Smelling Their Bad Smell

Today’s post is a very special one because I get to write about someone who I greatly love and admire: my Aunt Sherran! I hope her story speaks to you as much as it speaks to and challenges me.

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Sherran spent her career as a teacher, with many years teaching at an alternative school. It was hard teaching so many students who were from difficult situations, but she was always drawn to and felt called to the “down and out”. Once she retired, that calling didn’t go away. It was just put to use in a different circumstance.

A few years ago her church hosted an outreach picnic at a local park. A pregnant young woman with two children in tow showed up to the picnic. Sherran spoke with her and invited her to come to their church the next day. Surprisingly, the young woman, who we’ll call Catie for privacy purposes, showed up – and continued to show up. Sherran began to talk to her and get to know her as weeks went by. She could tell that they struggled, but did not know the whole story. Just a couple of months after Catie had her baby, the baby ended up in the hospital with kidney disease. Because Catie and her boyfriend, who we will call Mitch, did not have adequate transportation, Sherran began helping by frequently driving them back and forth to the hospital. Unfortunately, due to hard circumstances and the baby’s medical issues, the Department of Family and Children Services needed to get involved and the baby was placed in foster care. Sherran began taking Mitch and Catie to their scheduled visitations to see the baby, along with doing a number of other things, like help them get groceries, encourage them to take the steps needed to work their DFCS case plan, encourage Catie (who does have some learning disabilities) that she was capable of getting a job and working. Basically, over the course of a few years, my aunt helped them as best as should could. She gave them countless rides to places they needed to go, she helped them find resources, sometimes she gave them resources, and she was just a constant source of guidance and encouragement for this couple who was definitely what you would consider “down and out”.

It was not always easy for her help them as much as she did – they were very different from her. It was not always convenient – she often had to rearrange her schedule to help them. And it certainly had its frustrating moments – they often did not do things the way she thought they should. Most people would not have been willing to do what she did, especially for as long as she did. In fact, she often had people – even fellow believers – ask her why she kept helping them. Her answer was profound: “When Jesus tells me to stop, I’ll stop.” Some of these same people commented that they didn’t know how she did it because Mitch and Catie smelled bad. Again, her response was profound: “Would Jesus care how they smell?” (Side note: this is not to hate on the people making these comments. We all sometimes say things in the moment without really thinking them through, and I know these same people serve in other ways.)

I can’t get her answers out of my mind because they bring the basis of loving and serving others back to Jesus, like it should be. So often how we “love” and “serve” is based on ourselves.

We are willing to serve others – only as long as it is not an inconvenience to us.

We are willing to love on someone in need of it – only as long as it doesn’t actually affect our own lives.

We are willing to give money – only because it is a way to feel like we’re helping, but without actually having to step into the person’s mess.

Now, obviously there is a place for giving money, and we should definitely do that in scenarios when it is appropriate. But I think if we are gut-level honest, sometimes we would rather just give money because it is the easy way out. It doesn’t require us to actually have to step into someone’s life and be close enough to “smell” their bad smell.

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BUT THAT IS NOT JESUS. In fact, it is the complete opposite of how Jesus loved and served. Jesus stepped into people’s lives and walked with them. He ate with them. He came into close proximity with prostitutes, lepers, the poor, the down and out. And I guarantee you He “smelled their bad smell”.

If Jesus was willing to step into people’s messy, jacked up, bad smelling lives, to love them and build relationships with them, then that is what we are called to do too.

What does that look like for you? Does someone come to mind? A friend who is in a hard place in life? A neighbor down the street who is a struggling single mom? A homeless person you always see on the same corner? If no one comes to mind, can I kindly suggest that maybe, just maybe you need to step out of your comfort zone and put yourself in a place where you see people who are in desperate need of someone to “step into their mess”. Will it be easy, convenient, and comfortable? Nope, most likely not. But you will get to experience the joy that comes from loving like Jesus, and I promise you it is so worth it.

I would love to hear stories of how you or someone else are currently loving and serving like Jesus, or how you are hoping to start! Please feel free to reach out!

For His Kingdom,

Megan Downer

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