Monday, January 18, 2016

My Default Setting and My Neighbor

The last time FedEx posted it was on the default settings, places we go when life makes no sense or things simply aren't right. I am learning that we also have a default setting when it comes to how we view the people we come in contact with on a day to day basis. What do we think when we see a panhandler on the corner, or an obviously homeless person pushing a shopping cart full of all their worldly possession or the neighbor and his wife you can hear fighting all the way across the neighborhood or the hungry children in far away countries fill in yours right here. We are a "presence" ministry, which means we spend a significant amount of time explaining to people that this is just a fancy way of saying, we love people right where we find them in tangible hands and feet of Jesus kinds of ways. As you can imagine, this means we have a very eclectic group of friends. I would be the first to tell you that I really love everybody and don't see people through different lenses at all, but last week something happened at my daughter's school that reminded me that embracing my "neighbor" is a little tougher than I think it is sometimes.

Our 6th grade daughter has always been home schooled through a public virtual option available in our area. This year, we have the option to "send" her to school up to 2 days a week at our very small base sight. On her days leading up to vacation, she was working with a team of 6th and 7th graders to build a city. They had to create a city with government, services and retail, etc. and the only rule was that all people in the city had to be equal. "Diamond", as she is known in our street ministry, came home after this project and she said "Mom our city must be a dictatorship, there are these two girls who took over our project. They did what they wanted and didn't want to hear anyone else's ideas." I asked her if she tried to put in some ideas and she said she did but she felt a little silly about it. I asked why she felt that way and she said all her little ideas were rejected and she just quietly watched until...the kids in the group voted to put the city's prison in the middle of the lake stating that they didn't care if they drown because they were all just bad people anyway. At this my daughter got angry and said that they were NOT going to put the prison anywhere bad or dangerous because they were people too. She then told them "I have friends who are in and have been in prison and they are not bad people, just people." At this, the others in the group looked at her as if she was very weird, but agreed to put the prison somewhere else. She felt like she was really a weirdo and wondered why the kids looked at her so strangely. My daughter was quite shocked to learn that most people know very few people who have been to prison. For the most part those they do are reformed, cleaned up and look like regular people or they are just THAT family member no one talks about. They certainly don't have a circle of friends like ours, former outlaw bikers, former drug dealers, street people, addicts at various places on the roller coaster, all beautiful pictures of God's power to redeem ANYTHING! Most of them will probably never clean up, cut their hair and go on to look like "regular" people. These wonderful people, who love our family so well, who have walked with us through so much, have such powerful testimonies of God's grace are our friends/family and this is how my precious girl sees them. To her, they are amazing people not just a list of felonies and offenses.

So how does this fit with default switches?? Well, I can tell you that it challenged me to look again at how I look at people. When Diamond first told me the story, I simply told her that she did a good job of sticking up for others as she had been taught, but I really struggled to feel that sense of parental pride when your kid actually does what you taught them to do. Please don't misunderstand. One of the passions that FedEx and I share is to be a voice for those who don't really have one so it wasn't her defense of the voiceless that I wrestled with it was the reality that we are not just a regular family. We really ARE weird, so the looks on the girls' faces were completely justified. We really are surrounded by people who are homeless, addicted, felons (sometimes all three in the same package) and this just isn't true of most people. We are also close friends with doctors, award-winning college professors, missionaries of every sort, stay at home moms, pastors and the list goes on and on. This seems to be a more "normal" list, for sure. This caused me to think about how I view ALL of those in my circle. Do I look at the professor or the doctor different than my friend who lives under a bridge? If so, then something in me is still broken. When God looks at them, He sees His image as that is how we were created. He sees their heart, He sees the potential He has for them, He sees their need for Him and His own longing for them to draw ever closer to Himself because He wants that to be our default setting. It took me a few days to process my daughter's story and it has also been a process for her because when I told her I wanted to write about her, she wondered why I wanted her to look silly in front of other people. I told her I was so proud of her for sticking up for people, even imaginary ones, who didn't have a voice to stick up for themselves. This is what I really want her to be as she grows up. 

This whole incident has shown me that my own default is still a work in progress. My natural bent is to wonder if it is right for my daughter to be surrounded by the people who are in our circle. Should she know so many people, with such crazy histories or should we have raised her in a much more sheltered environment? When I was much younger and before some pieces of our journey made us misfits ourselves, I would certainly have found it easier to have chosen the latter. In those days I had the illusion of a quiet, normal, middle class life. My daughter's wonderful reaction to injustice, reminded me that a little of that still lives in me, but her default is different. She really looks at people and sees them as people, no labels attached. She has been this way since she was much smaller. She would walk around in the park where we served food, praying for people with a young college girl who came there every Saturday. These two girls were never afraid to lay hands on or hug any of the people there, no matter how they looked or how long it had been since they bathed or what their reputation said about them. (For those of you who are worried at this point, they always went in pairs or groups, always in open public and always, always under the watchful eyes of some really big bikers.) The adults would give her Bibles to pass out and people would accept them from her when they wouldn't otherwise and she became famous for saying "Read this, it tells you how much God loves you". That is kind of a funny story, but the reality is that the innocent way in which she loves people has led some to Jesus through walls the adults in the group could not have broken down. My daughter has always had a sweet innocence about her that allows her to see God's image in people in spite of their outward appearance or reputation.  Apparently, I am still learning this in some very real ways and her story was a wake up call that not only do I bear God's image, but the heart of my calling is to see it and call it out in those around me, no matter what has marred or buried that image deep within them. In essence, I am continuing to learn what it is to see others through God's eyes.

FedEx teases me sometimes because I have a habit of forming relationships wherever I go. When we go to my usual Loaf n Jug to get a soda, I introduce him to the people there. I know their names and ask them questions that show I know their stories and he just shakes his head because I can't just go into a place without finding someone to love and love to me means getting into people's business so I know how to love them well. There are some who are resistant to this process, but I am pretty persistent in praying that God will break them down over time. I pray for the people I meet and look for any opportunities to share my faith with them, but this is often a slow process. People have so many misconceptions about who God is and believe they are really too messed up for Him to love them. There it is again! The image of God in them is shadowed by pain, abuse, the false and negative messages the world speaks that push against our hearts like a bulldozer. Messages that bring hopelessness and the terrible burden of never quite measuring up.  These messages are the complete opposite of grace, redemption and a God who loves them so completely, He sent His son to buy them back and restore the image of God in them to what it was meant to be.

One of my favorite verses is John 1:14. In the Message it reads "The Word put on flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood." I have come to understand that my neighborhood is really wherever I am. I love to hear people's stories, but it is also hard work as there is so much in the world that is painful and hard. There is so much that cannot be fixed and all we can really do is offer to carry the burden with them. To continue to call out God's image in them. To remind them how much God loves them and longs for them to have a relationship with Him through Jesus. And to remind ourselves that this Gospel is not just for them, the seemingly lost and broken but for us as well to remind us that even though we are redeemed, we often forget the truth of God's image in us and His love for us and walk as if we are still lost and broken and without hope. An organization that we just love, called the People of the Second Chance, has a slogan (it was one of my window stickers on my truck until the carwash killed it!) "We the free, amplifying hope in the darkest places." This mission is never ending, as we all struggle at times to see truth and to hold onto hope, no matter where we are on our journey of faith. We need to practice reflecting truth and hope! We need to practice seeing ourselves and others through God's filter until this becomes our default setting.

How about you? Where is your neighborhood? Who have you been called to be Jesus-with-with-skin on to? Where have you been called to love that seems harder than it should be? Do you see the outward appearance or the image of God in people around you? How about when you look in the mirror? Know that you are so loved, wherever you are!