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Sour Then Sweet – A Tale of Learning To Love

June 1, 2016

Earlier that day we’d talked long and intensely about how to engage with people while we live our daily lives. Does it matter to “establish a rapport” or should we just talk and “share the love of Jesus” no matter where we are? What if our zeal for loving others can be misunderstood as something absolutely not what we intended.

Should opportunities to care about someone, even a complete stranger require the following caveat?

“No, I am not hitting on you because I am interested in you as a person. I really just like people and Jesus loves you so much.”

The discussion was long, often heated on both sides of the aisle. Plenty of opportunities for humility and grace were ignored as we waged a tiny little war for integrity. So, we belabored the point. We stretched definitions. We raised our opinions, and beat each other over the head and shoulders with insight and scripture. The house filled with tears and frustration, deep breaths and walking away. We aren’t good at this yet.

The conversation wasn’t to say it is ever wrong to talk to someone but seeking the wisdom of how to speak to the world around us is a treasure worth fighting for and we were all hunting for Truth.

What does it mean to love someone? What does it mean to share the love of Jesus with your fellow man? Isaiah 58. What does it mean?

We went for a drive. All our hearts a bit battered and bruised. The normally joking voices in the back seat were muted. Under the sound of the GPS my mama heart was hurting, his father’s heart was longing for peace.

Carefully, we began to relax and conversation flowed  as we drove to a few nearby lakes, helped a turtle cross the road, dodged a bunny, watched an osprey fish, but eventually we began to flirt again with the unresolved ideas that never had really stopped happening in our thoughts.

One last lake. A little park we hadn’t been to before, bright green and a bit overgrown in the light of the sun setting over wooded hills. Fishermen and splashing dogs, a few kayaks on the water, a group of young people, cheap beer in hand, friendly smiles all around. Hummingbird sized mosquitoes. We walked the edge of the lake while the last bits of the puzzle came into place and humility and grace met intensity and passion until there was a single unified family once again.

In the last few minutes of the evening, at the end of a day with more questions than answers, we turned and headed home.

Down the rocky trail, past the dock, creaking across the boardwalk pathway, slapping away mosquitoes. Brian and Isaac walking ahead shoulder to shoulder while Dillon and I followed talking about how to be willing to hear from anyone what the Spirit might be saying and not disregard the lessons we can learn any day from anyone.

Slouching in a dirty purple t-shirt, brown hair scraggly around a sunburned face, she looked down and away when we approached. All their belongings piled, organized with military precision, and tied down tight onto two overpacked shopping carts. A shovel and a hoe tied to the side of one, tarps covering it all, and his intense eyes surveyed the little park they had wandered into. The white muzzled  little black dog stretched to the end of her leash, guarding her people, her home on wobbly wheels, while the brown dog stayed on her blanket under the cart alternating between watchful and just tired. Desperation and exhaustion rolled off them in waves.

Dillon and I caught up with Isaac and Brian as they struck up a conversation.  Eventually, we heard how they had been walking for days.

Days.

Pushing these heavy carts from one town to the next on back roads and side roads. Up and down hills.  Always moving.

Everything they owned piled high. All they felt they could carry close at hand as they searched out a new place to be.

Thankful it wasn’t raining.

“Do you have a cigarette?” he asked, hopeful.   “I’m sorry. We don’t smoke.” I said, awkwardly.   I wanted to give them something.   We don’t have cash. We don’t have food. Giving them the last bit of a jug of lemonade we’d all been drinking out of seemed foolish.

“Where are you headed?”

He gave us the name of the next town over and asked how far it was.

“Two-three miles?”

She visibly deflated, putting her head down on top of the cart in front of her 5′ frame.   Obviously,  the thought of another day of walking and pushing carts was more than her nearly middle aged chubby frame could handle. His thin shoulders straightened as he tried to make sense of the news and a tan, dirty hand clenched, the wedding ring flickering a bright silvery gold in the fading light.

We walked off with a half-hearted “God bless you” feeling like that was a pathetic way to leave anyone.

We had a friend’s truck. As we walked toward it, an idea sparked in us. Could we fit the carts in the back and take them to the next town? Staying in the park overnight wasn’t safe or legal and them walking another day when we could at least offer them that bit of assistance?   Should we?

What if it was a scam and they’d…. What if?

We found some rope. We stopped and prayed and then Brian and the boys walked back to ask if we could offer them a ride.

I didn’t hear the conversation, myself.  He said we were a…. “miracle”.  We didn’t feel very miraculous yesterday, of all the days.

She was quiet but seemed relieved. Even the dogs weren’t snarky anymore.

As I wandered over,  I saw him squat down on the ground, the palms of his hands pressed against his eyes.  I caught the very last bit of a prayer, his voice rough and scratchy.

“… bless these people.”

He prayed for us. Brian and Isaac gathered them up in the truck and drove them to a small hotel where he said they could afford to stay a night while Dillon and I started walking down the road laughing about our “Great Adventure” while praying that the Lord would fill the car with His love and peace.

“So, was it ok?” I asked Brian when we were all comfortably cruising down the road, up and down the very hills they had walked.

“They said it was a hard day today. Someone called 911 and the ambulance came because they were so worn out. The medics gave them some Gatorade but they didn’t have to go to hospital.”

We all got quiet.

“He hugged me. Then apologized because he hasn’t had a shower in a week. Like I cared?” Brian offered.

“Mom, I got their phone number. Maybe we can get in touch with them again? Bring them a meal or something?”

“That would be great. Maybe we could meet up somewhere and treat them to dinner. Wouldn’t that be fun?”

All the rest of the way home we made plans for how we would plan to spend time with our new friends, Matthew and Tina.

Just like that, all the questions had answers.

This is what it means to love someone. This is what it means to show Jesus to our fellow man. We serve one another. Any way we can. We show kindness and compassion. In the most gentle, brilliant way, God answered all our questions and honored all our wrestling. Is there a need? Can I meet some of it? If I can, how could I ever walk away?

This is love.

Isaiah 58:6-7

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice

and untie the cords of the yoke,

to set the oppressed free

and break every yoke?

7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry

and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—

when you see the naked, to clothe them,

and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood.”