Picnic at the Park

You usually don’t know which dinners or events or conversations are going to be formative until long after they’ve happened. There are typically no trumpets sounding or banners waving to tell you, “Take notes. This will change the way you think.”

But a Tuesday night earlier this fall wasn’t like that. I had an inkling as I put extra chicken on the grill for Carol and Martha that this was going to be a different sort of night. And then I knew as I watched it unfolding that this was going to change the way that I love people around me.

We had met and immediately connected with Carol and Martha the evening before as we picnicked in the park. Carol is a bright-eyed, spunky, middle-aged woman with ever-present dogs just as friendly as herself. Martha is a pretty, smiling, young woman that we learned had been living in her car.

The Spirit was at work, and without many words, we just knew that Carol was on mission with Jesus and we wanted to be also. It was quickly decided that Martha would come home with us and sleep on our air mattress for the night and we would work out a long-term plan the next day.

The next day, Carol worked tirelessly to learn more of Martha’s story and find her a job. During the course of the job search, Carol learned the name of Martha’s father and called everyone by that name in Martha’s home state. Finally locating her parents, Carol learned that Martha was a runaway and that her parents were desperate to have her back.

Carol loves tenaciously. She didn’t stop there, but called one of the references that Martha had listed on her job application to get a better understanding of the whole picture and know how to love Martha in the most helpful way possible.

And so, we sat down Tuesday evening to grilled chicken, toddlers, neighbor children, and some hard conversation. After the dishes were cleared and the children were playing outside, Carol leaned across the table and explained to Martha what she had learned that day. She began to gently, lovingly and firmly ask Martha to quit running and let Jesus turn her life around.

Martha was upset that her cover was blown and the walls went up and hurtful words came out. Undaunted, Carol kept laying out hard facts, loving her too much to let her continue down a destructive path. Did I mention that Carol loves tenaciously?

It was the most instructive lesson in the power of redemptively intrusive love that I had ever seen, and it was beautiful. For hours, Carol outlined an exit plan for Martha, got her parents on speaker phone, called a dozen residential homeless shelters. I knew that Carol would lay down her schedule, give sacrificially of her resources and go the extra mile for a girl she had just met the day before. There was nothing to gain for Carol. She was doing it for love.

I was literally watching the hands and feet of Jesus miraculously intervene for Martha and offer light and life.

Oh friends! It was a small act that reminded me so much of our Rescuer coming down 2000 years ago, at great cost to Himself to offer an exit ramp from the path of destruction onto the path of life.

And that wasn’t a one-off act and the curtain closed. He’s still very much offering life in place of death. Except he\’s no longer here in body. Friend and fellow believer, now he’s doing it through you. You are the mouthpiece,  the air mattress and the grilled chicken. You are skin around His presence here on earth.

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:11-21

At the end of the night, Martha chose to leave and she’s still on the run. With sadness, Carol let her go.

We don’t know the end of Martha’s story yet.

But there was one person around that table that started to change that evening . . .

I now have a more robust picture of Christlike love and community. I gained courage in speaking the truth with love. I understood His/my mission in this world a little bit more.’,

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