In Luke 6:20-21 we read:
What about, happy are those who pay the bills, eat three meals a day and have a life of joy? Ummm…that’s not quite right.
Or . . .
What about, happy are those who support themselves and learn about what it means to walk in love by spending time with people who are further from the middle than we are? Okay, now we are getting somewhere!
The path of greater resistance
During my three years in law school, I poured over books and stressed about grades. It was a long haul but it was worth it. We all know that going in. However, great jobs were on the horizon, therefore we plowed through.
In case you don’t know, law school exams are the worst. The entire semester depends on one long (can you say, 3 to 5 hours!) test. Ugh. I could totally relate to my classmate who was always nervous. She neatly lined up Pepto Bismol, Tums, Ibuprofen, a bottle of water and mints in front of her before every final we took. No joke. I’m not making it up. We don’t joke about the stomach-churning angst of exams in law school. I’m out for 19 years now and it’s still too soon.
Anyway, the third year was extra stressful for my class because we were deciding on where to work after graduation and passing the bar. (Assuming we could pass that beast the first time!) Most friends chose to stay in Washington, DC because it is an attorney’s paradise. As a result, they went to big firms or government agencies.
But not me. Nope. I went to New York City and ended up in a job at Bellevue Hospital. My peers followed a sensible, solid and appropriate path. I earned peanuts and ran to catch the First Avenue bus every morning, in my sneakers and Ally McBeal style suits. It was great. I felt like I was giving back each and every day in a way that fit me better than law firm or government life. And, I was. But I was young and unaware…well, not for long.
At Bellevue people have nothing and everything
People cannot pay for the care their children desperately needed. Women require medication because they don’t have heat and get sick in the winter. Men are injured while searching for the survivors of 9/11 and rushed, forced away from the search and rescue, to the ER. The list goes on and on however the bottom line is this: nobody is ever turned away. The doors never close in a person’s face. The mission was, and still is, perfectly clear. (you can read it here https://www.nychealthandhospitals.org/bellevue/history/ ) All are served, regardless of ability to pay. Deuteronomy 15:7-8, 10-11 is in full force at Bellevue.
All. Are. Served.
This is a public hospital serving as Jesus served and the rules are simple. We embrace the poor, learn from them, are humbled by them. We are them, but perhaps not monetarily. All of us were schooled by “the least” among us on how to walk in love. I witnessed family members supporting each other in the surgical waiting area. Similarly, there were friends delivering prayers and hugs to inpatient units. However, the fact that it took several trains, time and money, (that wasn’t in the budget), to get to the hospital, was never a question. Neighbors attended check-ups to help translate and ease nerves. Food was cooked and brought over to thank a doctor who cared for a beloved grandmother. So, let me be clear; they were not “the least” by any stretch of the imagination.
In these beautiful people, I saw strength, sorrow, and fear woven together into a fabric that was loving wrapped around the community, making it stronger. Faith was the thread.
There was, is, no line between “us” and “them”. There is no least among us when we walk in love, together. Most importantly, we drank in what it means to be human and to minister to the sick and the poor, as we were also ministered to. We, the employees of the hospital, were served. As a result, I was shown a different path and the surprise was on me.
I was the vulnerable one.
After leaving Bellevue, the majority of my career has been in non-profit health and human services work. Each time I decided to chase money to put more food on the table, God reminds me of who I am and how my gifts can be used. As a result, I engage with folks who are sick, homeless and disabled. My world includes people struggling with addiction, behavioral health and a host of other complexities that make life just that much harder. And, while I work hard to create environments of grace and support, the irony is that I am the one receiving grace.
God shows himself to me in every smile, every tear, every thank you. He appears when a client runs to open the door for me, before heading to a group session, or somebody carries a box for me on their way to a medication check. When that man who only met me once, called out my name and thanked me for getting the elevator fixed… I didn’t recall his name but he knew mine. Grace lives right in that moment.
An employee once told me that I work for God. They are right.
Let’s remember that we, together, are a community that must lift each other up and reveals God’s grace. The lesson is not diluted when it comes from poverty or illness; rather, it is highly concentrated. It must be listened too. Acted upon. By all of us, in our own way.
So this week, my challenge for each of you is to consider where your most powerful lessons came from. Did you experience them with people on the margins? Maybe they came from stories like mine or a video you saw on YouTube. (This one is amazing, https://www.today.com/parents/how-one-mom-s-extraordinary-love-transforms-short-lives-hospice-t67096 ) Perhaps you are an engaged member of your community soup kitchen, shelter, food pantry or church. (Here in Connecticut, Beth-El is pretty exceptional http://www.bethelmilford.org ) Perhaps you shop from companies that are designed to be social enterprises. It all counts. It all matters.
Then, after you complete the step above, reflect on one small way that you can step out of the center. Find a way to move toward the edges, just a bit, to see what God has in store for you there. The assignment is clear: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God. ( Micah 6:8 )
I have a hunch that as you head to the margins, you will be filled with the Holy Spirit in a new and beautiful way.
I can’t wait to read about how you do! So come back and fill me in!