There was a time, back when I lived in the Dominican Republic, when I felt like I was drowning, in way over my head, and completely lost. It was right after I moved out of the house I had lived in with my parents, and into a house on my own, in a community about a half hour outside the nearby city. By that time I already knew that God was calling me away from the DR, and that made me feel even more lost, and pretty useless to the community I was in. I wondered what God wanted me to do out here all by myself, though I never doubted it was what He wanted for me at the time.
I spent most of those first several weeks sweeping my dusty floors, encouraging myself to walk around the community and talk to people, and hanging out with the neighbor kids like the ones pictured above, who would waltz into my open house, usually uninvited (though never unwelcome). It felt slow, and I felt completely alone.
Through the years we had become friends with mission teams from other organizations in the area, and one of those mission teams happened to be visiting the city soon after I had moved into my own house. It was their last Sunday in the area before they would fly back home, and their team had decided to hit the beach one last time.
Instead of joining their team for a nice day at the beach, a small group of people we had known for about a year asked my parents if they could bring them to visit me in my new house. “Jessica needs us,” they said to one another. “We should go encourage her.”
They piled into a truck as my dad led them down the road leading the complete opposite direction of the beach. They sat cheerily as the sun beat down on them in the truck bed, watching the endless sugar cane fields pass by (there are days I still ache for that beautiful view). When they arrived, I self-consciously welcomed them into my home, and we spent the next couple of hours sitting and chatting. I couldn’t compete with a nice day at a shady beach, so I didn’t try.
My friends were absolutely right. I did need them in that moment, and I will forever be grateful that they made the effort to come see me. They traded a day at a Caribbean beach to sweat on my plastic chairs in my dusty living room, where the only thing I had to offer them was room temperature water. They could have been walking along the ocean shore but instead they walked with me through the community and listened as I shared about my experience so far. If they were bored they did not show it, and their hugs and goodbyes after their visit were a turning point in my time there.
Maybe it wasn’t much of a sacrifice for them to miss one day with their team, but for me it made a world of difference. When I am old and have lost most of my specific memories of my time in the Dominican Republic, I will still remember their visit, and how it kept my heart from losing all hope. I felt seen, and that was all I needed.
Staying primarily at home for the past few months has obviously been pretty tough on those people who unconsciously place part of their self-worth on their productivity (me). It has also been extra hard to stay connected with the ones we care about, and to show them that they are loved. It has made me think a lot about how I have received love from others during these past six years on the mission field. There have been countless people who wrote me an encouraging note, or gave me an extra long hug, or brought me a box of my favorite cereal. People who cleaned my house just to bless me, because they saw how worn out I was. A friend who made me a gift that included all the places I have lived, because she knows how important each place, each culture, is to me. Most of those people probably have no idea how much their gesture meant to me, and how many times their gifts or words were the one thing holding me together on that day.
I guess my point in all of this is that I have always seen love in the little things, just as much or even more than in grand gestures. All people really want is to be seen, to be remembered. As many of us continue to stay more distanced than we usually would be, we might not see as many opportunities to show love in big ways. But I think we can definitely get creative in new little ways of loving those around us. Many people already have, by sending cards, calling their friends, delivering snacks to people’s doorsteps. Let’s not allow people to become out of sight, out of mind. If you’re unsure of how to love people during this time (or even in general), I would encourage you to do just the smallest thing. You never know how something little can end up staying with someone forever.