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Of course, according to Philip, the most important piece of the whole process is what motivates the care and forethought: a laughing smile from a little girl at a big meal and maybe—just maybe—a hug around the neck.
Philip isn’t the only person we know in our neighborhoods that practices such loving care for our daughter, but he’s the one who best understands what kind of candy she prefers. Others have found their own particular ways to show their love for our daughter—Lisa made a gift of coins inscribed with the year of our daughter’s birth because Lisa’s father used to do the same for new babies in their family. Other community members insist regularly that surely it’s their turn to watch over her one night soon, or who put her to bed when we go late and both Jessica and I need to stay in the room. Of course, there are also Christmas and birthday presents from folks with little room in their budgets but much tenderness in their hearts. Certainly, our daughter will rarely refuse the opportunity to share a piece of cake with one of any number of regulars at our meals—she keeps careful track of who is most generous in their sharing, too.
Our daughter was born into, and has never known life outside of, intentional community and its peculiarities. She isn’t surprised when she is warmly welcomed by dozens of people at a big meal in a borrowed space. For her, this is simply the way life is. She may well walk up to the first friendly face she sees and offer them a sticker or leave a baby doll in their watchful care as she tries to find out where the other children are playing noisily. She walks with a three-year-old’s confidence through a crowd of folks who are glad to see her, even if they are actively struggling with injustices like homelessness, housing insecurity, hunger, poverty, and addiction. These folks—part of her extended and extending family—love her well and love me and her mother by doing so.
In the more-than-seven-years we’ve given to the work of Grace and Main, I’ve become convinced that other people know a lot more about what I believe than I do, because they can only see what my beliefs actually motivate me to do with my actions. It turns out that we live out what we really believe—we can talk a dozen different lives, but live only one. So, I’m really not sure what I’d do without all of these beloved people to teach my daughter what we really believe.
At the heart of it, my daughter and my neighbors are slowly teaching me how to follow Jesus in his greatest commandment: to love God with all that I am, and to love my neighbor as myself. What I’ve learned from my daughter and the way my community loves her is how these seemingly two commandments really are one, beautiful commandment. When we love others, we love their father. Every peanut butter cup that Philip protects all day not only makes my daughter laugh, but loves me well by loving her well. If I can feel this way, sinner that I am, then how much more must our heavenly Father know this beautiful, vicarious love
I give thanks for those who are teaching me to love a little better and who are teaching me to see my own meager offerings as a lovingly protected piece of candy. Maybe what I have to offer most days isn’t grand or profound, but is instead meant only to bring a quick smile to the one whom God loves and names as my brother or sister. Maybe that’s enough some days. Maybe I’m learning to trust that small things with great love really are the heart of our work. If I am learning that, it’s because I have the best teachers—the kinds that know how to protect a piece of candy all day and how to rewrite their own budget to make room for something beautiful, but not particularly grand.
God’s children fill our world and every day we have the unique opportunity to love them not because of what they have done or may do, but because they are God’s children. We have a thousand chances every day to love our neighbor and God in some small, almost unnoticeable way—and that ends up being more than enough.
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