Recognizing the Unlovable

I love Netflix.  I mean, come on, what’s not awesome about streaming movies right to your Wii?  TV shows, classics, documentaries, you name it.  I especially love watching other people’s stories.  There was this one documentary called Dive about people who dumpster dive for food, shining a light on how wasteful we are as a country.  A carton of strawberries thrown out because one strawberry is bad.  Sure, nobody’s going to buy it, so give it away!

Back to the instant streaming phenomenon.  Several months ago, thanks to Netflix, I was able to watch a documentary that I wouldn’t have heard about otherwise.  Mama Heidi: The Inspiring Story of Heidi and Rolland Baker.  The whole thing was inspiring (hence the title), but one phrase stood out to me the most, and has stuck with me since.  It was Heidi’s prayer right before God called her to Mozambique.

She asked God to help her love the unlovable.

I didn’t really know what it meant at the time, but I was never able to shake it.  It stuck in my head and popped up at random times.  I believed it meant to love the people in my life who were intentionally spiteful to me without cause.  In truth, I wanted to punch these people in the face (and almost did on several occasions), but the phrase would pop in my head (love the unlovable), so I would restrain myself and just smile or walk away.

The months passed.  I felt like I was doing really well, considering all the people I hadn’t hit.

And then God took me to Fuge.

For those of you who don’t know, Fuge is a national bible camp started and run by Life Way.  Total fun, incredible relationships, and God inspired worship are standard fare for Fuge.

This year our group went to Mission Fuge.  Instead of recreation in the morning and activities (crafts, choir, basketball, etc.) in the afternoon, we went and served in the community where the camp was held.  The mission track options ranged from beach ministry, to PCY (painting, construction, and yard work), to children’s ministry.

God put me in social ministry.  I had several amazingly full days of serving at different places that I would love to tell you about some time, but right now I will focus on where I went Thursday.

That morning dawned bright and early for me (up at 5:30, tired and nauseous).  I applied sunscreen, makeup, fixed my hair, put on glasses, my bathing suit, and my clothes over top of that.  Yes, I was supposed to wear my swim suit.

Chronic illness is a killer in the morning.  Many times, if I don’t get enough sleep, I’ll feel so sick that I’ll throw up.  At breakfast in the dining hall (trying not to gag as others ate bacon and waffles) I managed to drink some orange juice, but nothing more.  Praying I wouldn’t puke on the way, I headed out for another day of missions.

It was probably a fifteen minute drive to where we were going.  Never had I been so glad to get out of a car before in my life.  I don’t typically get motion sick, but this time was a MAJOR exception.

We were at a place called the Coastal Center: a live in care center for mentally impaired adults.  Our group headed for the pool (this is where the swim suit comes in).

Our morning activity was to help the most severely impaired people swim in the pool.  It was only three and a half feet at it’s deepest, so even I was able to stand easily in the water.  One of the patients would be lowered in where three of us would grab them and hold them so they could float in the water.

The man I helped carry was Mike.

Mike was probably 60+ and had the mental capacity of an infant or young toddler.  He was sweet and would try to talk some, but could only manage grunts and squeals.  I don’t know what he comprehended, if anything.

The whole time we were in the pool with Mike (about an hour and a half), I was physically very close to him, holding him up in the water.  I was already feeling really nauseous, but Mike made it worse.  All his teeth were rotting and he was breathing directly on my face.  I tried EVERYTHING I could to avoid throwing up in the pool, and I just barely made it.  The whole time I was thinking love the unlovable.

After lunch and lots of sitting down (which helped me feel better), we were ready for our afternoon activity.  Our group was set up in the gym to hang out with the higher functioning patients.  Some of the guys played basketball.  The residents really love Michael Jackson, so they had music playing, and a lot of them were dancing.  There were beads, pipe cleaners, string, chalk, and other supplies to do crafts as well.

Not wanting to move much, I looked for someone sitting down that I could talk to.  I spotted a man in a green shirt sitting all alone on a couch in the craft area.  Perfect.  He looked to be around his thirties, and he wasn’t doing anything but sitting there staring into the distance.

I sat down next to him.  He didn’t move.

I said “Hi”.  He didn’t move.

I told him my name.  And guess what?  He didn’t move.

I asked him if he wanted to go play basketball with the others.  Finally responding, he said “No I do not”.  I asked him if I could sit and talk with him.  He said “Yeah”.

After asking one of the staff I learned that the guy’s name was Matt.  I also learned that he could really only say “Yeah” or “No I do not”.  If I asked him what color he liked, he’d act confused and try to garble something out, then give up.  If I asked him if he liked the color blue, he could say yes or no.

It was like a gigantic game of twenty questions (meaning twenty THOUSAND questions).  I’d ask every single thing I could think of, sit and think for a while, then ask some more.  Every type of food, season, drink, TV show, color, movie, activity, you name it, I asked it.  At one point I was able to share the gospel with Matt.  I don’t know how much he understood, if any of it.  But he sat there and listened.

I felt really great about myself right then.  Most people would have simply moved on when Matt didn’t respond, but I was sticking it out and making an effort to talk to him.  I was loving the unlovable.

Finally, I asked him if he wanted to make a bracelet.  Tired of talking (but not tired of sitting), I figured this would be a good activity.  He said he didn’t want to.  So I talked about my siblings, and talked to him about his family, on and on and on.  Out of things to talk about, I tried again, this time with a different tactic.  I asked him if he’d like to make me a bracelet.  He agreed.

I picked out a purple pipe cleaner and got a handful of beads (you know, those giant plastic ones), and brought them back to the couch.  I held the pipe cleaner, and he’d pick out the beads and put them on.  He was slow and methodical, choosing each bead with care and placing it on the pipe cleaner.  Even with all that, the whole project took about ten minutes.

With time to spare, and a voice rapidly declining, I convinced Matt to help me make more jewelry.  We made me a necklace, and a ring, and him a bracelet, and a ring.  When we finally finished everything it was time to go.  I had been sitting with Matt for around two hours.  I’d only gotten him to smile at me a couple of times, but it was beautiful and genuine.  I thanked him for letting me sit with him and helping me make things.

On the way back to camp I thought about it.  I’d had a tough day, but I’d gotten through it.  I’d done a good job loving the unlovable, and I had some new jewelry to prove it.  I was feeling pretty awesome.

That night when we were in church group devotions, everyone was sharing how they’d been impacted during the day or how God had spoke to them.  I was ready to tell everyone what a great person I’d been.

God had other ideas.

Something dawned on me.

A thought so momentous I almost cried.

As soon as I’d gotten to the Coastal Center I’d been thinking mostly about how sick I felt.  I.  Me. 

The first thing I noticed about the residents was their disability.  How they were different.  What was wrong with them.  How they looked, or walked, or spoke.  I didn’t try to, I just did.

And after the day was over I was thinking about how I had impacted the lives of the people I’d met.

God had to hit me over the head with a log, but I finally got it.

In this situation, who was it that needed love?  I was the only one acting selfishly.  I was the only one with judgement in my heart.  I was the only one filled with pride.

Out of the three people in question, Matt and Mike weren’t the unlovable.

I realized that I was.

Mike and Matt  had done nothing but accept me all day long.  They didn’t care about my height.  They didn’t point out the gap in my front teeth.  They didn’t mention the dark circles under my eyes.

Matt made me jewelry and let me talk to him.  Mike would smile at me when I sang Jesus Loves Me to him, even though I don’t have a great voice.

All day long I’d been thinking that I was loving the unlovable. 

Turns out, the whole time I was thinking that, I was the unlovable.

I don’t know if I impacted Mike or Matt at all on Thursday.  But they for sure impacted me.

Instead of sharing what I’d intended with my church group (about me being awesome, and how great I was at recognizing the unlovable) I ended up confessing my sinful thoughts and how wrong I was.

On Thursday, Mike and Matt were the ones that loved the unlovable.

Because they loved me.

So now, do me a favor.  Before you stop and judge someone for who they are, what they look like, what they are wearing, how they smell, or where they’re from, ask yourself a question.  Are they the ones that need love?  Or are you the one being unlovable?

Feeling convicted?  Have hope!  Romans 5:8 says “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Are you unlovable?  Filled with selfishness, pride, judgement, hate?

Guess what?  God loves you.  He is waiting for you, ready and willing to redeem your life.  All you have to do is ask.

I should know.

He did it for me.



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