The Labor of Love

December 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

1 Thessalonians 2:1-12

Instead, we were like young children[a] among you. Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. 10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

Check out the words of Paul. He gives us a window into the disciples’ way of spreading the Good News of Christ. They go in with a message. Following the guidance of Jesus, they approach like servants, delivering that message with both word and action.

Imagine the Thessalonians, hearing the values Jesus espoused for the first time. As Paul enters to teach he rolls up his sleeves to work. Caring for others, contributing to others’ work, they worked and sweated together as Paul shared the message. He shared it in words, and he shared it in actions. Give more than you take. Broaden the family. Try love, says Jesus. Open sesame.

People are looking for this kind of open-armed embrace. People with a loving core reach out for love; but too many find closed doors. Through the log in the eye comes a chant from the inner circle: “Get clean, get clean, get clean.” But it’s more about adhering to culture than to ethics. “Get in line, get in line, get in line” seems to be the actual message.

Hey, Episcopal Church: I’m about to praise you, again. In the seeds of The Church rests a radical message; and I do see it described each week. In practice, the Episcopal Church is open-minded, curiousity driven and respectful. A range of beliefs exists within; and no argument need take place nor exact point be agreed upon. It is justice, peace, love and equality that define it all.

This weekend, we had the chance to attend the Light-Up Night Christmas Parade. Unprepared for a Washington parade, we had no umbrella. We darted from leafless tree to leafless tree, leaving a trail of lukewarm hot chocolate. Finding a prime piece of curb, we stopped. It seemed wrong to stand openly in the rain, but there was no other option. Huddled in the chilly dark, we listened for a far off cadence of a marching band.

A couple stood to the right of us, a young man to our rear. My boy, in typical open love, started a conversation with the young man. The young man’s shy, loving eyes glanced from my babe to me. A space of kindness and understanding was created between us and my boy slipped right in.

His name was Grant, a teenager, a satellite of his friend’s parents. The edges our of experiences crossed at the curb. My son asked boldly for a share of Grant’s umbrella. Grant lowered it with a tender smile, and stood in the rain. I ceased to wait for the parade. I had found something else to watch.

I didn’t let Grant stand in the rain. I got him to raise the umbrella and urged my sweet one to stand closer to him. The three of us continued to fellowship in the wet night as we waited.

It was almost a taste of Glenwood in those few shared moments. We touched on justice. We touched on the needs of our fragile earth. We exchanged small bits of concern and messages of kindness, beads strung together on the thin band of time that stretched itself from our tiny, new community to the distant start of the parade. Like jewels, they hung in the wet and in the dark; and they glittered, with love and with hope. Every young, conscious mind is a hope for tomorrow.

“Walk in love, as Christ loves us” they tell us in church. You say it over and over until it’s meaning fades away. Brought sharply back to the words “walk in love” the world takes on a new shape when we look around.

On our way to the parade, I passed a woman playing air guitar on a large, guitar-shaped cardboard imprinted with the image of a pizza. My first reaction was amusement, but it didn’t last. It was raining. The woman was easily in her early fifties. She was standing in the rain, playing air guitar on a cardboard pizza. What was this woman’s life like? What was it like to earn your living by humiliating yourself in the rain?

Some of you may think my question is poorly thought out, or inappropriate. “Hey, in today’s economy, she’s lucky to have a job!”  The point can be taken well enough. I don’t have one. My daily searches have, as yet, been fruitless. My efforts to sell my own work are a struggle. Still, I’ve been in her shoes. From her point of view, it’s probably hard to feel lucky.

A few years ago, I escaped from a maniac. After living for over a year as a prisoner on a remote farm, I was cautiously free. I had no money, and no work. He had taken everything. My job of over nine years had ended because of him. My car, just paid off, he destroyed. My radical feminism and insistent independence was kicked, punched, raped and strangled away. My thin legs were poor crutches for the load that I bore.

Have you ever heard of Liberty Tax? They do a promotional gimmick at tax time. They hire people to dress up like the Statue of Liberty and dance at the side of the road. I took that job.

When I went in to try on the costumes, a problem arose. My abuser had worked me very hard. He had fed me very little. Around my bones I wrapped yards of cloth that dragged on the very near ground. Being winter, after I layered up with five layers of sweat clothes, I was ready for the rainless, Arkansas cold. At 40 years old, I stepped to the curb dressed like a statue, nearly as lifeless, down to my core.

I danced. With earphones in my ears, I danced on the side of the highway. Often, there were tears running down my face. I laughed into the traffic. My laughs ricocheted within the cavern of my being, looking for a seat. From inside, I listened to my voice and I watched my face. I was radiant. Inside, I was an animal fresh from a cage. I broken, beaten and raped, odd green rags hung from my bones beneath a foam headdress. I was lucky to have a job.

After a few small checks, it was done. Soon my sons would start to grow and I would have to run. To all those people who passed me on the road, I was forgotten. My family was within me, and we were moving on.

That night at the parade, we cheered and we screamed. We scrambled for candy (most of which would not be eaten) and exclaimed at the animals, music, cars and lights. As we did, our eyes would flash at Grant, our partner in the glittering spectacle out in the rain. A momentary bond of peace, love and kindness was forged.

Grant’s kind face was an opening. I treasure it when I find them. There are moments, small windows, that we slip into as we travel through life. In this town, they are few. That makes people like Grant all the more precious as we look for purchase on uncertain ground.

Today was my birthday. My babe and I celebrated by making a cake in the crock pot like we did for our friend, Kris. When he asked to lick the bowl, I set few limits. His clothes and body were soon covered as I watched through the thin veil of adulthood. I reach towards his joy.

We are not finding this coast as open as we hoped. Experiences like those with Grant are very precious. Sadly, people often turn their backs to us, even ignore my boy when he tries to speak to them. Yet I know, difficult as it is, in this experience lies an important message from God. I listen for it, and I wait.

Today was also the Feast of Saint Nicholas. We celebrated with other people from our church. The boy and I volunteered to help. We showed up early to sort and position ornaments for the tree. In fellowship, I worked along side Buddy and Stephen as we laid the foundations for the children’s’ decorating bonanza.

Balls rolled, glass broke, and my sweet one ran for the dust pan, each time. At the end, we were full, tired, laden with crafts, and ready for bed. A few from our new church family let us know we were missed on Sunday. “We were worried!” we heard from several congregants. A small warmth slipped in against the cold.

A few arms pressed tighter. Their gentle pressure released my ready tears. We don’t feel welcome in this town, but we are rolling up our sleeves. With a message, and with a mission, we come offering our all. We are ready to work. Will you have us? Only time will tell.