The hug was fabulous—full-bodied, warm and strong. A both-way hug that says “It’s good to see you; I’ve missed you.”Annie** had to leave the Radiant. Behind on rent, we hadn’t seen her and were praying to reconnect. Now walking Colfax, I see her. One hundred feet away, she spots me, runs to me and almost jumps into my arms. Then that fabulous hug, it is sweet.  

Reconnecting with a struggling friend, standing on Colfax, hugging at 8:30 in the morning. Her hug made my day; I expect mine might have also made hers.  That got me thinking about recent hugs. There’s RJ,** another motel friend who’d vanished. We heard he was in jail, news from a friend who owed him drug money. Jail was good—we might be able to get to him. Plus, dealers can find Jesus in jail.

A couple days later, there he is, walking down the stairs of the Radiant. He shouts, big smile, and runs down the steps while we jump out of the car. He gives us each a big hug; Diane first, then me. Who can blame him for that? Same kind of “great to see you” hug.Here we stand, car doors open, engine running, catching up. Rattled by jail and probation, RJ is eager for prayer and wanting change. Our prayer circle is really a group hug, Jesus squeezed in-between us.Minnie** is my best hugger, dispensing several every visit. I told you her story in the post titled “Lament,” a story filled with heart-breaking choices. The other day, mid-hug, she says, in her great southern accent, “I just love me some Shawn.” Then, aware this might sound wrong to me and Diane, she adds, “But just as a sister in Christ.”

Other hugs: Our 3 year old neighbor Mary** always comes for a hug. I hug little Davy,** the infant grandson of one of the motel managers, whenever I can. Walking Colfax, I see Danny, an ex-con friend who is doing great. He’s walking with Jesus and rebuilding his life. We hug, catch up and then hug again while we pray, two grown men hugging, praying, standing by a bus stop on Colfax. Sweet, beautiful moments. Some we hug have dramatic stories—prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers. Many are just ordinary folks who live on the struggling edge of poverty, people who are our friends, friends we hug when we see them, people like John** and Mary** who have just become part of our life. Face after face, hug after hug. I realize I hug a lot! Diane too. And the folks who join us, also huggers. We receive as much as we give.When our daughters were young I would ask for a “love hug.” More fully, a “big passing love through our chests love hug.” I’d hold them and ask if they could feel the love passing between us, going from my heart to theirs and from theirs  to mine. Quietly hugging, we could feel the love between us.

There is science behind this. Our hearts actually emit energy outside of our body, more in fact than any other part of us, including our brains. Seems that brain power pales in comparison to heart power, our ability to send love to another person. That love made real in a hug.Jesus must have been a serious hugger, passing the eternal love of God through his chest to others, receiving flawed human love in return. He hugged prostitutes, tax-collectors, lepers, the poor. Normal people too, but more surprising are hugs for those deemed un-huggable. Were those hugs a first step to the most broken entering the Father’s kingdom?We don’t hug everyone, though at times it feels that way. Some have been abused, some are prostitutes who don’t trust a hug to be non-sexual, some just need to get to know us better, some want to be left alone.

That said, we hug many, each hug a “big passing love through our chests love hug.” Hugging, we feel love, feel it with pimps and prostitutes, drug dealers and addicts, the mentally ill and the ordinary but poor people who fill our world. Clean, dirty, it doesn’t matter. They are our friends. Giving love, receiving love. Amazing, beautiful moments!This lesson: Seems like part of our call here is to a ministry of hugging. Somewhere in a hug we express love beyond words for many who rarely feel healthy love. And, we receive it back. For a hug simply affirms the larger truth of a loving relationship, one that Jesus uses to change us all into his image and likeness.

**Names changed to protect identity.