Nov 1, 2009

The Only Thing

It's now the first of November.  I may be a day late, but I wanted to share one more lesson learned from our time in China these last two years.

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

10 comments:

Denise @ A Sacred Longing said...

This reminds me of a quote by St. Francis, I believe, "preach always and when necessary use words." Our actions or lack there of often leave a more lasting mark upon another than the words we speak.

Loving tangibly etches deeply on another soul.

Shalom,
Denise

Tara Anderson said...

You may have "only" learned one lesson, but it is the most important lesson we can learn. Christ spent his life...and his death...trying to teach us that lesson, and still tries daily through the Spirit to do it. Yes, thankfully grace DOES win, and when it does they know us by our love...by HIS love! It is such a delight to read what God is doing in your lives during this time in China!!!

TanyaLea said...

oh Carrie...WOW! I swear, it seems like everytime I read something that speaks to my heart, I turn around and someone else is posting the same type of message. This week it seems to be all about a Godly, Christ-like LOVE. Such a profound message that has touched me to the depths of my core. I felt as though I were literally there watching the whole 'tomato' story unfold. The people rushing by, too busy to even care or stop to help. And then by the Grace of God, the Holy Spirit whispered on your heart to go back and help. No words necessary. The greatest message of all was delivered, just as He intended it to be. Beautiful. Praise God for your faithfulness and your humility to continue to learn and grow in Him. And thank you for sharing these lessons with us, so that we too, may self-examine and grow along with you. I know I have a long way to go, but these messages SO inspire me to want to be better each and every day. I loved your scriptures from I.Cor.13 that you posted along with this at the end. We are all so familiar with this chapter, and many of us know it by heart. But hearing it with your story brings a fresh new light to it again! Thanks again, Carrie...you are such an inspiration to me! Have a nice week and God bless! <><

love,
Tanya

Suzy said...

Our campus pastor had bumper stickers printed for us saying, "Be the Message." YOU are living that out. I'm hoping you'll give me permission to print this off and share with my church. I love this story, and I love your heart.
Suzy
Premierdal@aol.com

Tami said...

Hi Carrie,

This is a beautiful post and a powerful reminder of how actions speak so much louder than words. You remind me that we can spread His love everyday through seemingly small acts of kindness. This is such a beautiful illustration of what can happen when you listen to that whisper and act in His name. Love is so very powerful.

Love and hugs,
Tami

Tori said...

Carrie,
Thanks for your transparency. May I learn to love as He does, as well.
So thankful for you.
Tori

T & T Livesay said...

I am with you. Thank you.

Tricia said...

What a wonderful post. It brought tears to my eyes~striking a chord within in my own heart. Thank you so much for sharing your lessons with us.

Kate said...

Wow. I'm a new reader. You are an awesome writer!

Anonymous said...

Even when you begin to converse in the language, never forget this lesson! Post it on your Bible and forehead if necessary! This selfless love will smooth over all sorts of Chinese/American confusions!!

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