Improving Relationships, and the World – John 13:34-35

Choosing to love someone over the long haul–that’s real love. My husband and I attended his cousin’s memorial service last weekend, where we enjoyed a deeper level of unity in the family than we’d experienced before.

It happened at my 40th high school reunion, too. I cared more about my classmates and less about the dumb things that divided us when we were teens. I guess sometimes it takes decades to realize we don’t have to all think the same way, and we can have hundreds of friends.

An acquaintance becomes a friend

If we remembered that, we’d be more careful how we treat each other. The person we see as an enemy may become a good friend one day, if we don’t burn down bridges that connect us and forgive as we are forgiven.

Jesus said,
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35 ESV).

How far are you willing to go?

I grew up in a large extended family, and we did a lot of traveling. My first adventure was as a 6-week-old infant when we drove 2,578 miles to visit my grandparents. Before starting first grade I’d logged more than 21k miles on long distance road trips.

By the time my third sibling was old enough to sit upright, we were committed to almost yearly family reunions halfway across the continent.

Love means more than going an extra mile. The results of our prayers and efforts might not be evident immediately. Sometimes love means traveling great distances and waiting decades.

We need to think about this when we’re tempted to trash somebody online, pronounce accusations against other drivers on the road, or judge anyone as being less than us. Even those we may not choose for next door neighbors.

Listen . . .

Three of Jesus’s disciples recorded in the Gospels that God spoke audibly. You won’t see many accounts in Scripture of God doing this, so his message must be extremely important.

God said, “This is my . . . Son . . . Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:51, Mark 9:7, and Luke 9:35 ESV).

What do we hear Jesus say? “Love one another . . .”

by Kathy Sheldon Davis

Being Happy with Less than Perfect – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

As my family grows it gets harder for us to show up and sit still for a family portrait all at the same time. We’re not good at staying on task, with the different ages and energy levels at play.

And our colorful personalities are hard to corral to get everyone focused on the camera without our faces expressing everything from hilarity to stoicism. It’s quite challenging.

There are fixes for this. Sometimes Photoshop is nice, but it can also be a disaster. We have one photo where there are too many legs for the number of people lined up.

Then there’s the one where my creative son traded everyone’s head for someone else’s on our family football team. That one had to go.

Also, trying to be all-inclusive can backfire. When my nephew couldn’t attend my sister’s wedding we included a framed picture of him in our family portrait. A friend saw it and thought its presence meant he had died. We’re so glad you’re still with us, James.

It’s good enough

I changed the banner photo on my website this week, resolved to show my family as we were on a beautiful fall day at Amazon Park. We’d asked a stranger to capture the moment, it was a low resolution camera, and some of us were ready for nap time though I’m not mentioning names. It’s not a perfect photo, and some family members are missing, but I’m happy with what I have.

An aside: I’m going to break a writing rule and include a random, unrelated tidbit. I played at the same park and crawled on the same cement dinosaur that’s in the picture when I was a kid. It’s a senior moment, I know, but hey, it’s my family.

We have what we need

I don’t have to list our problems or brag about our accomplishments. We’re all imperfect, his grace is enough, and love covers a multitude of sins—all those wonderful phrases from Scripture that give us hope for a perfect future.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 4:9-10 ESV).

We’re in this life together, folks. And Jesus really is all we need.

by Kathy Sheldon Davis

 

Love is Playing on the Floor – Philippians 2:5-9

Baby Charly, though safely nestled on her grandpa’s shoulder, warned me with her big round eyes that she wasn’t entirely comfortable with me patting her back.

One of my nieces was the same way. When my husband got too close her eyebrows would lower into a scowl. If he didn’t back off when she clouded up the storm clouds would erupt into a full-out deluge of tears.

We’ve both learned to take care as we work on building loving relationships. That means we humble ourselves to serve others where they are.

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross. Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name . . .” (Philippians 2:5-9 NIV).

One of the difficulties with integrating a new foster child into our family was that usually their trust in adults had been broken. No matter how friendly and safe I appeared, someone like me had hurt them. A parent they loved wasn’t with them any more.

The best way I knew to help them feel welcome was to invite them to play. I’d get down on their level, making no demands. One time that meant offering the curly-haired six-year-old the tall stool while we made homemade play-doh. Another time it was crawling on the floor to push toy cars with a toddler.

One little boy, age five, felt more at home after I’d asked him to lay on an old sheet so I could outline his body on it. His sad expression changed as we added eyes, hair, and a super-hero logo his twin needed to look just like him.  We hung his sheet next to his foster sister’s, showing him he had a place with us. This communicated with him that I respected who he was and he could trust me to some degree, and in time I was able to help him process his grief at being separated from his mother.

We are told to have the same mindset as Jesus, to humble ourselves in our relationships and to serve others like he did. And like I often hear repeated in my brain, “the rewards are worth it.”

I know some day Charly and I will be friends. We just need to spend a little more time on the floor.

by Kathy Sheldon Davis

When I was the Stranger to Avoid

Why should she be suspicious of me? Can’t she tell by looking that I’m a good person and only want to help? And who pinned a BEWARE OF THE STRANGER sign on my shirt?

How quickly I forgot that earning trust is work.

As I searched for mushrooms in a crowded produce department last year, I maneuvered my cart around a young mother and her brood. A little girl hung on to the outside of the cart, asking for strawberries, and a wide-eyed infant squirmed in his sling. The woman had to be overwhelmed.

A minute later I heard their cart hit the cement floor, scattering their groceries. Mom calmed her terrified daughter and reached to get their belongings out of the way of other shoppers.

How well I remember shopping with multiple children in tow, taking care to keep them safe from sharp objects and questionable people.

Parking my cart out of the shopping lane, I picked up some bags of produce and cans and set them back in her cart. When I found a cell phone, I handed it to Mom thinking she’d be grateful I’d rescued it. Instead, she scrutinized me as though I might grab it and run.

I’m sure to her I looked like a meddling nuisance, a stranger who shouldn’t be trusted. I’d thought the same things of people who seemed overly friendly to my children.

“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:18 ESV).

Now I knew that she didn’t need me for a best friend at that moment. Instead, the best way to love my neighbor that day was to back off. Spotting a loose dime on the floor, I bent down to pick it up, knowing I was still being watched. I handed it to the little girl. “Here, why don’t you hold this for your mommy?”

And I slipped quietly away.

by Kathy Sheldon Davis

Repairing Broken Relationships – Hebrews 12:12-15

Would you like broken relationships in your family to be restored? One way to see progress is by following the instructions outlined in Hebrews 12.

bridge building. free pixabay

I have been out of touch with some of my extended family for decades. Misunderstandings, indifference and hurts all played their part in dividing us, and since so many years have passed it wasn’t likely we would ever come together again.

“Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble …” (Hebrews 12:12-15 ESV).

The first step: Strengthen and straighten 

I started by working on my “drooping hands” and “weak knees.” Where I’d given up, I renewed my commitment to love. And where the road linking me to my cousins had become twisted and full of obstacles, I added my prayers to my grandmother’s for unity in her family. Then I went to work.

Thank God for Facebook! I searched through family members’ pages and found links to others. It really motivated me follow through when I discovered my cousin Jerry’s grandchildren looked a lot like members of my family. Uploading a bunch of historical family photos got the ball rolling, and soon different relatives uploaded photos of their own.

The second step: Strive for peace

We had our first cousin reunion in John Day, OR, a year ago, and got along splendidly. Last week we had our second gathering, adding another previously out-of-touch cousin to the mix when we met at the Veterans Memorial Museum in Chehalis, WA. Remarkably, when she showed up I learned she lives right there in Chehalis!

The tricky part in building relationships is when the dialog goes places we may not like, for instance, with strongly held political or religious views. It’s encouraging to see others are working on strengthening and straightening things out, too. And so far, we’re all striving for that “peace with everyone” the scripture talks about.

Finally: Continually remove the bitter roots 

As I ate lunch with my formerly long lost cousin, her joy and excitement matching my own, I knew I’d gained a priceless relationship. It takes vigilance to keep bitterness from getting a foothold, but I sure enjoy the rewards for all the hard work.

Let love rule over all.

by Kathy Sheldon Davis