How Do You Spell “Love”?
The “Joy” ship—what a misnomer! I thought. I had reluctantly returned to my unfittingly named Norwegian cruise ship, wishing my three-hour Mexican beach excursion could have lasted a little longer, knowing what awaited me back on board. I had reached the halfway point in the weeklong cruise and managed to keep my elderly companion, Rosie, alive. Keeping her happy was another story.
A few weeks earlier, I had met with Rosie and her daughter to discuss my role as Rosie’s cabinmate during their family cruise to Mexico. Apparently, nobody wanted to room with Rosie. But because she had severely impaired vision and hearing, they wanted someone in her room all night in case she fell or needed help. I happily agreed to accompany my friend and began planning.
Since Rosie and I had attended Bible study together, I knew she was burdened for her family to know Jesus. She had come to accept Jesus as her Savior only a few years prior; and now she wanted her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to know Him too. I knew this was a great opportunity to show them Christ’s life-transforming love, but I didn’t realize just how hard it would be.
I thought of Jesus’ focused, intentional parting words to His disciples in the upper room: “These things I command you, that you love one another” (Jn. 15:17). Simple, right? Just love. But that’s easier said than done. People don’t naturally give up their comfort, status, time, and resources to help others. But to be a true disciple of Christ, we are called to take up our cross, die to self, and follow His example in love.
The week of the Joy cruise also happened to be Thanksgiving week, so I decided to settle in the book of Philippians for my personal devotional time. I found truths in this joy-themed prison epistle that anchored my love through stormy waters. To this day, I am still learning to spell love as T-I-M-E: thankfulness, intentionality, meekness, eternity. Here are the lessons I learned and lived out from Philippians that week on the cruise.
Rosie really struggled on the trip. It started with an accidental overdose of medication and a stolen wheelchair—and we hadn’t even boarded the ship yet. The cruise went from bad to worse as Rosie’s expectations of a happy, thankful family vacation in a clean, luxurious ship were dashed with an outbreak of norovirus and a host of family disputes and complaints.
I noticed Rosie’s family began to avoid her and exclude her from their plans. I tried to encourage her and take her to some of the special events on board. Her visual and hearing impairments made her feel even more disconnected. She began to snap and lose patience with herself and others.
Not knowing what else to do, I thanked God for Rosie. I thanked God for her life. I thanked God for saving her in her twilight years. I thanked God that Rosie trusted me to share His love with her family. The more I thanked God, the more He filled my heart with love.
Little things can magnify Christ in our lives, like acts of obedience to the Spirit and death to self each day. Like the apostle Paul, in order to live Christ wherever I may find myself, I must be intentional about living and sharing the gospel.
I kept reminding myself that Rosie’s family did not have the power of the Holy Spirit to help them. They didn’t have the hope of the gospel.
One evening, Rosie’s son-in-law asked me what I believe. Totally caught off-guard, I gave a tired, short, cliché reply. Later that night, I lay awake and mentally kicked myself for missing such a golden opportunity to share how the gospel had changed my life personally. I prayed and asked God for another chance.
The next day, I ran into Rosie’s son-in-law by the pool, and he asked me about my position as a representative with The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. More important than explaining what I do, I was ready and able to share why I do what I do. God had answered my prayer and given me another chance to share the hope of the gospel.
I got the feeling I was more excited to meet Amarillo than Amarillo was to meet me. I had been on the ship for three days, and I was ready to feel the firm ground beneath my feet once again. I picked a shore excursion that included a horseback ride on the beach.
I don’t know much about horses, but it seems to me that there are “broken” (tame) horses and “really broken” horses. Amarillo seemed to be the latter. The tourists lined up on their horses, and the lead horse began walking toward the beach. Each of the horses followed with his head down in habitual obedience to the leader. I’m not sure what Amarillo would have done if I had pulled the reins, given him a kick, and tried to ride him away from his owner and routine trail. Amarillo knew his master, and he knew what his master expected from him. His strength was submitted to the will of his master, and that made him useful.
Meekness is submissive strength. Humility. Self-control. I desperately needed these in order to rein in my fleshly responses to Rosie and her family that week and respond with the love of the Spirit. Between getting hit with a dinner roll by a frustrated Rosie and enduring hours of complaints and arguments, my flesh wavered between wanting to shout at Rosie and her family, “You’re ruining my Thanksgiving!” and wanting to throw myself overboard.
Thankfully, the Holy Spirit reminded me of Christ’s example. He humbled Himself in obedience to the Father’s will. I asked God to give me the mind of Christ and a love that puts the interests of others above my own. The Holy Spirit enabled me to bite my tongue and follow my Master, the Suffering Servant.
Though it seemed like the longest week of my life, that week was a blip on the screen of eternity. It was a brief window of opportunity to love Rosie and her family with the love only God supplies.
Two years later, I stood by Rosie’s deathbed. I had not seen much of her or her family since the cruise. I took her hand and announced my presence in her good ear. She looked at me, though I knew her vision was almost completely gone. Everything took much effort for her as the strength was leaving her body. I prayed with her and spoke directly into her ear. After I finished praying, Rosie began fidgeting uncomfortably. With great effort, she forced out the words that shine in my heart to this day: “I love you.”
Like a life raft, keeping the big picture in mind enables our love-inflated hearts to float above the waves of these temporary tempests. One day, every knee will bow; and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. One day, the process of sanctification will be complete in us; and we will finally be like Him. One day, there will be no more struggle against sin because sin will be no more. But for now, I am reminded that God is still working on me in the midst of the storm.
I still have a long way to go in this sanctification process; but God is showing me how He faithfully washes away our pride and selfishness so that we, as His people, may shine His love like a lighthouse on a dark and dangerous coastline. As the church, we are called to shine as lights in the world, “holding fast the word of life” (v. 16).
While I regret not loving Rosie and her family better on the Joy cruise, I did learn something invaluable that week. I learned how to spell love: T-I-M-E.