Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Person Inside: Part 1- The Big Picture

First of all, no adoption news yet. But thank you for asking!
This post, however, is about something that I struggle with.  You, also, struggle with it.  Yes, you.  I may not know you, and you may not share my beliefs about Jesus.  However, my rather educated guess is that we have this in common.  Let me explain.
A short time ago I was riding public transportation with a friend.  As we sat and waited for the MAX to move, a young man came and sat across the aisle from us.  He was a little more friendly than I would have preferred: “Does this train go to Portland? Do you have change?  How do I get to Portland?  Where did you get your coffee?  Where can I get coffee?  How far away is the coffee shop?  Can I make it back before the train leaves?  Does the train go by the Rose Quarter? Can I borrow your cell phone?...” (Etc. etc.)  All these questions we very kindly addressed in the briefest manner possible.  

At a later stop, a woman got on the max and asked to sit across from him.  My first impression of the woman was someone who had possibly had a hard life.  Tangled gray hair, a lined face, maybe in her 50s, wearing a very low cut top, looking rather eccentric.  (Mid 50s and lots of cleavage is, simply put, not a good combination.)  I smiled to myself to think of the questions she soon would be bombarded with from the young man across from her.

Quite the contrary.  I have rarely heard anyone so kind and compassionate as this woman.  She proceeded to draw out this young man, show genuine concern and give affirmation.  She led him to talk about his family, his life, all the while being interested in who he was.  She was certainly a bit odd, but not at all how her appearances portrayed her.  

My friend and I discussed the scenario later and we were both humbled by the woman who showed a love and interest in a stranger when we weren't willing to.

Here's my point: People aren't always as they seem.  Let me broaden the spectrum.  The girl who had an abortion.  The young man that is constantly drunk.  The hi-school student experimenting with drugs and alcohol.  A single mother.  The boy attempting suicide.  The teen addicted to porn.  The girl with the eating disorder.  The woman with an obsessive desire for cleanliness.  The girl that you can smell from 10 feet away.  The cross-dresser.

Most of these examples are, for the majority of us, easy to judge as being “wrong”, “foolish” or “strange” in some way, and our natural reaction is to be a bit aloof and aghast at these people or their lifestyles.


What if we knew that the girl was raped at 13 and had an abortion out of sheer terror, shame and helplessness?  If we knew that the young man lost his mother and didn't know how else to grieve?  The student with a horrible home life and no good role models to turn to?  The responsible, faithful mother whose husband divorced her?  The boy whose father never had a kind word for him?  The teen stuck in his addiction and too ashamed and embarrassed to ask for help?  The girl who used diet and exercise to an extreme because it was the only way she felt self-worth?  The lady whose husband died and her home was the only part of her life she felt she could control?  The girl's family had no running water in their home because of their poverty.  The boy who has no solid father-figure to show him how to be a man.

Does our perspective change?  Do we suddenly have a heart of compassion for knowing a bit more of someone's story?  I would hope so.  It is so easy for us to make (and act on) assumptions about people and be clueless to the facts.  We become focused on the outward trappings, the initial impression, the stereotypes.  

Underneath, people are just...  people.  They have emotions, hurts, joys, compassion, and life experiences that make some of us cringe.  They need love, a listening ear, affirmation about their value, and sometimes a good kick-in-the-pants because they are making a stupid decision...  but only after being loved, listened to, and affirmed.

My challenge to me (and to you) is this.  Next time you see someone different than you, whether they fit any of the above categories, are tattooed, goth, poor, homeless, whatever it might be that makes you feel “above” them in any way, ask for God's strength to look past all of that.  Look past the assault to your senses and realize that there is a person inside of them, who may, in fact, have much to offer even someone like you.  People make stupid decisions.  I have, and so have you, and so have the people around you. Do not be hasty to label someone and put them in a box, because you have no clue who the person is inside their skin.  

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Random Thoughts on Leadership

Recently, Philip and I were asked to pray about a certain leadership role. For the briefest of moments, I
Hiking to a waterfall while visiting Philip's brother and his family.
panicked. Holy cow, that's scary! That would mean we would be in a position over all those people that I respect! Almost immediately I realized the flaw in my panic. Oops, leadership is a bottom-up position, not a top-down position. That would mean I would be in a position to better serve those people I respect. Hmm. Better perspective. Here’s what I mean:

In Matthew 20, two of Jesus’ followers had just approached Him and asked to rank themselves higher than the other 10 followers. Jesus responds,“You know that the rulers of the [non-Jews] lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave...”

In so many instances, people view leadership as something to hold over someone’s head: I’m in charge so you make my life more comfortable. I’m the top-dog, so you do the dirty work. You’re beneath me, so you do as I say. I’m the boss, so cooperate with me. Ever heard anyone say that? Ever encounter someone with that attitude? Yup, me too.

Here’s the problem. That’s not the kind of leader we’re told to be. That’s not the kind of leader Jesus modeled for us. And that’s not the kind of leader people like to follow.

One of the most well known passages in the Bible about leadership is what I quoted earlier from Matthew chapter 20. Jesus is saying not to be snobby about your position over those that follow, but to serve them. Weird, huh? It’s so opposite of what the rest of the world would tell us.

You've heard the old adage: “do as I say, not as I do”? Jesus wasn’t like that. He always had time for people. He valued children. He ate with the outcasts of society. He showed mercy. He was patient. He was always ready to teach. He did not regard social class. He was not defensive or advance His own agenda. He perfectly carried out the responsibilities given Him, even a HUGE personal cost. He took the jobs that were “beneath” Him. He loved the unlovable. He was not demeaning. He freely gave of Himself. He was not swayed by the political and social pressures of the time. He could not be manipulated or bribed. He was perfect. All the time.

Now, that’s one awesome leader to follow, isn’t it? And one huge job to imitate.

Just before Jesus’ death, He was having a meal with His followers. Now, there was no pavement on the roads, only dirt with open sewers. By the time the dinner guests arrived at their host’s home, slaves would have to wash and dry the guest’s grime-tainted feet. Glamorous job? But that is exactly the job that Jesus took on Himself. Yes, He was Lord, the great Teacher, the Messiah, the Son of God, all powerful. He was the Eternal God in the flesh! But He chose to lay aside His rights and privileges, and wash poop off sweaty feet. After this poignant example, He gives His followers one of the most convicting statements in all of Scripture: “I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (John 13).

A slave is not greater than his master. My master, my Lord, my God is indeed this Jesus who died so I could live. I am not entitled to any more than He had, regardless of my “position” here on earth.

Philippians 2 also makes the point: “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Hummingbird sticking out his tongue.

Be like Jesus who made Himself nothing, making Himself lower than everyone else, even to the extent of unjustly dying a criminal’s death. That is a tough calling. A tough commandment. A tough example to follow. But it is our standard that we are given by One who did it first and showed us how it looks.

Nope, I most certainly do NOT get it right all the time. In fact, I fall flat on a regular basis and will continue to do so. I’m still human. However, human-ness aside, it remains the command. I must follow.

(We have not made a decision yet, but continue to pray about the opportunity before us. In the meantime, the weight of Christ’s calling and example is certainly foremost in my mind, regardless of the decision we make.)