For years, Denise referred warmly to her sibling Carolyn as “my little sister.” Carolyn faced significant cognitive challenges, but she loved life and brought joy to everyone who knew her. She loved Jesus too!
Focused, she bustled past me in the canned goods aisle. Her Bluetooth device behind her ear, she filled her grocery cart while carrying on a phone conversation. I saw her again while I was in the self-checkout lane. Cool and collected, her ability to multitask seemed admirable on the surface. However, her curt tone toward a cashier revealed that the woman’s need to be on task had left her unable to care about others.
After Mary and Jim married and moved into their first apartment, they decided to set aside a room in which to host others. I became a beneficiary of their warm hospitality on a teaching trip. They welcomed me, a stranger, into their home and showered me with love.
In his short story “The Hurt Man,” Wendell Berry recounts how Nancy Beechum welcomed a complete stranger into her home after he stumbled up the street, bloodied, with a crowd of fierce, angry men chasing him. Nancy opened her door and washed the clotted blood from his body. She pressed the white rags, now crimson, onto his cuts. The hurt man trembled as Nancy spoke gently to him: ”You’re going to be all right.”
In March 2007, I was standing in an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in northern Uganda gazing at hundreds of young refugees who were staring back at me. As I looked into their eyes, saw their malnourished frames, and witnessed their deplorable living conditions, the Holy Spirit filled me in a way I’d never experienced before. I sensed God was telling me, “I love these children. I love them!” And then, it was as if He extended this invitation: “Come love them with me.”
The Swedish writer Fredrick Backman’s 2012 debut novel A Man Called Ove is the tale of a man who sees no reason to live. After the death of his wife (the one person who brought him laughter, intimacy, and joy) and after losing his job, Ove plots his suicide. But then he’s drawn into the larger story around him: There’s a pregnant woman who needs his support, a neighbor in conflict with authorities who are trying to force him into a nursing home, and a young man estranged from his father. Ove discovers reasons to live as he moves beyond himself and toward others.
Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables opens with the struggles of Jean Valjean, a man ostracized by society because he was an ex-convict. Myriel, the town’s bishop, gave him shelter one night, but Valjean fled with Myriel’s silverware. When Valjean was caught by the police, however, the bishop said that he had given the silverware to Valjean. He then gave Valjean two silver candlesticks, as if he had meant to give them as well. After the police set Valjean free, Myriel told him that he should use money from selling the candlesticks to make an honest man of himself.
Lilias Trotter had an unusual talent for painting landscapes. Born mid-nineteenth century, she acquired famous artist John Ruskin as a mentor. Ruskin believed her talent could dominate the art world. But as Lily’s art matured, so did her devotion to God. She began frequenting dangerous areas to help women in need, a practice Ruskin discouraged because he felt it kept her from perfecting her artwork. Eventually, Lily decided to spend her life serving others in Algeria.
I recently read of the plight of “370,000 . . . ordinary middle-class people” forced to rummage “in stinking piles of rubbish for rotten cabbage leaves.” Hundreds of thousands of people in the country were scavenging for food while members of the political upper crust were “enjoying lavish parties and gourmet cuisine.” The article revealed unjust conditions and the failure of governmental leaders to do the right thing to help their people.
My first experience behind a radio microphone was at the local university campus station. I was eager to learn a new skill and wanted to fit in with all the other radio personalities. I soon realized, however, that my values as a believer in Jesus differed greatly from many of the other students. Though I didn’t agree with much of what I saw or heard, I experienced boldness and strength from Christ to share with others the difference He’d made in my life.
Jasper Fu drives two hours a day for Uber, an app-based taxi service. He doesn’t do it for the money, since he already has a fulltime job. He says he does it because it’s a good way to “talk to people.” Chinese culture encourages quiet restraint, so it can seem inappropriate to walk up to a stranger and start a conversation. It’s different when you’re picking them up in your car. Jasper says, “Under no other circumstance can I find a stranger to talk with me for like 10 to 20 minutes.”
Could you pray for us?” asked the French woman sitting next to me on the airplane. We were experiencing violent turbulence. Just minutes earlier this med student and I had been having a lively discussion about God and science. With my broken French and her broken English, I had used a Chinese-English pamphlet to share the good news about Jesus with her. To my new friend, the gospel message seemed like a fairy tale; but when our airplane began to dip and shake, her inclination was to ask God for help, allowing me the opportunity to share my faith and pray with her.
We can take for granted the idea that any money loaned to someone should be paid back with interest; this is seen as normal. Secular culture often judges things on a purely functional basis, whereby acquiring wealth and even gaining at the expense of another is simply the way things are. In contrast, God has always judged things from a “heart perspective.” What’s the motivation behind our actions? Are we fueled by desire for our own gain, or by compassion, love, and a desire to glorify God?
In the summer of 2016, a two-year-old was snatched by an alligator as he waded into a lagoon at an amusement park resort. His father tried desperately, without success, to rescue the boy from the alligator. A frantic search for the child ensued, but tragically, a few days later, divers recovered the toddler’s lifeless body.