“this is so much better than my house, you guys have miracle whip!” Latisha commented as she enjoyed her grilled cheese and turkey sandwich that we had made together. “my mom never buys it because she usually doesn’t have the money for it.” Comments like this kill me. And then they make me realize how rich I actually am.
I’ve been tutoring Latisha for the past two years through Restorers, the tutoring center our church runs for at-risk kids. While she was in 8th grade last year we’d get together at Restorers and improve her vocabulary through playing scrabble and had a blast together. Latisha laughs easily and has an shy smile before she cracks up causing everyone in the room to look up from her homework. During my sabbatical I’ve enjoyed time to just be with people and to occasionally meet their needs. I had grandiose dreams of hosting neighborhood prayer and potluck times, organizing events and things like that, but what it’s come down to is bringing over a pot of soup to a friend who hurt her back and can’t cook for her family, inviting Latisha to come over to cook and enjoy dinner together before Dave tutors her in algebra (of which I can offer no help whatsoever) or simply responding to needs that I see of people trying to get by in a broken and hurting world. I’ve been struck that in all my dreams about how to change the world and love people as Christ did, it really comes down to relationships. How we treat people in our daily lives, how we are seeking to make the world what God intended this it to be and how we respond to the needs right around us.
In scripture, the book of James says “What good is it, my friends, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:14-18).
Some of you know that I’m in full-time ministry to students with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. I find this work tremendously rewarding, meaningful and an essence of what I’m supposed to be doing in life. Yet, I had a realization the other week that my ministry often gets in the way of the witness in my life that I follow Jesus. Now before you start saying “Jessica! don’t be so down on yourself! blah blah blah!” This isn’t a pity-post, it’s simply a reflection that because my job is training people how to live out their faith in compassionate ways, I am often too tired to practice what I preach.
It feels really sad and uncomfortable writing that but I know that this sabbatical time isn’t just being used by God for me to get an advanced degree, it’s being used to make my heart more tender towards the needs around me and my hands and feet quicker to hit the pavement and respond.
Having people like Latisha in my life reminds me of the power of simple things like a meal shared together that can communicate love, acceptance and hospitality- things Jesus valued so much and practiced regularly. Things that I’d like to have more of in my life. The first time Latisha came over for dinner she noticed our dining room table with the sun making the light wood glow and commented “this must be where your family eats dinner!” I asked her where her family ate dinner and she shared “we had a dining room table but it’s broken, we always have to be careful not to bump the one in our kitchen now so it doesn’t break too.” After she left, I thought about her comment on the broken table and how significant it was. How many people around us have a broken table- families split apart, not enough food to eat, or a home that doesn’t feel safe? While I believe food is a justice issue- who has it, who doesn’t, sometimes what can be most just is a simple invitation for grilled turkey and cheese sandwiches.