I write, not because I have great thoughts that need to be shared, but because I see greatness that must be reported. Three times in my life I have stumbled upon an unexpected safe harbor, a place where deepest feelings can be carefully expressed, where vulnerability is allowed freedom, where needs and failings can be admitted.
I didn’t know such places existed where the courageous met and shared stories of unimaginable struggles, of battles and victories, of failures and redemption. I felt honored to be in the midst of such quiet heroes, unassuming, unheralded, unconscious of their own magnificence. To watch them stand against the tide, taking on life’s greatest struggles as if it were natural, as if it were normal to be so strong. To hear them humbly share their failures and ask for help was akin to watching Superman apologize for being weakened by Kryptonite and therefore not saving the world faster last Thursday. Where do such miraculous places exist? You might be surprised.
Well, I said you might be surprised. But it is true. In some places people are actually being the salt of the Earth, the light of the world. I have witnessed it. I have seen men buy and deliver coats for the homeless. I know a woman who has lost two husbands and still knits scarves to sell so she has money to help a young couple that she barely knows finish their education. I’ve seen highly paid medical professionals travel a world away to perform life saving surgeries for free – instead of a vacation. I’ve seen earthquake orphans get new homes, built not by contractors but average folks with hammers, hands and aching backs.
The grieving are comforted, the sick visited, the jobless employed, the homeless sheltered, the divorced moved to new quarters. Tornado victims are helped to start over. The addicted are encouraged. The violently attacked are walked through recovery. I’ve personally witnessed these things. They are not myths or publicity schemes. No one takes credit or advantage. When I have tried to do interviews with these people, they have declined. They do not want ego to infect this place, not because they are self-righteous but because they are suspicious and genuinely humble. They have the humility of soldiers denying they are heroes because they have seen others sacrifice far more. They do not believe the cost touches the gifts they have been given freely. But do not think there is no cost. It costs a great deal of time and money. It demands emotional strength to stand alongside. It takes courage and grit.
Oh the prayers, fervent and tearful, joyous and relieved, persistent and patient. To be prayed for by these people is powerful and humbling. And it’s not a random event. They spend time every week diligently collecting prayer requests. They update each step of progress and persevere through each slip backwards. They email the list to all each week. It takes a lot of work. They persist because they believe in the power of prayer and they have examples of God’s provision ready to share. It’s not a theory or a mental exercise for them. Not a self-focused, self-help technique. It’s practical, applied theology, the result of a connection with God.
It’s not all solemn-faced spirituality. The way to find these people is by their laughter. The jokes and jabs flow easily without fear of misunderstanding. There is none of the disturbing crassness and cruelty comics dish out. They naturally gravitate toward humor like it’s oxygen or water. When you have often travelled life’s hard places you feel no need to point out inconveniences. Humor is a shock absorber. It softens the blows. It’s a survival skill of the highest order. It comes easily because they each find reasons to laugh at themselves. The unspoken lesson is that we all take figurative pratfalls from time to time and we may as well grin about it. And by the way, some of the humor may be pretty goofy, to the point of groaning, and often self-depricating. Every once in a while it rises to biting jabs and a swift parry but it will never sting too badly. Love doesn’t do that.
You can count on comfort food and a few healthy snacks thrown in (or out) when you find these people. It’s hospitality, the milk of human kindness, along with some cake and chocolate. And probably a few sausage balls. They know the significance of breaking bread together. It’s the time to catch up with friends, a time that is all too short and anticipated. These are people you miss when you are gone or when they are. It’s hard to get overlooked in a caring group this size. But you will not lose weight at the Christmas party. Just saying.
Bible study underpins it all. This is the source of all of the above, the caring, praying, sharing, joking, hugging. It is the reason for the patience and the determination. We may have heard the verses before but the repetition reminds us they are still current. They apply today. Studies show that prayer and bible study increases self control and gives us more resistance to temptation. But they didn’t need a study to know that. I have sat restlessly in classes where the message seemed dry and dusty, but not in the best classes. The words are fresh because people have been living them all week. They have real life examples of love and truth to draw from. They are anchored no matter what crazy, dangerous, unloving fad the media spins at them all week. The Bible is not a book or a reference manual for these people. It is truth and love in action.
Truth And Love In Action
I thought that deserved the repetition, because it is really a shocking statement when you take it all in. Truth – not spin or sales or manipulation. Love – seeking the best for others regardless of your own situation. Action – no theories or studies or conferences but doing these things in the real world of blood and bone.
As striking as a candle flame at midnight. Like a beam of sunlight breaking through storm clouds. Like angels appearing to shepherds. So shines a good deed in a weary world. They are not perfect. They are not exceptional. They are not elite. They are just people who believe deeply and act accordingly. And that, along with God’s love, is enough. In fact, it’s astonishing. Mistakes are made but there is humility and forgiveness. Love cushions many mistakes. Grace takes care of the rest.
To those who have meant so much to us I would like to say a public thank you. During our rougher days you people have fed us for months at a time, prayed with us in hospitals, stood nearby while death prowled, handed us money, urged us to sleep and eat, kept and comforted and entertained our children, given lessons for free, provided rides and clothes and sticky-sweet deserts. You have brought casseroles and pizza and soup and lasagna and countless chocolate pies. In a word, you loved us like your own. Though we were strangers. To this day it leaves me speechless. It makes me want to sing ancient hymns in hallowed halls and light candles. This post has taken me months to write to try to do you justice. I do not exaggerate when I say . . .
You are the salt of the earth . . . You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. ~Mt 5:13-14