Girlfriends in God - Jan. 28, 2011

January 28, 2011

I Want to Be Just Like Jami  

Mary Southerland

Today's Truth 
"So encourage each other and give each other strength" (1 Thessalonians 5:11, NCV).

Friend To Friend 
When Jack joined our church youth group, I had no idea that he would evolve into one of the most abrasive people in my life. In the beginning, Jack worked hard at making friends and seemed content to go with the flow, but one day, Jack decided that the stream of life was flowing in the wrong direction and it was up to him to redirect its course. The mask came off and the façade quickly crumbled and standing before me was the real deal - a genuine, authentic sandpaper person of the coarsest grade.

It started with little things like a friendly shove or a caustic comment masquerading as sarcasm. Other youth began coming to Dan or to me, sharing their concern about Jack's antics. I talked to Jack. Dan talked to Jack. Together we prayed for Jack and urged the other youth to join us. Nothing seemed to change. As a last ditch effort, we drafted two of our most mature youth to take Jack under their wing and mentor him.   

During a Monday night Bible study, Dan asked one of those mentors to sing a solo. Jami was a redheaded freckled face girl whose sparkling blue eyes and contagious dimpled grin did not convey the constant pain she suffered as a victim of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Jami never complained, always quick and eager to share her faith. When she stood to sing, Jack began laughing, pointing and whispering to the people around him.  Their lack of response fueled his fire, upping the ante for Jack to win this battle and capture center stage. Jami looked at me, silently begging me to rescue her and the situation. I smiled the most encouraging smile I could muster, hoping it would be enough. It wasn't. I looked back at Jack, delivering my famous and usually feared "shape up or die" glare - all to no avail. In a firm voice, Dan asked, "Jack, are you ready to hear Jamie sing?" Well, that did it! Jack erupted into uproarious laughter, "Sing? She sounds like a frog - not to mention the fact that she walks funny!" Every ounce of oxygen was immediately sucked out of the room. Everyone froze, except Jami, who fled in tears. From the faces of those youth sitting around Jack, I could tell that revenge was close at hand as they began loading their emotional guns and sharpening their retaliation knives. I jumped to my feet, grabbed Jack and pulled him out of the room. 

Reaching the foyer, I whirled Jack around to face me and with clenched teeth ground out my livid question, "Do you have any idea what you just did?" The laughter vanished as pain and harsh realization spread across his face. His response was nothing short of incredible. "Yes. I embarrassed Jami and hurt her feelings." I am not often speechless, but at that moment, words simply evaporated as I stared into the eyes of someone fully aware of the pain he had just inflicted on one of the few people who accepted and defended him. "I cannot believe you!" I growled. "Jami has always been kind to you, coming to your defense when you did not deserve to be defended or inviting you to join the group when the group did not want you anywhere around them. She has probably been the best friend you have ever had or will ever have. What is wrong with you?" I knew my response was far from what it should be, but at that moment, all I could see was the hurt on Jami's face. What I didn't see was the hurt in Jack's heart. He stood, silently accepting his rightful and, I thought, well-deserved punishment without a single word of defense. 

From the corner of my eye, I saw someone approaching. I was really hoping they were bringing me some kind of rusty weapon but it was Jami - with a tremulous smile breaking through the tears cascading down her face. Jack instinctively began backing away until he saw Jami's eyes and her outstretched arms. I stood paralyzed, a witness to God's supernatural presence and the restoration power of forgiveness at work before my unbelieving eyes and my angry heart. Instantly, I became the student and Jami the teacher. Both Jack and I listened quietly as God spoke through this precious young woman, the words only she could speak. "Jack, I got to thinking about why you did what you just did, and I realized something. I love you and you know that, but you don't think you deserve that love so you tried to kill it by hurting me. It won't work. Do you know why?" I saw Jack's sandpaper world being rocked by a love he could not understand, a love that was not altered by anything he did or didn't do, a love that only God can give. In answer to Jami's question, Jack gave a quick headshake and whispered, "No. I don't know why." Jami smiled, wrapped her arms around the very one who, just moments before had viciously wounded her, and with fresh tears streaming down her face, choked out words I will never forget. "I love you with God's love, Jack. Not mine. And His love will never die. I just wanted to tell you that no matter what you say or do, I am your friend - period."

Staring into her eyes, Jack experienced, maybe for the first time, the timeless and stubborn love of God; a love that would redefine his future. With a giggle, Jami playfully grabbed Jack's hand and began happily chattering about how she needed him in the front row to encourage her while she sang. And he did!

Here's the rest of the story. From that day forward, Jack was a different person. From time to time, he would fall back into old emotional habits but when he did, Jami or someone under her direction and influence would snatch him back to the new place that Jami's words of staggering kindness and God ordained wisdom had brought him. The youth who witnessed Jami's love for this unlovable one were changed and called up higher in their obedience to God, even when it didn't make sense and was completely undeserved. Jami taught me that hurt people really do hurt people. I want to be just like Jami when I grow up.

Let's Pray 
Father, please forgive me when I judge others when I should love them. Help me to see every person through Your eyes of love, grace and mercy. Please guard my tongue and my heart so that I will build up and not destroy others. I want to please You, Lord; by the way I love the unlovable. Help me to grow up and become a fully devoted follower of Christ.

In Jesus' name,


Now It's Your Turn
Right now, think of the most abrasive people in your life. 

Are you ready to accept and love them without demanding that they change?  

Find one good point about each person and voice it to others whenever you have the chance.

What can you do to demonstrate the unconditional love of God for these people? 

Do you need to ask any of them for forgiveness? Are you willing to do that now?  

More From The Girlfriends
I can be very impatient with people who do not see life the way I see it or act the way I think they should. God is continually teaching me new truths about how to show "sandpaper people" God's love through what I do and say.

Need help dealing with the difficult people in your life? Get Mary's book, Sandpaper People.

Looking for a Bible Study? Enroll in Mary's weekly online Bible Study, Light for the Journey. The current topic is How to Handle Hurt. We will experience pain and hurt but we can learn how to handle the hurt in a way that honors God and assures a life of victory. We can harness the power of our pain and use it for good. We can choose to examine every broken part of life and compel it to give us a "seed" of victory.

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Originally published Friday, 28 January 2011.