So much has changed since my husband and I moved from Iowa to Georgia three and a half years ago. What a difference prayer makes! Members of my local church are still being reminded to “love the person in front of you,” but I have become more intentional about expanding the circle of people I regularly encounter.
It started with a commitment to help lead a dinner church at the mission site connected with my local church. We envisioned dinner church as a place for people with no church experience (those who mark “none” for their church affiliation) and people who have had one or more bad church experiences (the “dones”). We were just about to launch our dinner church when the global pandemic shut down most social gatherings in our area. After a five-month delay, we began with a drive-thru dinner, then an outdoor gathering, and finally began meetings indoors with masks and social distancing.
Some of the guests to our monthly gathering for dinner and a Jesus story have been homeless, many are addicted to drugs or alcohol, some struggle with mental illness, and others are biblical scholars who are down on their luck. We have had children and the elderly join us. For some attendees, English is not their first language. Yet, we all come hungry and leave satisfied. It has been my privilege to meet new guests every month for over a year, even through the ups and downs of the pandemic.
More recently, I responded to a calling to mentor women at the Metro Transitional Center who are preparing to leave prison. I have come to meet many strong women who survived abuse, addiction, dysfunctional families, and poor decisions. I have met many women who were both perpetrators and victims of crime. But we don’t spend as much time talking about the past as we spend planning for the future God intends for them.
While some people see the women I meet at MTC as felons, I see them as mothers and grandmothers, as gardeners and dancers, as authors and poets. They are all striving to know God’s will and find a spiritual purpose for their lives. And they all are praying for their sisters in transition who are seeking employment and housing while they continue their therapy and recovery programs. Together we celebrate every small victory that moves them closer to a faith-filled life.
As I continue my personal journey to accept others as they are instead of judging them, I am awed by the perseverance and resilience I see in people whose lives have been far more challenging than my own. I have seen repentance lived out and forgiveness reluctantly accepted.
I will continue to pray for the victims of crime in my community, but I have a better understanding of the life circumstances that can lead someone to do criminal acts. I know that Jesus loves us all and seeks to find those with repentant hearts. So I also confess my own sins rather than calling attention to the sins of others. And I pray for all the people who happen to come my way, knowing that Jesus died for each of them. May we each pray for the power to love whomever God puts in front of us.
This season, Whitney R. Simpson has given us the gift we must open: a clear, accessible invitation to connect with the divine spark that is within us. This is the best present: being present for Jesus’ birth, God made human.”
Learn more about our newest Advent resource, Fully Human, Fully Divine here.