down to earth love
On a June evening, five years ago, we sat in an ER room with our youngest, just a year old, and we were not certain she was actually going to live through that night. The frantic calls to my husband and my mother, the memory of my four other children sobbing on the front porch as we drove off in the squad with a baby that wouldn’t quite wake up, and this overwhelming anxiety because no one seemed to be able to tell us what was wrong with her had started to catch up to me. She still wasn’t really alert or responding very well to pain stimuli, and we had neither answers nor definitive hope. I was calm on the outside, but flat-out scared on the inside.
That’s when a friend from church walked straight into that room with its uncomfortable chairs and colorful walls. She hadn’t called or texted first, at least not to my knowledge. She wasn’t even that close of a friend. I don’t mean that in any negative way - it’s just the facts. We weren’t ride-or-die besties. We’ve, to this day, never done anything just the two of us. It wasn’t the kind of relationship where you expect someone to come in a crisis. But she came anyway.
She didn’t come with flowers or food. She didn’t read us any Scriptures or pray out loud. She just walked into the room. There are moments in your life that burn into your memories as permanent additions, and this was one for me. I didn’t need fancy. I didn't need food. I didn’t need money. I didn’t need words, frankly. I just needed someone to show up, and this woman was love in the flesh for me that night. She showed up. Her presence was enough.
We trick ourselves out of making a difference sometimes. We convince ourselves that we’re not good enough, talented enough, that we don’t have anything to offer. We don’t know what to say, so we don’t even make ourselves available. We tell a story about how our differences are too great, how the divide between us is too far, how we don’t feel comfortable enough to do anything. We let our comfort and our convenience dictate how we interact with others far too often.
Showing up is the answer to all of that. Everyone is good enough to just show up. You don’t need a special talent to just make an appearance. You don’t have to bring anything, you don’t have to say anything, and you don’t need to offer anything except your presence. Differences and divisions and disagreements don’t matter when all you have to do is place your physical body where it needs to be. Set aside your illusions of comfort. Be willing to be inconvenienced. Show up. Be love. You’re enough.
Every week, I'll offer some reflections for your Advent season. Use some of the readings and suggestions, all of them, none of them - this is an invitation to go a little deeper than what the bright and busy retail season typically calls us to.
Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angels gave the sign.
Worship we the Godhead,
Love incarnate, love divine;
Worship we our Jesus:
But wherewith for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and to all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.
"The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word. The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one.
Everything was created through him; nothing - not one thing! - came into being without him.
What came into existance was Life, and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness could not put it out.
The Life-Light was the real thing: Every person entering Life he brings into Light.
He was in the world, the world was there through him, and yet the world didn’t even notice.
He came to his own people, but they didn’t want him.
But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves.
These are the God-begotten, not blood-begotten, not flesh-begotten, not sex-begotten.
The Word [Jesus] became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son,
generous inside and out, true from start to finish."
John 1:1-5, 9-14
Come, Lord Jesus. Fill us with the radical love you brought down to earth. Open our hearts to you and to all those whom you love, friends and strangers alike. By your spirit, stir us to move beyond our comfortable places, that we may use our hearts and our hands to share your love with the world. For it is in your holy, loving name that we pray. Amen.
(Rachel Billups from Down to Earth)
SHOW UP FOR YOURSELF
Each week, I’ll share a spiritual rhythm or habit that helps me. Some of them might feel uncomfortable to try. I encourage you to try it anyway - there’s no growth without stretching. If this stretches you too far, however, feel free to pass it by.
Palms up, palms down prayer: Sometimes we get so caught up in our own junk that it’s impossible to hear from God or love others well. This is a rhythm I use frequently to let go of my baggage and allow God’s love to wash over me and fill me. Only when I’m being filled can I really let that love flow out to others. Try it for just 5 minutes. If you love it, try it for 5 minutes a day. (or more, if you’re feeling adventurous)
Get comfortable in a seat. Back straight, feet on the floor is best.
Put your hands palms down in your lap. Raise them so they’re hovering just above your legs. Think about the things that are distracting you from loving God and loving others. Maybe it’s people who’ve hurt you. Maybe it’s stress over your job. Maybe it’s negative self-talk that you can’t seem to get rid of. Now try to find a way to visualize letting go of those things. Let them drop out of your hands to the ground. I find it helpful to clench my fists and then release them as if I’m literally letting go of all of the stuff I’m hanging on to a little too tightly. Do this as many times as it takes to feel like you’re letting go of what you need to relinquish.
Now, turn your palms face up. Let God know you’re ready to receive whatever He has for you. Open your hands fully, in a gesture of surrender and openness to receiving love. Be willing to take whatever God has for you in these minutes. Maybe it’ll be a sense of His love for you, maybe it’ll be peace for a situation you’re facing. Maybe it’ll be a nudging or leading towards your next right thing. Physically placing yourself in a posture of openness and surrender will help your mind and soul follow suit.
If you find yourself getting distracted, focusing on stress you’ve placed on yourself or that others have placed on you - just turn your palms back over to release it and then turn them back up to receive. Do it as many times as it takes during your prayer time.
SHOW UP FOR THOSE NEARBY
Here is where the challenge will likely hit home every week. An invitation to show up for others in the every day. And if you do? Please share! I’d love to hear how you make this invitation your own.
Who can you simply show up for this week? What are you willing to give up to love others well?
Do you know someone in the hospital? Maybe you hate hospitals, but are you willing to be uncomfortable for the sake of someone else?
Do you know someone who’s grieving? Maybe you don’t like to think about death, but are you willing to let go of your own peace of mind to love someone who’s struggling through loss?
Do you know a friend who just needs, well, a friend? Maybe you have a full schedule, but are you willing to be inconvenienced to gift someone with your presence?
SHOW UP FOR THOSE FAR AWAY
Here, each week, I’ll give you a non-profit recommendation to research and consider giving to. We can’t usually show up in person for people around the world, but one thing we can do is support the people who are.
I planned to start with an organization near and dear to my heart. One that we personally give to monthly. When I went to their site to look at their values - guess what the three big mottos they list are? Love anyway. Show up. Get out of the way.
This confirmed my instinct that this is the right organization to start with. Preemptive Love has a mission that matches their message. They are stay-ers. Their primary work is in Iraq and Syria and has been for years. They are the first to get places with emergency relief because they’re already there where it’s needed. Rather than just being a short-term mission, they want to be the last to leave because presence matters. Preemptive Love works to provide humanitarian relief, local jobs, and long-term development. They are committed to peacemaking above all else. Check out their website for more info.