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Saturday, April 1, 2017

On Being a People Who Pay Attention

We were talking about the homeless population in downtown Norfolk, Virginia.

There's a group of 12 of us or so that meet in a dim city house that belongs to our church. The hardwood floors smell like a bookstore, and the couches are plush with history of countless Sunday school lessons and Bible studies.

That night was the end-cap of a very rough week, pregnancy wise. So often I forget that there is more to growing a baby than measuring your bump and making sure you don't eat soft cheeses or drink too much caffeine for nine months straight.

It's spiritual and overwhelmingly empowering on its best days. At its most challenging, it has a complete clutch on your emotions and the lens you see the world through.

That night our small group discussion leader was talking about his wife. How bold she had been on a missions trip to California, where they spent a good portion of their time on Skid Row.

The bad place. The place just adjacent to the lives of the rich and famous.

The place where so many are left abandoned because their addictions or circumstances are too far outside their control. The place where everyone wants to be, but no one wants to go.

We talked about our own city. What we were doing to take notice of the people around us.

I was slumped against my husband on the other side of the room, feeling my baby kick and wanting him so badly to be a man of action. Someone who shares, who is patient and kind, and does the right thing.

So often I don't. Not really. 

So often I mean to do something. So often I'm at the store and think about buying an extra box of granola bars and water bottles to store in my car. But I'm in a hurry. I'm budgeting. Always pushing off my intentions for later, later, later.

Next thing you know, you're pregnant. And you realize you've lived in a city you love with all of your heart for three years without really noticing the hurt around you.

And you start to cry.

There are those of us who are bold, the people who don't glaze over the hard and uncomfortable. Who notice to hurt on Skid Row, sure, but who hear the hurt in our coworker's sigh, or who pick up on the desperation of a friends, "I need to talk to someone about this," text.

People who notice.

I have a great number of those people in my life. Those who not only take notice, but work to make it better. Who pray and have the actions to accompany their faith in a whirling duet. And to me, it sounds so beautiful because it's so rare to hear.

I know this, because after group that evening these people in my life crossed the room. They held my hand and wrapped their arms around my shoulders. They let me talk through my emotions – the parts of my walk that I could explain, and the other parts. The parts that were overwhelm, joy, worry, doubt, certainty, stubbornness.

Changing the world starts right there.

I'm learning that it's not those who seek attention who make the world better, it's those who pay attention.

Because my friends could've chocked up my reaction to simple hormones, and predicted that my story would echo the same one I've spun over the last eight months.

But they didn't ignore it. They took notice and did their best to comfort the crying pregnant woman in the corner of the room.

And if they noticed me. The one who tries to have it all together, who's at times too stubborn to let her vulnerability show, who else do they notice?

Who else do they reach out and show love to? Because the people in their lives, the friends, family members and total strangers that they serve, are made better by their presence. By their actions. By their noticing.

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