Last night at Jordan's cross country banquet, we listened to the coaches commend each one of the runners and hand out awards, not based on fastest times, but on strength of character. And I marveled at the quality of those high school kids sitting with us there in the school cafeteria, their positive influence on each other, and most likely the positive influence of their committed parents. Ben, the fastest runner ever in the history of the school, the coach told us, could have written down that his personal goal at the beginning of the season was to win the state meet, but instead he wrote that he wanted to be the best leader he could be to help the guys team reach its full potential.
“For grace is not given because we have done good works, but in order that we may be able to do them.” (Augustine)
“He meant us to see Him and live with Him and draw our life from His smile.” (A.W. Tozer)
“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace—only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.” (Anne Lamott)
I've been challenged recently to consider whether or not my life is positively influencing those around me. Inspired by My Good Samaritan last Saturday, who wasn't just focused on the mountainous path right in from of her, or how fast her time might be when she crossed the finish line. She actually stopped running her own race to be interested in mine. Do I live that way? Or am I living life in my own bubble?
I was sobered on Tuesday to attend a Human Trafficking seminar offered by our school district as I realized that human trafficking is going on right here, in our middle-class neighborhood. Vulnerable boys and girls, often from difficult family backgrounds, lured through internet connections or pursued after running away, become controlled by a trafficker and trapped in a life of prostitution that is incredibly hard to break free from.
That seminar made me think back to a teenage girl named Melissa I met at an AA meeting when I was in college. She was pregnant and needed help and as I spent time with her, I couldn't help but wonder, Why her, God? Why not me? Why do some people seem to get the bad breaks in life, while others find themselves on the right side of the fence? There may be good or bad choices along the way that contribute to where people end up, but so much seems due to life circumstances.
God did not intend His blessings to stop with the receiver, but to be passed on. He blessed Abraham so that all the people on earth would be blessed through him. (Genesis 12:3)
How can we, who have been undeservedly blessed, use our lives to bless those around us? Not look past or look down on those less fortunate. Not shake our heads and thank God that we're not in their shoes. But to sit down beside those who are struggling in life. Who have problems we may never even be able to imagine. And to say, “I want to be here with you.”
Several weeks ago an eighth grader committed suicide in our neighborhood park, and I have tried to imagine what could have made his life so terrible, so void of hope, that he would choose to kill himself. I will never know. But it happened right here, where we live. So close. And it grieves me. What could have prevented such a tragedy? Who might have been able to reach into this boy's closed-off walls and say, “I want to help you through your pain.” Did anyone in his life know how dark and desperate his world had become? Would I recognize someone in my life who was struggling in the same way?
“Grace. Let it, let him, so seep into the crusty cracks of your life that everything softens. Then let it, let him, bubble to the surface, like a spring in the Sahara, in words of kindness and deeds of generosity. God will change you, my friend. You are a trophy of his kindness, a partaker of his mission.” (Max Lucado, Grace)
“You are a billboard of God's mercy to those within your circle of influence. What message do people receive when they observe your life? In order for God's grace to be the central message of your life, does something need to be adjusted, dismissed, or forgiven? (Max Lucado, Grace study guide)
“God blesses us in proportion to how we open our hands to receive his blessings, and how open our hands remain in passing on his blessings to those who need them.” (Michael W. Smith, A Simple Blessing)
Lord, keep my eyes and my hands open.