Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Many celebrated the Love Holiday yesterday - some with flair and some in quietness. Personally, I feel that Valentine's Day has succumbed to commercialism here in America much like Christmas has. Also, if you are a social media neighbor, you may have felt that you needed to keep up with those on Facebook who displayed all sorts of gifts and pics of romantic suppers. To my friends, don't misunderstand me - I smiled when I saw the pictures and was happy that you were being treated as you should. But, might the pressures of social media and advertising be too much for some on such a day? Hard to keep up, compete, or compare to what someone else did, so they just don't try. Or there is no one to lavish the same on them, so they become despondent. It's not a fun, lively day for everyone.

I am rambling this morning - a little giddy because, after two excruciatingly long weeks, my second book, In Every Place, is complete and ready for printing preparations. Jeff and I did go out last night to eat Thai, which is one of my favorite foods. Other than that, it was a quiet, but enjoyable evening together. One of the best pics I saw on Facebook yesterday was my daughter, Stefanie, with two of her friends, participating in a volunteering event with her church. Yes, it may seem that I am bragging, but it was heartening to see her putting herself out there in the lives of others who might not know much about what love really looks like.

Keep that in mind the next time someone is rude to you, hateful, unfair, or just looks or smells bad. While cringing or moving away from such a person may be the natural reaction, I challenge you to stop and think about what God's love would look like to such a person. Below is a story about a time that happened to me.


My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. (I John 3:18) 

That verse may be short but is loaded with great life principles, though never easy to apply. In my observation, we as Americans use the word love too freely. For some of us, love is easy to say, but is usually as far as we take it. 

If we acted out what love looked like each time we uttered it, our society would be a much different place. 

A physically and mentally challenged African named Eugene was sent to teach us about learning how to love IN DEED. In his younger days, Eugene had been a school teacher in Liberia, and then as a Liberian refugee teacher in Ivory Coast, until disease crippled his body with weakness and mental incoherency. Thinking him too much of a burden, his family abandoned him, as happens more often than you would think. He was forced on the streets to provide for himself though he was not really able to do so.  

A few months after we had settled into our home in Ivory Coast, Eugene showed up at our gate, his clothes ragged and filthy, smelling of stale urine and garbage. His feet teeming with chiggers, his hair matted with dirt and parasites, he only asked to look through our dumpa - garbage pile. Instead, we invited him in our yard and offered him food from our kitchen. Sitting on the front steps of our house, he gratefully ate whatever was provided. After he left, chiggers crawled freely on the concrete stoop where he had sat, making it evident we may eventually find chiggers in our feet, too. As repulsive as that thought was, none of us wanted to tell him that he could not sit on our stoop. Such a small gesture for a person with such great needs.

Walking past Eugene, as he sat on our front stoop, was provocative in many ways. It was not comfortable to see him in such a pitiful state nor smell the putridness of his sores, but feeling too ashamed to admit my discomfort, I instead asked God to help me love Eugene as He did. Saying we loved Eugene was to mean we would live out that love no matter how it made us feel. A smile. A dish of food. New sandals. A firm handshake without thinking of what might be on his hand. A drink of cool water. Taking time to listen to his bumbling speech and incoherent thoughts. Daily disinfecting the steps where he had been sitting without complaining. That’s what love looked like to Eugene. 

My love for Eugene was still distant and cautious until RJ showed us how it should be done. A Liberian Christian, RJ was married with one little boy and worked for us occasionally. Not academically astute, he was a hard worker with a big heart. On Easter Sunday, RJ preached a powerful sermon about loving in deed and in truth - without saying a word. The day before, he had asked for his pay (he did most of our gardening) plus a request to borrow a little extra money for that week. We did not think about it until the next morning when we saw him come through our gate with a bag of clothes, Eugene bumbling slowly behind him. RJ ran up the stairs and asked if he could borrow a bar of soap. After giving him the soap, we watched him walk with Eugene to the bathhouse located behind our house, but still easily seen from our upstairs bedroom window. After a few minutes in the bathhouse, he emerged with a clean, neatly clothed Eugene. RJ had even put a pair of new slippers on his rough, malformed feet. As Jeff and I stood at the window watching, the tears flowed freely. Jeff was scheduled to preach that morning at church, but he said something to the effect that he had already seen his sermon. 

RJ brought the freshly scrubbed Eugene in our yard and asked if he could ride to church with us that morning. Of course, he rode with us to church though we had never asked him before. Why had we never thought of how difficult it was for Eugene to walk to church? It was as touching an experience as I could ever remember. Plain, uncomplicated RJ ministering to physically debilitated Eugene in a palpable and beautiful way. The church members were very glad to see Eugene sitting in the pews that day, and even he seemed more lucid and in tune with his surroundings. A couple of days after that silent Sunday sermon, Eugene showed up at our house again in rags, telling us that some people had stolen the clothes off his back. Not able to fend for himself, he was at the mercy of heartless people who cared nothing about him. Knew nothing about love themselves. Our hearts broke for him. Sin looked us in the eye and mocked at our pain. 

Sadly, a few weeks later, we were told by the town police that Eugene had died in the middle of the night on a hard, wooden market table. While we were so thankful he no longer suffered physically, it was disturbing to think he had died alone. Nevertheless, I will be always grateful for how RJ taught me what it means to love IN DEED. 

(This excerpt was taken from a chapter in my soon-to-be published memoir, In Every Place. The setting of the story is a small town in western Ivory Coast, West Africa, while working with Liberian refugees displaced because of civil war)