I was browsing through the artwork at a lovely shop recently. There was a couple next to me also clicking through the frames, commenting on such and whatnot. He seemed slightly bored, she alternated looking with picking lint off her black cable sweater. Suddenly she exclaimed, "Oh, here it is! I've always wanted this for the hallway!" Triumphantly, she placed the coveted prize in her cart with a smile the Cheshire Cat would have admired. There, encased in lacquered wooden dark cherry swirls and divots, was the familiar scripture, "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy...." Nearly everyone could quote this; it's amazing how truth is passed on and repeated and eventually written in lovely calligraphy, framed, and hung upon a wall.
I didn't find anything to captivate me so with my basket on my arm I headed toward the check-out, thoughts of something grilled and cheesy filling my hungry mind. Shifting from foot to foot, we stood. It seemed like there were twelve of us, but I'm sure it was only my imagination. And then I hear a voice--the same voice--demand a spot ahead of me.
"I was here before you!" the lady in black exclaimed, pushing her buggy into another cart, knocking it into the magazine display and causing the "5 Hour Energy" shots to totter dangerously atop it. "Um, I don't think so." The other cart owner replied, somewhat hesitantly. "Oh no," Mrs. Black responded, "I'm CERTAIN I was here first, I was just getting a water over there." It was late. Everyone in line was hungry, (the collective sound of stomach growls was beginning to sound like a wolf pack) and buggy owner #2 just didn't seem up to a brawl with Mrs. Black. (granted, she did look rather intimidating with her hair sprayed so stiff it resembled a helmet to enter battle with) And so we stood longer, staring at the back of a black sweater still flecked with lint.
I nestled my bags in the seat next to me, gazing out across the parking lot. The click of the ignition, shift into gear and ease out into the evening traffic. Winter seems murkier this year. Wetter. The holiday lights glittered like stars as I drove home that night. And within me, a fire burned.
I'm a redhead. I own a heavy bag. There is a reason.
I spent several years in my twenties down in Guatemala and Mexico. Working with local churches and orphanages, we helped American college kids to come down and work for several months at a time. We built houses, cleared fields, and swabbed scraped elbows and knees in health clinics. We lived in a large cinder block building with a tiled floor. There were no rugs. No television. No hot water. We had a chess board and a radio and a crazy kitten we had rescued named El Tigre, who ate holes in my socks and chased the roaches.
The only "art" in the living room, was on north wall where someone had taken a black marker, and written that scripture. "Love is patient, love is kind..." However, there was another wall. And upon it was written the first three verses of that chapter in the Bible that come directly before the "love is patient" section. The first three seem to be forgotten. Lost. They are not quoted nor have I ever seen them framed....
"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profits me nothing." 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Though you have glorious speeches, wisdom and knowledge beyond the ages, invincible faith. Though you give everything to the poor and martyr yourself/time/resources.......but have not love?
You. Are. Nothing.
I am saddened.....I am enraged, by people that know the words. They know the language and they know how to write checks and volunteer at the shelter and adopt a pet. But love? I'm not sure love lives within them.
Love was the only language I could speak in those countries. I remember holding a little girl's hands while they stitched her shoulder back together with minimal anesthetic....and I sang to her. In English. lol She didn't know a word that I said, but as tears sluiced down both of our cheeks, she knew love.
This year I am challenging me. I am challenging you. To analyze your heart. Why do you do what you do? Ian Percy said, "We judge others by their behavior. We judge ourselves by our intentions." He nailed this with caustic accuracy. We constantly evaluate what others are doing, but often excuse ourselves because of our rationalizations, our justifications....our explanations. "I cut that guy off in traffic 'cause I was late." "I snapped at the cashier because I had a bad day." "I had to because my husband was waiting." But even when we do good....do we expect a thank you? Is it for the tax write-off or the applause? Is "Love" and everything that word encompasses, something you plan and act out? Or does it simply live inside you? In your pores, your breath.
Love isn't always thanked. It isn't particularly clean. It isn't comfortable and rarely convenient. It's often in the smallest of things. The most overlooked gestures. But when the God of the universe planted the seed within us, the magnificent potential that is the human soul.....it was meant to love. Above all, before all, and without filter.
Without love....we are nothing.