Phoenix in August. One hundred and seventeen degrees. The block and a half walk home from school feels like a trek across the Sahara desert. There is not enough Gatorade in the world.
My three and five year olds have given up walking and wilted onto the stroller. So I am pushing three whiney kids ahead of me, willing myself to put one foot in front of the other as the sidewalk heat radiates through the soles of my sandals.
And then I see them. My neighbors.
Four little kids and their mother, in full Muslim attire, are standing in their front yard.
I give the woman a look that I hope says, “Are you guys okay?” but may well have been, “Are you crazy?” Thank the Lord of grace, who covers my insufficiencies, she speaks. She tells me they are locked out of their house. I invite her to bring her children to my house to stay cool until her husband comes home. She politely declines in an “I’m not from around here” accent.
I walk on, now fervently praying, “God, what should we do to help our neighbor?” Suddenly, I’m not thinking about how to make myself more comfortable, but how to make my neighbors comfortable. Love has sprung up in me—not of my own effort, but as a gift of the Holy Spirit.
At home I grab popsicles and water bottles, and head back out into the swelter. The kids seem to forget their misery as well. New friends AND popsicles? They are all in.
So this is love. Standing around sweating in the neighbor’s driveway while seven kids coat themselves in popsicle slime and desert dust. When the snacks are consumed or melted, we prepare to head home once more. I offer again, “Please do come over to get cool or if anyone needs to go potty. Our house is just right there.” Mom nods politely under her lovely flowing hijab.
As I pray our way home for the second time, the lies begin. They are always right there with me when I want to do what is right. “She must think I look like a tramp, with my head uncovered and my legs bare. I offended her. I sounded stupid. I didn’t do enough. I did too much…” The lies always try to get me to focus on myself, to deny the power of God or His faithfulness to His promises. My daughter, I use the foolish things…the weak things…
Not five minutes later, the doorbell rings. They have come.
For forty-five minutes, the kids play, undeterred by the language barrier, while the moms chat. I learn where they are from, what brought them to my neighborhood, that our kids are the same age. I sense my neighbor is lonely, like many moms with young kids. She misses her family back home. We smile as we watch our little girls cook up a plastic meal to share. And then they are gone.
So this is love. Praying every day for another opportunity to meet a need for our neighbors. Awkwardly taking them an “Eid” gift, not quite sure the right thing to say. Explaining to my five-year-old that some families worship God, but don’t know how very much He loves them.
My daughter is shocked that they don’t know. Eyes wide, she asks, “When do we get to tell them about Jesus?!”
I explain, “Jesus wants us to love them—to care about what’s important to them, listen to what they want to talk about, help them when they need help. When they know we love them, then they will be ready to hear that Jesus loves them.”
I don’t tell her that fear, hatred and violence are the legacy of Christians and Muslims. I don’t tell her what they’ve done. What we’ve done. How inadequate I feel. I don’t tell her about the lies in my head that make me second-guess everything.
Did I tell her the right thing? Have I lost the childlike boldness to proclaim the gospel? Am I making excuses? Or is my Father pleased with my desire to do simple acts of love in my neighborhood? To learn to genuinely love people. To be a real friend.
Lord of Love, Prince of Peace, come, indwell, redeem, transform. Without You, we can do nothing.