I was sitting in my 8th-grade ag class, and it was just announced that this week we would be covering one of the most important lessons that anybody could ever learn. This week, we would be learning the art of swing dancing. The person who would be teaching these swing dance lessons would be my ag teacher, also known as my dad. The worst part was that, as his daughter, I was the automatic choice for the swing dance demonstration. My dad took my hands and started throwing me in all different directions. Usually, in swing dancing, this works, except I have never gone swing dancing before and I am some who likes to feel in control. Every time my dad tried to lead in one directionI would stand still and make the whole dance look awkward. When he would try to spin me one way, I ended up spinning the other way. When he threw me in the pretzel, my arms were as stiff as a board. Basically, I was a horrible dance partner. It would have been really easy for my dad to become impatient and frustrated with me, yet during this time when I was being difficult, my dad extended patience, grace, and compassion to me by taking the time to allow me to understand the different moves, and by not embarrassing me in front of all of my classmates. At times, it can be difficult to extend patience, grace and compassion to others, but when love guides our actions, it all becomes natural.
My senior year of high school, my basketball team was well on its way to an undefeated season and a trip to the state tournament. Basketball had been a huge part of my life since the second grade, and my teammates and I were determined to make the most of this final season. We stayed late, taking shots on the shooting gun, running extra to increase our endurance, and we spent hours watching film on our opponents. By Christmas, we were 7-0 and preparing for a mid-season tournament we were sure we could win. During the first two games of the tournament, we had to win two tough games to move on. These teams were scrappy. They were competitive and they were talented. But with our efficient offense and our in your face man-to-man defense, we found a way to win. Finally, it was time to step on the court for the championship game. We would be playing the team that had won a 3A State Title the year before. It was going to be a challenge, but our team was up for this challenge. My grandma, grandpa, aunt, uncle, sisters, brothers-in-law and parents were all in the stands to support me. The game was tough. Each team fighting hard to win the title. Full court press, man to man defense, this game would come down to who could find a way to score against the stellar defense. Going into half time, it was anybody’s game. My team and I fought hard, but it just wasn’t enough. Too many shots were missed and mistakes made. Devastated, I made my way to the locker room with my teammates, but instead of joining my family after the team left, I stayed hidden and thought about everything that went wrong during the game, everything that I did wrong. The last thing I wanted to do was go and tell my family how appreciative I was that they had come to support me. I was embarrassed of the way that I had performed and the thought of facing my family was not appealing. Eventually, I did come out, and when I did, it only got worse. I was short, irritable, and rude. I answered their questions with quick, blunt responses. I said “thank you for coming” in the least sincere way and I hardly even wore a fake smile. This mood would last until I woke the next morning when my parents brought me back to the reality that basketball is just a game but the relationships I have and the way I treat others is essential. Several times I have made decisions that have disappointed others, yet the people I disappointed did not push me away, they showed me compassion. In the moments after my basketball game, I was most definitely acting selfish, inconsiderate, and insincere. The way I was acting was unlovable, but my family loved me anyways. I hate to admit it, but I used to push people away who didn’t think the way I did, or that disappointed me with their behaviors. I have learned that when others make decisions we do not agree with, we must just extend compassion and forgiveness. We must look past the unlovable behavior, and love the person.
I am sure we all have people in our lives, who it seems at times, are hard to love. Like the person who drives 45 in a 65. Or the sibling who will not quit stealing your clothes. Or the student who seems to think they are way more knowledgeable than the teacher. Or the classmate, who cheated on the last test. Or the friend, who went out drinking the other night. However, we must remember that it is not the person that is hard to love, it is the behavior that is hard to love. It’s not the person; it’s their slow driving, their clothes stealing, their attention seeking, their cheating, their drinking behaviors. In fact, I bet most of us just had someone pop up in our mind, and that is okay. The question now becomes how can we embrace others with compassion instead of pushing them away? Love looks past the unlovable behavior and extends compassion to the person. Whenever I am struggling to love relentlessly I turn to Colossians 3:12 and 14 which says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience… And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” That’s my source of encouragement. What is yours?Demonstrating compassion looks different for everyone. What behaviors do you find hard to love? What can you turn to as a reminder to show compassion, even when it’s hardest to do? Remembering to show compassion isn’t enough. Each day, we are given the opportunity to be compassionate through simple, small actions.
Over spring break, I traveled to the country of Nicaragua on a mission trip. We were spending the week building a church, and one afternoon, one of the church members, Coni, came and requested that a few of our team come to her house and pray for her son. Our team decided to send three mothers from our team, including my own. Their experiences as mothers helped to prepare them for what they were about to walk into. Nine years ago, Coni, had given birth to a healthy, beautiful baby boy, named Emanuel. When her son was just a few months old, he became ill and while in the hospital, contracted meningitis. Meningitis is an infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord and left Emanuel severely disabled. Now at the age of nine years old, Emanuel weighs only thirty pounds and experiences no improvement of brain functions. When the three ladies went to visit their home and pray for Emanuel, they watched as Coni scooped Emanuel into her arms. Right as she did, Emanuel’s face broke into a beautiful, glowing smile. He knew he was in the love, protection, and care of his mother’s arms. The three women came back and told our team of their time with Emanuel and his mother. All were humbled by what they had witnessed and were still in awe of how the love was shared between a mother and her son by simply scooping him into her arms.
Later in the week, Coni came to the church with pans of rice pudding for each of us. She wanted us to know how thankful she was that we had come and visited her son. When she showed up and started to pass out these gifts of thanks, I stood amazed by this woman, the strength she possessed, and the love she shared. She was the one with a sick son. She was the one living in the poorest country in that region of Central America, where about 30% of the population lives below the international poverty line, earning less than a $1.90 per day. Yet she was the one extending grace to me. In that moment, when she handed me the cup of rice pudding with an encouraging smile on her face, I felt a love that cannot be described. During the eight days I spent engaged with the culture, I was reminded of the importance to show love to others just by simple actions. The people of Nicaragua may be poor in materialistic things, but as you can tell through the actions of Coni, they are rich in love and joy.
In today’s world, we can find ourselves getting caught up in grand gestures. During my time in Nicaragua, I learned that love is not just shown in those gestures, it is shown in the small, intentional actions that we do every single day. Coni showed her love by making rice pudding for our team and by scooping her son up into her arms. Each one of us in this auditorium has the ability to show love to others. For the parents, maybe it is doing another load of your child’s laundry, even after they told you they would do it last week. For the advisors, maybe it’s extending patience to the student who somehow always finds a way to push your nerves. For the members, maybe it is engaging in a conversation with someone you have never talked to or reaching out to younger students who may need some guidance. Maybe it is simply smiling at strangers as you walk down the street. The point is no love is the same. No love is perfect. However, love is simple and is shown through our everyday actions. The way I see love is shown in 1 Corinthians 13: 7-8 which says, “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always preserves. Love never fails.” This week, where have you seen others demonstrate small acts of compassion? What small and simple actions can you take to show compassion every day?
Love involves sacrifice. It is patient. It is relentless. Love shows compassion and grace. I once heard that, “We can’t love anybody until we love everybody”. Like my family, show compassion to others, even when their behaviors are hard to love. Like Coni, show love each day through simple, small actions. Let’s live in a new normal where we have compassion for behaviors that are hard to love. Let’s live in a new normal where we can reach out to people who are different from us and be friends. Let’s live in a new normal where we intentionally show our love in simple everyday actions. Let’s let our actions be the proof of the love we have for others. Let’s live a life of engagement where we don’t just talk about love, but our love actually does.