I got to get away this weekend. It was wonderful, it was refreshing... it was exactly what I needed. I think the best part of my weekend, as God would have it, came from something completely unexpected.
I went to Knoxville and spent some time with my sister, which is always comforting, but this time it was a little different. She's graduated from college and gotten a new job since I last visited her, and I got to spend some time with her at work.
Steph is a social worker. She works at a transitional home for women who have just gotten out of incarceration and have both substance abuse and mental health issues. They're all convicted felons. They're all frowned upon by society. And they're all loved so well by my sister.
I always knew Steph had a heart for people that was far beyond what most people are capable of, but when I saw her this weekend with those women, something came alive in my heart—something that made me want to be a better lover.
She told me stories about some of them, the things they've been through and the labels they have to wear for the rest of their lives. Abuse... Rape... Addiction... can you imagine the loneliness? Sure, they did it to themselves. But they've paid a price, and now they're trying to earn another chance. But they wear these labels... Addict. Criminal. Sex offender. How do you get past that?
All this got me thinking of the difference between mercy and grace. Mercy was given to us when Jesus died and we were acquitted of all our sins. But grace is the freedom we get to live in as a result of that. Andrew Farley says in his book The Naked Gospel, "Grace is the system that the Holy Spirit uses to counsel and teach us on a daily basis."
See, these women have been given mercy. Mercy was given when they were released from prison, and they were admitted into this program. Grace is given to them daily when Steph grabs them by the hand and says, "you're worth something to this world."
I saw Jesus in my sister this weekend like I've never seen in another person before. Literally loving the people in the world that, by the world's standards, are not deserving of anyone's love. And even when they relapse, or they lie or try to cheat their way out of something, she loves them. She wants them to succeed. That's the way God looks at us.
When we were leaving the house on Saturday after dropping off all of Steph's clients, one of them turned around and said, "Stephanie, I wish me and my sister could be like you and your sister."
My heart broke. I literally had to leave before I broke into tears right there. I've always loved my sisters, but it was in that moment that I realized how lucky I am. What a gift to know that someone looks at you and your sister and thinks, "I want to be like them."
Since I was a little kid I looked up to Steph. Always wanted to be with her, always wanted to be like her... and for the most part, she let me. She let me tag along, and she let me be a bit of a copy cat. As we got older, she was careful about being a good role model. Of all the things Steph has done that I've looked up to her for, this weekend trumps them all by far.
To see my sister answer a calling to love the very least of God's people... I'll never forget what it was like to watch her this weekend. She is truly an amazing, inspiring woman of God. I'm blessed to be able to call her my big sister.