© 2014 Lynn Abbott
My son says I just have one of those faces…You know, the kind that say, “Tell me your story.”
Not surprisingly, this can be rather aggravating for a rather reserved young adult. I know this because he frequently complains, “We can’t go anywhere, Mom–not to the DMV, the grocery store, a soccer game, the park, a concert–without someone waylaying you with a story.”
It probably doesn’t happen nearly as often as he claims, but I do distinctly remember one woman and her tale.
Since the summer’s day dawned humid and hot, I offered to take my then thirteen-year-old son and his best friend to the local water park.
Fortunately for me, despite the crowds, a deeply sun tanned woman compassionately offered a seat at her table. She explained that she and her grandson would be leaving in a few minutes.
Gratefully, I accepted her offer. After all, I wouldn’t be in the way; she had to go home to walk her dogs.
“I love dogs,” I commented.
Predictably, that was all that I needed to say.
“Mine are accidental, ” she began. “I never meant to own a dog. It all started when my daughter gave us a pup. My husband wasn’t too happy ’bout it. He wanted a huntin’ dog.”
She took a short breath and plunged into further explanation, “The pup was Maltese. So, ‘course, we had to get the huntin’ dog, too. That dog was extr’ord’narily attached to my husband. Used to sit and wait by the huntin’ shed for ‘im, and was happiest layin’ at his feet while he rocked in the chair there.”
“When my husband died this pas’ spring, dog was really broke up ’bout it. Didn’t know if he’d make it. He used to haunt the back porch jes’ waiting for my husband. And at night if there were noise out back, the dog went crazy-like, tearing up the house. I’d put him out, and he’d go runnin’ to the shed.”
She added, “Guess he were lookin’ jes’ to be sure” and then, she paused for a moment.
“How is he now?” I inquired.
“I had to take ‘im to the vet. He was that upset. Vet gave him tranqui’lizers. Seemed to calm ‘im. That dog was a nervous wreck, ya know. Seems to be settling in now, though. I done my best and the other dogs help.”
That’s right. More dogs. Turned out she had five dogs and two cats.
All were rescues. Apparently, her compassionate nature made it impossible to ignore any pet in peril. So she saved each one.
Of course, when they first came home with her, none of the rescues were a pretty sight; all were dirty, wet, unkempt and in desperate need of veterinary care. She wasn’t wealthy, but she gave what she little had–unconditional love and time.
And in return, the dogs loved her, keeping vigil with her when her husband died. True, at first, they were a disparate and shaggy bunch, but in gratitude, they looked after her and also, after one another.
So formed the messy menagerie to which she offered both compassion and grace. They “had her back,” so to speak.
Understandably, I was sorry when her compelling story concluded and she collected her things.
As she walked away, I heard her grandson ask, “She yer friend?”
“Yup,” came the confident reply.
I smiled because of course, we had only just met. Even so, the sun tanned lady had captivated me with her grace in those few short moments on a muggy afternoon. Despite the differences in our daily lives, our mutual love for dogs, and our similar journeys through grief bound our hearts together.
Isn’t that just the way it is? The brokenhearted often become grace givers. And that’s the way it was. I met a grace giver that day.
And I can’t help but think that perhaps Jesus especially sought the outcasts because they often possess tender hearts. Maybe, He has a soft spot for those drenched by rain, covered in mud.
When He walked on terra firma, He touched those who needed healing–the emotionally raw, the rejected, the poor, the ill, the overlooked.
Indeed, Jesus rescued a disparate and sometimes shaggy bunch.
When I ponder this, I recall a similar kind of grace, recorded in 2 Samuel 9. Actually, 2 Samuel 9 is the final chapter of a friendship we all know well.
David and Jonathan were not only brothers-in-law, but they were also best friends. Jonathan’s unselfish concern for David’s well-being remains an ideal for many.
To warn David in order to save him from Saul’s murderous hate certainly undermined Jonathan’s own self-interest. After all, even if Jonathan’s risky loyalty to his father’s rival were never discovered, Jonathan’s kindness would promote David.
And David’s life jeopardized Jonathan’s future as heir to Saul’s throne.
Nevertheless, Jonathan warned David of Saul’s plans. When we read that David ran and escaped certain execution, we cheer and applaud Jonathan. And that, for most of us, is where the story ends.
However, Jonathan’s loyalty continued to reverberate throughout David’s life. 2 Samuel 9 reveals the ultimate, Old Testament, “pay it forward” story.
After years of running, refusing to pursue revenge, and offering grace again and again to Saul, David finally ascended to the throne. Since Saul had committed suicide on the battlefield, David was finally safe.
Grief, however, overshadowed his coronation joy.
Jonathan had died in battle against the Philistines. Jonathan, the beloved friend who had saved David’s life, was not there to celebrate David’s crown.
While David longed to repay Jonathan, Jonathan was out of reach. At this point, David was certainly released from any further obligation.
David, however, considered how he might extend loving kindness to Jonathan’s family. Instead of seeking to annihilate Saul’s legacy as was the custom of most kings, David wished to bless.
He asked, ” ‘Is there no one still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?'”
Enter Jonathan’s son: the broken and lame Mephibosheth. Brought before David, he likely feared for his life. He knew his very existence threatened the Davidic throne, and since he was disabled, Mephibosheth lacked bargaining power. Yet, David paid grace forward.
For Jonathan’s sake, Mephibosheth was not executed as an enemy of the state. In fact, David returned to Jonathan’s heir the lands that had belonged to Saul’s house.
Then, David went the “extra mile” and invited Mephibosheth to dine daily at the palace. No harm would ever come to Jonathan’s son. David had his back.
In shock, Jonathan’s son bowed and exclaimed, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?”
Mephibosheth had not personally earned David’s kindness. Yet, for Jonathan’s sake, David honored Mephibosheth, an outcast and potential enemy.
In grace, Jonathan had saved David, a “rival.” With Jonathan’s help, David escaped harm. In response to Jonathan’s unselfish loyalty, David also gave grace to a broken, bedraggled and possible rival.
Evidently, grace begats grace. Those who receive great mercy frequently wish to pass it on to others.
And I am reminded…despite my past, active attempts to usurp God’s sovereignty in my life, the Shepherd-King gives infinite grace.
Although you and I were once cast out, once drenched in rain, once covered in mud and far off–Christ brought us near. He has placed us in His family which, in fact, turns out to be a vast menagerie of rescues brought together by His unfailing love.
To be honest, on most days, I’m simply a messy rescue learning to love and to walk alongside Abba’s other rescues. Yet, because of Abba’s overwhelming and never-ending compassion, I long to become a grace giver.
“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others,” Philippians 2:1-4
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves…” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12a
“There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother,” Proverbs 18:24b