on loving your neighbor - and loving yourself

I've been thinking a lot about love these past few days. Love is so simple, yet sometimes feels like such a complicated thing.

About two and a half years ago or so, a meme went around, asking questions about Christianity, addressing negative stereotypes, but also asking what it is that we should be known for. I said, that in a word, it's this: Love. Based on 1 Corinthians 13, I argued that it wasn't "the frilly, fancy, red paper hearts, sappy valentine type of love" that we should be known for, but rather, "Real love. Tough love."

Love that is patient when it could be easily frustrated. Love that is kind when it could have chosen to be cruel. Love that isn't envious of the blessings of others even in the absence of blessing to itself. Love that is humble and quiet, not boastful and self-centered. Love that chooses to forget the wrongs done to it; love that refuses to stay angry, even though it has every right to be upset. Love that rejoices with everything that is good and true and right in the world, and weeps over that which is not. Love that protects fiercely, that trusts unyieldingly even when it doesn't understand, that hopes unswervingly against all odds, and that perseveres no matter what. Love that refuses to fail. Love that embraces grace, that extends it, that doesn't give up. Love that recognizes it can't be earned. Love that mourns sin and celebrates repentance. Love that is meek enough - gentle enough - to both hear and tell the truth. Love that hungers for righteousness. Love that extends mercy. Love that is pure in heart. Love that seeks peace, at great cost to itself. Love that will not shy away from persecution of any kind, because its purpose is greater than any temporary pain. Love that is... Love. (He is also known as Jesus.)

I believe that. I do.

And yet here I am, faced with a situation in which I have no idea how to practically, actively love.

The details don't really matter. The briefest summation is that I have a friend who had ceased, by personal choice, to be my friend - but who now wants to
re-establish that connection.

Justice says, "No way."

God says, "Love your neighbor as yourself."

But how do I do that?

It's taken me a long time to learn how to love myself. There's so much that God has healed in me - and so much more yet to heal. But I am learning to take care of myself. To choose friendships that are life-giving and not toxic. I am learning to guard my heart more carefully - to be open, but cautious. I am learning - sometimes sadly - to choose carefully whom I trust.

So what do I do? What do I do with this old friend who wants to be my friend again? History tells me that this is not a safe investment. Experience tells me that it is unwise.

But love tells me that rejecting him is not an option.

I have every right to be upset. To be cautious. To resist. To say no.

But love extends mercy. Holds unswervingly. Celebrates repentance. Embraces grace. Perseveres. Does not give up.

I want to. Oh, how I want to give up, to walk away, to say "NO! I am not risking again. I do not want to be hurt." But love will not let me say that. At least not to his face.

So how do I do it? How do I love my friend, but love myself too? How do I love him as I love myeslf? How do I protect him, show him the grace that God has given him, and stick with him as Jesus would, yet establish wise boundaries that will take care of me too?

Maybe it is simply by forgetting that it's possible I'll be hurt again. Maybe it's by knowing it is possible, but acting as if it weren't. (that whole "if someone asks you to walk a mile with them, then walk two" thing...) Or - maybe... maybe it's by gently and lovingly pointing out the truth: your actions (and lack thereof) have been hurtful, my friend. It is not okay that you left. I am glad you are back, but please - please, don't do that again....

I am not sure. I do not know what to do. But I am praying - oh, how I am praying! - that I will. For in spite of the hurt I have suffered by his absence, I do so love my friend.

Oh, Jesus. Please teach me how to love as You do. You so dearly loved Judas, despite what You knew was in his heart - You did not deny him Your friendship. Please give me the strength to love my friend that much.

Jemila wrote something yesterday that touched my heart so deeply as I've been praying about this. She said that it's possible to write "new endings to old story-lines." My friend and I have been down this road before, in different circumstances, but with the same basic plot. But maybe - maybe - this time will be different. I don't know. But walking away from this means loss. For both of us. There has already been loss. But maybe we can both learn and grow and become more like Jesus, if I stay. If I choose the way of love. A way that makes no sense in a world of justice, but makes so much sense in the world of mercy, which - He tells us - triumphs over justice anyway.

on discovering confidence

i had one of those moments this morning - one of those moments that doesn't have a name but really ought to. it was a moment where i saw myself doing something that six months ago i would never have done, and yet today it was so natural and normal... and i thought - wow, i've changed... but when did that *happen*?

i think i randomly mentioned a few months ago that i'd started taking a Zumba class at my gym. when i signed up for it, one of my BFFs told me to expect to feel like an idiot for the first month, but not to worry - i'd get the hang of it eventually. "oh, great..." i thought.

but i went anyway. and yes, i felt like an idiot. for much longer than a month! but it's been fun. and good exercise. and somehow knowing that i was going to feel like an idiot made it easier to feel that way. and, somewhere along the line, in spite of the fact that i still don't nail every step in every routine, i stopped competing with my perfectionistic self - and making mistakes and getting past them (without wasting time being embarrassed) became normal.

now if only i could transfer that to the rest of my life, lol...

this morning, i went to class, and was, for a change, early... and not only did i end up actually talking to people, but i also took a front row spot in the class. no more lurking in the back row, trying not to be noticed. people were watching me today, and i didn't care.

when did that happen? :)

i've thought about that, off and on, all day. taking Zumba has taught me to have confidence - but how did it do that?!

maybe it was simply survival. you look like a fool if you don't put at least a little bit of attitude into some of those steps. (tho it could be argued that i still look like a fool, lol!) or maybe it was the music.... i don't know. but i walk out of class every week feeling a little more confident in myself, and today, dancing in the front row - it felt good to be able to recognize what God's been doing in me all along these past few months, where i hadn't seen it. and it just makes me wonder - what else is God doing in me that i'm simply not seeing yet?

food for thought.