Relationship. As we discussed last week, Jesus, love, both begin with relationship. As we yearn for a better way forward in missions, we must start with relationship.
One late summer day, so long ago I cannot remember if I was 5 or 8. Often during those long summer days, grandma and I would go out back to pick the blackberries growing along her backyard fence. I loved those times. Grandma was full of godly wisdom which she regularly shared with anyone who would listen and even as a boy, I basked in her joy in walking with God. Plus, I knew once the bowl was full, about an hour later we’d be savoring a scrumptious blackberry pie. Sometimes as we were picking, she would hold a berry up to the sun and say, “This one should be eaten right away.” With that I would steal it out of her outstretched hand and gobble it up while she pretended to be exasperated over my actions. Nearby, Grandma had a gaggle of huge sunflowers growing in the garden. They were a foot taller than me and dazzling to my eyes. Big and beautiful, they seemed to smile at me as I gazed up at them, so I smiled back. I reached out to pick one flower and glanced back to look at Grandma, she nodded her approval so I began to pluck away the petals. “Grandma loves me…she loves me not…she loves me…she loves me not…” I was feeling the magic of a summer afternoon where blackberries and grandmothers and love would never end. “She loves me… she loves me not… she loves me…” Only one more petal. I stared at it, unable to say the final “loves me not”. A few moments later I scratched my hand on a blackberry brier and broke into tears. “That’s a little scratch for such big tears, Grandma said. But I wasn’t only crying over the scratch. I was crying because there were no more petals. I didn’t want it to end that way. How could I tell her that the magic of the day was gone – she didn’t love me. I shuffled my feet as we walked back to the house. Once inside the door, there was a pot of full of sunflowers, drooping over the back door’s entry way. Grandma grabbed a flower out of the pot and handed it to me. I reached for a blossom and once again plucked the petals from the golden smile center and within moments I was able to exclaim, “She loves me!” as the last petal fell away. Grandma nodded as she poured the berries into the sink for washing. I climbed up on the stool beside her and the magic was once again with us. We cleaned the berries, rolled the dough and baked two pies, pies only a grandmother can bake. And through it all we were laughing again. Of course there was never and “interruption” of love between us that day. It existed only in the imagination of a little boy who still believed in the make believe of love-me-not flowers. But since then I’ve lots of real “love-me-not” moments in my life – moments when I allow myself to believe that love has been denied me. Times when love for my wife, or my boys, or friends, becomes overshadowed by fear, self-righteousness, myths, anger, pride, bitterness, or simple misunderstandings. Yet over the years God has taught me the power of relationship. I’ve learned that the presence of sin or of bad feelings doesn’t have to mean there’s an absence of love. When the dark moments come, and they come to all of us, I am still tempted to sit quietly by and nurse my little wounds, refusing to see God’s view of the situation. But, as my Grandmother taught me, the secret to restoring the kingdom is never to let the “love-me-not” petal be the last one you touch. You keep on searching and trying until somehow, some way, you end with love.