Pulling Weeds: Being Thankful for Real Community

Guest blogging today is Sarah May. Sarah writes about seeing happiness in the most unlikely of situations and how we can bring that happiness to grieving people.
Sarah is a 20-something trying to navigate the world with a little help from Jesus and little bit of sarcasm. For more from Sarah visit http://www.mycompletemayhem.net.

I Hope They’re Weeds

IMG_8765Killing weeds is never fun. It may be cathartic if you’ve had a rough day, but no one jumps at the chance to weed the garden. It’s just not pleasant. I recently found myself cleaning the yard and killing weeds with my trusty bottle of Round Up and like most mindless task, I found myself thinking about life while I sprayed roundup on what I hope were weeds.

Cancer’s New Normal

You see, the weeds in my yard are two and half years old. I know this because that’s how long it’s been since our yard received some serious love. The weeds were symbolic of our lives going through cancer and then grief. When you enter the world of life with cancer, your new normal does not involve yard work, or home repairs. It involves clinics, hospital stays, trying to not fall behind at work, and chick-fil-a more than once a week.
After a year and half of our new life with cancer, we lost our new normal life and entered the world of grief. Grief exhaustion from the past year and half collided, and the energy to do anything outside of the normal means of living was just to overwhelming. For every weed, a new emotion.
When we first entered the world of cancer, people were quick to help without us asking. Food was delivered; a group showed up to finish some home projects and clean the yard. We were and are thankful for this. It helped make the transition easier. Then the rain fell and the garden grew. Yard work was never anywhere near the top of the to do list.

Smiling in Grief

Grief is terribly isolating. However, if you go the other side of the world, you will find a group of women who smile the biggest smiles you have ever seen. These women are either widows or they were left by their husbands. Due to the culture and the legal marriage age of 15, they have limited skills to earn a living and mouths to feed. These women have banded together and are supported by the community. They learn job skills as they go through life together. Not because it’s fun or church organized. They have to. To put food on the table and educate their children in hopes of a better future one day.
If you are ever blessed to meet a group of these women, I hope they rip your heart out in the best of ways. I have met these women, and they are full of more life and love for the Lord than anyone I have ever met. In meeting them all, I wanted to do was cry with an overwhelming emotion I cannot explain, but I couldn’t cry because a short 4’5″ woman with missing teeth grabbed me by the arm singing with the biggest smile on her face. Soon after, I found myself in the dancing circle singing and dancing.
I couldn’t cry; they were just too happy and I didn’t want to rob them of this joy. These women in this community, who had nothing, were so very happy. This is where happiness is in its purist form. Living life and supporting one another because it’s what they must do to live. It wasn’t about a monthly to do at the church or a biannual event. It wasn’t a way to feel like they had served the Lord and filled up their Jesus tank.

Good Deeds vs Good Neighbors

My family has been on the receiving end of these church groups and good deed quota filling events. But here I am, killing those same weeds. While my yard has been cleaned up and repairs fixed, those weeds grew back, because cancer and grief aren’t a one-time thing. They are a lifetime thing. While everyone is quick to help once or twice, few are willing to walk this path; for those few who have we are so very thankful.

While my dad was sick and in the months following his passing a neighbor would push his lawn mower down the street to our house and cut our grass. He wouldn’t ask or say “Call if you need anything.” He just did. Friends that call and say “I’m a minute from your house and coming to visit”–Those are God’s people. The small group of people whom I would call my parents’ true friends, who showed up to clean and organize our garage without motive or invite. And this tiny group, even though my Dad no longer gets to join them on their Friday night Mexican dinners, still always invites my mom.

I am often asked “Hey, how’s your mom?”. I have decided I will no longer answer this question. I am not my mom, and I cannot tell you how she is doing. If you want to know, call her, message her, stop by the house and find out for yourself.

I once had a fortune cookie tell me “Joy shared is doubled, sorrow shared is halved.” This cannot be more true.
This phase of life has taught me to help other without asking and to listen when a friend needs to talk. I can’t fix the world, or anything any one else is going through. But I can listen.

In short, if you find yourself wanting to share God’s love with someone in need,  please do, but be prepared to pull up the weeds when they regrow.

Hold the Spider

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I am fascinated by insects. Yes, I like them. They are interesting to watch, amazingly varied, and just plain cool. You know the odd thing, though? Add two legs and subtract one body segment, and what does that make an insect?

A spider.

And they are decidedly not cool.

I cannot explain this.

All I know is, there is family lore about me involving a bathtub, multiple shoes, and one large spider.

(My husband: Sweetheart, why are all my shoes in the bathtub?  Me: There was a dc31d-115_1579ed-tifspider. No further words necessary.)

Also there is another story involving me, a spider on the shower wall, and a subsequent non-family-friendly dash through the vacation rental house, but that is a story we do not need to share.

I am certifiably terrified of spiders. I used to hyperventilate going down the aisle in Petco where I knew they spent their creepy crawly existence. Actually looking in the aquarium would have required an EMT situation.

So what, oh what, could have ever inspired the picture below? (Warning—graphic picture below. No, not of the shower dash. Worse.)

It was Costa Rica’s fault.

f0f91-screen2bshot2b2014-12-022bat2b1-16-462bpmFacing the Fear

I was leading a team from church to Costa Rica to minister over Christmas break. I spent weeks coaxing and counseling team members out of their fears: Where will the money come from? What if I get sick? Should I really take my kid? Can I take two weeks off of work? I had answers for all of them. I wrote the book with those answers. Literally.

Yet in the middle of convincing other team members to cast off their fears and go for the trip, I realized I had that one niggling fear that I refused to face. The spiders. After all, they grow some big spiders in Costa Rica.

It seems small, to think of fear of spiders as a huge impediment to mission, but the truth was, I knew I had to face it or be a hypocrite. I couldn’t coach others to take medicine I would not swallow. Plus, if my ministry is to lead others away from fear, I’d better be willing to charge toward it myself.

I marched into the pet store (OK, I crept into the fourth pet store, after failing three times) to find a tarantula and–you got it–hold that baby. The very helpful pet shop guy talked me through the traumatic process. He assured me the spider would just sit there. And you know what? It did. You know what else? They’re actually soft. And even cute in a . . . creepy, way-too-many-legs-and-eyes, spidery sort of way.

Seriously, God gave me such a calm that the whole thing was kind of surreal and interesting. Plus, I made sure to get it on video. Because, you, know, this is not going to be repeated on an annual basis or anything. I’m not saying I’m going to go out and get a bird-eating tarantula for a housemate anytime soon. But–

Fear only has the power we give it. And I was tired of giving it.

Who Has Control?

Whenever fear, whatever the fear, controls our choices, it blocks who we were made to be. The older I get and the more I go through, the more I am adamant – I do not want to give control over to anyone but God. Certainly not an eight-legged critter with a brain the size of . . . I don’t know . . . do spiders have brains? Conventional ones? No clue. But I do know they have to be smaller than human brains, based on fundamental laws of physics.

“Get on with your new life. God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go! This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike ‘What’s next, Papa?’ God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children.” (Romans 8.14-15, The Message)

What do grave tenders do? They make graves neat and lovely. They ensure pretty, clean plots. Over dead things. Past things. Things with no life and no future. I don’t want to be a tender of dead things. I want to live adventurously expectant.

So why don’t we? Why don’t we feel like we are created for incredible purpose? Why don’t we wake up every morning asking, “What’s next, God?” Why don’t we expect wonder?

Fear Steals Our Identity

Because we fear. Rather than jump into our days, we dread them. We look at our lists and groan. We plan our next escape. We’re terribly afraid to step into identity as those children of God, because it might mean risk, conflict, change. We may dread mornings, but at least we know them. Being God’s representative – Stepping into our identity as His children and taking on whatever that means? That’s a scary unknown. It could involve things I’m not ready to give up, risks not I’m ready to take, changing values and ideas I’m not ready to reexamine.

It could involve holding that spider. And we hyperventilate at the thought.

Observer or Participant?

Jesus said,

“My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” In is fullest definition, “rich and satisfying” means “over and above, more than is necessary, exceedingly, abundantly, supremely, extraordinary, surpassing, uncommon, beyond imagination.”

Wow. That’s a whole lot of satisfying.

So the question for me in front of that spider aquarium was: Do I want to observe an extraordinary, uncommon, abundant life–or do I want to participate in one?

God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go! And spiders to hold.

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