Love the one in front of you

How do you change the world?

Heidi Baker said it well:

Love the one in front of you.

Change does not happen through programs and speeches and books and status’s and tweets and music and community groups and fundraisers and blog posts.

One day we have to realize that the only person responsible for making change happen in our community and city and country and world is ourselves.

I cannot control my circumstances or the people who appear in my day. But I do have everything to say about my choices in response to each and every person in front of me every day.

I used to search out change, dream about changing the world, create plans of action to really impact the world.

And then about a year ago a subtle change happened and I really didn’t realize it until others called it out. I think it’s because I was just living who I was in my natural environment but my perspective on people had shifted somehow.

Just over a year ago my vision for Greenville unexpectedly became This is my city“, and when you own something you naturally act differently towards it.

Suddenly the homeless person walking by my company to buy alcohol and drugs across the street to feed his addiction was my problem. When Michael’s trailer became condemned and he had nowhere to live that was my problem. When a friend came to my house after being abused for months that was my problem. When a couple driving through Greenville needed their laundry done that was my problem. When a new friend quit a strip club job because of her choice to follow Jesus and had no place to live that was my problem.

It was pretty difficult. And often awkward. I mean, seriously. Whenever someone admits need and you give them something, it’s pretty awkward. It would’ve been so much easier to complain. “I can’t believe there was an open drug deal outside our office. We work in such a bad neighborhood.” “Why doesn’t Salvation Army take care of Michael? That’s what they’re there for.” “Man, people always have an agenda when they ask for something. They’re such manipulators.” “Wow, some men are just abusive pigs and some poor girls just fall for it. Let’s pray about it.”

I would say the past year I’ve been stretched financially more than I ever could have imagined. My heart was split open over life stories. I had several emotional breakdowns. I had to deal with using my last dollar to provide for someone and then watch them use money they were given to buy dress shoes and eat out. I had to learn to be rejected, and then to forgive, and then to keep giving when my ability and desire was completely wasted away. I had to deal with other people (Christians) upset about my generosity because it interfered with their lives. I often felt alone and unable to know how to make decisions.

So, yes, from that perspective it was hard. Loving was challenging. Giving was an obstacle.

And yet…

I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Look, you could offer to totally pay off my school debt (which is a lot) in return for the past year and I would laugh and say to you…

I told you the struggle, but now let me tell you the joy.

The joy of inviting that laundry couple over for dinner and hearing them tell me how they met Jesus radically a few days earlier, having the husband drill me about why I live the way I live, and then laughing at their ridiculous story of “rafting” down a river in Louisiana on an air mattress. The joy of driving Michael to church a year after we met him, watching him get baptized while I am wrecked into tears about his crazy story and our experiences. The joy of standing next to my friend during worship as she raises her hands in tears in praise to God for freeing her soul and I have to stop singing because I realize that only a month ago she had been in a strip club, broke, lonely, and had no hope to cling to. The joy of realizing that all the promises of Isaiah 58 are mine to claim and then watch them unfold in my life.

I didn’t search for these joys. I didn’t wake up one day and decide to find someone and impact their life. I think I realized who I was, which is a chosen child of God, which means the Spirit lives in me, so I naturally think and act like Jesus, so when a person in need is in front of me, I simply act like Jesus did.

Sometimes that was surprising. Sometimes it was celebrated. Sometimes it was impressive. Sometimes it seemed like I became a celebrity.

Can I just say that when we know who we are that acts of love and kindness and generosity and healing are completely normal? Why is it not normal that we have the homeless living with us? That we feed the hungry out of our paycheck? That we personally give our good clothing to those in need?

Isaiah 58 became my rallying cry and my source of promise when things got in deep and dark. And FYI, it’s for all of us. And it’s not figurative. It’s literal.

We are all world changers. The question is will we live up to our potential? And I believe that potential is very simple: Love the one in front of you.

One. just one.

And it’s funny. After you love one, suddenly it becomes two. And then three. And pretty soon people start thinking you’re this courageous, impressive person and you’re like, “Um, I’m just living. like a normal person. that knows Jesus. Hey, you can too! We’re really not that different.”

Stop the meetings. Stop the bullet points. Stop the noise. And let’s live our normal day with Kingdom eyes and watch some pretty freakn’ amazing things start happening.

I get it. I finally get it.

I get it. November 18, 2011

That was the title to the blog post I wrote exactly 1 year ago. God had just given me a really clear revelation about purpose, specifically about my purpose here in Greenville.

However, the blog post mysteriously never got posted.

wh-what happened?! Did I have a ditz moment and simply forget to press the Publish button?

eh, no. No, actually I had a lot of fear. I was afraid that God really was doing what I thought He was doing, that he had answered my prayers and revealed my direction.

I wasn’t ready to commit to Greenville. My heart was not prepared to truly say, “This is my city and these are my people.” I thought the Kingdom was really happening somewhere else, and to publish this post would’ve held me accountable to other people. as if God didn’t already know. I was arrogant, prideful, and fearful. So typical. It’s as if I look for God, ask God for God, yet when he shows up, I take what I want and brush the rest aside. Um, why does he want me again? He’s pretty good and gracious. that’s why.

It wasn’t until August 25 this year that I heard God speak to me again about Greenville, my city. But that’s a story for another time.

So this was one of those I get it!” moments that in all reality took a lot longer to “get” than it should have. but whatever.

*****

Illumination happened today. It was a time where in a single moment the oddly shaped erratic puzzle pieces of one’s life come together in this beautiful, sensible design.

The 5 months between graduation and moving to Greenville to start a new job were probably the most seemingly unstable days of my life, bar nun: 14 homes, 9 churches, 4 countries, 6 cultures, 15 beds, 7 ministry offers, thousands of dollars. In the end, I was still broke, jobless, homeless, and directionless, without a clue of where in the world I was supposed to be. That, unfortunately, was not part of the plan.

I couldn’t muster up in my mind what would practically be my next steps in life. Nothing, and I mean nothing, was happening. Even in my desires. And it was frustrating because I know I am to live my life on purpose. Vita by Design, right? I honestly felt at one point that the fact that I had a blog with this title was a joke. Nothing seemed purposeful. I didn’t know what to do, so…do I just not move?

Well, I did a whole bunch of not moving for what seemed like an unbearable amount of time.

One September Monday evening, while in Fort Wayne Indiana, out of nowhere a thought jumped into my mind: I need to go back to Greenville.

Interesting. So this new thought spurred me to email Dan, my friend and former shepherding group leader, if he knew of anyone in town that may be hiring since I was thinking about moving back to Greenville, though I really didn’t know why. It was just an inclination (hint hint…HOLY SPIRIT!).

The next day, Tuesday, Dan “happened” to be meeting with the owner of the only company that I had interviewed with in downtown Greenville back before graduation. So Wednesday morning Dan called me to tell me that the owner said that he needed to hire someone soon—come to find out, very soon. I called the owner that hour and talked the situation over. By 4:00 I had accepted the job and was due to start work on Monday morning. 5 days later.

I probably don’t need to express this, but I was obviously rejoicing over this ridiculously quick job provision. How amazing, right? Isn’t that a cool story?

God had bigger plans.

God does not move people to jobs. He moves them to strategic Kingdom opportunites. Jobs are just so this-world.

Though it’s a company with a fantastic reputation in the Upstate, the location is probably one of the worst in Greenville. It is sketchy with an extra healthy dose of sketch.

The first day of work my boss took me to lunch and mentioned as we drove out of the parking lot, “Don’t walk around over here. This is a crack corner.” And where there’s drugs, there’s violence. Not gonna lie—I was often frightened. My elder at church, who is a cop, had many stories to share about that corner. Chases, busts—one time he caught this guy from America’s Most Wanted on our corner.

This week 2 guys were standing right outside our front steps doing a drug deal.  In broad daylight. Twice in the past month there were huge fires right across the street behind our building that were started by the homeless. I heard gun shots one morning recently.

I wouldn’t normally tell people all this. But I just wanted to let you know that I had a pretty scary view of the area and tried to be as risk-free as possible.

Yet every day I drove by these people I saw their broken lives and remembered the women I lived with this summer in Betel. That was the potential for these lives too. Yet who am I?

I’ve been reading and dissecting the Beautitudes and just read “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” I had to really talk with God about this because I desire to show mercy to these people, which involves building relationships. Yet at the same time I understand the implications, and for a single girl to make any relational advances in a predominantly male culture is obviously scary. I needed help and direction.

The very next day on the way to work the main road was blocked so I had to take my own detour to get to work. Divine intervention? I drove through side streets near my work and saw what I’d never seen before in this town. This exists in Greenville? Broken homes, broken lives. Wow. But, where did I fit in with this?

I went to a party last night and afterwards there was tons of extra food. I saw the huge plate of croissant sandwiches and the thought came that maybe I could take them to the homeless nearby. I texted a friend that does outreach on this side of town to see if she would take me during our lunch hour.

She came by the office the next day and we got in my car. We turned left out of the parking lot and had barely passed our building when she said to turn left down a gravel road. Wait, this close? It’s basically right behind our building.
We parked and walked underneath the bridge. There was a fire pit where three people were standing around stoking the fire. Two people drove in behind us on a moped. To the left there were several tents all along the ground, and at the top the embankment was a row of tents with slits in the sides to come in and out. A single picnic table was in front of us, which is where we set the food. We talked with the few people there.


I knew.

I knew in that moment why I was brought to this job and back to Greenville. Since last January God had been tearing my heart up over the ones that his heart breaks over. For the broken people. He led me to Betel. An amazing, unique experience. I knew my life was forever changed, yet I had no idea how it would practically play out in my life. I felt this urgency that I would have to come up with something—he gave me the desire, shouldn’t I move forward with it?

He did it. All without my help, my ideas, my suggestions. Within walking distance of where I spend 1/3 of every 24 hour day, I have strategic connection with the broken outcasts of society. Today’s mission. I had prayed for ability to show mercy ministry— and He answered.

Before I asked, before I even knew to ask, he was preparing me.

Want to fall captive to a regime? Stop believing in resistance

I’ve been thinking about culture. Specifically about the societal cultures I’ve lived in. It’s amazing how people can be so “awed” by various cultures you’ve experienced.

Example. I work in a really sketchy part of town. There’s the homeless, drug addicts, pushers, prostitutes, thieves, alcoholics, criminals. I see them every day. I know a good number of them by name.

In my free time I have been able to meet them, talk with them, go to their “homes,” open up with them. Some may refer to it as “outreach” or “your ministry.” The way I see it, it just happens to be the street God sent me to work a full-time job, and where he sends his people he sends the Kingdom, so that’s my responsibility. So don’t feel bad if you don’t know this unique culture. You have your own street, your own job, your own neighbors.

Often people say to me, “Wow, you are really courageous.”

Yeah sorry, but not really true. I know– it seems that I should always be on guard and somewhat frightened, while also aware and careful, constantly speaking bold words to my heart.

But honestly once I’ve spent enough time in one culture, I gradually start losing all sense of resistance and awareness. I stop noticing things as much. After time it becomes normal. “There goes another prostitute.” “Another drug deal going down.” “Another robbery.” “Another passed out drunk.”

Then I stop thinking. I stop resisting. I start accepting

And once I’ve lost resistance, I’ve lost my independence, both of mind and action. Anyone can make me whatever they want. Because resisting is hard and causes friction and emotion. It’s much easier to accept and move on.

Recently I was listening to Josh Garrels as I was running and his song The Resistance started playing. The words immediately shocked me and at the end of the first verse I almost had to stop running. I think my jaw dropped.

I realized quickly that so much of my life has been giving up resistance over and over and over until I have become something of a robot, void of questions and explanations. Think on this:

See the secret committees, commence with their meetings 
To make red tape in response to simple questions.
Questions threaten the perception of the beneficial systems 
A pyramid scheme with it’s cogs and it’s pistons
Mechanization of men, making more and more 
Live in a miserable existence.
How can so few, claim so many victims 
And this begs the question 
My rest is a weapon against the oppression 
Of mans obsession to control things.
Look at the long line of make believe kings 
The lord of the flies wants you to kiss his ring.
Follow new rules with invisible strings 
And become a puppet in the diabolical scheme. 
How do good men become part of the regime 
They don’t believe in resistance.

I hate conflict. My whole life I’ve tried to peace-make circumstances and people around me. If I was recognized for something, it had better not be because I resisted a system or expectations. Seemed logical enough. So I started accepting and hardly questioning because resistance drew way too much attention to myself.

After some time in my culture the past year, both at work and the surrounding neighborhood, I found myself being okay with evil. It just didn’t bother me as much any more. It became normal. Everyone was doing it or simply accepting others doing it. But you know what happens once you stop resisting evil? You close off capabilities to recognize and love truth. And that’s a scary place to be. I did become aware and scared and was forced to ask questions.

And that’s when I found that to evade resistance would grant me a first class ticket on the “I’m Wasting My Life” flight.

It’s hard. Resistance is one of the scariest practices, yet the alternative is worlds more frightening.

You know what could eventually happen when people stop resisting? Look at history: Brain-washed disciples. Tyranny. Scandal. Evil. Nazi regimes. Genocide.

But you want to know what else is making me hot right now about resistance (interpret as Angela sees this in herself first and makes her sick)? We know full well about the causes that needs resisting and change. We get so upset about our government, the path of society, our economics, our degrading culture…and what do we do?

We post status’s.

We share opinionated memes.

We borrow other people’s thoughts.

We virtually “like” ideas without committing to doing them.

If you call yourself a Christian and your city is hurting and falling apart, you’d better stamp your name on the face of the problem because Jesus sent his Kingdom to your streets, city, and country through your hands, feet and mind. And the last time I checked his Kingdom is peace, and healing, and success, and freedom, and growth, and joy, and prosperity. So if that’s not happening in your city, own up to it and get to work. Cause it’s your responsibility.

Start resisting.

It’s going to be difficult. Resisting always is. But we can’t allow people to have a longing for the kingdom without inviting them in and living it’s reality.

Word of caution: Be very careful in your practice of resistance. Is your banner defined by hating evil or loving truth? When you start thinking and questioning you’re going to see a lot of messed up stuff. A lot of hypocrisy. A lot of evil. So will you channel your resistance into aggressive exploitation or will you intentionally proclaim truth and love and grace? If your resistance causes vengeful disunity and damaged reputations as a result of your actions, no matter how much those people and organizations “deserve” it, you might need to rethink your approach.

Yes, you may say that Jesus clearly spoke woes against the Pharisees and exposed their evil hypocrisy that they were using for their own means in the name of religion. But you know what he did afterwards? Matthew 12. He went right back into their place of worship, where they hung out and spent their time practicing their religious hypocrisy, and he healed someone. Jesus’ resistance resulted in healing and freedom. Every act of resistance was with Kingdom advancement as it’s core drive.

And that’s a great example to follow.