I haven’t forgotten my experience from ten years ago when a homeless woman gave me a hug. It’s caused me to think twice about my reactions to people who seem different from me. My continuing commitment to treat everyone equally was put to the test only a few weeks ago. Dianne, a woman from our church, told my husband and me that her husband’s nephew was being transferred to our local nursing care facility. “Darrell has had such a hard life,” she said, describing his struggle with cerebral palsy and childhood abuse. Darrell had just been placed in hospice care due to stage four bone cancer.
Even Dianne’s descriptions didn’t prepare me for our visit. Darrell’s skeletal body lay stretched out, his face a mealy shade of white. He spoke with a slur and held up a bony hand. With an unnatural boldness for me, I grasped his hand. I said, “Hi Darrell. I’m Karen.” Bypassing normal chitchat, I launched into a description of the joys that awaited him in Heaven. “I’ve heard you’ve accepted Christ as your Savior. Just think! In Heaven, you’ll have no more pain, heartache, or suffering.” Equally blunt, Darrell turned the conversation to the emotional anguish of his past. “Do you know what that’s like?” he asked.
I realized that I shared much in common with this man. Darrell had cerebral palsy. I have a severe visual impairment. Each of us had people in our lives whom we needed to forgive. We both needed God’s grace. Any external differences between Darrell and me got pushed to the sidelines. They just weren’t important.
In the next few moments, Darrell and I spoke with a frankness that surprised everyone in the room. We talked about the things that matter most—the honest admissions of life gone awry, the necessity of forgiveness, and the need to find closure in unfinished business.
Darrell looked up at me. “Will you give me a hug?” I hugged his pain-wracked, unyielding body, and he smiled as we pulled apart. “Thank you for loving me,” he said.
My eyes grew moist. I’ve come a long way from that cold day on an Ohio sidewalk when I hugged a stranger. This time, in another encounter with a stranger, I didn’t even hesitate based on external ideas of the person before me. Darrell was a human being with a cavernous need for love and acceptance.
The concept that all people are created in God’s image is repeated throughout scripture. God scolded Samuel for judging David’s older brother Eliab by his outward appearance rather than by his heart. (See 1 Samuel 16:7.) Jesus dispelled the cultural notion that someone’s physical deformity defines their spiritual relationship with God when his disciples asked if a man’s blindness was caused by sin. (See John 9:1-3.) And Paul makes it clear in Galatians 3:28 that in God’s kingdom, regardless of gender, race, or status, we are first and foremost people who are loved by God and in need of a Savior.
I still catch myself making miscalculations about other human beings. Each time, I remind myself that in issues of the heart, and in our need for God’s grace, we stand on level ground.
Karen has a website, www.graceonparade.com, where she has several blogs, including the popular “What I Saw Today” blog.
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