Let me tell you how a heart stops.
It stops on a June afternoon so thick and sticky, you’d swear it’s late August. You’re driving the one short mile to the coffee shop in the rust-bucket beater with no air conditioning because the thought of walking makes your earlobes (the only part of you still dry) sweat. You drive because you can.
You check the clock and text your friend, the one who is released from an incarceration facility every day around this time to walk to work, with just enough time to grab a quick iced coffee. “I’m heading to The Brew!” you say. Not a minute later your phone pings, “I’m on my way.”
It’s lucky, this mid-day Wednesday meeting. You have work to do, but it’ll wait. She is your unlikeliest best friend, somehow seeing you in the truest way and showing you the way to dependence and grit. You cross the tracks, imagining the warp-speed conversation before she backtracks to meet her husband, also locked up, and they clock in by five.
She walks in, visibly on edge. The room is suddenly stifling and there is no breeze left to shoot. “I need to talk to you. I’ve been praying all night about how to tell you this. Hold on.” She walks up to order her drink.
Your heart stops.
“Be near,” you mumble aloud.
You grasp for better, holier words, but the humidity is too high and they slip between your hands.
It’s the best you can do, so you say it five more times, fast. “Be near. Be near. Be near to me. Be near to her. Be near.”
I spent the tail end of last week learning about justice from the experts, men and women of color who believe the story isn’t fully written and there is still work to be done. Far from the glare of the spotlight, I scribbled page after page of notes. I’m not sure if you wonder about the things that might be said at such an event, but here are a few.
“We all represent God in His fullness. There is not just one group or culture who does.” – Latasha Morrison
“Let’s not talk about being a voice to the voiceless. Everyone has a voice.” – Amena Brown
“Don’t look at us like a mission field. Look to us as equals who can learn from each other.” – Siouxsan Robinson
“Let us tell our stories. Let us teach you how to worship. Let us teach you how to draw nearer to God, because we know.” – Sandra Van Opstal
Each word landed like lead in my chest. Why had it taken me so long to see the world as it really exists? Why had I wasted my strength on unworthy battles?
I am not an expert on much besides not-too-spicy salsa. I wrote a book about what it feels like to be rescued from the life I always wanted and flung into the one I was made for, but I’m not a missionary and I’m certainly not a saint. I’m a fumbling, mistake-prone woman with a lot to learn about the heart of God. I didn’t care about the trouble tinging the air until I sat at the feet of my exiled neighbors as a student of complexity and suffering; that is to say, a student of life, where the pain is only equal to the hope.
I didn’t know that to be a child of God is to live others-oriented, or that to be a neighbor is to be an advocate.
Two hours ago my friend shared news I hadn’t known to fear, about someone I love like rain in a heatwave.
My heart shattered, but God heard my prayer. “Be near.”
He drew near in her gentle truth, her shaking hands, her teary eyes. She pulled me in for two hugs and when she said, “I love you,” it was God Himself. I’d recognize His voice anywhere.
We have been invited into the pleasure of proximity to those we once saw as strangers.
With any luck, our hearts will not stop breaking. Tender and attentive, they’ll break at home and in public, sitting on a wooden pew and slumped against our pillow. We’ll beg for more of God and He’ll meets us at eye level, “Here I am.”
We’ll never recover from this love.
Leave a Comment
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
I’ve always said that we (humans) build walls, but God builds bridges. Fear of the unknown keeps us separated. Love casts out fear and lets community enter in. We’ve all been created by the same God and if we take the time to really look hard and step out in a desire to cross the bridges God wants to build with us, we find more things in common than not. Like a sens of humor….it comes in all colors. And the differences? I can’t say enough about how the differences of cultures broadens and enhances our lives. The more I attempt to live others-oriented the more complex the fabric of my life becomes…and ultimately more beautiful! Wonderful post!
Shannan Martin says
Fear of the unknown – YEP. It’s a little terrifying!
Michele Morin says
That two-word prayer is profound. And in the process of acknowledging the nearness of God, we are enabled to draw near to others in a way that is supernatural. I love how holy things can happen over coffee when love is there. (And I loved your book.)
Jennifer Nicole Terrance says
This is just beautiful. ❤️
Profound truth you’ve shared here. Our culture seeks at every turn to pull as AWAY rather than draw us near. We must fight to remain near the Father and near to the hearts of His people. Blessings to you today.
Denise Pass says
Beautiful written! Drawing near to God is our greatest comfort that this life brings.
“At eye level.” <3 Oh that I'd be that eye-level representative of the living God. Not only alive via the empty grave, but alive in us–doing good, healing work through our meager hands. May it ever be so, Lord.
Wow. That was awesome. So insightful. Thank you.
God’s voice from the most unexpected places…but you heard it AND you knew it was Him. I’m SO grateful you recognized Him! Praying for you right now! (Psalm 18:1-2 NLT, again!)
Corena Hall says
God in the Heavens and the same God who is with us made us humans yet different. As long as we continue to hold on to Him no one will be left behind. Made in His image called to walk the Jesus walk I pray we can include instead of preclude, love instead of hate, allow dignity with truth and obeying laws, instead of (in mistaken acts of compassion), causing poverty and dependence. His way is not easy for anyone but, He indeed walks it with us. And for that this brown skinned woman for one is profundly grateful!
Corena Hall says
profundly ( love hate auto correct)
Shannan Martin says
I feel your pain! 🙂 I’ve had some brutal autocorrects. :/
Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment.
Kelli McKnight says
You don’t just encourage us to go beyond our carefully built walls. Your stories informs the WHY, making the walls that seemed too daunting all of a sudden lower and way more flimsy. Keep this storytelling up friend! Your example never fails to make me a little more brave in my own day to day. Be Near …. Indeed!!
“Why had I wasted my strength on unworthy battles?”
Because the small unworthy battles we learn to walk away from or lift up, and recognize as unworthy of followers of Christ, teach us our character and the character of the God we put our hope in.
We wait on a God who is bigger than us and has more love than us and so we allow Him to stretch us so that we find in ourselves enough: enough time, enough forbearance, enough compassion. We put our hope in Him and so you are able to be a light and a hope to someone in pain, by sharing Him by showing His love and you are blessed.
My verse in caregiving through many years was “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”
2 Cor. 9:8.
It kept me going.
Nancy Gladwin says
Oh, wow, walking where Jesus wants you to walk – scary and humbling! I saw your heart written all over this. Bless you, may I learn to draw near, because He called me to.
Thank you for your honest, beautiful wrestling… I was at the Conference in Chicago–it was my first one–and it wrecked me. God is deconstructing me piece by piece and it hurts like hell but I’m so grateful that, like you so gorgeously said, “We’ll beg for more of God and He’ll meet us at eye level, ‘Here I am’.” We won’t, and no part of me would ever want to, recover from a love like this… You’re so right. Praying continued courage over you tonight, as you keep stepping into the places Jesus is calling you. Thank you so much for sharing your heart here…
Beth Williams says
God is truly talking to me about being others oriented more than I am. Last night (6/25) at church we heard a talk about homelessness, especially in upper E. TN & Indianapolis. The point of the talk was to inspire “the church” to get out there “really see” and love those people. Be a friend to them-a soft place for them to land. I believe that with prayer we can all be advocates and shower the world with God’s love.