learning how to love

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Men in suits move through, pitching religion while hundreds more live theirs quietly. – Jamie Tworkowski

This quote is from Jamie Tworkowski’s book, If You Feel Too Much. His book is an autobiography of sorts, telling the stories of hope and inspiration he has encountered through his life and his non-profit organization To Write Love On Her Arms. In this particular part of the book, he recounts a time he volunteered at a disaster relief center and observed the other volunteers. He found that those who practiced their beliefs quietly, by loving others and being selfless, had a great impact than those who went about preaching. When I read this sentence, it resonated somewhere deep within my soul.

Am I living a life that portrays my faith by my actions? When people see me, do they see Christ?

Over the summer, I was challenged to love and serve selflessly. I had the unique opportunity of coming back home and working with a group of middle school girls at my church. It was a once a week commitment that I didn’t really think too much about. But I was so mistaken.

I had worked with middle schoolers when I was in high school, but since I had been at college I hadn’t had the chance to. So, over the summer I met a group of girls who I didn’t really know or have a relationship with. They were a group of fifteen, timid, sweet, shy soon to be eighth graders. The first evening I worked with them, they peered at me cautiously. Too shy to say anything, but interested enough to meet me. If I only knew how much they’d impact my life.

My role was to lead a small group for them, asking them questions that had to do with the message they would hear that evening. Many were too shy to answer, and it took all I had to get them to talk. I found myself frustrated almost, wondering why they weren’t opening up to me. It was hard coming back every week to the same thing – quiet stares. I found myself frustrated with myself. Nothing I did helped them open up to me.

I asked God for patience. I asked Him to soften these girls’ hearts and for them to open up. I prayed for guidance and wisdom. I prayed for Him to change them. But in retrospect, it was I who He changed. It was I who received more understanding. It was my heart that He softened.

He opened my eyes and showed me some of the things these girls were going through. Middle school is a trying time, full of insecurity and uncertainty. These girls were just beginning to figure themselves out and beginning to understand their place in the world. They were beginning to understand what group they fit into and who their true friends for. It is also a time of drama and broken hearts, as many of the girls seek relationships with boys and superficial friendships to feel validated. Middle school is tough and many of my girls were struggling to get through it. Many had difficulties that I never really expected them to have since they were so young. Many of them dealt with things no one should have to deal with. Many of them had seen harder times and harder heartbreak than even I have.

Slowly, I began to find that what these girls needed to desperately was not someone to preach to them. They didn’t need me to tell me who they should be or what they should do. They didn’t need me to tell them things they had already heard. They needed me to love them and come alongside them in their struggles. They needed me to show them patience, grace, and unconditional love. They needed me to do life with them.

I had the unique opportunity of doing life with them for a whole week at summer camp. I stayed with thirteen of my girls in a small cabin for five days and four nights. The first day was a whirlwind of sleeping bags, suitcases, giggles, and joy-filled smiles. I was with the girls for most of my day, as they participated in spirit games, small groups, meals, and worship times. I also led a small group with them in the morning, where I had the opportunity to talk to them all on a personal level. The week was chaotic, and by the end of it everyone was exhausted. Emotions ran high and fights happened, and my patience was definitely tried. But God poured into me and gave me grace and patience to get through the week and manage the emotional moments. He gave me an unconditional love for these girls… even at 1 AM when all I wanted was quietness so I could sleep. I found that they loved it when I sang, so I sang them to sleep every night. As the week went by, their walls came down and their hearts were softened to words that were spoken over the course of the week. They became more courageous and open. They began to let me into their lives, and they became open with their struggles.

Don Miller says we’re called to hold our hands against the wounds of a broken world, to stop the bleeding. I agree so greatly. 

One of the last nights of chapel pierced my heart. Admittedly, I can’t even remember the sermon that the speaker gave. But I remember the response. I remember finding one of my girls in tears, her heart deeply convicted by the words the speaker said. I remember being able to sit with her in my arms, praying words of life and healing into her heart. I remember picking up her heart that was shattered into a million pieces by the things she had gone through. I remember crying with her. That sparked something in the other girls. Many of them came up to me and asked for prayer and told me about some of the things that they were struggling with. They just needed someone to listen, someone to understand. I recounted the things I had gone through in middle school and high school, and I shared my testimony. I gave them my story of hope and healing, I told them that God works even in the most broken stories. I watched something change in them that night, as they set aside any differences and grudges they held between each other. I saw them pray with each other and love one another unconditionally. I saw them lay down their broken hearts and find peace in Christ. I saw them find courage to tell their stories and ask for help with their struggles. And it wasn’t because of anything I had said. Because God knows I never find the right words, I stumble over my sentences and never feel like I’ve found the words I want to find. It was all because of love.

Through these girls, I discovered what the simple act of love can do. I began to see that people will never listen to what I have to say or what I stand for until they see that I care about them and love them. I have learned that love is the loudest action of them all, and it can change even the hardest heart and heal even the most broken person.

We often ask God to show up. We pray prayers of rescue. Perhaps God would ask us to be that rescue, to be His body, to move for things that matter. He is not invisible when we come alive. It might be simple, but more and more, I believe God works in love, speaks in love, and is revealed in our love. 

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