I began my Lenten fast with one mission in mind – to transform the QUALITY of my GIVING to others in such a way that I communicate the love, truth, and compassion of Jesus Christ in my giving. My primary focus was on time – who gets it, how I give it, what I communicate to others in how I use my time. As I scribbled exploratory notes in my journal, I knew from the start that I would have to give up time I was spending on meaningless and me-centered activities if I was to develop new relationships, reconnect with existing relationships, and respond to those in need, in deeper, more meaningful ways.
The standard measure of evaluation I settled on was to continue asking myself the same question – Am I communicating value and caring in each relationship, or is the other person hearing I’m too busy for them? I wanted to know, without a doubt, that my offered investment of time said to others you are valued, you matter to me, you are not alone, you are worth my time. And the litmus test for me was the absence of an email or voice mail message that began something like “I know you’re really busy, but ….”
I started strong – meeting a friend for coffee and conversation (and 1/2 of a red velvet cupcake and a chocolate cake truffle) … it felt so good, so different, warm and wonderful, to have this girlfriend time to chat long and hard instead of piecing together bits of conversation following Sunday worship with some Facebook messaging thrown in between Sundays, and her name in my prayer journal. I learned so much more about my sister in Christ, shared more of my life with her and we discovered common struggles, some of the same fears, and the sheer joy of spending quality time in relationship.
That same week, after a bit of a stutter step in scheduling (hey, is it my fault that I only get a 1/2 hour lunch break and she wanted to get together over lunch?), I walked miles around the track with another friend, catching up on what God was doing in each of our lives, talking about issues of faith and purpose, confessing weaknesses and searching for God’s lessons as we laughed about how annoying some people are.
I was feeling good about running a Zumba Fitness class Monday nights after work to encourage women who are part of our Biggest Loser Team Competition, using Zumba DVD’s I purchased to exercise in the privacy of my home. It was fabulous to be a part of this community, each of us sharing a weight loss goal to become more healthy, and several other co-workers joined in the Zumba workouts, creating new bonds of friendship. But oh no, I hadn’t talked to my own kids in over two weeks, I couldn’t find the time to call one of my best friends that I had assured on Facebook I would be calling soon because our relationship is high priority, and my Dad sent me an email saying “Don’t you want to talk about my Kindle?” because I hadn’t responded to his lengthy email about how exciting his new Kindle was. Something wasn’t working.
And then, the bomb … I went to a wake for the husband of a woman who used to be a part of my Community Bible Study core group – I hadn’t seen her in the two years that passed since I left CBS. She told me her husband had been in and out of the hospital for more than a year, doctors having difficulty diagnosing just what the problem was, but she had to leave her job as a nurse at a charter school to care for him. And when she embraced me, and told me she almost called me so many times in the past year, I sobbed in her arms – not for the loss of her beloved husband, but because I was not there for her in the darkest of days and I knew why she didn’t call me … plain and simple, she thought I was too busy for her. It was a crushing blow, a painful lesson, and there was no do-over. I went home and put her name in my prayer journal, but I decided right then and there, that I would not say another empty prayer for her or anyone else on my prayer list – that my prayer journal was only to serve as a reminder for those I wanted to be praying for daily in addition to ministering to or connecting with personally on a regular basis.
So when a friend of mine sent an invitation to pray for and help out as we were led, an unemployed single-mom in TN, struggling financially and who our community group had prayed for during a few different seasons in the past few years, I asked for her contact information. I wanted to do more than send a check. I wanted to connect with her personally, to trust God to allow me to walk alongside her in love, truth and compassion, to meet her in the same place Jesus was. I wrote her name in my prayer journal, along with known needs I could begin praying for, and I emailed her to ask her what I could be praying for specifically. I tried to encourage her, to assure her that she was held in God’s embrace and mine, and told her I had dropped a card in the mail to her. I sent her an encouraging card from Max Lucado, along with a WalMart gift card and my business card, offering to coach her through this challenging time in her life. I felt wonderfully connected to my Lenten fast mission, understanding why Jesus walked among the broken and hurting. And I praised God when I listened to her voice mail messages thanking me first and foremost for my prayers, saying that meant more than anything. I loved hearing from this godly woman who trusts El Shaddai, All Sufficient, as the Lord of her life, and yet was able to confess the room she sometimes gave the enemy to move in among the fear and waiting for God’s provision. It was great to come home and play her messages, and I was still praying for her daily … and then, the bubble burst. Time ran out – there were at least 4 days when I had a phone call to her on my things-to-do list … moved only to the things not done list. I got an email from her that made me cringe – she said it I know you’re really busy – oh darn, I failed the litmus test … she wanted to know if there was a time we could talk. I was so ashamed that I hadn’t reached out to her, that I let her feel I was too busy for her. Wrapped up in my own self-disappointment and failure, I began to feel pressured and unjustly accused (though I was clearly the only accuser) – there are just too many people with needs, I can’t do this Lord, You’re asking me for more than I have to give, how can I help this woman with so many needs, especially financial ones? Okay, now I’m on my own prayer list, where I probably should have been all along, asking the Holy Spirit to guide me in transforming the quality of my time giving.
We had a life-giving, Spirit-breathed, yaya sisterhood conversation Saturday morning that left me in awe of our Father’s goodness and energized to give quality time to other relationships in waiting. I couldn’t give this sister the $1600 she was served a civil warrant for on a Visa debt she cannot pay, but I could use my life coaching experience to help her see that the local bank allowing her to pay off a $1400 loan at $20 a month, and the landlord – herself unemployed, extending my sister grace in the $300 she was still behind on this month’s rent both came out of a personal relationship she had with them. So if we could together work on a plan for her to have a relationship-building conversation with the attorney who served the warrant, there is hope and possibility that an arrangement could be made to pay down the credit card debt and avoid the court hearing. I can’t send her the money to buy a reliable car, and I can’t find a job for her in Tennessee, but I can send her clothes that no longer fit me and ask my daughters to give me clothes they no longer wear to send so that she and her 15-year old daughter can take what they need and turn the rest over to the consignment shop where she is working part-time for just this next month, making a little money when the clothing sells. When we make ourselves available to others in Christ’s name, God will make a way to use us even when we can’t imagine how He will provide through us.
If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross and follow me. Matthew 16:24
For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of the Father and will judge all people according to their deeds. Matthew 16:27
You don't want my perfection All You ask of me Is that I show up broken at Your feet You don't want my religion You are looking for devotion That is more than just routine So show me what it means To take up my cross And count it all as lost All for the sake Of knowing You To love my enemies And care for those in need Show me what it means To follow You Have I become like the Pharisee? Passing by the needy While I'm speaking Jesus on my lips Will I walk with You on raging seas? Or will I turn away When You want more than what I want to give So show me what it means What it means To take up my cross And count it all as lost All for the sake Of knowing You To love my enemies And care for those in need Show me what it means To follow You To love as You love And live as You lived To never give up On giving You my life To love as You love And live as You lived To find out what it means To be alive To be alive