A funny thing happened the other day.
My friends, who don’t speak much English and have 6 kids under the age of 8—two 10-month old twins—moved here a year ago from California and have been planning and saving for months and months to move back. For months and months, I have been printing off current ticket prices and available apartment listings and bringing them to the house to keep the family updated on the costs of a cross-country move. I admit that I didn’t really think they’d move. I also knew when the time came it would be complicated and headache-y because they don’t have access to the internet or e-mail (YOU try dragging 2 school-age kids, two toddlers and twin infants to the library on the metro), don’t own credit cards or checkbooks, and prices are only guaranteed online. Also, the purchase would have be made in cash, which means they would have to drive to the airport and buy the tickets at the ticket counters, which would add at least another $100 to the price, not to mention all the service fees. I sort of dismissed the entire endeavor, and selfishly thought it would probably all come together long after I left, and the helping would be up to someone else.
This week I blocked an hour out of my schedule and went over to visit the family. They told me they were ready. By ready, they meant had the money for plane tickets and needed to be out of their apartment by July 31. The dad and three kids would be driving the family van, and the mom, the eight-year-old and the twins would be flying. The mom asked if I had any time this week to drive her to the airport to buy the tickets and help translate. I cringed inside like you wouldn’t believe, and if you are a social worker, you know how precious pockets of time are in your day and how unbelievably hard it is to give one up. Even social appointments with friends begin to feel like appointments. I looked at my calendar and realized the only time I had available was right then. I was supposed to have the entire afternoon off and had planned to go home and watch Ellen and eat popcorn and write thank-you notes and work on school applications in my sweatpants. But then a message popped into my head: Love your neighbor as yourself.
At church on Sunday (yes, I am back in church!) one of my old professors, a woman I respect and admire spoke about the single greatest commandment, the most important things out of those 613 laws: love the Lord your God with all your heart, and also, just like the first, love your neighbor as yourself.
She told us about the book, I’m Proud of You written by journalist Tim Madigan, who was absolutely and forever changed by his friendship with Mr. Rogers. Mr. Rogers described “Neighbor” in this way: whoever you’re with, wherever you are, and if there is a need, doubly so. She also offered a way to love. She said if we want to eat dinner tonight, love our neighbor unto that. If we want to have shelter tonight, love our neighbor unto that. If we want to feel important, safe, cared for—love our neighbor unto that. I thought I would probably want a ride to the airport, and so I thought I should probably love my friends unto that.
We packed everything up, put every piece of cash and all the kids’ identification in an envelope and headed for the airport. We spent three hours between five different counters trying to get the lowest fair, and settled at the Delta counter, paying $350 for each one-way ticket- robbery! My friend had just enough for the four tickets she needed, and we walked out of the airport with big smiles—goals, plans, and a future in California for herself her kids—and no money. The short-term parking was free for the first 30 minutes, and after that it was $2.25 per hour. I had no cash, she had no cash. We pulled up to the ticket counter, and I handed over the ticket searching for my credit card—which I never use, but keep on hand for emergencies (you know, clearance sweaters at Gap, things like that) and the attendant leaned out the window and said, “We have an extended grace period. It’s free.” He smiled and told us to have a good day.
An extended GRACE period!
My friend and her family leave on Saturday for California. Before I left the apartment she stopped me and said she had a present for me. She pulled out a brand new Betty Boop beach towel from the closet and sent me home with dinner. I almost cried, not because I now own a Betty Boop beach towel (I do) or because I was touched by the gesture (I was) but because I almost missed the entire opportunity.
Tonight I was thinking about how whatever we do, wherever we are, whatever our job is and whatever it looks like, we are a witness to something else. Then I read this in Velvet Elvis (Rob Bell):
“This is why it is impossible for a Christian to have a secular job. If you follow Jesus and you are doing what you do in his name, then it is no longer secular work; it’s sacred. You are there; God is there. The difference is our awareness.”