On a recent drive home after chemotherapy, I noted the many dilapidated buildings that lined the road. It was rather depressing. Wistfully, I mused, “I wish I was a billionaire and could finance a facelift on all the homes and businesses in this part of town.”
It wasn’t the first time I’d had the thought. But it had become more frequent now that we were back in Maine after three years in Texas.
Our home in Fort Worth had been a lovely brick, cottage-style house in a neighborhood that was under twenty years old. Strictly enforced zoning laws kept our part of the city looking spic-and-span. Everything, from the height of the grass, to trash disposal, to where you parked your cars, was carefully regulated.
While the regulations seemed a bit over-zealous at times, they certainly were a factor in how people kept up their properties.
As a result, I was finding the difference in how things looked between Texas and Maine a bit of a shock. Although Maine is a beautiful state, it has not enjoyed the growth and revitalization that other parts of the country have experienced in the past couple of decades.
It doesn’t help that early spring in Maine is locally known as “Mud Season.” It is aptly named.
In addition, we are not living in one of the rural areas that we had enjoyed in the past. Our new home was now in a small city with many of the struggles that often accompany a depressed region.
So my desire to beautify the less than lovely neighborhoods in our newly adopted town had come up a number of times. But the question that came to mind afterwards was new… and thought-provoking. “Do you think making everything look beautiful on the outside will make an eternal difference for the people who live within them?”
“Well, no, of course not,” was my sheepish reply. But once again, my need to make everything look good was rising to the surface.
I like things to be orderly and attractive… period. And it doesn’t matter what it is: it could be myself, my home, my children, or in this case, my town.
Don’t get me wrong. I know that sin and it’s resulting pain is not limited to those who are poor. Far from it. But there is still a part of me that is too easily satisfied that everything is fine… if it looks fine.
“Okay, I get it, Lord.” I said. “I know that what is most important about this city is the people who live here and not just how things look on the outside.” I went on to pray, “please help me to see past appearances and into the hearts of the ones you love.”
So He did. Over the next few days Jesus arranged for me to have a look at a few of the hurting hearts who live behind the grungy facades that I’d like to beautify.
The first occurred in a neighborhood not far from mine while I was out for a morning walk to the post office. Sprawling multiple-unit buildings with their battered siding and tiny yards crowded each other for long blocks. The fact that it was trash pickup day did nothing to add to the neighborhood’s general air of tired neglect.
As I carefully stepped around broken trash bags and mud from melting snow, I was startled to hear yelling nearby. Loud, angry yelling… with lots of swear words.
“Oh, dear,” I thought as I peered up ahead. I saw a young woman standing at the end of a driveway in front of a car. As I approached her I could hear the driver of the car, a young man, calling out to the woman to move. She didn’t budge. Hands on her hips, she resolutely maintained her position.
The man looked at me with some embarrassment before backing the car up so I could get by. I walked on with a sense of grief for their conflict.
The next day I went on my regular two-mile walk. Coming down a steep hill I heard a someone crying out in pain. I looked up to see a man and a woman in their driveway next to a car. The woman was seated in a wheelchair and the man stood beside her with his shoulders slumped.
“It hurts,” she moaned. “You know it hurts!”
I walked on with the woman’s wail, “it hurts,” ringing over and over again in my head. “It hurts.” There are so. Many. Hurting. People.
Since then, those four people have come to my mind many times. I remember their conflict and pain and I pray for them.
I pray that:
- Jesus will call them to Himself.
- He will interrupt their lives with His love.
- They see their desperate need for their Savior.
I also pray that Jesus will continue to help me see past appearances… especially of those He brings my way. I desperately need my Lord and Savior to keep stripping away the comfortable lens I like to look through that keeps me from accurrately seeing and loving His hurting children… because, they are everywhere.
“How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.” (Psalm 36:7 ESV)