“Coming Clean” by Michelle Jones

Are you one of those people who gives your teeth an extra good brush and floss when you have to see the dentist?  Do you wash the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, or tidy up before the housekeeper arrives?  How about shampoo your hair prior to a salon visit?

I don’t like using labels like “compulsive,”  “neurotic,” or “three sandwiches short of a picnic.”  Partly because I think labels alienate people, but mostly because I prefer my given name or an approved nickname.

Yes, I do all of these things.  One of them might, by itself, seem a bit quirky.  Two might deem an individual eccentric or maybe a little peculiar.  Once counting begins to feel like compiling though (and don’t get me started on my whole laundry obsession!), I think we’ve moved on from quirks and peculiarities to symptoms of deeper things.

It didn’t take much prayer to diagnosis my issue.  God was obviously interested in making a point.  Underlying each of my foibles—and possibly yours—is the basic belief that people never get things as clean as you want them unless you give them a little help, a head start, if you will, to raise them to your standard.  I see it as a favor really, though I must confess that I also mentally take some of the credit for great outcomes.

This may not seem like such a big deal when we’re talking about teeth or dishes, but we are a different story.  Redeeming an unclean soul is a much bigger job.  It’s a God-sized job, and we can’t contribute in any way.  On our best day, our standard is no standard at all compared to His.  His standard is PERFECTION.

On Easter—Resurrection Sunday—we celebrate and acknowledge our zero involvement in our salvation.  Jesus died to do for us what we could not do for ourselves, not help us with something we’re merely struggling to do better.  God sacrificed His Son to do more than just clean up our behavior.  He is “making us clean,” something we have no power or desire to be on our own.

There is a line in the movie “The Philadelphia Story” where Katherine Hepburn says to Cary Grant, “Oh Dexter!  I’m such an unholy mess of a girl!”  That’s my anthem more often than I’d like to admit.

I wish I did things well and right even most of the time, but I don’t.  I’m terrible with my money.  I am overweight.  Right now, my apartment is a mess.  My relationship with my mom could be better, and with my two older brothers.  Envy, dishonesty, hopelessness, depravity, meanness, and cowardice all live in me, waiting for permission to speak.

I am an unholy mess, but Jesus died—and beat death by rising again—for this unholy mess.  By His Spirit, I am becoming new day by day.  If I have any grace to replace my taste for vengeance, it is because He gave it to me.  If there’s any correction in me, it sprang from His wisdom.

We have no gifts to offer the world except that He empowers us with them.  We have no purpose that was not born in His imagination.  There is no forgiveness for an offense that wasn’t driven through the spikes that nailed Him to that cross.

Without Him, we are nothing and we can do nothing, least of all become clean.  And if we can say anything at all to God, or can hear anything from Him, it is because Jesus made a way for it.

Like David, I wonder sometimes, “What is man that you are mindful of him, or the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps. 8: 4)

I try not to spend too much time there.  It’s too easy to wallow in my own unworthiness and forget what I’m worth to God.  I am priceless to Him, and He proved that when He bought me with all that He had.  If I’m never good enough for someone else—if I am never pretty enough or smart enough or nice enough to meet another person’s standard—I have proof that I am worth a King’s ransom!

You got a bad deal, Lord.  That’s what I used to think.  Paying so much to get so little didn’t make sense to me for a very long time.  But Love, I have learned, is about giving, not getting the best deal.  To pay everything for nothing is PERFECT LOVE.

To take an unholy mess of a girl, and give her the power to become Your beloved daughter… That’s just GLORIOUS.

(Wow.  I thought I was obsessive about my laundry!)

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Stop Smashing the Angels! by Michelle Jones

My mother seemed pretty average to me for most of my life.  Like many she cooked, worked, and expected chores and good grades in return for lodging my siblings and me in her uterus for 9 months and then putting a roof over our heads after that.  She did do some uniquely wonderful things though that I didn’t really appreciate until I was grown and on my own.

Good meal etiquette mattered to my mom.  We knew how to set a table at a young age, and eat with one hand in our lap until we needed to use the knife.  We didn’t talk with a full mouth, or chew with our mouths open.  Eating with elbows on the table particularly bothered her, and whenever she saw it, she would tell us to “Stop smashing the angels.”

A little history:  She explained to us once that whenever you ate a meal, God stationed angels around your plate.  I imagined they were very small and had good eyes and quick reflexes, because she said they purified your food, and kept you from choking on fish bones and such.

Elbows on the table in our house meant squashing these benevolent celestials and presumably leaving yourself defenseless against all sorts of gastro-catastrophes.  I couldn’t be sure if there was room in Heaven for angel killers with food poisoning, but I was not willing to risk it.  None of us were.  We took it for granted that the angels were there, and for the most part, we kept our elbows in check.

Many years and many meals later, I’m still certain the angels are with me; only now, I have scripture to back me up.

Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? Hebrews 1: 14

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. Psalm 34: 7

For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. Psalm 91:11

Lately I have been challenged by the notion of those tiny angels around my plate.  Mom never said anything about them watching out for my elbows.  They just watched out for me.  In return, I respected their presence and their position.  My table manners were proof of my regard for them.  That said, I wonder:

Do I take God’s presence for granted?  Do I recognize His position in my life, and if I do, is it provable by my actions?

If we’re honest, most of us don’t really like the idea of availability and accessibility as presumptive qualities.  We want the option to bestow or withhold our gifts at will, when it feels right to us.  Open for caring 24-7?  Who does that?

God does that.

“I will never leave you or forsake you,” He says.  We should believe that, and yet, how many times have we secretly wondered if—not when—He would act on our behalf in a circumstance?  Faith doesn’t wonder about God showing up.  Faith assumes He’s here already—even if He is invisible—and acts accordingly.

More than anything else, the names of God communicate a passionate determination to be close to us, as a protector, comforter, and defender.  He is jealous and fiercely possessive, tenderly affectionate, eternally devoted.  He demands our whole heart, mind, strength, and soul.  He gave all that He had to have us in the Person of His Son, Immanuel, which means “God with us.”

This is not the behavior of someone who loves at arms length, or who takes time off from loving us.  Our God is not content to sit on the edge of a dish and look at us.  He will not be satisfied until there is no space between us, until He is the breath inflating our lungs, the rush of blood through our veins, the thump-thump pulsing in our chest.

He is Jehovah-Shammah, The Lord who is present and accounted for, not just watching us live, but giving us life.

What then is my response?

If I know He is with me, am I calling out to Him?  If I am certain He is God, am I worshiping Him?  If I believe He is omnipotent, am I letting go of the reins?  If I am convinced that He is faithful, do I trust Him?  If I know that I was worth dying for, will I refuse to barter myself for the attention and approval of men?

The Lord can be our Shepherd, if we’ll be His sheep.  He’ll find us green pastures, but He won’t make us eat.  The still water, the rod, the staff, the anointing oil—none of it matters if we insist on going our own way.

Oh, to have the wisdom and courage, in all things, to let God be God; to keep my elbows at my sides and let His angels run free!

Psalt For My Wounds #1 by Michelle Jones

Who am I that You should care?

Who am I that You should choose to share?

Who am I but Yours?

That is enough, and still it overruns my shore.

 

Who are You that every star is Your story?

Who are You that my ugliness is Your glory?

Who are You but everything I need?

That fills me, and still it gives me room for more.

 

Lord, I love You.

You are my ear and my song to You.

You stand alone between me and me wronging You.

If not for You…

 

Who are We that You lift and ground me?

Who are We that You’ve lost and found me?

Who are We but helplessly, hopefully, eternally together  in Love?

That consumes me, and wonder of wonders, it makes me whole.

Courage to Encourage by Michelle Jones

The road to Hell is too often paved with “good advice.”  I found that out one day during one hell of a conversation.

I shared my plans to take on my weight with my friend Lee (not her real name).  I told her how excited I was about my quest to “release weight on the inside and shed pounds on the outside.”  I dreamt aloud about being able to become free in my own body and then help others get free.  My enthusiasm was evident.

Then I heard that hisssssss that happens when you toss a bucket of water on a burning fire.

“You look fine.  Your clothes fit you fine.  What kind of standard are you trying to live up to?

“Look at my frame,” I told her.  “I should not be carrying this much weight on this bony frame.  I have more fat on me than is healthy.  Plus, the pounds are just an outward expression of inward issues.  The inside is my focus.  Once that’s dealt with, the pounds take care of themselves.”  I was sure she could hear me grinning proudly from ear to ear over the phone.  I was wrong.

She seemed agitated by my answer.  “I don’t understand.  Why can’t you just be satisfied with the way God made you,” she snapped back, “with whatever bones and flesh, and puffy fat you have?  Why do you have to beat yourself up?”

“This is not the way God designed me!  I did this to me.”  I was so frustrated.  I was making sound, practical, honest sense to my own ears.  Why wasn’t she hearing me?

“I have obviously not been a good steward of the body God gave me,” I said.

“Says who?  That’s just low self-esteem talking.”

Was she actually fighting me about this?

“Look, I just want you to be happy,” she finally said.

“Want me to be whole,” I countered.  “Want me to be healthy and healed.  Want me to be willing to do the work, even when I’m not happy.  Want me to have joy, which doesn’t always come with being happy.”

“I just want you to be happy.”  She said it again.  It seemed to depress her and take the wind out of her sails that I wasn’t willing to settle in where my bad choices had put me.  She sort of sighed like she was giving up on her pathetic friend and said her good-byes.

I thought about how desperately she was trying to change my mind about this.  She really thought she was helping me.  And she was angry that I was being so stubborn.

How much damage do we do when we fail to encourage a brother or sister’s attempts to improve themselves?  How badly do we hinder their progress when we push them toward complacency and compromise?  “God loves you just the way you are.”  How many times has that beautiful truth been used to murder someone in pursuit of her destiny?

Of course God loves me just as I am.  And because He’s God—unchangeable and complete—He or His love will not become greater if I am fitter, richer, or nicer.  Nor will it lessen if I take up drinking or stripping.  God’s love for me is not in question.  And it’s not the point.

The point is this:  If I decide to become someone better than I am, ENCOURAGE ME.

If I choose to evolve, grow, break free of some things that have held me bound for too long, ENCOURAGE ME.  Don’t keep showing me the easy way out, or the low bar.  I’m stronger than that.  Let me live up to the expectations of the Spirit within me.

If I want to go deep into my soul, and pull out all the painful, ugly, garbage that keeps me afraid of intimately connecting with others, ENCOURAGE ME.  There is no safety in hiding.  There is only loneliness, and none of us wants to stay lonely.

Pain and discomfort are a part of living, but you do me no favors when you tell me to embrace the consequences of my transgressions along with the suffering.  You are not helping me when you ask me to be satisfied with running half a race.  There’s no such thing as half a win or a partial prize.

ENCOURAGE ME.  Give me some of your courage, because I may be afraid as I move forward.

If you don’t have any courage for me—if you have no confidence in me, or you are too afraid that I will fail—say nothing at all.  Just watch and pray.

And when I finish this race, I will encourage you.

Habitat or Humanity by Michelle Jones

When I think of home...

Two weeks in Kyrgyzstan was going to be Heaven or Hell on earth.  I had to decide which.

The Kyrgyz people were visibly shocked at the sight of African American me.  They gawked, gasped, and pointed me out to their children.  Some of them stared until I passed and then laughed.  Long story short, I got more attention than the statue of Lenin being removed from the square at the center of the capital city (I know, I was there).

Whenever there are differences—between people, places, or things—it is the nature of humans to be distracted by them.  Inwardly we draw distinctions and make decisions based on whatever conclusions we’ve drawn.

The pretty people and their rich friends are given a pass.  Old white women clutch their purses as they walk past young men of color.  Students make fun of the new kid.  Married women are suspicious of the divorcee in their midst.  The articulate are listened to before the less literate.

In Kyrgyzstan, the dark woman with the round eyes was a distraction.  I don’t know if I was deemed better or worse, but clearly I was worthy of more notice than others.

I was certain they meant me no harm, but I can’t say I didn’t feel injured.

My discomfort had little to do with feelings of inferiority or rejection.  I was feeling what many people feel in schools, on jobs, at churches, in marriages and families—among “good people” every day.  I was feeling HOMELESS.

The people of Kyrgyzstan taught me something I could not have learned without some pain.  We have to be deliberate about creating a “home” for the people who encounter us.

Metaphorically, home is a place of welcome and belonging. It is designed to reflect care, decorated with a smile, warmth, or an understanding heart.  Its windows—our eyes—are made for seeing people, not just looking at them.

When we decide to make a person feel at home with us, we do more than just greet them or take note of them.  We notice them.  We are interested in what brought them to us, and concern ourselves with what will keep them safe and happy while they are with us.

Home is different from “housing.”  Anyone who is or has been in a loveless marriage will tell you that.  We build housing for people when we allow them to occupy our space without allowing them to make it their space too.

It is easy to think we have done right by people because we haven’t raised a hand against them or didn’t slander them to their face.  But is it enough that we have done no harm when we have done no good in its stead?  Can we call ourselves innocent because we didn’t inflict the pain we see in someone’s eyes if we close our own eyes to it?  Isn’t it easier to be hated by someone you’ve never met than be ignored by someone next to you?

If we only see a person for a moment, that moment should be infused with meaning.  Consider the world that God created before He created us.  There is water for drinking and sun for light and energy.  Plants give us what we need to breathe and eat.  Without words, we know that earth is our home.  Before we were created, we were welcome here.

What kind of home have you made ready for the people around you?  Is there a place for the hurting and the happy, the worker and the wounded, the curious, the committed and the confused?  Can Miss Fit and misfit alike find acceptance with you?

A few days before I left Kyrgyzstan, I attended services at a small Christian church.  As they sang worship songs, people were turning around to stare.  Before his sermon, the pastor asked if there was anyone in our group of visitors who wanted to say something.

I went to the front, not sure what to say, but knowing I should say something.  When I looked into their faces, I had an unexpected revelation.  They were looking at someone different from them…and so was I.

“These have been the two most uncomfortable weeks of my life,” I said, and I told them about being stared at and how it made me feel.  They listened without judgment, without defensiveness.  As the translator spoke for me, I saw a few heads nod and smiles make faces a little wider.

Then I opened myself up fully and invited them into my fragile, messy home.  They treated it like their own.  There was tenderness in the weathered faces.  I had had their attention for weeks, and now they finally had mine.

Kyrgyzstan is more than 99% Muslim.  It struck me suddenly that a Christian in that land is as uncommon as a dark woman with round eyes.  I talked about how it should be as difficult to walk away from Christ as it would be for me to come out of my skin.

“You are my brother,” I found myself saying to the man directly in front of me.  “And you’re my sister…”

I went on pointing out person after person in my newly discovered family.  The smiles were toothy grins now, and I heard “Hallelujah!” and “Amen!” like popcorn all over the tiny room.  I was home.  We were home.

The moment took my breath away and these beautiful people changed me forever.

Earth is most like Hell when we are kept from and keep others from belonging.  It is most like Heaven when we make ourselves, and others, at home.

O Come Ye Unfaithful by Michelle Jones

What sticks with us most growing up is not the memory of what is given to us, but what is lost or taken away.  I suspect it is because we are born without disappointment, ready to receive, certain that our sucking mouths will be filled, and that our outstretched hands should have and hold every object of our desire.

Baby Love is this:  I ask.  You give.  I am satisfied.

Demands for simple things—food, a dry diaper, safety—are usually met and keep us in this posture of entitlement…until someone offends us.

Offense—any infliction of pain or withholding of pleasure—is our first signal that the world and its people have the power to rob us of control, stall our drive, and make us doubt the wisdom of expectancy.  The first time a parent ignores our cries and leaves us in the crib to sleep through the night, we are outraged, and that feeling doesn’t leave us easily.

If we are honest, somewhere deep inside us is the belief that trusting people entitles us to their faithfulness.  It’s an infantile notion—the stuff of tantrums—that remains in us because we don’t know how to challenge it and win.  We don’t know how to declare the world unfaithful and still have hope while we’re in the world.  This puts us in one of two postures:  perpetually disappointed or perpetually hopeless.

How do we discover and experience love among imperfect people in an unsafe world?

First we grow up.

Love is a very high cliff over a very deep ocean.  Only fools “fall” in Love.  The wise count the cost of it, know the worth of it, then willingly make the sometimes arduous climb and JUMP into it.

Love is not blind.  It sees the world as it truly is—in all its ugly and clumsy incompleteness—then reaches for it, drawn not by potential reward but need.  Adults know that caring is no guarantee that you’ll be cared for, and people who offer love with demands for loyalty usually cannot be trusted to deliver or appreciate either one.

Second, we become skilled at the art of forgiveness.

Pretending nothing happened is not the idea here.  If my brother’s aught against me is not real, pardon is unnecessary.  Forgiveness is not forgetting to remember, but rather remembering to forget.  It is choosing, with each thought of vengeance, to let your offender off the hook because there is a measure of grace burning a hole in your pocket.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe we have grace enough to spare.  But consider this:  How weak and deflated is the spirit of a bully?  How much evil does it take to shrivel the heart and create an abuser?  How long does the mind have to steep in ignorance and bile to produce a racist?  Grace doesn’t know the answer to these questions, and it takes pity on those who do.

Finally, we experience love in an imperfect world when we stop trusting people to be anything other than people, and start trusting Love.

The only thing people have the power to do perfectly is repent.  Don’t expect him to behave.  Expect Love to behave.  Don’t look for her to guard your heart.  Love will do it.  Relationships don’t heal us.  Love heals us and relationships.

Love does not keep us free from pain.  Bullies and abusers will always be with us on earth.  But Love will keep us free in pain.  Oppressors walk naked and unhidden before us when our pity exposes them as the only victim left in the room.

What sticks with us most when we live a life of Love is not the memory of what is lost or taken away, but the good we are fortunate enough to leave behind.

Love is this:  You need.  I give. We are satisfied.

The Eyes Have It by Michelle Jones

Sometimes life interrupts life, without warning or apology, and our expectations take a bit of a hit. We adjust and we survive.  Then there are those times when our own decisions—no matter how right or well intended—shatter our insides and cause huge chunks of tomorrow to suddenly disappear.  There is no adjusting then, only falling, into the pile of ashes that used to be our dreams.

This is the rest stop on the way to Beautiful.

My appointment with Dr. Christine Lee was still consuming my thoughts as I watched Adam and Grace exchange their wedding vows.  Sitting alone amongst the other guests, pieces of Now flitted by me like parade confetti, barely noticed, unclaimed, and then gone forever.  It’s hard to pay attention and die at the same time.

“I think you’ve made the wise decision,” Dr. Lee had told me.  “We’ll take out your uterus but leave the ovaries.”  She was sympathetic and knowledgeable, the kind of doctor you want when you’re finding out that what you’ve always counted on can never be.

I will never have children.

I had done the right thing.  There was no question in me about that.  It was a responsible and courageous decision, the return on an investment of focused study, prayer, and good counsel.

I will never give birth to a daughter or son.

Adam and Grace, newly Mr. and Mrs., breezed past my pew.  They appeared blissful and confident, a couple looking forward to everything awaiting them.  I was glad for them, and for a moment, I seized a piece of their joy and made it my own.

Later, at the reception, my friend Terri spotted me and waved me over to her table.  I didn’t see her husband Kent and presumed he was off somewhere kiddie wrangling two of their three children.  Terri was holding onto their youngest, a pretty doll-baby named Taylor.  I approached them kicking myself inside.  What was I thinking?  A happy mommy bouncing a happy infant on her knee was the last thing I needed.

“Hey, girl, and hey pretty girl.”  Instinctively I reached out to touch the baby.  I was not ready when she responded by reaching up for me with both arms.

I hesitated for just a second, and then I took Taylor from her mother, scared to look at her, scared to like her, scared that one smile from her would bring Never crashing down on me for the hundredth time in the past 24 hours.  I was so scared that the tears filling up my eyes would fall and never stop. Terri’s other two children walked up and she was temporarily occupied, confident Taylor was all right with me.  I wasn’t so sure I was all right with her.

That fragile emotional landscape where we are both undone and unseeing is a terrifying stretch to navigate.  We are raw, weak, and vulnerable; walking wounds wearing fake smile bandages.  Here, safe places are scarce, because well meaning words can cut as deeply as thoughtless ones, and pity is more often salt than salve to the heart exposed.

Taylor was fidgety so I stood up and swayed with her in my arms.  I sang and spoke softly into her ear as we slow danced.  It relaxed us both and we settled into each other like old friends.

I will never hold one of my own like this.

It was a huge fist punching a hole through the floor of my heart and my despair was suddenly bottomless. The only thing holding me together was sorrow and the tiny person breathing on my cheek.  I held onto my friend a little tighter.  She laid her head on my shoulder and I inhaled her sweet baby smell like my life depended on it.

I’m not sure when or why, but I stopped singing and began to share my pain with her.  She didn’t understand a word I was saying, but she didn’t seem to mind the transition.  She didn’t complain when a few of my tears fell into her fine curly hair.  Then, something quite remarkable happened.  Some of my sadness began to leave me.

I noticed it right away.  Taylor must have noticed it too because she lifted her head from my shoulder and tried to look directly into my wet eyes.  I shifted her a bit so we could face each other properly.

She stared more than looked, right through me it seemed.  I didn’t hide anything from her.  If she had cried, it would have destroyed me.  I was that breakable.  She didn’t cry.  She just stared.  So I stared back.

Her eyes were round and clear, so clear that I saw myself in them, like I was looking into two little mirrors.  It wasn’t normal.  I could actually see my facial expression.  I smiled, and I could see my teeth.

We are never left with only one way to see anything.  Rain is bad for a hairdo, but good for the earth.  Losing everything also means you have nothing to lose, so go for it, whatever “it” is.  Fear can paralyze you or present an opportunity to be courageous.  The depth of misery is also proof of our capacity for love.

Seeing myself in Taylor’s eyes taught me one of the greatest lessons of my life.  Because I do not have any children, all children have me.  I am free to belong to every one that I encounter.  For a moment, an hour, or a season, I am theirs.  My attention is theirs.  My smile is theirs.  My joy is theirs.

Oh, and before you ask Well Meaning and Piteous, I have not ruled out adoption, and I am open to marrying a man with children.  But those are issues for tomorrow.  Today, I have no children.  Today, there is nothing where my womb used to be.  Today, I cried as I wrote this.

But…

TODAY IS BEAUTIFUL.  Today, my body is empty, but my heart is full.  Today, I am available and accessible.  Today and every day, I am grateful for YOUR children.  Can you say the same?  Today, I am free to love.

Me, Myself & You by Michelle Jones

The flight was full and short staffed.  I barely made it to the gate before boarding.  First, the line at ticketing was longer than usual and it seemed that everyone had under an hour to takeoff.  Then the underwire in my bra set off the metal detector at security (seriously?).

I waited in a tiny Plexiglas holding area for the woman who would pat me down.  She was a pinned-up, tiny-voiced moppet of a woman wearing blue plastic gloves.  I could see over the top of her head each time she came to inform me that she would be “right with” me before walking off to tidy the area around the conveyor belt.  Check me if I’m wrong, but does neatness really count if there is a Victoria Secret bomber in your midst? I’m just sayin…

Helplessly I looked at the guy moving luckier passengers through the line.  He sympathized but could only smile and shrug.  “Hey girl, I’d pat you down, but you know…”  He was cute, but I was stressing so my flirty comeback was tucked away in my carry-on.  Maybe next time.

Finally, the moppet let me out of my Plexiglas cell and I followed her to the body search area. Of course she had to explain the entire procedure beforehand while my laptop slid this way and that in the plastic bin balanced precariously on her hip.  I was agitated and didn’t bother to hide it.  I tried to use body language that would make it obvious that I was in impatient.  She responded with body language that said she was not.

I looked around for a clock.  Oh, did I fail to mention I left my cell phone at home?  I couldn’t even call anyone to complain about how much it sucked to be me at that moment.

“Thank you,” she said, signaling the end of our encounter.  The blue hands holding the metal sniffing wand left my body.  I packed up my things and left without a word.  By the time I got to the plane, people were lined up and ready to board.  I got on and found my seat—7B.  Great, I’m in the middle…of two guys.

Once seated, I was bugged all over again about leaving my phone, the work I had on my plate, the closeness of the seatback in front of me, a fussy baby a few rows up, that there was no movie on this almost four-hour flight, and the fact that everybody is onboard, but we’re not moving.  Why are we not moving?

As if on cue, the pilot’s voice—equal parts Elvis and Ryan Seacrest—came over the loudspeaker.  “Welcome to US Airways flight 196 with service to Phoenix, continuing on to San Diego.  We’ve had a bit of a problem.  One of the bags fell out of the overhead bin and, well, it fell on someone’s head.  It was a kind of a heavy bag, so we’re gonna have the paramedics come on board and make sure the passenger is okay before we take off.  Sorry for the delay.” And he was gone.

You could hear the groans from front to back.  I saw heads shake and eyes roll.  The attendants looked apologetic.  I was imagining a bag falling on top of my head unexpectedly.  That had to hurt.  And then suddenly, something hit me hard in my knower:  Did any of us really CARE that someone could be hurt?

It was the first time since I woke up that I wasn’t thinking about myself.  I was driven to the airport by a dear friend who took my keys and promised to overnight my cell phone to me.  If I’m being honest, I was more relieved than grateful and still bothered that I would be without it for the next 24 hours.

A man I don’t remember kindly directed me to the ticketing kiosk.  I checked my bag with a woman and took my luggage tickets from a guy I thanked but didn’t see because I was already walking away.

I remember the woman ahead of me in the security line because she was walking just slow enough to annoy me.  She had a really bad limp and it looked painful to walk.  How dare she not hurry when I was in such a hurry?  A moment later I was serving up attitude to the elfin security agent.  I did not smile at her.  I did not thank her.  I did not show her any kindness.

Tens of thousands of men, women, and children are dead and dying in Haiti today.  A 7.0 earthquake has leveled the island and destroyed countless lives in the process.  It has our attention because it is catastrophic, tragedy on a hideously grand scale.  Unfortunately it often takes such things to draw our focus and sympathy away from ourselves.

People walk dead and dying around us every day, but we don’t see them.  We don’t hear them gasping for air under oppressive lives.  They cry, but their tears dry on their faces and we don’t notice them.  Some of them live with us.  Some of them are us.

Then there are those who aren’t necessarily suffering, but their lives are waiting for us to enter with a smile, some respect, a kindness, or maybe just a little attention.  There will be no great acknowledgement that we were there, no rewards given, no fanfare.  Just a gentle reminder—given and received—that we are not alone.

In Good Hands by Michelle Jones

Once in a great and wonderful while, if you tilt your heart at just the right angle, a sea of ordinary will offer up a pearl…

I was stopped at an intersection one afternoon, waiting for the light to change, when I saw a car on the opposite side of the street pull over to the curb.  A woman hopped out and went around to her trunk to retrieve a towel.  When I saw that she was walking out into the street, I checked behind her to see if there were any cars coming.  They were pretty far off, so I turned my attention back to her.

She was in the middle of the road, kneeling and reaching for what I now saw was an injured bird.  She covered his head with the towel so she’d be able to move him without scaring him.  If he had seen her hands moving toward him, he would have attacked and pecked at her, ignorant of her intentions.  Since he was helpless and blind, he just submitted.

She made it over to a patch of soft grass near some bushes, put him down, and then uncovered him.  He was still helpless, but he was in a better place.  Maybe he’d stay alive until he could fly again.  The odds were certainly against it, but I still hoped, you know?  Of course the bird had no hope.  He was likely just waiting to die.  In nature, only the fit endure.

Satisfied, the woman got back in her car and continued on her way.  My light turned green so I did the same.   As I drove, though, I prayed for that bird.  I prayed for him knowing that he couldn’t and wouldn’t pray for himself.  God understood and ultimately, the decision was His.

The pearl?

I have friends who have loved me enough to pray for me when I couldn’t pray for myself; to hope for me when I had no hope in me, and be my eyes when I couldn’t see past the black hole of my pain.  They didn’t ask my permission.  They knew I was too broken to walk or agree with them…so they interceded for me, without me.

The world says, “God helps those who help themselves.”  In actuality, God helps those who are helpless.

Thank God for God.

Showing Up by Michelle Jones

The sky was nothing nice the morning I flew back to Atlanta from Detroit.  It was cold and the grass was frosty.  They were expecting icy rain in the Motor City, and I was so glad I wouldn’t be there to see it.

My friend Monique’s father had passed away.  He had not been present in her life for most of her life, but she walked with him in his last days battling lung cancer.  Amazing! Grace like that comes straight from God. She made all the arrangements, calling aunts, uncles, and cousins she barely knew to tell them that their relative—in truth, a man she barely knew—had died.

The funeral was in Detroit, so I showed up—not for the service, for Monique.

When you think about it, “relative” is a pretty relative term.  “Family” isn’t always connected biologically, and many of us live, eat, and sleep with relative strangers.  What really makes us belong to one another?  How do onlookers know that you and me have a “we” between us?

The answer is simple, if not always easy to execute.  Whenever they can, family shows up.

In those few days with Monique, I was struck by the value of the GIFT OF PRESENCE.  We all have it, but I suspect it is one of the most under-used of our store of offerings.  We don’t know how much it means to others that we are in touching range, holding range, that our voices are carried on warm breath and not over wireless networks or through satellites.  There is a lot to be said for tight hugs, firm shoulders, and hands that wipe away falling tears.

Monique couldn’t be more my sister if we had entered this world through the same womb.  I prayed for her, talked to her, and counseled her, but nothing mattered more to her than my getting on a plane so I could be with her.  I was so grateful to be able to put a reassuring hand on her during the service, drive her around to run last minute errands to Kinko’s, or to have a place for her to retreat to when things got a little overwhelming.  We shared my bible and watched TV.  We ate too much, and playfully argued about who lost the spare room key (she did, of course).  We tried to see who could imitate Popeye’s laugh the best (I did, of course). We wept over the frailty of people, and the awesomeness of God.  We ate, shared, laughed, and cried TOGETHER.

Too quickly it was over.  We hugged and went to our separate airlines for our separate trips home, she to Los Angeles and me to Atlanta, carrying within us the gifts we received from one another.  I’m not always good at showing up, but being with Monique reminded me that it is the ultimate act of Love.

Love comes to see about you.  Love shows up as open arms when he sees you coming, without needing to know why you’re there.  Love shows up as ears listening for what you mean, not just what you say even if you say nothing.  Love is a card, a call, or some cash when it needs to be, but Love becomes flesh whenever the opportunity presents itself.

We are most alive when we are present, not just accounted for. Where did you last show up?

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