When loving your neighbor means doing hard things [or, the best Christmas card ever]

Originally published Tuesday, 10 January 2017.

Recently, we received a Christmas card in the mail stamped with: "NOTICE! This correspondence was mailed from an institution operated by the Dept of Corrections. The contents are uncensored.” I recognized the name immediately. It was a card from jail, from an individual who is sitting there because of calls we made and things we testified and evidence we handed over.

Being a good neighbor doesn't feel good at all sometimes.

Sometimes, it hurts deep and leaves questions in our minds about if we did the right thing or not. Sometimes, it makes us lose sleep, tossing and turning over the implications of what we have to do with what we know.

Sometimes loving people well requires drawing lines in the sand.

Painful lines. Hard lines. Because sometimes “adults making bad choices” are just little kids inside who never had the breaks or positive role models that you did or we did. Too often, they are adults who want better and know better but are surviving in the best way they know to survive.

And, some have trusted us to the point of making us accomplices.

Have you been close enough to become the bad guy? Because that’s when getting close enough to love starts getting real. That’s when our hearts gets torn in two, one side determined to not destroy trust and the other unable to ignore the very things that are destroying the individual we care about.

There is no superiority in pointing out another’s weakness. No victory in making those phone calls. No fulfillment in confrontations. Over the past years, we’ve been on the front lines of getting kids removed from abusive homes, sending individuals to jail, filing numerous files at child protection services. And it hurts every single time.

But Friends, here's the one thing I've learned about drawing lines in the sand:

Drawing lines in the sand is not to be done from a distance. That's when souls get hurt, relationships break, wounds rip open. Because without the warmth of a relationship, those lines just become walls. And walls isolate hearts that need Love.

But this Christmas card writer? He knows we care. We've told him. We've been here, and we've been in it with him week after week, month after month. And we didn't go away. And we tried to explain, tried to tell him about God's love and his potential. Tried to empower him toward better choices. Tried. Tried.

I suppose that's why I cried when I read his card. Then, I left it on the kitchen counter for days so I could reread it.

He has forgiven us for turning him in.

Praise God - relationships create a gentle, safe foundation in which those lines painfully drawn actually become arrows, arrows pointing to the One who embodies justice and mercy.

Friends, God can transform what could've been bitter walls into beautiful arrows when we choose to get closer, to mix up our messy life with the pain and hurt of those around us.

Maybe someday a Christmas card will come from a kid behind bars. And maybe it will say things like “I’m sorry” and “if you guys wouldn’t done that, then I wouldn’t have gotten my life straightened out” and "I forgive you" and "I hope you can forgive me."

Or, maybe that card will never come. Because honestly, many more haven’t shown up in our mailbox - yet.

But, I’ll keep holding out for Hope and keep getting close enough that my heart breaks. Because I believe in arrows, and I believe in the One to which they point.