One rainy day in China, a mother walked to the docks with her son. He was sixteen, but slim, and she hoisted him onto her back as they walked. She didn’t want his shoes to get wet. It was, after all, an important day.
Arriving at the docks, she set him down – not in the sludge that had long since swallowed her own shoes – but on a ship bound for Singapore. Two final gifts she offered him: a life without communism and dry feet to carry him there. Buoyed by youth, he promised to return for her, rescue her!
That teenage boy was my grandfather. He would go on to do remarkable things – become a marine engineer, father 13 children, smuggle gold out of Indonesia, get caught, survive prison, return home a year later without a word’s explanation for his absence. He worked like the earth in orbit – 60,000 miles an hour, every single day of his life.
But despite his indelible drive, one thing eluded him – he never did rescue his mom. She died in China. I think about her sometimes, this woman I never met. Imagine her lumbering toward the docks, hair slick with rain, back laden with teenage bones.
We are so different.
I am raising children who take one bite of a Happy Meal before throwing it in the trash, and she raised a son who was known to eat an apple like a goat – flesh, core, and stem – before planting the seeds outside.
What Makes Us Different
In Romans 3:22 Paul strings together four words with such resonance that if you strain, you can still hear them echoing beneath the din of the 21st century: “There is no distinction.”
He’s talking about the difference between Jews and Gentiles – two people groups loved by God, who could not agree on the issue of circumcision. Into this interminable debate, Paul declares: “There is no distinction,” and his readers are flummoxed.
2000 years later, we still beg to differ. There are many distinctions, Paul. Allow us to explain: Not everyone agrees about baptism. Or speaking in tongues. Or whether little pieces of fabric should be worn on the face, or under the chin, or ceremonially burned. We do not agree on preaching, singing, or essential oil essentiality. We don’t agree on children’s ministry, student ministry, women’s ministry (really anything with the word “ministry” after it); we don’t agree on schooling, voting, carbohydrate eating, or the optimal decibel of a worship service.
There are distinctions.
Hang on, Paul counters. Let me finish: “There is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24).
It’s an inarguably excellent point. If humanity is like laundry wedged into the crucible of earth’s hamper, there are, in fact, endless distinctions between sparkly crop tops and plaid underwear, leather pants and seersucker suits. But one thing is the same – it all smells like feet, and it needs to be washed. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
We are different, and yes, the differences can make us want to jump out the nearest window, but they also make us beautiful. They make us thoughtful, dynamic, creative, sensitive, and wise, if only we will remember that beneath the differences, we are also the same – equally in need of redemption.
What Makes Us the Same
When I think about my great grandmother and the rainy day to which I owe my existence, you know which detail reminds me that we are the same? The dry shoes. Who thinks about shoes when you’re giving away a child forever?
A mom, that’s who.
She thought of the details no one else cares about, and in that small action, I see her. I am her. I’m guessing you are too, because I bet you would’ve carried your child on your back also, if you knew it was the last thing you’d ever do for him.
Sometimes at night, when I stroke the buttery blonde hair of my youngest daughter, I marvel at the difference four generations make. We have so many toys, we could’ve built a bridge from China to Singapore and walked across it. The difference pains me. But then I smile and think, one day I will tell this little blue-eyed child of mine:
“Once upon a time, there was a woman whose life was so different from yours, you can’t even imagine it. She did not eat a single Happy Meal, ever. But she was strong. And brave. And she sacrificed everything to give us a better life. You don’t look like her, and you will never meet her, but her blood runs in your veins. She is your heritage, and you are her legacy.”
Praise Jesus, we are different. Praise Jesus, we are the same.