“An Other” Kind of Love

There are days when I would love nothing more than to throw my bible off a cliff. A really high cliff.

Let’s be real.  Sometimes I don’t like what the bible says.  However, just because I don’t like it, doesn’t mean that it’s wrong.  The bible commands me to do things that I don’t always want to do, and the reason I don’t want to do those things is probably because performing them often requires a significant amount of humility and/or courage.

Forgive.  Love.  Be kind.  Be honest.  Confess.  Let go.  Wait.

Those things are tough.

Loving people that you don’t want to love is especially hard.  I may not have a husband to experience this truth with yet, but I do have a mom and a dad.  Just ask my mom about all of the “lovely conversations” we’ve had from across the house when I was a teenager (I dare you).  There were moments when my mom and I desperately wanted to send each other on a one-way trip to the tropical island called  “Stop Giving Me Such A Hard Time.”  Maybe you’ve heard of it?  It’s only 200 miles from the “Because I Said So” Rainforest.  Despite those rough patches, there were plenty of moments when loving my family was easy.  It came naturally and flowed out of me without a second thought, and those are the moments I cherish the most.

My boss from Ambassadors Football, Ben Marais, spoke about what it meant to love one another while we were hosting a bible study in prison this past week.  During the study, he did something so simple, and yet so incredibly profound.  Ben broke down the word “another.”  Instead of solely identifying the word as a reference to “an additional person or someone of the same type,” he challenged us to think of the word as “an other.”  Someone who is different from us in one or multiple ways, someone we may not agree with, and/or someone who may not even like us.

For example, it’s really easy to love my little brother Brian because he’s just like me (sorry mom, I feel your pain) but in lanky boy form.  We both enjoy playing video games, watching sports with Dad, drinking Starbucks coffee with mom, playing practical jokes on our unsuspecting sister Melissa, and laughing over the fact that Grandma is so terrible at texting.  Loving him doesn’t take much effort.

But what about loving a friend who “stabbed you in the back” or the boyfriend who cheated on you?  What about loving the racist who lives next door or the Christian with the cardboard sign on the street condemning everyone to hell?  What about loving your opponents on the soccer field or the kid who broke into your car and stole your favorite handbag?

The Bible doesn’t just say to love those who are easy to love, the Bible also says to love your neighbor (which is everyone), to love your enemies including those who persecute you, and (drumroll please) to love each and every person as you love YOURSELF.  Yep.  It says that.  I’m dead serious.  You won’t find that in the Book of Sam’s Opinion’s 4:2.  You can find it in Matthew 22:37-39, John 13:34-35, and Matthew 5:44.

When I love myself, I don’t hesitate.  It’s practically reflexive in the sense that I don’t have to second guess what I am doing or why I am doing it.  If I am hungry then I will eat, if I am tired then I will sleep, and if I am bored then I will watch a movie or sketch.

So what does this mean in the life of Sam?  It means that if I see the girl who “wronged me” on the side of the road in desperate need of a lift, then I will immediately pull over and welcome her into my car (instead of speeding past her in raging fury).  Not because she does or doesn’t deserve it, not because I am trying to make her feel guilty for how she hurt me, and not because I am trying to prove what a wonderful person I am.  None of the above.  I do it because Jesus commands me to.  If God is love (1 John 4:7-8), then I have the opportunity to share Him with anyone and everyone I meet through what I say and what I do.  Since His love is powerful enough to shine through the broken cracks of my life, stifling it would mean hindering another from being able to experience God through me in a beautiful way.

Quick reminder to all of my fellow imperfect human beings out there:  I will fail.  There will be days when it may take me a lot longer to love or forgive, and there will be days when I don’t do it at all,  but that’s what grace is for.  It’s also a great reminder that even when my love fails, God’s never will.

So as I enter into every situation, I will strive to love with an open heart and without fear because I am reminded that in my “unlovable moments,” God never stopped loving me.

A Season in the Slammer

“The Lord gets His best soldiers out of the highlands of affliction.”  -Charles H. Spurgeon

When I used to think about things that were holy, pure, and lovely, my mind never drifted to prisons.  I never associated the love of God with a criminal or a place of worship with a jail cell bathroom.  My distorted understanding of purity and holiness revolved around vintage church pews, slow organ music, and priests who wore funny outfits that looked like tablecloths.

Then God broke my heart and renewed my perspective.  My hands and my feet first needed to get dirty and sore before I could experience love in it’s truest, purest, and freest form. He had to send me to some dark places in South Africa to finally wake me up to the truth of the gospel, and one of those places happens to be a venue where freedom isn’t supposed to exist.

One of my favorite sayings as of late is, “Hey, sorry friend, I can’t hang out today because I’m going to prison,” and then I savor the look of surprise and concern on their face before I explain why.  I love going to prison.  I love it because it makes me feel uncomfortable and vulnerable.  I love it because every time I am willing to get in my car and drive 40 minutes to meet with the boys, God goes before me to pave the way for something amazing.   I love it because I’ve gained a bunch of new brothers to do life with, and I love it because even though I go with the intention of teaching and pouring out my own wisdom and knowledge, I am the one being taught and poured into by the boys.

Drakenstein_Prison

When I spend time with the guys, I am surrounded by so much love to the point where it’s almost overwhelming.  I get to witness changed lives, freedom from past mistakes, and hope.  Hope Academy (the name couldn’t be more appropriate) is only one small section of Drakenstein Prison, and before I am able to go into the boy’s room where we do bible studies and life skill sessions, I have to walk through another section of the prison first.  It’s usually in that place where I am faced with some loud whistling and hollering by the other boys who aren’t staying in the Academy.  But once I cross over into where our team stays, I am greeted with respect, gentleness, and kindness.

10295123_857644290916991_8915968628316651663_o

The boys in Hope Academy are a part of the Ambassadors Football program.  They teach and uphold important values that focus on Faith, Football, and Future.  Most of these guys know Jesus, and when I walk into their room, I can feel it and see it in the smiles on their faces.  I get to leave that prison each afternoon with a full heart because it’s a place where grace and forgiveness reign supreme.  I am humbled to have the privilege of building relationships with men who were once known as murderers, robbers, and gangsters, but are now godly warriors and men of integrity.  Playing football (aka. soccer for the Americans) with them twice a week on their rocky and uneven field in the back of the jail is an honor and a joy (even though I can barely keep up with them).

10866212_986473764700709_6955034772684699254_o

I have been asked by a few friends if I am ever afraid to go into the prison, and my answer is always the same.  No, I’m not afraid because love always casts out fear.  If love is present, then God is present (because God is love), and that means there is nothing for me to be afraid of.  I think it’s so cool that someone I might have feared or steered clear of in the past can now be called my South African brother (from another mother).  It’s beautiful, it’s redemptive, and it’s eye opening.

The team of guys at Hope Academy remind me that no one is beyond the reach of our God.  No one is too far gone to be healed or forgiven.  No one is too broken, too dirty, too sinful, or too guilty to be known and loved by the Creator of the universe.  And I’ll be honest, that truth punches me in the gut every now and then because I can be so quick to judge others for their mistakes.  Not only am I hard on others, I can also be incredibly hard on myself.  So, lately, I’ve asked God to strip me of my judgements, my stereotypes, my criticisms, and my generalizations.  I have asked Him to help me see the world (including myself) through His loving and perfect eyes.

And I must admit, so far … He’s been faithful every step of the way.