My name is Lori Barfield and when I arrived at FBC in 1974 they weren’t handing out life verses. Still, by the time I was 6 I had adopted one of my own. Probably because spent enough time with Hubert and Josephine Lowe and Jane Tucker that by the time I got to Mrs. Tillman’s class, I had used a crayon to trace over it. John 13:34 begins with “Love one another” and it was years before I understood the rest of the verse. Jesus says “A new commandment I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
This verse stays with me because it’s the simple verse that I make the most complicated in practicality. I’m ashamed to admit to you that I have looked for a translation error. I relied on loophole between behaving lovingly and actually loving. I have wished that Jesus put a few qualifiers in there to excuse me from loving the most difficult, but he didn’t. His commandment was clear. Somewhere along my way I’d become a fan of Tug of War. You know between those of us who worship correctly and vote correctly and those who don’t. My go to’s were condemnation, judgement and isolation. I really liked that tug of war and I held tightly to my end of the rope.
But the phrase, “as I have loved you” always stumped me because I knew how well I had been loved by Jesus. When I was difficult or offensive, Jesus didn’t leave me. When I was at my least loveable, Jesus comforted me. He never isolated me because of a political or theological stance. He never stood opposite me.
I wish I could say that I worked really hard and overcame it, but what really happened was I got tired enough of confessing the same thing every week on my pew there, of being at odds with the world and with Jesus’ commandment. I was tired of the tug of war and I finally asked for God’s help.
And in short order, 2 things happened:
First, quite suddenly and consistently, I saw only the brokenness among the people I encountered. It looked just like my own brokenness and there was no room for condemnation, all I could feel was compassion. It was as if a veil were lifted and I saw that THERE HAD NEVER BEEN ANY US AND THEM. THERE WAS ONLY US. All of us everywhere were connected by brokenness and a desire for the reconciliation brought by Christ’s love. My brain was so altered by the beauty of it that I told Kenny I thought maybe I was dying. I wasn’t. It was only the love of Christ that I was seeing and I was so compelled to participate in it that I just dropped the rope.
And that’s exactly when the 2nd thing happened. Since my hands were now empty, I picked up a hammer. Maybe you remember the $5 mission project we did here last year. My family voted that we would combine our $25 for supplies for me to make leather bracelets from old belts and then I hammered words on brass pieces and attached them. We used words like “faith, peace, hope” and phrases like “it is well with my soul, love never fails, be still.” The plan was for my Mom to sell them at Wednesday night suppers for a few weeks but what began as a small church project somehow exploded overnight. Bracelets flew out of my hands as quickly as I could make them. Every cashier, every stranger in a bookstore, every drive thru worker asked, “Where’d you get that? Could you make me one?” It seemed that people were starving for the messages of God's love, for reminders of His presence and even though my hands ached by bedtime, I would wake up every day with new words and fingers tingling and grateful to be a vessel for it.
An online store, 3 retail locations, and a year and a half later, I’m not sure how many hundreds of bracelets we have sent into the world to friends of friends, strangers, cousins… but regardless of the message they all head to the post office with a prayer for a stranger’s brokenness and reconciliation. When I dropped that rope, I could never have imagined the joy it would be replaced with.
Today I'm wearing the one I wear almost every day LOVE LIFTED ME - because it did. and on this arm, from Kenny’s belt, LOVE NEVER FAILS. Because it doesn't. But hammered into my heart is Love one another.