Her name was Barbara and we found her sitting in the trunk of her car. It wasn’t a fancy car. It was a simple, small, silver four door sedan. The trunk was vacuumed and empty except for a tote bag, a bible and some paper work. It was serving as Barbara’s chair while she waited for someone to come. It's not too often you run across someone sitting in the trunk of a car, so out of curiosity (or more likely it was God tugging on our heart strings) we crossed the street to talk to her. Arriving at her rear bumper, we climbed into the trunk and started getting to know Barbara. She was a spunky woman with wild hair and an infectious smile. Her passion was evident in the rise and fall of her voice, in her smile and in her animation. But the focus of her passion wasn't necessarily a good thing. Barbara and her father have had a lot taken from them over the years...unjustly taken. They lost generations of family treasures, a family business and their trust in white people. With their trust broken, soon anger, bitterness and hatred overwhelmed them. As she spoke, it was obvious to us that she was filled with hurt, everything she said carried an angry tone...passionate about her cause, but laced with bitterness. We couldn't get her to talk about anything else. So we simply asked her how we could pray for her. Then we held hands, and sitting in the trunk of her car, we prayed for Barbara. What happened next was a moment that will forever be etched in my mind. As we were praying, God spoke one simple word into my heart. Forgiveness. He was asking me to tell Barbara to forgive, to rise above and to let go. Wait, God, what?! So I, the girl that represented the group that had caused her so much pain, told her that God wanted her to forgive. And then I held my breath. I'm not sure what was shaking more - my voice, my hands or my heart. The look on her face was priceless. It was a mix of anger, confusion and perhaps a little bit of amusement. Did I really just say that?!? My heart was beating so loud I almost couldn't hear what she was saying and I prayed really, really hard that I had heard God correctly. She couldn't believe I had said it either and wanted me to explain exactly how I knew it was truly a word from God. For me, it was simple - knowing that I, personally, would have never had the courage to say something like that, I explained to Barbara that I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it came from God. What transpired, from that point, was the kind of transformation only God could have orchestrated. The boldness God gave me in that moment opened a door that I don't think would have otherwise been opened and I'm grateful He nudged me to obedience. We talked and prayed, cried and learned. What it comes down to for me is this - we leave no room for God in our lives if we are filled to the brim with hatred or bitterness. He is calling us to forgive, to rise up and soar above our injustices and the resulting hatred and bitterness. It is then, and only then, that we can be filled with the love of Christ and go out into this hurting world and share that love. Barbara had a relationship with God, but her hatred was getting in the way of allowing God to use her. I had the privilege to spend the rest of the day with Barbara and watch, first-hand, God moving in her heart. He began to close her mouth and open her heart. Through the grace of God she was able to begin the healing process and start to move away from a life of hate toward a life of love and loving others. Barbara had every right to be bitter; she was wronged in so many ways. But, as Christians, we are called by God to rise above the junk and to love in-spite of it. We are called to step above and beyond what we think is impossible and trust God to take over and to live a life of love that exudes Jesus Christ.
I think it's safe to say there are a lot of hurting people in the world. So if we know that to be true, what are we doing about it? What about us, you and me, as individuals? What are we doing in our daily lives to make someone else's life profoundly better? What would that look like? To love the hurting, the unlovable, the people who don't look or act like “us” or are just plain mean. I can tell you a little bit of what it would look like from my week spent on the streets of North Richmond, CA, with people like Barbara, George, Reggie and Timothy. People who have a story that you wouldn't know unless you stopped long enough to ask. It was the kind of week that sends you away saying, "Why? Why is there so much devastation? Why is there so much violence and death? Why are there children roaming the streets without a place to call home? Where is the love?” We were told it was insane to go where we went. Not just insane, but dangerous and not smart. It's the kind of place people drive all the way around to avoid going through. Gunshots and drug deals were an everyday occurrence. But this is where we knew we were supposed to be - right in the heart of the community, so we could feel God's heartbeat and hear the stories of hurt and pain. Every. Single. Person. Has. A. Story. Period. There is a story behind every harsh word, every tear shed, every bitter retort, every silent moment or smile. There is a reason for the actions and behavior of the people walking the streets all around us. They weren't loved, they were hurt, they were lost, they weren't believed in. All the little pieces that, when put together, make us who we are or, more accurately, how others perceive us. So, what if instead of glancing past a person and brushing them off simply because they seem grumpy,
angry, dirty, desperate...what if we stopped and loved? What if we acted like Jesus for a day, a week, a month, a year or for a lifetime? I wonder what the world would look like then. It would probably look like George, who cried when we told him God was calling him back to Him. Or Kevin, the little boy who grinned from ear to ear when his new friend from Texas gave him her phone number to call anytime…day or night. Or like the family who was baptized together in the San Francisco Bay at sunset. (Pictured right) Or like Barbara, my new friend, who is beginning to learn how to live in forgiveness and walk in love. It would look like a group of people gathered under a tent in the ‘hood, holding hands and praying together. Young, old, black, white, rich, poor. From every Christian denomination to those who didn't believe. No gun shots, no drugs. There was silence on the streets because of the sounds now coming from within the tent…the clinking of dishes as food was served in fellowship, laughter and worship. For one week people were loved and lives were changed. Jesus was walking among us and I believe he was saying “Well done, good and faithful servant."
By the way, the person Barbara was sitting outside waiting for in the trunk of her car never did come. Instead, God sent two people who were willing to listen and love - a much better kept appointment! The picture at the top was taken as we walked along the sidewalk in North Richmond one day and it is a reminder to me of that day spent with Barbara...a reminder to trim away the "stuff" to allow the light of Jesus Christ to shine bright through us. I wanted to leave you all with a verse on love that seemed fitting to me. But God had another idea, so I'm going to share what I believe is His message in this:
"Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus". - Philippians 2:4-5.