Love is everything.
It's the only thing.
Nothing else matters.
Love is a sacrifice... a pouring out of oneself, and we can only pour out when we have been filled up. In these 2 years, as I have begun to more deeply understand my own shortcomings and failures, I have needed to drink more deeply of His mercy and His grace. It was either drink or wither... and for a while, my pride took over and I chose withering over accepting the offered cup. But grace won, and I find that in drinking that cup, I am filled with more than I can fathom.
I am filled with His love. And when I choose to let that spill out of me, transformation occurs not only in my own heart, but in those who taste His love for the first time. I am transformed because I look a little more like the One I follow each and every time I choose patience over impatience, mercy over fairness, forgiveness over begrudging, forbearance over anger, love over hate. And for those who taste it for the first time, it is Good News.
Not being able to speak the local language at first left me frustrated. How could I share the Good News, if I couldn't even ask for a glass of water? Within a few months of our arrival, we went to a busy market in our village, and I came across a woman in quite a dilemma. She had purchased a large amount of tomatoes, and on her way home, her bag broke, spilling her tomatoes across the pathway. She'd gathered them up, sparing them a trampling from people hurrying between market and home, but then she was stuck. She couldn't go and ask a vendor for a bag, because she would leave her tomatoes unattended -- open to stomping or to stealing. But, she couldn't get them home without a bag. And so she sat there, waiting, perhaps, for me.
I almost walked past. The busy markets do not bring out the best in me. Pushing, shoving, spitting. The squawk of chickens as they are slaughtered and the smell of pungent local delicacies. It's an interesting cultural experience for newcomers, but it's intrigue had all but worn off for me. I think I did walk past. But the Spirit whispered quietly, and I finally caved, turning around and seeking out a friendly vendor. I posed a simple question in my halting Chinese. "Can I have 2 big bags?" Confused, the vendor blankly stared at me for a moment, and I asked again, motioning this time towards the pile of thin plastic bags. "I'll give you money." The vendor handed me two bags and accepted the handful of change.
I picked my way through the crowd and found the woman, still crouched over her week's vegetables. Not knowing what to say in Chinese, I simply thrust the bags in front of her face. Her head shot up with a question in her eyes. When she saw my foreign face, the strangest smile spread across her lips, and she cocked her head to one side with even more questions in her eyes. Unable to say anything, I simply helped load her tomatoes into the new bags, and we both stood up to go on our way. She thanked me profusely and walked away, looking over her shoulder once down the road with the smile still on her lips.
For a few moments, I regretted yet again my inability to express anything beyond my own most basic needs in this language. But then a still, small voice whispered peace to my heart... "You showed her love. That is all that I need."
In countless other ways, we've learned that this message of love -- taught not through our words, but through our actions -- communicates the gospel more loudly then we could possibly imagine. A woman works in our home once a week, and she once told a friend of mine that she had never been treated more kindly or fairly by anyone before. After saying that she wondered why for a while, she motioned to a hanging on our wall, proclaiming in simple Chinese script the words God is love. "I think it's because they are Christians," she said.
It is the gospel - shared in kind words, patience, a smile, fairness, integrity. China has taught me that it is the only message I need to share. Words aren't required to communicate it, and when it is experienced, it opens doors to answer questions about its source.
Again, this is a work in progress for me. The last thing we see when we leave our apartment each morning is a gentle reminder on our wall by the front door, made by my friend Valerie, that says "They will know us by our love." Many times, I feel hurried and as if I have more pressing and important things to do than to take time to selflessly love my neighbors. But, when I don't, I feel the gentle conviction of the One who never refuses to love me, and I find that I am starting to choose the way of love more naturally and more often. I may never know all the effects of scattering love, but I trust that what He sends out doesn't return empty.
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-4