Learning to See

Each and every month the small group I am a part of has been hosting JUSTembrace’s monthly birthday parties. Depending on the month, sometimes we have green cupcakes, sometimes we have pink ones. Sometimes we have presidental trivia, and sometimes we throw a spontaneous Christmas party in addition to celebrating the birthdays of the month. Everyone has done a tremendous job of adopting this little party we throw, and faithfully baking over 100 cupcakes each month. It is not easy to have committed, invested volunteers month after month; I could not be prouder of my friends in this group. Actually, I could, and I am about to tell you why.

At small group the other night we were talking about The Lord’s Prayer, specifically, this phrase:

“Thy Kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

We were all throwing out ideas of what we see on earth that is not at all what heaven will be like. Some said abuse, some said oppressive and imperfect governments, some said structural change, and still others said mental illness. Lately I have been noticing all the trash that blows through the streets and side walks in my neighborhood. Heaps of extra large soda bottles and empty chip bags won’t be lying around in heaven, I am quite sure. Eventually the conversation turns to the inevitable, what are we going to do about this? About all of this injustice, this pain, this ugliness? If we are called to bring the Kingdom to earth, and Jesus has indeed given this task to His Church, what does that look like in our lives? JUSTembrace wants to help people answer this question, and as a representative I was keen to sit back and listen, to hear if the birthday parties have helped my group’s vision – do we see any differently? What changed? Sure, I helped throw a party at a homeless shelter, but it does not stop there. Oh, we do hope that is only the beginning.

As soon as I was about to bring up the birthday parties’ myself, a girl in group spoke up and talked about how after the birthday parties at the shelter, she can now talk to the men and women she comes across everyday at her downtown job. She remembered me saying once that these folks do not usually get really great, strong coffee, and so she’ll buy them a bold coffee at Starbucks when she goes herself. This is tremendous growth! We are all aware of the people around us we avoid, no matter who they are, in our high schools, in our workplace, on our streets, in our families. Sometimes we just cannot look these people in the eye. Not only is this girl choosing to go past awareness and break through to conversation, or at least a smile, she buys them a cup of coffee, because she is thoughtful and relational, not because of pity or guilt.

After she spoke, I beamed, and beamed some more. My face probably looked like the bright headlights of a car, blinding the poor girl.

Another guy piped up right after her, saying he too, after attending several birthday parties, has been able to interact with people on the street. He often splits a granola bar with them, staying to chat as they eat together. He shared a story of an interaction that had happened just hours before group, he was talking with a guy who asked him for something to eat, and before he could get a word in edgewise, this man in the wheelchair was sharing his faith with him, telling him his story – the very thing that he had wanted to do! Seeing expectations being blown away is possibly in my top three favorite things to ever watch another person discover for themselves.

Now my pride and joy was bubbling over, and I let the whole group know that these stories that were shared are exactly what JUSTembrace hopes throwing a birthday party (or a foot clinic, or a dinner) with us, will do. Learn to see with eyes like Jesus, learn to know who you really are and feel empowered to actually bring His Kingdom here. Often it seems so complex, and honestly just too big to do anything about. We can do something, we can bring justice, we can bring heaven to earth. Through a party, through a cup of coffee or a split granola bar, we can restore new life here and now, in all of us.

(Image from favim.com)