There is little obvious to love about her. Her hair is unkempt, her teeth visibly rotten, her shoulders hunched, and her language often foul. This is what I used to see when I looked at her.
What, I wonder, is there that's obvious to love about me? I imagine myself at my worst. Hair unwashed, breath in need of improvement, pajamas with holes and stains in them, and no makeup on the blemished and wrinkled skin of my face. Not much to look at.
Maybe that's not where the value lies. If I look deeper at her, the other girl, beyond the physical appearance, what do I see? Poor choices. A history of drug and alcohol use. One child taken away by social services years ago, another in her care struggling, lagging far behind his peers. An abusive husband. Public assistance.
What if I look deeper at myself? I must look pretty good. My children may wear wrinkled clothes, but I'm in no danger of being declared unfit. I've never been addicted to a substance, and I chose wisely when saying "I do."
But, is that what's really there? I may look good on paper, but if the invisible deeds of the heart were brought to light, I know what you would see. What He can see. Selfishness, laziness, pride, deceit, obstinance, vanity. If you were a fly on my walls, you would see me speak too harshly to my children, put my own desires above those of my husband, lack gratitude, and be overly critical.
Really, what is there to love about me? I dare say not much more than there is to love about her.
I've prayed for the past year or two for God teach me how to love. He has been teaching me that He is love. Given that He said those exact words in the scripture, this should not be a revelation, but it has been. God is love. God elevated two commandments above all others: love Him and love each other. So what, He asks, if you love those who are nice and clean and smart and educated like you? Even the sinners do that.
Through praying, studying, and even reading a particular blog**, He began to make me understand that if I want to experience God more, I need to love more. That's where He can be found.
And that's where she comes in. About a year ago God told me to love her. Not just to tolerate her or be nice to her. To love her. It's taken many forms over the past year from providing transportation since she has no car, to inviting her and her son to come over and play with our dog, to helping her with groceries. I've talked to her about God, and she's made it clear that she does not believe. She does not care for God or Christians or anything about the church. That's okay, I told her; God loves her anyway.
A few days ago she was at my house needing help again. To her credit, she filed for divorce and got a protective order against her abusive husband. But now she couldn't pay her rent, and she was about to be evicted. She was told that day that the check she received from SSI the week before, a mere $350, was all she would receive for the entire month. There would be no second check. She was expecting a second check. Unable to pay the rent or buy any Christmas presents for her five year-old son, she was understandably distraught.
In keeping with what I believe God has asked of me, I helped her, with my husband's blessing. But, as I've done several times before, I also prayed for her. I closed my nose to the lingering smell of cigarettes and probably pot, and I hugged her, told her God loved her so much, and I prayed that He would show Himself to her and give her strength. She did not welcome it, but wanting the financial help, she tolerated it.
Today she came over again. You won't believe it, she said. The day after you prayed for me I got a call, and I'm getting a second check after all. I can buy Christmas gifts for my son. I can't believe it. They told me the day before that there would be no check, and then right after you prayed, they said they are sending me a check. Keep praying, she said.
And I will. Because we are really not that different, she and I. We are both flawed and blemished souls greatly in need of help. And, thankfully, mercifully, loved by a great, great God.
(**Jennifer Fulwieler, at Conversion Diary, wrote an amazing post about this subject a couple of years ago, but I could not find it to link to. So, I just linked to her blog. Pick a few posts to read; you won't be disappointed.)