My general life philosophy can be boiled down to this: love God and love people.
That’s pretty much all I’ve got (or need) to shape my decisions.
So a couple of years ago when I first started dreaming about my trip around the world, these daily mantras of mine were my starting point. A friend asked then why I wanted to take the trip – was I looking for something? Running from something?
I guess in retrospect, sure, maybe a little of each, but really it boiled down to this: I want to be about loving God and loving people. And it’s really hard to love people if you don’t know them. And it’s hard to know people if you don’t meet them.
So the trip was my effort to meet – and therefore make it possible for me to love – the world.
Put simply, in order to love well, I first had to go.
Love is all about showing up.
And upon some initial reflection, this might be my greatest lesson of the year.
It shouldn’t surprise us that all the magic is found in the showing up. After all, it’s Jesus’ incarnation – showing up, being with – that is the most perfect manifestation of love that we know.
And yet we try to make it so complicated.
How do we know that Jesus loved us? Because he SHOWED UP. He came down to us. He checked his power and position and lived like a regular person. He made friends and ate dinner and talked about the stuff he knew was important. And then, after he lived life with us, he willingly made the necessary sacrifices to save us – but only after he spent time with and among, loving and caring for his people.
This is our example.
This is what I’ve learned by traipsing around the globe, befriending cab drivers and waiters and so many strangers. From sitting in one room houses, crosslegged on the bed. From being offered tea, coffee, pop in little flimsy plastic cups.
Showing up is the most important thing.
We show up, first, for our people. Our tribe. That means family and friends and the ones that hold our hearts. For me, this year, that looked like long flights back to the USA for weddings and late night Skype dates when time zones were working against us. It meant spending the money and the time to get to my people when it mattered – because, as I now know more than ever, a flight is just a flight.
When I showed up in Denver after 20 hours of travel from Delhi, all I could think was that there was nowhere in the world I would rather be.
When I danced with my grandma in Atlanta after flying in from South Korea, I was so grateful to be a part of a big family celebration.
When I sang in Charlottesville during a glorified layover from Iceland, I looked at my friends and knew that all the sleepless nights were 100% worth it.
Because if my year was really about loving God and loving people, then love – active, present love – had to be prioritized over adventure.
After we learn to show up well for our people – whether literally or figuratively (though I think there is something particularly special about the literally), we then can learn to show up for others.
When I started this journey, I had so few expectations. I was afraid to set them because I didn’t want to be disappointed.
Maybe unwisely, I just went.
And often, I went into broken, hurting, messed up corners of the world that everyone tries desperately to ignore because it’s easier that way.
If it’s hard to love people if you don’t know them, then the opposite must also be true – it’s really really easy to ignore people if you don’t know them.
But by that point, I was traveling. I was meeting. And I was losing my ability to ignore.
Like everyone, I can get overwhelmed by the needs of the world. I am so acutely aware of my inability to solve any problem – of my own limitations and the shortfalls of development/missionaries/aid as an industry.
But if I can’t ignore it and I can’t fix it then what am I supposed to do?
Just go. Be. Listen. Learn.
Act when it’s appropriate, don’t when it’s not.
Recently, I was listening to the New Activist podcast where Jeremy Courtney, founder of Preemptive Love Coalition, was the guest. Beyond being a hero of mine for his work serving people in Iraq, Turkey and Syria, Jeremy is also just a really smart, thoughtful guy.
In the podcast, he said, “Travel is one of the great normalizers of the world, one of the great battering rams of tribalism. It blows through walls and can help us see the other so much more compassionately and humanely. So travel. If you can, by all means, travel…walk across some street, some boundary into ‘other’ land and get to know those people. Listen. Go humbly. Do that incarnation thing…that’s the story. That’s the whole thing, right there.”
And this has been my lesson.
In a time when we all seem to be enemies and no one wants to listen to each other anymore, we show up.
When a place or situation or people group terrifies us, we show up.
When someone is hurting or crying out, we show up.
We don’t need to know what to do, necessarily. And sure, there are times when your particular expertise isn’t immediately useful and your physical presence is unhelpful (think post-disaster, for example), but that’s when you show up virtually. You learn and listen and love from a distance.
But most of the time, we are best served to show up.
Because when we go, we meet. And when we meet, we know. And once we know, we enable ourselves to love.
And that’s what it’s all about.