Love Everybody

My boss says that people like to take out their wrath on the cashier. Wanting to get back at someone or something, customers lash out at the cashier, knowing that she cannot say a rude word back.

Throughout this summer, people have certainly taken out their wrath on me. From their opinions on taxes and prices that I don’t even make to things that are unfair in their life or the way I obviously do my job wrong, in their opinion. I listen to it all, silently, smiling if I can, trying to hold my own anger in.

That makes it hard, as you can imagine, to love everybody.

Yet as a cashier in a Thrift Store, I’ve realized, that I am in a great spot to love others. I see my job not just as the facilitator of Thrift Store purchases, but also as a giver of grace.

People come to the store, broken, disfigured, poor, addicted, angry, upset, ruined, desperate. Others come clean, happy, put together, pouring money from their pockets. But its my job, I feel, to judge each person in the same way. To give grace to every person who walks in the door. Its my job to forget the past of each customer and treat them as if I’ve never seen them before. This is grace in the Thrift Store.

I’ve been reading an eye-opening book called unChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. It illustrates what people outside the church think of Christians. And it isn’t pretty. We’re viewed as hypocritical, pushy, sheltered, anti-homosexual, too political, and judgmental. There is barely a scrape of grace or love in us from the “outsiders'” perspectives.

This book has shown me how much we, as Christians, need to be grace givers and lovers of all people.

The store has shown me what it looks like in action. It is a difficult, if not impossible task on some days. People are rude, selfish, uncaring, trashy, quick to make judgments, unthinking. Many people are not receptive, they do not understand or try to understand.

And so I come home from a long couple of days of dealing with the public and I lash out on them in the comfort of my own home, at last. How dare they? Why do they do what they do? If only they could just ____!

But I am not asking the right questions. I am judgmental. I should ask, instead: who are they? and who are they loved by? and who am I to judge?

Because the truth is, the people who hassle me all day long are children loved and created by God. And I am just the same as them. I can be all of those things I said they were and more. I am no judge. But I am loved like they are — we are all loved together — by the same God who made the heavens and the earth.

So I try, again and again and again. For the umpteenth time. I try to remember grace and forgive others and love them for who they are, forgetting what they do.

And the people who are so clean and happy may be just as broken on the inside. Because I know that I am, too. I need grace and I need love just as much as the customers.

So love everybody. That’s what I’ve learned this summer.

Forgive and give grace because we have a God who is the author of that.

Love the world. Offer grace to people, too, even if they don’t accept it.

Because this is what it means to be like Christ.

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Because Love Is More

“When I was in Columbia…”

“On my trip to Cambodia…”

“In the Ukraine…”

I stared at all three of them in awe. It was my third night at the acting school and I had found, for the first time in the whole year that I had been back from Mexico, three people who felt exactly how I did about missions trips. Three people who had learned to love and be loved, give and receive, and had been humbled and changed on a trip just like mine. It was the answer to my prayers! My heart jumped and I listened intently to the people who also knew that love is more important than anything else.

Between each of us, we’d gone to four very different places. However, we could all identify with the same thoughts and feelings. We all knew that people are people wherever you go, and that the border you cross or the language you speak doesn’t change who you are in Christ. We understood that love is more relevent when you put differences aside and realize that you are quite similar to someone else.

There were stories of little children, beautiful children, who had taught us so much. Some of us shared stories of the power of the words, “I love you,” spoken by kids that we barely knew. We discussed cute, little children who clung to our knees and wouldn’t let us go because they loved us, too. Our hearts wept for the ones left behind, and inside each excited pair of eyes there was a tear for the loss that we had without them. We knew that love is more radiant and beautiful than anything else.

We each knew the interchangeable language that does not need to be translated and can never be misunderstood for we had spoken it on our trips. We spoke of times when there were no words needed because the other person knew. And, of course, there were the wonderful days when words were understood, because love just isn’t a foreign language. It was evident to us that the language of love is more understandable, true, and lovely than any other dialect in the world.

Most of all, we knew about the wealth of each country. We talked of the golden smiles and rich laughter, marvelous moments and wealthy words in Mexico, Cambodia, Columbia, and the Ukraine. We knew that money is not the most important thing, and that the true wealth of a person or country is not measured in coins or bills. The size of your house, the car that you have, or the clothes that you wear don’t define that either. Yes, we knew that love is more valuable and wealthy than any pot of gold.

Thank you God, for these friends and that the love that you sent us is indeed more than anything else in this world.

Seems Like Yesterday

Dear Mexico,

Its been a year since I left you. I can’t believe it has been so long. It seems like just yesterday when I was kissing you good-bye as the van kicked up dust, and we wheeled away, far, far away from beautiful you…

I remember when I first arrived, a bit nervous, feeling sick, but still bright, and passionate to meet you and sure that I would make a difference. It seems like just yesterday that I believed in myself and the myth that you were poor and the fairy tale that I could bring you through. How wrong I was, and how quickly you changed my view.

I can recall that pain that I felt the first day. The utter sadness that surrounded me, and how I wanted to escape. I loved you though and I think that is part of what held me through. I’ll never forget Joshua 1:9 and the feeling that God gave me through it. It seems like just yesterday that I learned to be strong and courageous no matter what the strife.

I still get flashbacks of that day of many firsts spent under your hot sun, and in your beautiful mountainside. I remember the sweat against my back as I picked up garbage, my first conversation in full Spanish, my sudden out-going nature, and the wonderful friends that I made. I can still see those girls and their mothers crowding around me for something as simple as hair elastics. I can feel the pressure, the tension, and the heat. Some would say that it was the first time I saw poverty but I call it the first time that I saw true love. It may sound strange to others, but I know that you understand. There was something so beautiful about that moment and the whole day, that I cannot call it poor. It seems like just yesterday that I learned about love.

I can’t forget Cadira or those other beautiful children that we met on our second outing. I can still feel their little bodies on my back, and their sweet voices clamouring in Spanish for a piggy back ride. I remember what it felt like to be really, truly exhausted…but still happier than ever before. I can still see their little faces, fading in the dust and feel the tears creep back into my eyes. It seems like just yesterday that I fell in love.

And I remember the afternoon spent in the market, haggling with people and laughing at my own foolishness. They were some of the hardest business people ever but the nicest ones, too. And I can still taste my first, real Mexican taco and see the beauty of your city from the mountainside where we sang and talked. It seems like just yesterday that I learned that people are people wherever you go.

No one can ever take away my memory of Jorje and his family and the build. I can still recall the nervousness, the hard work, and the love of those two days of sweat and labour. I’ll never forget Coolio’s words, “I love you Elizabeth.” He showed me that love is not a foreign language. I can still see Besenta’s strong but caring face as she painted alongside of me, and bound my wound. She taught me that sometimes, there is no need for words though love can still be felt. And Jorje runs into my mind daily, with his beautiful, brilliant smile and flashlight shining against your yellow sun. He showed me that indeed you are not poor. It seems like just yesterday that I was a fool learning all of these things…

This year has been a long one, full of grief and disappointment though not without its rewards. It seems strange to me that you still feel so close and near after one whole year but I guess that is what happens when you are in love. And do you know that I never got over you, no matter what anyone did or said? I always stood up for your beauty, despite what others thought and tried to make me agree with. I wept for you, Mexico. I love you and I am coming back. Just wait for me, keep waiting. Tell Jorje and Cadira and the others that I love them. I’m coming for you again. This time I know that I’m here to bless and be blessed, to love and be loved.

I wish it were tomorrow that I were coming to you but I’ll just hold on to yesterday to see me through…

Love,

Elizabeth

Grace Like Rain

c. 1632

Image via Wikipedia

The following post is a re-told version of my experience of a production of the Passion Play during my trip to Mexico.

I sat there, eyes watery, heart pounding, holding a slip of paper with my worst sins written out in a letter to God. I had always known that what I did was bad and that I was a terrible person but writing them out had really shown me the magnitude of them and I was now overwhelmed.

A man in a long white robe came towards me, and lifted me from where I was standing. He took my slip of paper and with it my guilty feeling. I felt refreshed, and relieved. As the man left, I realized that it was none other than Jesus! I ran after him, hoping to speak to him, praying that he would not disappear.

He hadn’t been too far in front of me but for some reason, to my dismay, Jesus was gone when I arrived. I stopped, sighed, and leaned against a palm tree for strength. I had been running hard and I needed a rest. I was weary, disappointed, and guilty again.

Suddenly, out of no where I heard shouts and cries and a piercing scream. I turned around to face the worst sight of my life. Guards accompanied a man carrying a cross while women and children wept and walked behind him. This wasn’t any man though, it was Jesus, my Jesus and He carried my sins with Him. I wanted to scream but no sound could come from my lips. I was too stunned, too scared.

They nailed Him to that cross with haste. I stood there, watching in silence. Tears clouded my eyes. I had always known that this was coming but I did not know how very much it would impact me. The blood streamed down his body. Blood that should have been mine. Blood shed because of my nasty, sinful behaviour. Blood shed by the King of Kings for the wretch that I am.

 “I’m sorry God, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. I didn’t know. Oh I am so sorry.” I uttered quietly. The tears kept flooding and the screams from the others grew louder. “I’m sorry!” I almost shouted, as if that would help. It didn’t. He still lay there on the cross, bleeding, in pain for my sins.

“I am so sorry…”

I felt awful. I was sweating and crying.

“Forgive me God!” 

The tears were pouring down my cheeks now.

Then, like a crash it was over. The crying died down and my tears stopped. Music sounded from the distance.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound. That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found. Was blind but now I see so clearly. Hallelujah, grace like rain falls down on me. Hallelujah, all my stains are washed away, washed away.

And then I heard His voice, so strong and firm and lovely, despite the pain. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

His voice seized me and filled me with joy and hope and then, even though He was dead, even though He had shed blood and been tortured and had died for my undeserving soul, I felt fresh and new and I could sing. For grace like rain was falling down, and all my stains were washed away…I had been forgiven.

Lyrics: http://www.christianlyricsonline.com/artists/todd-agnew/grace-like-rain.html

I Didn’t Know…But He Did

I’ve been sentimental lately…thinking about the things that have passed since last spring and how they have altered my life and my self. Most of all I’ve realized that I am not the same person as I was last April, last summer, or even in December when I started this blog. I’ve been changing like the weather of each season. I have blossomed and I have grown. I never would have thought it though. No, I did not know….

Last spring I was such a little girl. I was over-busy and stressed but I thought myself as happy as ever; I had a crush on a boy but I thought I was in love for life; I was excited to go to Mexico, and believed that I would bring joy through my wealth, and I was sure that my relationship with God could not get better. Little did I know that my busyness would bring disaster, my crush would fade away before I turned 16, I would become joyful through the wealth of Mexico, and my relationship with God was far from best.

In the summer, I never knew that my grandma would die and that I would withdraw from life, or that I would have my “first love” experience. Last fall, I didn’t know that I would be heart broken and that I would get through, that I was unhappy then and would come to a greater joy. I couldn’t see the tears and pain, the joy and smiles that were coming my way. I didn’t know what would happen, neither the bad or the good. I could imagine but I did not know. If you had asked me what I had thought would happen then I would have said something very different than what has happened.

And even now, months later I still don’t know what is going to happen. I am still immature and silly even though I’m better at managing my time, I know that I won’t marry the boy that I like in highschool, I understand what true wealth is, and I have a better relationship with God. Life isn’t a straight path at all and I know more than ever that it can and will be bumpy at times. But I’m not scared because I have a hope that is stronger than my dreams and ideals, my dissapointment, and tears. I have a hope in the One who knows everything because He created it with me in mind…for good and not for bad…and so I know, everything will be alright because He is in charge. Even though I didn’t know…He did and although I still don’t understand…He does.

I’ll be the first to admit that life is hard and that I get mad and feel hopeless. But because I know that I have a God who is wonderful, loving and will never desert me, I can have hope. I don’t need to be scared or worried or anxious. I don’t need to cry…and neither do you. Life is a puzzle that is confusing at times and we can’t always see how the pieces fit together or if they do fit together at all…we get frustrated and give up but in the end we must let our Dad put it all together. So just trust Him and let Him work, let Him fix the broken pieces, and finish your puzzle for you.

And it’s all because of Him….I didn’t know it then, but He did.

Thank You…

My last entry ended my 9-post-series on my time in Mexico last summer. It has been a wonderful time of sharing for me in which I felt encouraged, and was able to cherish many lovely memories. Thank you all for being a part of that! As I wrote, the culture shock from my trip was quite painful and releasing my thoughts and reading your encouraging comments on them has been a great help to me.

As iron sharpens iron, so one friend sharpens a friend.

Proverbs 27:17

THANK YOU!!!

Part 9: Because Love Is Beautiful

This is the last part of a series about my travels in Mexico last summer, a trip that God used to teach me many lessons in love, humility, beauty, and wealth. If you missed the first eight parts, click here

There was one word that came to my mind and lips throughout my journeys in Mexico. There is one word to describe it all, the heart ache and pain, the joy and the smiles. From the moment  our van went through the Mexican border, past the waving guards and into the mountainous, dry land strewn with garbage and ragged houses; through the hours of tears and pain and emptiness and into the light and joy of the Father; during the time spent laughing and playing, painting and eating with children who had crooked teeth and wore hammey downs with holes, uneducated women and men who spent their savings on alcohol and right on to my tears and memories of that place where it all happened, all I can say is this “It Is Beautiful.”

Yes, beauty, it is the one word to describe it all.  I was right when I told Coolio “Mexico es muy bonito.” I wasn’t just trying to make the woman with the toothless smile or Cadira with her crooked teeth and dirty shirt happy by telling them “Su es bonita.” I wasn’t lying when I told people back home that the Mexican culture is beautiful. Because it is just that. My experience was beautiful, the people are beautiful, the place is beautiful. Even the tears and even the pain, the imperfections and the garbage too. Yes, it is beautiful.

Why is it beautiful?  The streets are covered with garbage, the houses are small and often without roofs but the earth is just indescribably pretty, and the buildings are colourful. The people may not be able to afford braces or fancy clothes but they sure know how to smile and make a person feel loved. It’s beautiful because the Mexican landscape is dry and rich, and people wear smiles and welcome you to their country. It is beautiful because God is beautiful and Love is Beautiful.

Yes, if I were to pin point one thing, one action, one picture that made it so attractive I would say that it was love. Colour and richness make objects beautiful and that is what the Mexican land had. Open arms and big smiles make a person beautiful and that is what the Mexicans have. They are beautiful because Love is Beautiful.

When Coolio told me that he loved me, I was awed by his beauty. So few times in life do we ever tell others that we love them. I think that I can count on my fingers the number of people who have told me that they loved me and the same goes for myself. Often when I do say it, I say it with trepidation and fear. I always debate writing the word after a card or email, because the fear of love haunts me again. But why are we fearful? Why don’t we say it more? Love is Beautiful! And you know what, Mexicans know that because they told me that, not just in words but in their actions, from everything that they did and said throughout my trip.

Mexico may never reach the top three in world wealth, but it is rich in my mind. The government may have problems, the drug wars may prevent some people from visiting but I shall only identify Mexico with peace. The Mexicans that I met might not have had perfect smiles or designer clothes but the fact is, they did smile and they wore them with love and therefore, they are the most attractive people in the world. Why? They are beautiful because of love which is Beautiful.

Part 8: Growing Pains

This is the eighth part of a series about my travels in Mexico last summer, a trip that God used to teach me many lessons in love, humility, beauty, and wealth. If you missed the first seven parts, click here.

I may have left Mexico behind physically, but emotionally, my heart remained under a palm tree for the rest of the summer.

I stared at the computer screen, tears blurring my eyes as I tried in vain to write. I felt sad that day and I wanted to write an equally miserable poem to commiserate but the words just weren’t coming, just like the feelings that Mexico had conjured would not go away. All I could do now was cry…cry for the umpteenth time that summer, cry like I’d done on and off for no reason at all since the middle of July as I thought about the place and the people I’d left behind.

I didn’t understand how I felt at all. I’d had the best trip imaginable yet talking and thinking about it made me cry. It had been almost two months since I’d left but I still felt homesick for Mexico. In my mind I always wanted to tell others about my trip but as soon as I’d start, I would feel hurt, rejected, and sad.

I was upset that I wasn’t in “proper culture shock.” You see, I’d always been told that when you go to a place like Mexico where houses are small and people wear rags, that you’ll come back a changed person. I’d heard that first time missionaries always arrive home with a fresh perspective on wealth because they are touched by the poverty and it makes them believe that they are horribly materialistic and should give up everything. People had told me that I would feel sorry for the people, and that I would cry for the sad, little children without toys and the families that don’t have roofs over their heads.

When I got back, the sentiments were no different. People expected me to be changed in this way and to feel sorry for the people I’d met. One of the most common questions I received was “What did you think of the poverty?”

But in truth, I did not feel sorry for anyone. Although I had seen the small houses and children who begged for hair things and stickers, dirt roads strewn with garbage and a boy who loved his flashlight, I did not cry myself to sleep for it or lecture my family and friends on how they should be more grateful. And to the infamous question I could only say: “What poverty?”

There is no doubt that some people come back affected in these aforementioned ways but I did not. I came back sad but not for the children without toys but because I could no longer see those children. I came back feeling sorry but not over the house sizes, but because the size of my heart was not nearly as big as those of many of the people I’d met. I came back angry but not that I have more money than many in Mexico do but because I valued money more than love.

And why was I in pain over this realization? It was impossible to see then, but I’d left a piece of myself–of my heart, in fact, back in Mexico with the people I’d grown to love in the short time that I was there. I’d scattered pieces of my heart all across the places I’d been and with those that I had met. I was never to retrieve these pieces again and I could only look at them vaguely through the memories I had, the pictures I’d taken, and the rosary around my neck. I had received yes, but I had also given and though this giving had made my heart bigger I needed time to adjust, time to grow. As my mom said, I had growing pains.