“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35
I had trouble concentrating at church Sunday. It wasn’t the sermon or the songs. I was distracted by the two women sitting in front of me.
I met Paula (I’ve chosen not to use her real name) at the beginning of the service when we met each other during the welcome. She appeared to be in her fifties. She had a gentle smile and was soft-spoken.
The woman next to Paula looked similar but appeared older, though probably not old enough to be Paula’s mother. They may be sisters. In any case, the older woman is a loved one of Paula. I didn’t meet the loved one. She stood during the welcome, but she didn’t shake anyone’s hand. From her body language and the way her eyes didn’t quite focus, I could tell she had an intellectual disability.
Throughout the service I couldn’t help but notice the love and care Paula demonstrated toward her loved one. Several times, the loved one got distracted and turned in her pew. Paula would gently redirect her with a light touch, each time with as much care as the first. A couple of times the loved one communicated something through a noise or gesture, and Paula would quietly whisper something soothing to her without a hint of impatience. At one point, the loved one leaned her head against Paula’s shoulder. Paula leaned in, too. They sat there with their heads together for a few moments.
With each new act of service that Paula directed toward her loved one, I felt more and more overwhelmed by the love I felt privileged to witness. I tried to imagine myself in Paula’s shoes. It’s likely that Paula cares for her loved one most hours of most days. Not having had any children or family members who have had to depend on me for care, it’s hard for me to fathom the sacrifices she has made for her loved one. I get impatient with my loved ones often, and they don’t require much of me. I have a long way to go in learning how to love like that, but watching Paula made me want to do better.
Jesus showed us by example that we are to care for people who are sick, who are outcasts, who are different. “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another,” Jesus said. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples.” Jesus knew that when people see us loving others, they are overwhelmed and want to do better just like I was when watching Paula.
When I used to be a teacher, my 11th grade American Lit class read Of Plymouth Plantation about the founding of the Plymouth colony in Massachusetts. Once the Christian pilgrims arrive at Plymouth Rock, a disease begins infecting members of the ship’s crew, who were mostly non-believers. The crewmen were astonished that the pilgrims cared for them at great personal risk to themselves and despite the fact that the crew had previously mocked their beliefs. What a powerful witness!
I think of the movie Gleason featuring New Orleans’ own former Saints player Steve Gleason who was diagnosed with ALS and can’t walk, talk, or even breathe on his own. Steve’s courage in dealing with his disease is inspiring, but equally if not more inspiring, is his wife Michel’s own courage in caring for him and their young son with grace and determination. In the film, Michel claims not to be a saint, but I beg to differ. I am in awe of her.
So how can I act on the desire to serve and love more that I felt watching Paula and Michel?
There are a couple of loved ones in my family that I'm going to commit to communicating with more frequently. Also, I’m going to commit to reaching out to the small group of advisees from my former school who are seniors this year to help them navigate the college admissions process.
What about you? Who are some people whose love and service have inspired you? What’s something you can commit to in response to these awe-inspiring examples? Thanks for reading, and I would love it if you shared your responses below!