I remember the first time I met Chris’ cousin, Laura. Chris and I had been dating for about three months and we drove from our tiny college in the Southern tier of Western New York to Brooklyn for his cousin’s bachelor and bachelorette party. This trip marked the first time I would meet Chris’ mom, sister and some of his extended family. I was in la-la-love and meeting his family excited me. We left college on a Friday evening after my involvement in a choir concert celebrating the 1970’s. In full hippie gear, with love and the Age of Aquarius on my mind, we headed out around 8pm. It didn’t take long for me to fall asleep and around 2am, Chris was nudging me to waken my slumber. Driving on the Verrazano Bridge, I saw the bright lights of the New York cityscape for the first time in my life; I fell in love again.
At the time, I was a twenty year-old girl who’d grown up in suburbia all her life. I hadn’t ever been to New York City nor had I been around city folk. I met Chris’ mom, Pat, and sister, Jen. They both had Brooklyn accents. I was thrilled. Jen shared swanky going out clothes with me. I was thrilled even more. Things were going well. The time came for me to split from Chris. I was headed out for a night on the town with the women of Chris’ family. This is when I met Laura. She, too, had the New York accent. And, she arrived full of New York attitude. Yes, Laura was a bit… bold. I’ll be honest. She scared me. I don’t remember much; but I do remember wanting to shrink into the background so there was no focus on me. After that evening, one thing was clear, I pasted the label of “tough New Yorker” onto her. Her strong exterior kept me at a distance.
Time marched on and a few years of dating led Chris and I to say “I do”. Our move south and the distance of separated states hindered gathering with family on a regular basis. I didn’t see Laura much, but when I did, I usually had my guard up. I didn’t consider her a friend; I simply considered her a relative of my husband.
Five years into our marriage, I gave birth to our oldest son, Josh. When he was only a few months old, we traveled to Brooklyn for the annual family golf tournament. The summer day was crisp and sunny. I was sitting on a bench with Josh on my lap watching mediocre golfers tee off. Laura, tough New Yorker, bounded over to me from out of nowhere. She was incredibly… friendly. And, she had a gift. It was a plaque for Josh’s room of Psalm 139. I read it; it didn’t make sense to me. But, when I returned home, I hung it. And, I couldn’t help wonder why Laura was so friendly.
The four seasons rolled by in a flash and the following summer started with heartache. I was eight weeks pregnant and had a miscarriage. Miscarriages aren’t often talked about. The sense of loss Chris and I felt took both of us by surprise. Well meaning remarks from others didn’t soothe. Uncomfortable silence was awkward. And, grieving can’t be rushed. It just is. This was a tough time for Chris and I and it took both of us time to process. I’ll never forget the day the phone rang, and on the other end, was Laura.
Laura, who had been going through a transformation of Jesus’s love in her life, called to check in on me. She listened. She shared her own story of loss. She covered me in prayer. Her words soothed. She was a healing balm for me during a difficult time. In my personal life I, too, was waking up to Jesus’s love for me. Laura confirmed God’s love. And, through a change that only God could ordain, the label of “tough New Yorker” changed to “dear cousiend (cousin friend)”.
Laura and I have stayed cousiends ever since the prayerful phone call. We’ve walked with each other as we’ve grown in our faith lives. We share book recommendations, creative ideas and our love of knitting. Laura is still bold to this day. But, she is bold in love. I have gotten to see past any label I had pasted on her. I’m left wondering, how did this transformation occur?
When we spend time in relationship with Christ, do the labels we wear shift? When we spend time in relationship with others, do our perceptions of them shift? I recall a conversation with my friend, Megan. This question arose: What would happen if all the people who came into church wore their labels on their sleeves? Tainted past histories, current addictions, prideful nicknames, helping titles and our own projections of who we think they are. This would make church a much messier place. Would we still be able to shake hands and give a hug during the passing of the peace?
Communion came to mind. The invitation for all who believe in Christ to drink of the cup and eat of the bread is offered. The basket of bread in church is passed from person to person. The words are spoken, “This is Christ’s body, given for you”. I look around at the myriad of faces. So many ages. So different in look. Christ’s body for wrinkled skin and young skin. For brown eyes and blue eyes. Christ’s body for tall people and short people. The tray of wine is passed. “This is Christ’s blood, shed for you.” Christ’s blood for bad moods and loving hearts. For mean spirits and peaceful warriors. For addicts and encouragers. For those who welcome change and those who refuse it. Christ offers his body and blood for each of us. Regardless of the labels we wear. The invitation to sit at Christ’s table is open. And, at the table is always a place for relationship. A place to talk, a space to share, an opportunity to see and be seen beyond the labels we wear. It’s a recognition that Christ knows our deepest truths, and He welcomes us anyway, feeding us sacrificial love.
When I, with anticipation, say “Yes!” to this invitation at the table, I wear many a label. But, over time, I’ve hung around others who’ve, through their action, said, “Come, wear your label, and I will love you regardless.” Laura has been one of those people. This type of love changes a person. It’s a love that seeps into bones and transforms. What else could that type of love do?
Now, I consider how can I be a member of Christ’s body who isn’t surprised by labels. A person who is vulnerable enough to wear my labels as a reminder that I need God. A person who peels labels to remember God loved me first. A person who is an outreach for others who are hurting, welcoming them to wear their label, and, through action, I respond, “Come, wear your label, and I will love you regardless.”
God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.” Exodus 3:14 NIV
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” John 10:11 NIV
Notice the paradox of these two statements. God’s claim in Exodus leaves one to consider the vast mystery of who God is. Jesus’ claim in John helps to give us an image of who Christ is.
With a Friend:
Tell about a time you labeled a person and once you formed relationship, your view of them changed.
With a Child:
At the dinner table, have each person share about a time they made a mistake. Rest in Jesus’ love.
Reflect on “I AM” Statements, Over Here.