Have mercy!

Last week, I went into a store and left with a really interesting life lesson. The woman who worked there and I were discussing the importance of labeling our kids’ clothes so that they could be identified later in the Lost & Found bin. She mentioned that she had an embroidery machine at home and often used it for that exact purpose.


Then she told me a story about a time when she embroidered her teen daughter’s name in a large font on a prominent place on the hood of a jacket. She described the jacket’s various shades of pink and how much her daughter loved it. Another woman asked her about the jacket—where did she get it and how much did it cost—and then, a few days, the jacket went missing. “Eventually,” the woman at the store told me, “I saw her wearing that pink jacket. I could tell where she had picked out the stitches where my daughter’s name had been.”


I assumed the next part of the story was going to involve the authorities and an ugly argument, but I was wrong. “What did you do?” I asked her.


“As soon as she saw me, I could tell that she knew she was caught. So I went over to talk to her. I told her that I recognized the jacket and knew it was my daughter’s. Then I asked her if she would like me to embroider hername on the jacket. Knowing she thought I was just offering so that I could take the jacket back, I told her that she could come with me and stand right next to me while I sewed it.” This gracious woman embroidered another woman’s name—the name of the woman who had stolen from her—on the jacket she had bought especially for her pink-loving daughter without asking for anything in return.


At first listen, it may seem that this woman should’ve taught that thief a lesson. One might think: Now she’ll be stealing everyone’s stuff! Where’s the justice?! But there are moments when we are called to show mercy, and this angel listened to the call. I can only imagine what effect this had on the woman who had stolen the jacket. Was she so weighed down by guilt after this undeserved act of kindness that she could never wear the jacket again, or did she whistle happily as she walked away, congratulating herself on her good luck? No matter what the offender’s feelings were, the woman I met at the store that day was content with her response to the ill treatment she had received all those years ago.


This kind of mercy, especially when coupled with unexpected forgiveness, warms my heart and makes me all teary-eyed. These glimpses of what humans can do for each other when we’re not trying to tear each other down is refreshing. I like this quote from Abraham Lincoln: “I have always found that mercy brings richer fruits than strict justice.” Maybe that’s the question to ask when we suffer wrongdoing at the hands of others: What fruits will my response bring?


In Micah 6:8 we read the best prescription for doing what is good and what’s required of us: “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” That just about sums it up.

I will change your name

When my husband and I found out we were having twins, we were a bit like Noah filling his ark—most everything came in 2’s. Two cribs, two car seats, two bouncy seats, a double stroller. We also had to come up with two names.

Before we knew we would have twin girls, we came up with a boy name and a girl name: Sam and Ella. They were short and sweet and sounded pretty good together. “Sam! Ella! It’s time for dinner!” “Sam and Ella, did you brush your teeth?” But the more I practiced saying the names aloud, the more I realized that they weren’t all that great as a combo. If said quickly, Sam and Ella can evolve into Sam ‘n Ella. Then it’s just a short trip to salmonella. Not wanting to name my babies after the bacteria that causes food poisoning, we kept looking.

Luckily, we had two beautiful baby girls—Lucy and Ella. (And it was only a couple of times that someone thought I said Lucy and Ethel.)

Coming up with that perfect name can be a fairly stressful task for expecting parents. So much seems to ride on a person’s name. Does it sound good paired with a powerful handshake? “Nice to meet you. My name is (insert assertive sounding name here).” Or how about: “All rise. The honorable Judge (don’t-mess-with-me name) presiding.”

When I get a chance to do a little creative writing, one of my favorite activities is coming up with characters’ names. For me, it’s the first step in making fictional people real.

Although we place a great deal of weight on naming someone, our names don’t have to forever define us. I love that God takes the time to change the names of some people in the Bible. Abram and Sarai become Abraham (father of a multitude) and Sarah (mother of nations) to show that they would have countless descendants. After Jacob wrestles with God, his negative name changes from “supplanter” (he would unseat his twin brother) to Israel which means “triumphant with God.”

Jesus gave James and John the nickname “sons of thunder,” possibly for their fiery tempers. He took one look at the fisherman Simon and changed his name to Peter which means “rock”.

Most of these new names describe what these people would become, not their present situation. God looked into the future to see that Abram and Sarai, a childless couple, would be parents to more children than the stars in the sky. When others saw an impulsive, inflexible, dirty fisherman named Simon, Jesus saw a firm place (a rock) to build his church.

Though it would be impractical to legally change our names to something new, it is possible to redefine who we are with the help of a mighty God.

In the Old Testament, the prophet Hosea was exceptionally obedient to God’s calling. He was even willing to live out the most inconvenient morality play in human history. Hosea was told to marry a prostitute and give their children specific names to describe God’s displeasure with the Israelites. Their first child was named after a massacre that occurred in a place called Jezreel. The next two children were named Lo-Ruhamah (which means “not loved”) and Lo-Ammi (“not my people”). That’s pretty harsh.

But our merciful God didn’t leave it there. In the next chapter the Lord explains that He will pursue His sinful people. “I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’ I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people.’”

If you feel that your name is Unloved or Unwanted, allow God to change your name and your heart. It is in His power to do it.

Passing Faces

I spend a significant amount of most of my days in the family minivan. Four kids—none of whom are old enough to drive themselves—require hours of shuttling around town. So I find various ways to entertain and distract myself during those trips to and from practice, school, church, the grocery store, etc.

The most fun (as well as creepiest and stalker-recommended) distraction is to people-watch at red lights. The best opportunity for this is when I’m at the front of the line and cars are turning left into the lane next to me. In this way, these drivers come (often uncomfortably) close to my car and I can see their faces straight on.

Some people are talking on the phone. Some are singing. Every once in a while, I’ll see a mom give her kids in the backseat and rearview mirror scolding. Most people are indifferent. In other words, if you were going to draw a smiley face representing their expressions, the mouth would be a straight line.

99% of the people who drive past me are strangers. Considering that this is Murfreesboro, if we stopped and talked we could possibly find common acquaintances with just a few degrees of separation, but these are mostly unknown faces. Strangely, it always amazes me there could be so many people in this world that I will never know, not their names or their birthdays or their favorite food.

When I see these strangers pass by me with their pokerfaced expressions, I often wonder what their lives are like. Do they live alone? Do they like their jobs? Do they wish they spent their days and nights differently? In those handful of seconds when their cars are a few feet away from mine, I look into their eyes and ponder what parts joy and agony they feel on a daily basis.

It can be an exhausting exercise to try to care about every motorist that comes within 10 feet of me. Even more exhausting when I take into account that these souls make up only a tiny percentage of the world’s 7.4 billion population. How do we love them all? How do we exist on a planet with so much suffering and chaos and attempt to care about so many strangers?

In such a moment of disquiet and defeat, I look to how Jesus instructed those around him. When a teacher of the law tried to stump Jesus with a question about eternal life, Jesus had the teacher quoting Leviticus. “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’” the man replied, confident he was getting the answer right. Then the man asked, “So who is my neighbor?”

At this point, Jesus lays out the story of the Good Samaritan. He tells of the traveler who is beaten and robbed and left to die on the road. Then Jesus tells of the men who didn’t stop to help even though they would say that they understand God’s teachings the best. Then the despised Samaritan rides by. Though most likely considered unclean and unwanted by the beaten man, the Samaritan stops and helps him, dressing his wounds and taking him to a place where he can heal. Jesus finishes his story with a question: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The teacher had no choice but to give Jesus the answer he was looking for. “The one who had mercy on him.”

My goal for this year is to love the ones whose paths cross mine. That may mean the paths in a 5-mile radius of my home or the Lord may put a burning desire on my heart to widen my path’s reach to a greater distance. Either way, I will try to be available to show mercy where He directs me. I will try not to be one who can walk past suffering, untouched.

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”

-Edward Everett Hale