The gift of walking together

If you know me well — or even just a little bit — you know that I am deeply fond of Nashville, Tennessee. I. LOVE. that. place.

I don’t love it because it’s trendy or because the music industry lives there and there’s great live music on any given night, although I do enjoy those aspects of it.

I don’t love it because its rolling hills and fantastic parks are so beautiful, although I do love being outside there in the spring time or the fall when the leaves are changing.

I don’t love it because some magazine called it one of the top 5 coolest places to live in America, or because there’s a good chance I could rub shoulders with Nicole Kidman or Taylor Swift on any given afternoon at Whole Foods. I did freak out a little once when that happened, though.

I don’t even love it because it’s where I spent my most formative growing up years, although I will always be a proud Brentwood Bruin.

I love Nashville because it’s the place I lived when Jesus became a real, personal, intimate best friend to me for the first time. I love it because the people who have deeply marked my life and my faith are there, and I would walk all 750 miles from my house in Waco, Texas to spend any amount of time with those people.

After a week spent there last month, I drove home thinking a lot about discipleship. I thought about how four women in particular had loved me really well over the years — some of them from as early as when I was just 13.

I thought about a Young Life leader in her early twenties, spending probably way more time than she thought she was signing up for with a bunch of 16 and 17 year old girls.

I thought about a young mother of two who would let me sit on her couch and talk about my life once or twice a week while she chased toddlers around and changed diapers.

I thought about a woman who would invite me to breakfast at ‘her office’ — Brueggers bagels — once a month or so, to ask me hard questions and get me thinking about God in ways I never had, and speak life into me in ways no one else ever had. I thought about a summer that changed my life, when she took me in and let me be a part of her family while I did an internship in Nashville.

I thought about a musician friend who saw me through a really hard season in my early college years, taking the time out of traveling and pretty much living in a van with six dudes to call me and pray for me over the phone once a week.

At different times in my life, these women had walked with me through times of great joy and great heartache. They were there for my high school prom photos and graduation, at my birthday parties and soccer games and in the lunch room, and at coffee shops on Saturday mornings to debrief from a Friday night first date. One of them made the road trip to see me play college soccer, and a couple of them traveled to Arkansas to be a part of my wedding day.

They cried with me through breakups that felt like the end of the world, and carried me through mourning the death of a family friend. They were there through confusing times when my friends went to rehab and had abortions, when worldly wounds left gaping heart holes that felt like nothing would ever heal them. And they didn’t really have answers, but they pointed me towards Jesus, and they told me there was good truth to stand on even when life didn’t make sense.

And now that early twenties Young Life leader is 30, married and has a precious little girl. We still catch up once in a while, and she’s still like an older sister to me. That mother of two is now a mother of four, and I still cry every time I leave their house because it still feels so much like home. A home that I miss dearly. That wise woman who sets up office at the bagel shop, well, she’s still like my own personal Yoda. And the musician, she’s one of my dearest friends, and while it doesn’t seem like life will ever have us in the same place again for more than a few hours, emails, occasional phone calls and prayers that still carry me through every season keep us connected.

Each one of them saw me as a teenager, and for no apparent reason, decided I was worth investing time in. They decided to love me even when I had nothing to give back. They were never giving me all the answers or pouring out wisdom from the third heaven to guide me through all the mysteries of life. They were just there.

They walked with me. They spoke truth. They listened. They prayed with me and they sent me on my way. And in my adulthood, they’re still some of the first people I want to call to celebrate in the best of times, and cry with in the hardest of times.

And as I drove home from Nashville last month with all of these thoughts and feelings in my heart, joy tears streaming down my face at the realization of how deeply loved I was, there was a sobering, convicting thought: Am I giving myself as freely to others as they have given themselves to me?

It really is that simple. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. A life yielded to God and surrendered to loving others before yourself is what makes radical life and heart transformation happen. Those four women taught me that the truth that “love never fails” isn’t just a good “slogan scripture” to hang over your mantle — it’s a promise from God, that loving him and loving others will be what changes the world.

I know that because of the mark those women have left on me. I hope I never think my life is too full or busy to just stop and love somebody where they are. Whether that means showing up at an event, inviting them into my living room, meeting them for coffee or picking up the phone and calling. Even the simplicity of a ten minute phone call from someone who knew me fully and loved me anyway changed my heart and my walk with Jesus forever.

Discipleship is that simple. Just love somebody. Walk alongside them. Keep showing up. We were made to be the physical manifestation of Jesus’ love to one another. And even in all of life’s messiness, it’s so worth it. I’m so thankful that someone thought it was worth it to keep showing up in my life. I know Jesus better because of it.

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