the reach and welcome of love …

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My heart is tender toward her tonight – the new girl who showed up at our summer kick-off, Wednesday night fellowships at the pool. She was easy to spot, stuck there at a table of men who out-aged her by at least fifty years. Talk about awkward. When I asked her who she was and how it was that she came to be in our midst, she simply replied, “Mr. Bill invited me.”

I chuckled, while pointing out the retired, elderly minister who fellowships in our midst, and asked her, “That Mr. Bill?”

“No, the preacher man named Mr. Bill.”

“Oh that Bill! He’s my Bill. You can call him Billy.”

And so the conversation began between us. Curious to know how she and my Billy got connected, I learned that this rising, eighth grader was one of the participants in a mentoring encounter our congregation sponsors with local middle-schoolers. A banquet was held in their honor last week, and Preacher Billy invited all the kids to come and be part of our Wednesday night fellowships by the pool.

Bravely she came; bravely she remained despite her odd seating arrangement during the dinner hour. If I had been her, I would have bolted at the first opportunity, texting my mom to quickly come and rescue me from the awkwardness. Instead she waited it out, and my heart broke with the waiting.

Waiting for someone to notice her.
Waiting for someone her age to come around and invite her to join in the fun.
Waiting for the newness to not feel so new to her but, instead, to feel a little bit normal.

I’m not much of a waiter, so after a painful hour of watching this scene play out, I gathered a couple of other women, and together, we coaxed our visitor down to the pool area and implored a few kids to come and offer their greetings. Before long, my new friend was splashing in the pool and, hopefully, feeling better about having taken the preacher man up on his invitation.

Not long after that, her mother arrived to pick her up; I was able to sneak in a quick handshake before their departure, wishing for more time and for a better way of extending the reach and welcome of love to strangers. It’s a haunting ache that has stayed with me all evening. My heart has always been tender toward those who sit on the fringes, the ones overlooked and often ignored. I’m fighting another feeling tonight as well – annoyance.

Why are kids so slow to recognize strangers in their midst? Why not the reach and welcome of love? Why isolate them rather than include them? Are their senses so dulled not to notice the need or are they so self-absorbed that to notice would require too much of them? Where’s the kindness we so boldly proclaim and yet, sometimes, so pitifully live?

I know it sounds harsh; it is harsh. But it’s true . . . across the board, whether teenagers or adults. Why do we bunch up instead of branch out? We are the church – the body of Christ, a group of believers who boldly claim the name of our Lord as our identity . . . Christians. Little Christs. For heaven’s sake . . . really for the sake of heaven . . . when are we going to start acting like him? When are we going to start reaching out instead of always living in?

I’m tired of playing church. That’s not my game. Instead, I want to live Jesus and give Jesus so that no one ever sits on the fringes, feeling unloved, unwelcomed, unnoticed. Perhaps I am tender to this, because like my new friend, I have sat where she sat tonight . . . many times – just wanting to be noticed, to be “in” instead of feeling so very “out.”

Oh could we just live it better, friends? Just look away from the mirror long enough to notice the new faces around us? Just speak some Jesus words of grace and interest into the lives of those who sit within arm’s reach? It doesn’t take much to make a heart smile and to warm up to the idea of friendship. It just takes some willingness on our parts and some training of our hearts to fully understand the kingdom impact of the reach and welcome of love.

Two thousand years ago, my Jesus stood on a hillside, extending the reach and welcome of love through his blood-stained hands. He noticed me then; he notices me still; he notices us all. Why? Because it’s in his heart to make sure that we’re all “in” instead of living as outsiders.

Christ is the way in. A heart shaped by this truth will never forsake the outsider. Instead, a heart shaped by the reach and welcome of Calvary’s love will live accordingly.

Reaching. Welcoming. And loving a new friend all the way home to Jesus.

No longer a stranger on the fringes but, instead, one of the family.

This is my gospel. This is my Jesus. This is the servant I want to be.

So be it. Amen.

Photo Credit: oneinchpunch / 123RF Stock Photo

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22 Responses to the reach and welcome of love …

  1. That girl is quite admirable, waiting for something to happen in an awkward situation. It was a good thing you took notice, and took action as well. My guess is that she had a good time after all. And who knows, that night could very well spell the difference in her life, the night someone took notice is the night she realizes that she matters after all. Thank you for sharing this story, Elaine.

    • Really, her courage stunned me! I hope she’ll return. My heart is re-awakened for the need of welcoming committees. Let it begin with me, Lord.

    • Good to see you here, Chris. Thank you for all the ways you’ve opened up our daughter’s heart to receive and give the love of the Father. You’re a mighty fine example.

  2. This touched me. Growing up, I was that girl. Shy, quiet, sitting on the fringes. I can even remember (vividly, by the way) in 7th grade when my best friend turned on me for some reason, and organized a shun-and-belittle campaign against me. I’m convinced it changed something inside of me.

    That being said, I am sensitive, too, to those who sit at the fringes. I loved how you said we should be branching out instead of bunching up. Yes, we adults are also at fault in that. Cliques are things of the enemy, in my opinion.

    I’m so glad that God used you to bring His love and acceptance to this girl. I’m glad that it was Billy that asked her to be there. I am so eternally grateful for a Savior whose invitation sweeps out for all of us.

    May we be better examples of His all-inclusive love.

    GOD BLESS!

    • My radar has always been sensitive in this area. Like you, Sharon, I’ve felt the pain of exclusion from those who I thought were friends. Perhaps, then, my sensitivity in this area. I never want anyone to feel unnoticed.

  3. How glad I am that you noticed her sitting there and took her under your wing and introduced her around. How hard that must have been for her to be sitting there at such a table. I honestly think that the others her age like you said, simply didn’t notice. Unfornately it is so easy to do. But I am grateful to hear that once others were made aware of her, they included her in their fun. I think the “noticing” is a gift from our Lord, and rather you got that from hurts in your past or not you are obedient in your nudgings from Him to DO something for these who sit on the outside. Thank God for that….we NEED many more who notice. I can remember when my daughter was growing up (she was always soo popular, which came with it’s own set of problems btw) me trying to impress on her heart the need to NOTICE. To try to include everyone. To leave no one out. She had such a big heart she did her best. But she told me years later she had to pray constantly about noticing, because it didn’t come naturally. I think many such things don’t come naturally. But a heart sensitive to Him, does hear, see and act. This was SUCH a good reminder to us all Elaine!

    • A good reminder to me as well, Debbie. “Noticing” is a gift from the Lord, and I need to remember that!

  4. I have often been ‘that girl’. She was brave for even coming, and she was blessed that you were there. This reaching out thing…..not sure why it is so hard for the church to do it. In my old age, I have tried to be deliberate in noticing those who hung on the fringes…those who had look of ‘new’ and ‘visitor’ all over them. I don’t get it right every time, but I’m working on it.

    • It’s the kids who (I think) have it the hardest. As an adult, I’ve learned to adapt to awkward situations (having car keys and an escape route help). For example – that same night of the party, an adult visitor came for the first time. In fact, he’d only been at our church service one time (the previous Sunday), learned about the invite, brought a dessert and joined in on the fun. So it’s an interesting contrast in personalities/stories. My heart is drawn to the kids/youth. It’s has to be a really hard chore to grow up in these times.

  5. This post toUched me. Moving multiple times as a child, never having a sense of being part of the ‘in’ crowd, I can relate. But what that did for me as an adult is the built in radar that connects me to others who feel that way. As for the kids, I think they would be better at it if: a) they saw it lived out in their daily lives – in their homes, b) if the church organized a ‘Hey! glad you’re here,’ team. As for adults not reaching out, could some of it be that the ones with gifts of mercy, compassion, service and hospitality will be the ones who will gravitate towards outsiders first? We tend to operate out of our giftedness in all areas of our lives.

    Grat post, my friend.

    • Yes – love the idea of a “Glad you’re here” team, Marsha. I think that’s all is would take in our churches to get the ball rolling!

  6. Ouch! But thank you, thank you, Elaine! Strange. Even we who know the place of the ‘outsider’, been there, done that, sigh away from other ‘outsiders’. This helps! Giving Thanks!

    • I just keep thinking about the Shepherd’s search and care over the one, lost sheep. We spread the gospel and enlarge the kingdom through our love, do we not? Love is where it begins. Thanks for being here.

  7. Did you happen to see Alistair Begg’s tweet the other day? “Love always takes the initiative. If there’s no welcome in the room, you be the welcomer.” YOU were the welcomer 🙂 In our little church, there’s nothing I hate more than to see someone sitting alone. I have already left my “perch” at the keyboard and gone to sit by that person instead of the front row….I’m really challenged when there are TWO people sitting alone!

    • No – hadn’t seen that one yet, but it’s a great quote – great truth! Thanks for sharing it. Be the welcomer! Love it.

  8. This post touched home with me, too! Even now, when faced with going into any kind of new situation, I’m still an “outskirts” kind of person. It takes me awhile to feel comfortable in groups. I went through a terribly awkward childhood. Growing up, there were just too many times I was excluded, not being part of the IN-crowd. I remember what that felt like. Bless your heart for making that young lady feel welcomed into your fellowship, and for encouraging others to do the same!

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you wondered if children/youth are just too self-absorbed. There are exceptions to every rule, but for the most part, I believe they are. It’s not always intentional…they just don’t think! As a mom, I tried very hard to teach my children to have caring, compassionate hearts. It’s a constant learning process for kids/youth, though. Hopefully, as adults, we are more sensitive to uncomfortable situations we personally experienced as young people.

    These days, I think it’s difficult for people to walk into a new church. It takes awhile for people to feel as if they are accepted, part of the church family. Shame on us. We all need to welcome guests with open arms.

    This part of your post really touched my heart: “I’m tired of playing church. That’s not my game. Instead, I want to live Jesus and give Jesus so that no one ever sits on the fringes, feeling unloved, unwelcomed, unnoticed. Perhaps I am tender to this, because like my new friend, I have sat where she sat tonight . . . many times – just wanting to be noticed, to be “in” instead of feeling so very “out.””

    Another great post, friend…it’s a message we all need.

    Love you.

    • Thankfully, our church is a welcoming church! We’ve seen some new growth in church membership since we came here last summer, and I credit the kindness of our congregation as the driving force behind visitors’ returning. You’re right – kids need reminding. Too often, I assume they just “get it.” Love you, friend. Looking forward to seeing you soon.

  9. wifeforthejourney:

    How we are all tempted to “bunch.” It is easier. “Branching” requires something of us. We risk something of ourselves with the branching – often the risk is little more than our time – but when its time with friends verses time with a stranger…..

    Thanks for writing this post, and reminding us all to rise above our selfish tendencies to think of including someone new. Its one thing to invite someone new, we also have to make an effort to make them feel welcome. I hope she will be willing to dare to return next week, and that someone will be waiting and watching for a brave girl looking for a church where she can belong.

    Love to all,
    Billy