This entry is from a former Team Member, Vena Reed, who served in our 2016 Summer term.
It was a Tuesday evening at the beginning of April. I vowed to give myself time to just be. Last week I ran around anxious and distressed, and I could feel the Lord calling me to spend time with him, to rest, and to listen to his voice. I’ve been reading Lysa Terkheurst’s Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the words of Terkheurst. Then, something changed. I made it to Chapter 13 entitled “Miracles in the Mess” and the chapter was more real than I thought it would be.
I read her words in reference to the disciples lack of faith in Jesus when they were out in the boat on the water. She says, “In other words, they had seen a lot. They heard a lot. But they had not personally applied what they’d seen and heard. Their hearts were not tender to the reality of Jesus. Their hearts were hardened. Access without application will not equal transformation” (p. 163).
The passage stood out to me because lately I’ve been reflecting on my decision to displace myself from an African-American congregation and attend a predominantly white church.
Initially, I made this decision on the basis that I felt my heart becoming hardened towards white Christians. I had felt let down, disappointed, and frustrated with their inaction at obvious acts of injustice happening against black and brown bodies. I know that white Christians are made in the image of God, and not only do I know that, but I fully believe that. It is because of this that I immediately made the switch to attend a predominantly white church that is making attempts to have conversations around race, power, and privilege.
However, when I read these lines, I felt convicted. I felt convicted because God had already put his love on display for me through the relationships of the friends I met last summer.
This past summer, [while I was serving with Love Thy Neighborhood] I lived with three white Christian women. We didn’t know how to interact at first and now we joke about it, but our first interactions really were awkward.
I was extended an invitation into their stories almost directly after meeting them. I got to know their hopes, dreams, aspirations, and failings and they got to know mine. This summer was difficult. It brought about really hard conversations because at times I felt pretty alone in my struggles. I invited them into my story, slowly but surely, and they responded in kindness and love.
They knew the extent to which my heart had been hardened towards white Christians– towards people who looked like them– and they loved me still.
One night last summer, I came home after a horrible day. Then, I talked to one of my mentors for an hour or so and she spoke some harsh truths into my life. She said, “you can’t do it all.” Ironically enough, I was just told that again last week.
Being on the receiving end of that comment as a perfectionist turns my world upside down. I have always done it all. Sometimes, I sinfully attribute that to my own abilities and hold that as the reason why I am where I’m at today, even though it’s not true. When someone says those words to me, I hear, “You’re failing. You are a failure. You’re incapable. You’ll never measure up. Stop trying.” These words pierce the very core of who I am.
That summer day, I heard those same words and my spirit was crushed. I was on the phone a while and truthfully, even when I hung up the phone I was still a mess. Tears were rushing down my face into the pillows I buried my head into. I breathed deeply, but felt like I wouldn’t be able to grab hold of my breath soon. I gathered myself and walked into the dining room. What I saw there blew my mind.
My three friends waited for me. They made dinner, set the table, and sat there waiting for my arrival. Frustrated, I told them they shouldn’t have waited. I told them that I knew they were hungry and that it was stupid to wait, not knowing how long I would take. They reassured me that they wanted to wait. I said thank you and we said grace so that we could eat. They asked about how my conversation went and reminded me of who I am in Christ.
I tucked the memory of that day away, until now. My friends showed me the sacrificial love of Jesus that day, and I did not let it transform me until now.
Like Terkherust says, “Access without application will not equal transformation.” I had access to love, grace, and patience and even still, I have not been applying it to the people I currently encounter in the predominantly white church.
When we tap into our access of Jesus’ unyielding love and we apply it to our lives, then we can apply it to the lives of those around us, thereby transforming their lives and our own lives at the same time.
How can I soften my heart if I don’t let the one who created it take hold of it? How can I soften my heart if I continue to tuck away the broken parts of it from a Creator who desires to see it mended?
The only way I can soften my heart is by reflecting on the times Jesus has met me in unique and beautiful ways in order to show me more of His love, grace, and patience.
Last summer, I said that I wanted to learn more about who God is. I learned that God is for me in ways I never even thought possible. I confess that I still have trouble allowing my heart to be tender to the reality of Jesus, but I’m learning. I’m learning to see God for exactly who He is.
Vena Reed is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in secondary education. Vena spent her 2016 summer serving with Love Thy Neighborhood in our homelessness track. To apply for your social justice internship, visit our website at www.lovethyneighborhood.org/apply.