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Overextended ... and Loving Most of It!
The Unexpected Joy of Being Harried, Heartbroken, and Hurling Oneself Off Cliffs
By LISA HARPER
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2013 Lisa Harper
All rights reserved.
LIVING A JESUS WAY OF LIFE
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
March 27, 2013
Soon after I woke up this morning, I wanted to kick Eve in the shins. After six months of no visits from my uncle, no time of the month—or as our fifth grade PE teacher so indelicately referred to it, no MEN-STRU-A-TION cycles—now it chooses to appear in full glory while I'm staying at a guesthouse in a third-world country without any supplies or a Walgreens around the corner! Ugh. While I'm a tad grateful this proves I'm not in full-blown menopause yet—especially since I'm about to become a first-time mom (which I'll explain later)—I'm not at all happy about having to deal with this today, when I'll be spending the majority of it waiting around in hot, overcrowded Haitian government offices with no restroom facilities.
So after I finished my coffee I carefully approached Madame Suzette, the beautiful and gracious proprietress of the guesthouse and asked tentatively if she had any "feminine supplies." It was the beginning of a stilted, awkward conversation because like many of the Haitians I've met, Madame Suzette is very reserved and dignified ... especially when it comes to personal matters. And here I was trampling propriety less than forty-eight hours after arriving from America. To complicate matters, her English is heavily accented and my Creole is horrible, so it took a lot of gesturing and repetition before she said, "Oui, oui" and seemed to comprehend that I needed "private products." She nodded to one of her assistants standing meekly behind her and said something in Creole, to which the young woman responded "Oui, Madame" and scurried off—presumably to retrieve the unmentionables.
Then Madame Suzette turned her attention back to me and said politely but haltingly, "Your. Hair. Looks. Very ... belle (the Creole word for "beautiful") theeze morning." I replied, "Mesi boukou (thank you very much)." She continued by asking, "Do you use thee long wans or thee short wans?" And I replied, "Pardon me, madame?" I wasn't sure exactly what she meant by the question. So we started playing charades again and this time she motioned her hands to symbolize a long, thin tube while repeating slowly and emphatically, "Do. You. Use. Thee. Long. Wan?" And I recognized in a flash that she wanted to know if I used a flat iron. You know us girls; hair is always at the forefront of our conversations!
Frankly, I was quite flattered by her curiosity about my styling regimen because I didn't think my hair looked that great in light of the heat and humidity. So I grinned with what I hoped was an expression of self-deprecating humility and said with a cheerful Southern accent, "Oh no, ma'am, I didn't bring a flat iron with me. All I used this morning was a blow dryer, which I always have to use because my hair is so thick!" I may or may not have punctuated the proclamation with a slight head toss.
However, Madame Suzette didn't return my smile. In fact, she seemed a little confused and embarrassed. It wasn't until the young woman she'd sent away on the feminine-hygiene-product errand walked back in the room and sheepishly approached me offering a tampon in one hand and a maxi pad in the other with the exact same question, "Do you use thee long wans or thee short wans?" that I realized what Madame Suzette had actually been referring to. I think the entire female staff at the orphanage is now mentally scarred because they think I use a blow dryer down there. Dear Jesus, come quickly!
* * *
I've been stretched way beyond my comfort zone a lot lately (and have stretched a few others right along with me). Beyond what I thought the elasticity of my heart and mind—and some days even my reputation—could take. Interestingly enough, it's becoming much more comfortable.
* * *
Three days after that most embarrassing moment (let me clarify, that was not my most embarrassing moment; more embarrassing is the fact that it barely registered a blip on the radar of dumb things I've ever done), I was returning home to Nashville via the Miami airport when an older woman sitting next to me on the tram asked, "You headed home?" I smiled and said, "Yes, ma'am." She said, "Where you flying to?" I said, "Nashville, Tennessee." Her voice rose with positive affirmation as she responded, "Oh, I like Tennessee. I mean, I've never been there myself, but I like what I've seen on TV and stuff. Where you coming from?" I was so tired that I didn't really want to get into a long conversation with a stranger, but she was chatty and seemed lonely, so I explained that I'd been in Haiti all week because I was adopting a little girl with HIV from a village about two hours southwest of Port-au-Prince.
And her demeanor switched from cheerfully inquisitive to thinly disguised disapproval faster than a Georgia boy cracks pecans. She pursed her lips, inhaled slowly, expulsed air forcefully through her nose (which reminded me of an irritated horse), and then announced with an air of frustration, "Me and my husband couldn't have children the normal way and a lot of folks told us we should just adopt but I said, 'No, sir!' I mean, I respect what you're doing and all and I hope it works out for you, but it ain't worth all the trouble to me. I mean a lot of them babies die or they grow up and don't even act grateful you took 'em in." She paused for several long seconds in a conversation that had become more awkward than the one with Madame Suzette. Then she repeated softly, "I just don't see how it could be worth all that trouble."
I think her presupposition is the splinter in the thumb of humanity. It's what causes the church to sometimes behave more like a country club than a compassionate community of Christ followers. It's also the muse that prompted me to write this book and wrestle with the following questions:
When is it worth being stretched beyond my comfort zone?
When is it worth "overspending" myself for the sake of the gospel?
If I erased all the commitments on my iCal this month, would anybody besides my dentist or the pest control guy really care?
What exactly did Jesus mean when He said, "If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it." (Matthew 10:39 NLT)
* * *
When my publisher suggested the title Overextended ... and Loving Most of It, I was hesitant. Mainly because I'm a burn-the-candle-at-both-ends kind of girl with lots of room for improvement when it comes to creating margins for rest. My calendar is so often double-booked that I have alerts for my alerts. Buzz after buzz. My purse vibrates so much it looks as if it's being tasered. All too often I live like I believe busyness is a spiritual fruit. So I was concerned that advertising being overextended might just prompt God to send a wee lightning bolt my way. Good night, the last thing I want to do is goad people to get busier!
But then I had a conversation with a friend over coffee that convinced me being overextended can be biblical. My friend Suzanne has seven children (four biological and three adopted, one of whom has HIV), she co-founded and helps run an international orphan awareness and social justice organization called 147 Million Orphans (which is how I got connected with the little girl I'm in the process of adopting), and she's often understandably frazzled. That particular morning she started laughing when she plopped down next to me with her mocha because she realized she was wearing mismatched socks.
Then, with a huge grin she said, "You know, I think this is what we're supposed to look like when we stand before Jesus. I don't think we're supposed to show up in glory with time to spare, a fresh manicure, and perfect hair. I think if we're really living the gospel, we're going to fall at His feet exhausted and messy, with mismatched socks, just plumb worn out from loving people as hard as we can!"
I thought, She's right. Life isn't always orderly and relationships rarely fold neatly with hospital corners. Real life ... abundant life ... God-honoring life is about loving Jesus and the people He allows us to rub shoulders with well. Which means some days we'll be stretched emotionally and physically. We'll be taxed to the max. We'll be exhausted. We'll probably even embarrass ourselves in the process. Thankfully, God can expand our hearts, minds, bodies, and calendars to accommodate our calling.
Because loving our Redeemer and loving the world around us Really. Is. Worth. It.
* * *
I think that was pretty much the point Jesus was making in Luke 10 when he gave a stinker of an attorney a tutorial about expanding his orthopraxy—the way he lived out his faith.
Then an expert on the law stood up to test Jesus, saying, "Teacher, what must I do to get life forever?" Jesus said, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" The man answered, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind." Also, "Love your neighbor as you love yourself." Jesus said to him, "Your answer is right. Do this and you will live." But the man, wanting to show the importance of his question, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:25–29 NCV)
Evidence this fellow is wisdom-challenged is clear at both the beginning and the end of this passage. First of all, he deigns to call Jesus, "Teacher" (didaskalos in Greek) instead of "Lord." It's bad enough this ambulance chaser pops up from his chair to test the King of All Kings; you can almost hear the disdain dripping from his question. But worse still, he pointedly addresses Jesus by a common Jewish title used for rabbis instead of a title distinguishing Him as the Messiah, as Immanuel ... God With Us.
He didn't recognize the deity and supremacy of our Savior.
Of course, our Redeemer doesn't get ruffled by the lawyer's slight. He simply turns the table and asks a few questions of His own. And when this well-educated, Perry-Mason-wannabe gives the correct Old Testament answer: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind. Also, love your neighbor as you love yourself (Luke 10:27 NCV), Jesus lowers the boom with a simple charge, Do this and you will live (Luke 10:28b NCV).
Wow, that's a powerful statement: "Do this and you will live [emphasis mine]." At which point I think the haughty barrister should've dropped to his knees on the floor in front of Jesus and said something along these lines:
Oh crud, the jig's up! I don't love Jehovah with all my heart, soul, mind and strength! I've tried—believe me I have—but some days I find myself more concerned about the new tax code than the Torah. I want to worship God and live an honorable life but I'm totally inept when it comes to even loving my wife well. So there's obviously no way I can love my neighbors unconditionally. In fact, the ones across the street get on my last nerve because they turn their music up way too loud, they have a beagle that keeps me up half the night with his howling, and I'm pretty sure they're piggybacking on my Wi-Fi account! Please forgive me, Messiah, because I'm a crooked-hearted moron.
But he doesn't confess anything close. Instead, he has the audacity to ask The Alpha and Omega a condescending question, "And just what exactly do you mean by the word neighbor?"
This guy Did. Not. Get. It. So Jesus lowers the comprehension bar for Mr. Compassion-Challenged and launches into a story:
Jesus answered, "As a man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, some robbers attacked him. They tore off his clothes, beat him, and left him lying there, almost dead. It happened that a priest was going down that road. When he saw the man, he walked by on the other side. Next, a Levite came there, and after he went over and looked at the man, he walked by on the other side of the road. (Luke 10:30–32 NCV)
During the time of Christ's earthly ministry, there was only one route from Jerusalem to Jericho, and it was commonly referred to as "The Way of Blood" because of its reputation for criminal activity. It was a treacherous, winding, rocky trail that descended almost 3,500 feet in 17 miles. And what makes Jesus' tale even more interesting is His emphasis that the priest and the Levite were walking down this infamous boulevard from Jerusalem to Jericho.
Which implies they were likely headed home from their offices at the Temple in the Holy City to their homes in the suburbs of Jericho. The priest had probably been up to his elbows in blood all week, slaughtering sheep for sacrifice. And when he wasn't being a holy butcher, he'd been listening to people pour out their problems. Plus, he'd blessed a boatload of colicky babies. Although Levites were subordinate to priests in Temple hierarchy, surely he too had been working hard all week assisting in the Jewish traditions of worship. He'd burned candles until he didn't have any nose hair left, belted out praise tunes until he was hoarse, and polished the pews until his arms ached. They've both been very busy working for Jehovah.
So my guess is they were both pretty jazzed about going to their respective homes to relax. Maybe to watch a little JSPN—the Jerusalem Sports Programming Network—or putter around in the garage, or go fishing. I'm obviously taking a little liberty with the Greek here, but it's important to understand where these two have been and where they're going. It's important because of a ceremonial law which states that anyone who touches a dead body shall be rendered unclean for seven days (Numbers 19:11). Therefore, some people think the priest and the Levite didn't stop to help the guy in the gully because he appeared near death and they were afraid of breaking that rule.
However, the fact that Jesus says they were walking away from Jerusalem and toward Jericho makes that a moot point. Whatever ritual purity they may have been protecting because of their responsibilities in the Temple didn't matter much if they were headed home. They didn't have to worry about being ceremonially unclean because they weren't going to have to perform ceremonies in the suburbs. Now let me digress by saying these two fellas might well have been nice guys. Obviously they were loyal and dutiful if they were on the Temple's payroll. They probably coached Little League and maybe even mowed the lawn of a single mom in their cul-de-sac.
Jesus doesn't necessarily paint them unneighborly. He simply explains they didn't recognize the scope of His neighborhood. They missed the privilege of stretching beyond the confines of their calendars and job descriptions to pour grace on someone who was desperate for it. Fortunately, the Samaritan had wiped enough fog off his relational glasses to understand that anyone Jehovah allowed him to rub shoulders with was a neighbor.
Then a Samaritan traveling down the road came to where the hurt man was. When he saw the man, he felt very sorry for him. The Samaritan went to him, poured olive oil and wine on his wounds, and bandaged them. Then he put the hurt man on his own donkey and took him to an inn where he cared for him. The next day, the Samaritan brought out two coins, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, "Take care of this man. If you spend more money on him, I will pay it back to you when I come again." (Luke 10:33–35 NCV)
By now Jesus' story had the poor attorney's boxers all bunched up because not only had He exposed the pettiness of his silly "neighbor" question, but now Jesus was also portraying a trashy Samaritan as the star of the parable. The barrister was probably thinking, Oh good night, I need to escape from this train wreck of a conversation before the inmates take over the asylum! Remember, during this period of ancient history most Jews despised Samaritans. They despised them because the Samaritan race—who were often the offspring of one Assyrian parent and one Jewish parent—were a reminder of Assyria's invasion and dominance over Israel.
Therefore, an observant Jewish person considered a Samaritan's existence something that threatened, diluted, and polluted the purity of the Jewish race. And the tension between the two reached an impasse after the Jewish remnant repatriated back to Jerusalem following the Babylonian captivity (approximately 750 BC) because that's when they refused the Samaritan's offer to help them rebuild the Temple.
Basically, this is how the Jewish settlers responded to the well-meaning Samaritans: Mind your own business, you bunch of dirty half-breeds. We'd rather starve than take your filthy money! So the Samaritans stormed off in a rebuffed huff and built their own temple on top of Mount Gerizim, complete with their own version of the priesthood, essentially desecrating everything the Jews held sacred.
In a modern context, being a Samaritan living near Israel during the first century would be like being the child of a white mama and a black daddy and living in the American Deep South in the 1950s and early '60s. Suffice it to say, the Hatfields and the McCoys were BFFs compared to the Jews and the Samaritans.
And to add even more color to the conversation Christ was having with this out-of-his-league attorney, just one chapter earlier in Luke, an entire Samaritan village had rejected Jesus Himself (Luke 9:51–56). This made James and John so mad they asked Jesus if they could call down fire from heaven and fry the Samaritans into oblivion (which also gives us a little insight into why Jesus nicknamed James and John the "Sons of Thunder" in Mark 3:17).
Now, in light of all this history, you would think that Jesus—being a Jew—would've made the Samaritan the bad guy in this story. Or at the very least, the guy in the ditch—the one who needed help. Instead, He makes him the hero. And then He encourages the attorney to stretch the boundaries of his heart and mind to model unreserved kindness too:
Then Jesus said, "Which one of these three men do you think was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by the robbers?" The expert on the law answered, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Then go and do what he did." (Luke 10:36–37 NCV)
Excerpted from Overextended ... and Loving Most of It! by LISA HARPER. Copyright © 2013 Lisa Harper. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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