Love at the Molecular Level

“…to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated…”  Isaiah 61:2b-4a

All of us endure experiences we’d never want to repeat or see anyone else face. If given the choice through foreknowledge, of course, we’d say, “No, thank you,” and walk away from disaster.  But that option doesn’t always present itself nor are we given much if any warning.  These experiences produce, in and through them, outcomes that surprise us with their beauty, redemption, lessons learned, an ability to reinvent ourselves, build character, new or enhanced relationships, and fresh empathy.  While we’d like to have skipped the experiences to begin with, there’s no way to get to their rewards without them.

The coronavirus pandemic plus the recent events that have exposed raw racial wounds are just such worldwide experiences.  No one saw these coming, and both slammed us with immense intensity.  Since the events involving George Floyd or others, it could be argued that although we won’t always know the players, we can expect more of these events, if things don’t change soon.

For Covid19, the primary medical focus is numbers: how many cases, how many deaths, now many tests and are they accurate, how many hospital beds are available, how many hospitals are empty, where is it worst, which age-range is currently most susceptible, herd immunity, whose numbers can we trust, etc.?  The primary social focus is heated and polarizing:  masks, no masks, stay home, crowded gatherings, developing herd immunity, the new normal, when will this be over, I need a haircut, I just want to go to a restaurant, now I can do all those projects I’ve put off, I wish I had motivation for all these projects, I’m broke, I’m unemployed, I’m Zoomed out, I’m lethargic and exhausted, I don’t know what day it is, etc.  

Racial upheaval and the resulting reactions and conversations have been just as dramatic:  all lives matter, black lives matter, blue lives matter, no lives matter till black lives matter, systemic racism, I wasn’t alive when this all started, I’m not racist, am I racist, I don’t know how to talk about this, only people of color understand this, I’m color blind, don’t be color blind, privilege, removing statues and emblems, don’t erase history, protests, riots, looting, defunding police, etc.

It’s enough to fill our heads to overload, pitting us against one another; this is a whole new level of divisiveness for our country and even other parts of the world.  To all of this, we can add the current political climate as we prepare for the presidential election.  

What if the focus moved toward positive outcomes instead, to stories of beauty from these ashes?  What if the Lord has special unexpected gifts for us—the best kind—through all these crises?  He does!  And not just one gift but many.  It’s very much a treasure hunt.  If our focus is on all the negatives, we’ll miss the treasures, blinded by distractions that keep us from seeing what God has for us or hearing His voice instead of all the others coming at us from every direction.

My abundantly filled treasure chest was deposited just as the pandemic began.  I saw early on that the Lord had given me the gift of time.  Ask anyone who knows me: busyness seems to be a hallmark of my life, and oh, how I longed for more people time, especially in my own neighborhood.  It seems I know very few neighbors well.  Now to not squander that gift.   My nextdoor neighbor and I began having socially distanced coffee time together across our lawns most mornings.  What a blessing this has been with so many more people than usual out walking, running, dog walking, and cycling.  Now I know Jennie and Debbie and Mike and Andrea.  I know even more, but not yet by name.  Before mid-March, I would never have seen them on a nearly daily basis, let alone have said more than, “Hi!” or gotten to learn their names.  Time, as a gift, allows us to grow in relationship like nothing else.

At the end of the first week of June, heavy winds took down a colossal branch from a tree in our front yard.  It missed our cars, fortunately; the worst damage was to our apricot tree. Happily, it’s surviving and recovering well.  When this occurred, I had been saying hello to neighbor Mike almost every morning as he walked his and Andrea’s dog.  On one of his walks, he saw my husband Kevin working out front and volunteered to come help with the tree clean-up.  Mike and Kevin talked as they worked, learning they had so much in common. What a treasure Mike is.

It’s hard to imagine that these two global events, the pandemic and the racial crisis, could overlap in positive personal ways.  But they ultimately did for me and, voila, more treasures to unpack.  

In the process of getting to know neighbors, I️ also got to know something about judgment and how I️ pre-assess people based on the external.  I know we all do, but it’s what we do with that assessment that matters.  One reason we’ve been given our senses is in order to live in safety. What we hear, see, smell, taste, touch, and even intuit tells us when to stay away from danger. Senses also help us appreciate God’s artistry. Finally, senses also build a history of memories, to repeat pleasant sensory experiences, and to make decisions about people and places we might revisit or avoid.

Mike and I️ were discussing our local veterinarian’s office since he took his new puppy there. He asked me what I think of them.  Well, I️ launched into physical descriptions of the employees and how they’d changed over time. When I️ first started taking our pets there years ago, the people and the environment seemed very professional and the care was excellent. Some years went by between visits. When I️ returned, I️ was shocked to see that nearly every employee had numerous visible tattoos. Were they any less professional? My assessment told me the level of professionalism must be reduced based on what I️ saw. This is my preconceived notion about tattoos.  My apologies to my tattooed friends.  Heretofore, I’ve had the notion that so many tattoos and so visible is equal to unprofessional. Not one of those tattoos answers any questions about training or how well the employees interact with pets or their owners. But this is how we are trained. We make judgments based on the external. These judgments are often unfairly made.  At the moment I️ gave my answer, Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, “Do you even hear yourself? Mike didn’t ask you what the employees looked like. He asked you what you thought of the care your pets got.” I️ was so surprised at myself.  It sounds like it would have been a much longer process, but in an instant, I changed gears to think about the actual question.   I️ told Mike I️ was sorry, that I️ shouldn’t assess based on appearances. Because truthfully, the only thing that changed was how the employees looked. I️ still received the same great care. Fortunately, Mike was gracious and understood. Just as importantly, I️ began wondering if this was a constant in my life. How often do I️ make decisions about people based solely on the external? I️ didn’t exactly pray and ask God to show me so I️ could change my behavior. No. He beat me to it with a test.

The next week when I was at work at the Valley Vineyard, I️ picked up a phone call. As I️ listened to the gentleman on the line, I️ immediately began trying to place his accent. It really wasn’t necessary, and it wouldn’t impact whether or how I️ would help him. It was just normal curiosity. And suddenly, it was as if I were two people, the me in the conversation and the me observing, somehow knowing this was a test from the Lord.  I actually analyzed my thoughts and had a side conversation with myself, in my head, about judgment and our tendency to pre-assess people.  I also continued listening to the caller.  He said he had some new facemasks he’d like to donate to the church, and he asked if we’d like them.  I was thinking, we don’t know you.  Why would you drop off masks at a place you’ve never been?  Can we trust you?  Can we feel comfortable about the masks and whether they’re safe?  Then he added that although he had never been to the Vineyard, he lived in the area and would like to start attending.  Oh, okay, I reasoned, maybe he’s a good guy after all.  And me to myself:  Stop judging this man you’ve never met.  Say yes to the masks and ask others on staff if they’re comfortable giving them out.  

I gave the man complete instructions where to drop the masks off.  Where not to park—the Manna parking lot in the front—and where to enter and find us—the main parking lot in the back.  I gave him our hours during the week and told him to mention that he and I had talked in case he came by on a day I wasn’t there.

About an hour later, he calls again and says he’s there but doesn’t know how to find us.  I had a hunch.  He was exactly where I thought, in the front parking lot.  He heard the instructions completely opposite to how I had given them.  Hmm.  Can’t follow directions.  Followed by Holy Spirit conviction.  Me to self:  What makes you think that you were clear in your instructions?  Now, it would have been easy to say to him, oh, no, that’s exactly opposite of what I said.  But what good would that do, except to make him feel uncomfortable, perhaps even stupid?  Not to mention, how arrogant I would be and sound.

After getting new directions, he and his passenger pulled up next to the patio and I was there waiting.  A modest car, dull paint, a little messy inside the car, a walker folded up in the backseat.  He had a rounded belly with his shirt riding high, exposing his girth. Should I trust the masks, given the car and passengers’ appearances?  

His passenger was younger, at least by 10 plus years.  She looked a bit tired and disheveled.  She rifled through her purse for various things, including several $20 bills.  She asked for a pen and an offering envelope.  I ran inside to get them.  Then they asked for a bulletin or something with a schedule.  I ran back in for something with our info on it.  Then I mentioned our Thursday and Saturday food banks, and yes, they were interested, so I ran back in for flyers.    I’m thinking to myself, all of this is available online.  Oh, that’s right.  He told me on the phone they don’t have email or internet.  Who doesn’t today?  Okay, some people don’t, true.  

He introduced the passenger as his wife and laughed because he knew I’d be surprised when he said she was 16 years younger than he was.  Then she handed me the envelope with a handsome offering in it.  On the bottom, the envelope said, “Please pray I find my three children I haven’t seen in years.”  All my judgments thus far ended as my mama’s heart broke for her.

In fact, each time I made any judgments, I knew the Lord was watching to see my reaction to this common behavior of judging on appearances.

Before it appears that I’m advocating total acceptance of every single human we encounter, truly we must use wisdom and trust Holy Spirit to guide us into exercising care and good judgment, just the same way we teach children and teens about stranger danger.  Sadly, there are those who we cannot or should not trust, but we must make those decisions carefully case by case.  We might be delighted and surprised by what we learn about new folks we meet.

Years ago, I️ began researching DNA. Not a highly scientific, highly technical study. I️ just wanted to know more solidly about our existence and be able to defend my stance on when life begins. The minute a woman’s ovum and a man’s seed unite, the blueprint or DNA for a specific unique human is formed. From that moment till that individual dies, that blueprint is the same. Skin, hair, eye color, fragrance and odor, and all adornments and accessories, whether temporary or permanent, are just “clothes” on our DNA.  These are what we judge, where we use our senses to measure each other up, to determine socioeconomic status, where we decide whether people are us or they.  

After my conversation with neighbor Mike and later with the man on the phone at work, I️ thought about this research.  Sight unseen, our Heavenly Father and awesome creator determines immediately what we’re going to look like, our physical traits, and even some of our innate characteristics.  How intentional our existence is!  The timing is exact, precise, not a moment too soon or too late.  Recently I watched a romcom called, Love, Wedding, Repeat. (Fair warning before you log in to Netflix, it has its inappropriate parts.)  One of the least likely characters—or am I judging him—put it so well: “Have you ever thought about how small the chances are that you would be born?  If just one thing in history had changed, if just one of your millions of ancestors hadn’t crossed paths, the exact moment they did, then you wouldn’t exist. You’d never have even lived a single day.”

The Lord formed and knew us in the secret place, in our first physical home, our mother’s womb.  He loved us into existence, and he knew us at the molecular level.  So, the Artist who decided exactly how he would sculpt us also went to the trouble to plan and know the finishing touches that make us who we will be, who we are, before we’re even launched into the world and before we’ve even drawn our first breath.  What if we began to think of each other sans the external, the way God formed us before birth?  What if we put aside and looked past the external and the information our senses use to cause us to pre-assess and judge?  What if we took the time to get to know people before making decisions about them?  

And what would that look like?  It would mean listening and learning. It would mean not automatically sizing people up.  It would mean recognizing each person’s uniqueness.   Just as our Father did before we were born. We’re wonderfully made.  We’re beautiful creations.  This is God’s estimation of us decided before even one person sees us. Who are we to look at each other and dispute God’s opinion?

Science confirms it and so does the Word of God: “You formed my innermost being, shaping my delicate inside and my intricate outside, and wove them all together in my mother’s womb. I thank you, God, for making me so mysteriously complex!  Everything you do is marvelously breathtaking. It simply amazes me to think about it!  How thoroughly you know me, Lord!” (Psalm 139:13-14, The Passion Translation)

Yet we frequently make decisions about people based solely on what we see.

I’ll be first to say I’m grateful that, with my eyes, I️ can admire a spectacular sunset, a magnificent rose, our beautiful planet, a world full of amazing creatures, and the warmth of a welcoming smile. And though it often brings sorrow, I can also appreciate seeing tragedies unfold in the news or in my life because they are reminders that we need God and his peace in our lives. Nothing strengthens prayer life like serious milestones.

But sometimes I️ think how much better off we’d be if we didn’t have the sense of sight. That way we wouldn’t see the external things about us that cause us to identify, judge, and group others as different, better than, or beneath us. Yet I️ realize that because of our sin nature, something else would take sight’s place and we’d find another way to criticize and judge. Most of the time, our opinions about people have nothing to with nor do they support relationship building. Our petty assessments are often impenetrable walls we build, fortified by prejudice, hatred, racism, and tradition. Or it’s as if layers and layers of blindfolds prevent us from seeing people in any genuine and loving way.

How aptly Pastor Bill put it in his recent sermon a few weeks ago: “May we, as a followers of Jesus, stop for a moment and ask God to help us see people as He sees them.”  

Just imagine a world like that this side of Heaven.

By Annette Grable

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1 Comment

Linda Odahl - September 3rd, 2020 at 9:59pm

Thank you Annette. What you wrote was both encouraging to me and convicting. It is so subtle, all the little ways we (me) have of judging and labeling people. I pray God help me see people with His eyes. Thank you for you sharing honestly and wisely your thoughts.

Blessings to you.