homeless? Foster children? Single moms? Orphans? The poor? The oppressed? The widowed? The list could go on and on and on.

With words or without, solidarity says "You're seen. You're heard. You're valued." Someone needs to know that today. 

Staying connected to the vine

My five year old walks into the room sometimes and calls my name, when I happen to be standing right in front of him. It goes something like this... "Mom. Mom. MOM. Mooooommmmm!" My reply starts gently, "Yes, buddy?" but when he doesn't hear me (most likely because he's not listening) after the fourth or fifth call, my gentle response usually turns into "WHAT!? I'm standing RIGHT HERE!" Can you relate? The immaturity of our kids sometimes keeps them from seeing that what they need is actually right in front of them. They petition, they whine, they beg for something when all they really need to do is reach out and grab it for themselves.

I think we do this with God sometimes. We tell our friends, "I could really use some peace today." We  vent on our spouse about how much we're lacking patience. Or maybe we tell a co-worker at the water cooler how we wish we had more wisdom when it comes to a certain situation. There's nothing inherently wrong about these statements but the irony is that God is also standing right in front of us saying, "I'm right here! I have what you need! I AM what you need!"

I've been reading and studying the book of John over the last few months and I love it because it is FULL of "I am" statements. These I am statements are being made by Jesus.

i AM the bread of life.
i AM the light of the world.
i AM the door.
i AM the good shepherd.
i AM the resurrection and the life.
i AM the way, the truth, and the life.
i AM the true vine.

Notice that Jesus doesn't say, "I could probably muster up some peace for you if you clean yourself up, do all the right things, and get your act together." He simply says I AM PEACE. Everything we need resides in Him. In the person and presence of Jesus.

Do you need some life in your bones? He is life. Do you need salvation? Just walk through His door. Do you need answers? He is the answer. Do you feel lost? He is the way. Do you want to be known? He already knows you.

The best fruit we can desire is the fruit of HIS spirit. Love, joy, peace. patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We could scream at the top of our lungs all day long for more patience, more love, or more self-control but if we don't abide in the one who IS the fruit, who IS the vine then we will remain dry and empty vessels.

"I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:5

I learned from a commentary by Dr. Thomas Constable that the "I am" statement Jesus makes about being the vine is the very last "I am" statement He makes in the gospels. Perhaps He saved the best for last? I love this statement about the vine... 

"The father "dresses" the vine as a farmer cultivates his vineyard. No vine will produce fruit unless someone competent cares for it."

One of the things I struggle with in marriage is allowing my husband to lead and protect me. I was raised my a single mom who worked hard and my older brother and I spent a lot of time before school, after school, and in the summertime taking care of ourselves until our mom got home from work. This in some cases forced us to grow up faster than some of our peers but it also instilled in us a strong sense of independence. Still to this day, my strong sense of independence can be an asset but it can also be a liability. I often feel like (and act like) I don't need my husband to protect me. Because I can take care of myself. When I say this out loud he reminds me about the nights when he's away and I watch Law & Order SVU before bed and then can't sleep because I'm terrified a murderer is going to break into my house. I struggle with allowing him to lead me because, well, I've lead myself practically my whole life and I don't really need any help. Do you see the flaw in this kind of thinking?

"The father "dresses" the vine as a farmer culitvates his vineyard. No vine will produce fruit unless someone competent cares for it." 

How healthy can my relationship with my husband be if I do not allow him to care for me? This is his God-given responsibility. Even more so... How can we produce spiritual fruit in our lives if we do not allow GOD to care for us. And how can he care for us, if we do not stay connected to him? Crops cannot grow if they are not first cared for and tended, the same goes for humans.

Can you picture the alternative to connectedness to the vine? No love, no joy, no peace, no patience, no kindness, no gentleness, no goodness, no faithfulness, no self-control. Either you've been there yourself or you know someone who's life looks like this. And it's not a pretty sight.

When we live disconnected from the vine (unintentionally or not), we end up forfeiting the care of the Father. 

So how do we stay connected to the vine? Here are some ideas...

We dig into His word. We study it, we learn it, we put it deep into out hearts. My friend Jessi says "The bible is not about us, it's about God. The more we know the bible, the more we know God. And the more we know God the more we know ourselves." I love that.

We spend time with Him. In His presence. In prayer. And listening.

We stay connected to His people. There is great power in community, isn't there? We are not meant to live disconnected from God and we are not meant to live disconnected from each other. I believe when we share stories with other people of how God is working in our life and they do the same, it strengthens our faith as well as theirs.

Friends, He is I AM and He is EVERYTHING we need.

The hard in the 'Yes'.

About a month ago my family said a big YES. We said yes to taking a little girl into our home via foster care. She's two and adorable and also kind of feisty. It's been a hard month with lots of adjusting for all of us. Moving rooms around, managing new therapy schedules, and collecting all the stuff a two year old needs but doesn't have. We are grateful for so many friends and family who eagerly stepped in to help with clothes, a crib, and lots of encouraging words. We are thrilled to be able to give this little girl a safe and loving home for however long she's with us.

Amongst all the beauty of this decision I'm learning that the initial YES was easy. I mean don't get me wrong, we took days and days to think and pray and talk about whether or not this is something we should do. We didn't take this decision lightly. We needed to be sure that we were sure before we took the leap, because once we took the leap we didn't want to turn back on the decision when things got too hard. Beacause we (I) knew they would get hard. This is our second run with having a foster child placed in our home and the first time was HARD. And it ended with that child being placed with another family (who are great people and eventually adopted him.)

We said yes and then we started living. Living out the day to day with more diaper changes, more crying, more giggles, more baths, more people to strap into car seats, more mouths to feed and one more broken soul in need of love and compassion.

There are so many things in life that we have the choice to YES to.

Significant others.
Ministry opportunities.

Whatever God wants.

We proclaim the big YES and it's exciting and fun but then there are a thousand more yes's we have to say day in and day out.

Yes to writing one more paper for a class you hate.
Yes to fighting for a friendship.
Yes to spending the rest of your life with one person.
Yes to raising children in this crazy world.
Yes to adopting from another family, culture, or country.
Yes to a job you feel like you're over-qualified for.
Yes to serving God in whatever capacity he desires.

Those are the hardest yeses. Because they take perseverance. And sometimes discipline. They take commitment when you don't want to and love when you don't feel it. They take compassion when your compassion is all dried up and grace when you've got none left to give. Saying yes to marrying your best friend is easy. Saying yes to picking up their dirty socks AGAIN or giving them grace when they're 20 minutes late... exhausting.

The big yes takes courage and risk. The little yeses take humility and sacrifice. Both are important. Both are good. Both will hopefully produce fruit in our lives.

Our work, the act of saying yes to God and then walking it out in our daily life, will never be perfect but that doesn't mean that it's not GOOD. We GET to do good work because the perfect work has already been accomplished on the cross. That takes the pressure off, doesn't it? His love for us fills in all of our gaps and that's a reminder I need on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis.

It starts with one big yes and then a thousand more yeses to follow.

Clean hearts or clean hands?

We bought a house back in February. It's a cute little place that suites our family well. It's in an older neighborhood with big trees and each modest little home looks different from it's neighbor. Some are kept, some are not. Ours currently might be considered to be a part of the 'unkept' category. At least on the outside. Weeds are overtaking our yard, the driveway is shot, and big mature trees are in need of some major trimming. But those things are going to have to wait because we're still working on the inside and I'd pick fresh paint colors and pictures hung, over the front yard being immaculately landscaped any day. So the weeds will have to wait.

I care more about the inside of our home than the outside because the inside is where life happens.

The inside is where people grow.

And learn.
And struggle.
And love.
And belong.
And fight.
And forgive.

The outside matters, a little. If the landscaping of my house is SO overgrown that no one can see my front door then that's kind of a problem. And maybe even a distraction. Who will want to come in if they have to wade through a jungle to get there? Only a few may be brave enough to attempt that. The people who REALLY love me. The people who KNOW me. The people who know that once they make it inside they'll find safety and a place where they'll feel at home.

But most of us know the INSIDE matters more. And sometimes we're too busy tending to the outside that we neglect the inside and it gets ugly. It gets selfish, and prideful, and bitter. I struggle with the outside stuff a lot. I struggle with wanting new clothes that make me feel good about myself, and having a nice car that's not dented (because ours is), and making sure my family looks "put together" when we are out in public. But what does all that matter if my heart looks like a dirty, empty, discarded coffee cup? Jesus says it so well in Matthew 23...

"What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy - full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too." 

We live in a world that values the outside over the inside. A world that values success over integrity and looks over character. But there's always a choice. We always have a choice.

May we clean our hearts before we clean our hands. And may God pour out His grace on us when we don't.