I have this Facebook friend. For the most part it's been a strained Facebook friendship. Mainly because for as long as we've been friends I've felt pressured to unfriend her. Why? Simple. She's gay and I'm not. She cusses a lot and I don't. She's Agnostic (I'm not even sure what that means) and I'm Christian, and she loves sharing how much she loves Hillary and hates Donald and Ted; I hate conversations about any of them.
Reading that, you may be asking how on earth we became friends in the first place. We are pretty different. And that would be a great question.
The friend I'm referring to is Kel Kelly. A couple of years ago Kel collected several hundred running shoes to build a giant memorial along the opening mile of the Boston Marathon. It was her way of honoring a young woman in my community who was struck and killed by a drunk driver while training for that very race. Kel's heart was touched by that tragedy and she felt compelled to do something. And in turn, my heart was touched with wonder of why a woman from the big city of Boston would go to such lengths to honor a woman from tiny Hanover County, Virginia. Someone she'd never met outside of the tragic news stories.
That wonder led to our Facebook friendship. I love discovering the "why" behind people who step up for seemingly inexplicable reasons.
Kel posts frequently on Facebook. Therefore, it didn't take long for me to get to know her and to realize just how different we really are. Some days Kel would say things that made those differences radically clear. Painfully so. And on those days my inner voice begged me to unfriend her and free myself from reading posts I didn't agree with or wasn't comfortable with. I've always tried to manage Facebook in a way that funnels uplifting messages into my life. To do so I've unfriended many people I generally like, but whose messages brought me down or left me constantly frustrated.
As much as I wanted to eliminate Kel's controversial to me posts out of my life, though, I could never pull that trigger. The reason being - along the way of our Facebook friendship I'd discovered the "why" I went searching for in her to begin with. The inexplicable reason Kel Kelly stepped up and built the shoe memorial at the Boston Marathon was the same reason she steps up every day for the homeless and the poor and the struggling business person and the people who are often marginalized in this world. The "why" is she quite possibly has the biggest heart I've ever encountered.
Today, I believe I would have unfriended Kel if God hadn't intervened. But he had a valuable lesson to teach me and Kel was going to be the last person he let out of my life.
That lesson came home to live with me forever recently.
Kel had been on Facebook fairly regularly calling for the heads of Republicans and anyone in general who opposed letting refugees into our country. You need to know, when Kel takes a stance on something she strongly believes in, she leaves very little room for an opposing view. Her recommendations for what people could do with their opposing views on the refugee crisis got downright colorful. That's just how she rolls. The truth is I probably leaned closer to her side of this debate than many fellow conservative leaning friends - in spite of the way she represented her side of the debate. Little did I know, though, as the debate unfolded, that Kel was about to show us all the refugee crisis isn't about a debate at all.
With seemingly little forethought and some now you see me now you don't magic, Kel disappeared from the debate scene and showed up smack dab in the center of a refugee camp in Greece. One minute she's on Facebook talking about the refugee crisis, the next she's five thousand miles away extending her hands to men, women, and children exiting boats just arrived from the most war ravaged countries in the world. It's amazing how powerful one woman's opinion becomes when she expresses her frustration that her country won't accept refugees by going to greet them in a country that does. Even if that means crossing the Atlantic Ocean and Continental Europe to do so.
And here's the other thing that happens when someone like Kel does that. Guys like me start to understand just how much we overthink words like gay and democrat and a whole host of cuss words. While I was spending my time trying to figure out what I made of all of those things, Kel was hopping on a plane to go love her neighbor. And mine.
You know, Jesus Christ had to deal with a bunch of guys like me once. Probably more than once. These guys were getting all hyped up about all the commandments and arguing amongst themselves which laws were the most important to follow. Of course, they were sure they knew the answer to that. They tried to drag Jesus into their spat. "Hey Jesus, you're the commandment expert. Settle this thing for us and tell us which is the greatest commandment." But Jesus answered in a way that settled nothing between those guys, yet shut them up forever. He said, the greatest commandment is to love God. The second, much like the first, is to love your neighbor as yourself.
No one came up with the words to argue against him. To my knowledge, no one ever has.
I've learned something in getting to know Kel Kelly, even if from a distance. Jesus is everywhere. And while we spend time arguing about which commandments are most important and building our unsolicited lists of who's following them and who's not, we miss Him. While we're trying to figure out how many refugees should come into our country, how long they should be able to stay, and what kind of security measures we should put in place to make sure they aren't looking to start wars instead of running from them, Jesus is running around trying to find those refugees shoes. All the while muttering under his breath:
Love your neighbor as yourself.
I told Kel just that - that I saw Jesus working through her, the agnostic - after reading an article she beautifully wrote about the refugees which said the following:
"After traveling on dangerously overcrowded boats from Turkey to a Greek island, what shreds of shoes are left are now soaking wet, so many refugees abandon them. It is not uncommon to see refugees arrive at the camp barefoot or in some cases walking in wet socks. Some people are actually dealing with rotting skin on their feet at this point."
(Read more of Kel's heartbreaking tale about the shoeless refugees here)
What happened next doesn't often happen when people are consumed by debate or spend a lot of time trying to wade through interpersonal judgments. One of Kel's friends in Massachusetts, Donald Dawson, started a shoe drive to collect shoes for the refugees. The very refugees that were breaking Kel's heart. Then, a group of about 17,000 runners who've bonded around the tragic death of Meg Cross Menzies - the young woman Kel originally honored with the Boston Marathon shoe memorial - decided they wanted to pitch in. They've since organized their own shoe drive to support Donald's in Massachusetts.
I suppose some people read that string of events and think coincidence. Could be fate, maybe, that a shoe memorial to honor a complete stranger at a foot race has evolved into an international shoe drive to help refugees five thousand miles away. Refugees "dealing with rotting skin on their feet." Me, I don't see it that way. I see Jesus. And when I look at Him through eyes too often clouded by gay and democrat and a thousand other personal choices that blind me to His presence, I see him kneeling down and ever so carefully sliding shoes onto the feet of a terrified refugee. As he's doing so I hear him whispering: I love you.
If you are interested in contributing to the shoe drive, click here to learn how: Shoes for Souls