Monday evening. Dinner. Our family is together again after a couple of days of quickly moving parts in various directions. We are hashing through the weekend — and my husband Brian pauses, uncharacteristically somber around the eyes: “I saw a theme yesterday.”
Act One: After a beautiful morning at church, we headed to a BBQ lunch at the home of some long-time family friends. They were celebrating the baptism that morning of their 15-year-old son, complete with hot dogs and hamburgers and a house full of people.
Brian met the parents of one of the kids’ girlfriend. Military family. From Texas. Been here six years — and moving back to Texas this summer.
“It’s so unfriendly here. We’ve been so excited to come to this BBQ — like, we’re finally gonna spend some time with people! Can’t wait to get back to Texas and be part of BBQs and picnics and get-togethers with people again.”
Act Two: We spent the evening over a lavish dinner mounded generously across a table in the apartment of our new Kurdish friends, refugees from Iraq who have been here for a year. When dinner finished, we lingered over exquisite cups of homemade tea — and it wasn’t long before our overly-stuffed bellies led us to gather and lounge in smaller, less formal groups. Our daughter and their daughter overcoming a language barrier by practicing the cup song, with lots of laughter. Their daughter beaming: “I’m so so happy to be with a friend.” Our sons and their son sharing YouTube videos. The mom and I working on her English assignment. And Brian and the father deeply engaged in that particular kind of conversation when heightened facial and hand expressions bridge the language gap.
Father: “How do you think I should learn English? How should I meet people? I miss going to the bazaars in my country. Do you have anything like the bazaars here?”
Brian: “Tell me what the bazaars are like.”
Father: “Many people gathered every day. And you can go there after work and drink tea and talk to people for hours. Talking every day. I miss that. Where do you talk to people here?”
Act Three: The evening ended late, but even so, Brian headed out from there to the place that had been filling all of the open spaces in his weekend. And it would be 4am before he would get back home, shower, collapse into bed — to be up again for work in a few short hours.
A few months earlier we had met an elderly man who lived in a difficult community where we’d been intentionally building relationships. We had a weekly meeting in that community — a meeting we call a “small group” where we practice sharing some of life’s challenges and joys together while we have conversations about Jesus and read the Bible and pray together. This elderly man had begun joining us for our small group — and the challenges of his life that he shared were quite profound. Completely alone. A trail of broken relationships behind him. Deep poverty.
A month or so ago, though, a new possibility came on the scene for him — and if he could get himself moved, then there was an opening for him in an apartment across town for seniors that would cost a fraction of his current rent.
We responded as any good small group would — and banded together to help him move, though his procrastination and avoidance had us concerned. Crunch time hit so he finally allowed us to come over. We marked out a timeframe with careful boundaries.
And that was when we discovered — as we had been suspecting — that we had a bonafide hoarder on our hands. I will not describe to you the scene we found, but I relished those careful time boundaries we’d set and watched for my moment of release.
Brian doesn’t work that way though. Having both more compassion and more stamina than I, he found the gaps in his weekend schedule and made it back over there again and again and again, until the job was done and the move-out deadline met. Because what on earth does an elderly guy do if he’s alone?
“I saw a theme yesterday…” Brian, uncharacteristically somber around the eyes. “So many people, you guys, everywhere. So much isolation. So much loneliness. Even loneliness that in the end can make you so anti-social you almost can’t be in relationship.”
And, as he said to our family at the table, I say now to our family, the Church — the collective people of Jesus:
“Guys, we have what they need. There are lonely people all around us and we can give them friendship. And when we give them friendship, they are gonna see a little bit of Jesus in us.”
For about the last year, I have been praying almost daily that Pierce County would become a place where every single person would be in relationship with someone who was genuinely following Jesus. That way every single person would have access to experiencing Jesus’ love. For a long time I assumed this meant that there would need to be many more genuine Jesus-followers. While that is true, God has expanded my view of that prayer to recognize that what is REALLY required is for many more Jesus-followers to step outside of our current, comfortable circles and build relationships with people we won’t naturally connect with. So now, my heart behind the prayer has shifted — and really, I am praying for the eyes of every Jesus-follower to be so quick to recognize the lonely around us… and to step out in love. Until that happens, there will always continue to be people who have no easy access to knowing Jesus’ love. And THAT is just not okay.
Church. Let’s do this.
“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence… No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (1 John 3:18-19 & 4:12)
“For Christ’s love compels us… So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view… All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” 2 Corinthians 5:14, 16 & 18-20)