Saturday, April 19, 2008

Grieving the Darkness

We approached the back door, and three silhouettes stepped out into the night rain. They sized us up, and my friend called out, “It’s me.” They laughed, relieved and let us into their home. Was it a home?

Reclining chairs were lined around an over-sized TV, with the Halo 3 mainscreen flashing blue light on the scene. On the counter, chips, empty wrappers, dirty dishes, cat food, socks. Two huge dogs rushed out to greet us. On the kitchen floor sat another TV, unplugged, next to a dog dish, and a large bag of garbage, spilling out indiscriminately. Two cats filled the house with a musky odor and the air was smoky and damp. The walls were stained with dark water marks and dirt and the doors of the kitchen cabinets were left open at random. An empty kleenex box overflowed with stale cigarette butts. Disorder. A caseload of frozen dinners boxes, some eaten, sat on the floor.

Sitting on the couches, were a girl and two guys. All had a vacant, glazed expression in their eyes, beer cans in their hands, and a pipe to be passed. One recognized me. I asked him what he had been up to; it had been years since I’d seen him. He was taller, scruffier. He said something about lawyer fees, referring vaguely to some trouble with the law.

One guy, who had lost his job this week and his thumb at his previous industrial job, got out a guitar. He began to quietly strum with his index finger, and for a moment, the sights and the sounds of despair were veiled under a beautiful melody. “When I am alone I’ll be my own best friend.” He apologetically shared that this was his best song, and the others encouraged him. It was good. In the lull after the song, I made my exit, letting them know I’d been on my way home anyway, just stopping in.

I had agreed to go along, for a few moments, on my way home from visiting another friend. His house was an entirely different scene. It was a beautiful, brick home in an established neighborhood, with landscaping lights and fresh flowers. Inside, his parents, exhausted from the stresses of their days, had ordered take out Chinese food. The house was spotless, with all the finest things, in pristine condition. But it was a home with it's own quiet tragedies, of addiction and divorce proceedings, and a three-year old grandson troubled by the strain of his parent's separation.

My work brings me face to face with many sadnesses, families on the brink of destruction, often due to the willful, oppressive sin of one partner against another. I see children who are hurt by those who claim to love them. Many children are used as tools of manipulation and weapons against ex-spouses. I sometimes see teenagers who are lost, unseen and think no one cares, who just try to check out for awhile and see what in the world can make them feel better for a few moments.

We all try to go our own way, but every brick of every Tower of Babel we build, to lift us out of dependence on God, is just an exercise in despair. The beauties of life, the springtime clouds and flowers are there. But when I look at us, at what we do to one another, and what we do to ourselves, all in the name of desire, I grieve. Everyday I watch lives self-destruct.

But wait.

There is another side to that. Every day, I also watch lives redeemed. I watch people pulled from impossible places, and inexplicably, moving forward. I watch love given where it is not deserved. I also see parents who have such a love for their children, they are willing to make great sacrifices to care for them. I see children, growing up, who come to realize that just because they didn't "feel" their parents were loving them at the time, now they see that so many of the actions their parents took were in love, and to protect and care for them, not to harm them.

Isn’t that the deeper story for all of us? We tried to go our own way. It brought us nothing, it was a trap, we wanted to give up. But Love was given, and it was not deserved. Where are you, God? I know you are here. How do I love people in the darkness? Teach me.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Rest in Me, Little Ones

Psalm 23

1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,

3 he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.

4 Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death, [a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

6 Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD

Monday, April 07, 2008

Playing Ketchup

I just got back from coffee with a friend. It was nice to see one another, nice to talk, and good to encourage one another. My eyes are tired now, and my back is sore. It’s almost time to call it a night. Today was a wonderful day of warm breezes and sun.

I made every excuse possible to be outside at work today, eating lunch outside and even starting the assembling of a “hot-wheels” type tractor for the playground (a job I was ill-equipped to complete). I decided each lovely day this spring, I will go outside and put in a few minutes on that little tractor, till it’s drive-able.

I’m trying to wrap my mind around this trip to the Congo. I just watched a short video clip sharing about people in the eastern and central portions of the country, dealing with the aftermath of the war. It’s so sad, so tragic. It is so far away from my bedroom here in St. Louis. But I guess part of the purpose of this trip is to bring it a little closer.

This weekend I started a new venture in painting portraits. It was challenging in a good way, and fun. I'm happy that my artistic muscles have not completely atrophied into nothingness. There’s still "a ways to go" on this portrait. If it turns out cool, maybe I’ll offer to paint portraits to interested parties.

I’ve put the impossible goal upon myself to learn French before I go to the Congo. Ha! Keep dreaming. But a very kind soul has offered to give me some rudimentary lessons over coffee. Soon, I will get on that, soon. Au revoir!