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Choose Daily to Bring Joy

Earlier this summer, I served with a mission team in Vincent Guerrero, Baja California, Mexico. In one week, we built two homes for two different families. While some team members worked on building the houses, others went shopping with the two mothers of the families.

I enjoyed serving on the shopping team. We went to a local hardware store and inquired about kitchen countertops for the two homes. The salesperson led us to a small room on the second floor and pointed toward four eight-foot countertops leaning against the back wall. Our interpreter asked the two mothers to choose which countertops they liked. After a few minutes, one mother chose the dark brown countertop, and the other chose the grey one. We left the store at noon, and by four o’clock, the store had delivered the countertops ready for installation.

Later that afternoon, I sat down with Reyna, one of the mothers, and Ana, an interpreter. We discussed our shopping adventure at the hardware store, the shoe store, and the optical store. As Reyna told Ana about our day, I heard the word "gracias" numerous times. Ana translated Reyna's words of gratitude for her glasses and her family’s shoes. I inquired about how she liked the countertop for her new home. Ana translated the question, smiled at Reyna’s response, and said, "Yes, she is very thankful for the kitchen countertop. Also, she said it took her some time to decide on the right one because there were too many choices." (Remember, the store had only four countertops.)

On Thursday, we went grocery shopping with the moms and their children. As we walked down the first aisle, I was surprised when Reyna picked up a gallon of milk and placed the item in her cart. Since she has no refrigerator, I wondered how she would keep the milk cold at her new house. As we shopped, Reyna seemed to have some questions, too. In the aisle, we paused and asked our friend Ana our shopping questions. When I asked about the milk, Ana explained that Reyna did choose the gallon of milk but simply wanted her children to drink something cold on the way home.

Months have passed, and I continue to reflect on Reyna’s words and how the simple gift of choice can be both a privilege and a burden. In America, we have come to expect an exhaustive list of choices and conveniences. Yet, for women like Reyna, the gift of choice is uncommon, and cold milk is a luxury. I wonder what it takes for us to choose loving people more than loving stuff, thus embracing what matters most.

Author and spiritual coach Justin Roberts wrote in his book “Sacred Strides: The Journey to Belovedness in Work and Rest” that, after serving on a mission trip in Ecuador, he looked at his time, talent, and money very differently. He felt clearer about his priorities and freer from some of the consumer patterns that had ensnared him.

We do not have to travel far to reflect on our choices and consider investing differently in our time, talent, and money. We need to glance in one direction or the other and see God's goodness and grace surrounding us in the pages of scripture and throughout creation.

Whenever we study the Old Testament, we encounter women like Ruth and men like Jonathan who chose to extend sacrificial and loyal love to people in times of grief and distress. In the Gospels, we see that Jesus stood with the sinner, healed the leper, and gave sight to the blind. Greg Boyle, author of “Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship,” tells us that living the Gospel is less about thinking outside the box than about choosing to live in this ever-widening circle of inclusion.

As we survey our community, we become mindful of people like Jennifer Kearney, who, as a faithful photographer, stepped behind the camera lens and captured moments of goodness, love, and joy in the world. Jen began Joy Photography in Waynesboro as a business and a mission project. With a camera in one hand and joy in the other, her presence widened the circle of compassion, and her photos brought joy.

Jen noticed hardship and heartache in the world and sought opportunities to serve within it. In January 2021, she raised awareness about COVID-19 vaccines through Joy Photography’s “I Got the Shot” project. She took pictures of community members who had received the vaccine and even set up a photo booth near a vaccine clinic in a marginalized part of town.

In 2021, she took individual portraits of fifth-grade students at a local elementary school where most students come from disadvantaged situations. The school struggles to raise funds to commemorate fifth-grade graduation, often leaving students without the tangible mementos that other area elementary schools provide their fifth graders at graduation, such as class t-shirts, photos, and awards. While most people run from challenges, she was drawn to them.

She spoke words with integrity and led a life with humility. On Sunday, September 10, we will celebrate Jennifer Joyce Kraus Kearney's life and joyfully remember her loving impact on our lives and the world.

We appreciate loving servants like Jen and loving Saviors like Jesus, who expand the circle of compassion and widen the lens of eternal hope. Let us learn from their lives and wisdom and, in response, choose daily to do good, share love, and bring joy.

Visit McDow Funeral Home & Crematory’s website to view Jennifer Kearney’s obituary. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Jen's honor to support the mission of Waynesboro Area Refuge Ministries (WARM).

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