The Simple Kingdom: "I just feel so lost..."Friday, February 04, 2011
Those are the words of a dear woman named Colleen who's living with us right now. She and her common-law husband, Robert, were asked a couple of days ago by Colleen's daughter to leave the trailer home where they lived across the street from our church building.
Robert had dinner with us last night. He says he has a problem stuttering, that everything on the left side of his body is bigger than his right side, and that he was admitted to special ed when in school, told he'd never amount to anything. Later, he went to Vietnam as an airborne rescuer of war casualties. After the war he went to college, got a degree, and then went to culinary school after which time he has worked his way up in various jobs to become an executive chef. During that time he was married twice and is now "married" to Colleen after having been together for seven years now.
Colleen has raised three kids, all of whom have gone astray, per her story a while ago. She broke down in tears wondering why God was punishing her. At least that's what she feels like after so many moves, so many kids gone astray, so many bad things happening. She was married young, and after the wedding night things went south, she said. They continued to remain married for several years, then split up. She's never officially divorced her husband. However, she went on to enjoy a 27 year relationship and common-law marriage to another man, whom she absolutely adores. He died at 72 years old, and then met Robert. They've lived together for over seven years now. Colleen's first husband, who never legally divorced her, has been married twice since then.
Their relationship has remained firm, Colleen and Robert, that is. They love each other dearly, and stick with it in thick and thin. They've lived in PA, KY, OR, and now GA all in the last several years, going from job to job, seemingly laid off constantly through apparently no fault of their own. Who knows for sure, though, right? One person's side of the story sounds good til you get the other side (Prov. 18:13, 17). Undoubtedly there are a laundry list of personal issues that have created much of their heartache, besides just being marginalized people who've been relegated to the segment of the "damned." You know the type of people I'm talking about...the ones who go from job to job, have family problems, constant drama, money-problems, few teeth, and who blame everyone else for their problems.
Jesus came to save people like that.
He loves Robert and Colleen, and it's evident they don't really know that. Robert says he's been a high-priest in the Mormon church for many years, and then left because he just couldn't reconcile some of the strange teachings with common sense. Colleen said she's been saved and baptized in an Episcopal church in her 20's, and that she tried to walk with God with her common-law, second husband. But she says she eventually backslid. Robert started worshiping with us several weeks ago and has come faithfully every Sunday, even giving money, despite the fact that he doesn't have a job.
Their view of Christianity and walking with God is typical: do your best, work hard at trying to do what God wants you to do, and...well, you know the rest. Somehow that kind of thinking and lifestyle ends up still making a person feel lost...like Colleen. I told her the truth: God had put us together and my family was the next part of her journey in life, as well as Robert's.
I said that so she would decide to spend the night again with us. She said she was feeling like an imposition and she didn't want to. I read from Romans 12:9 and following, and camped out on that verse that talked about hospitality. In the Greek, I explained, it means welcoming strangers into your home. In other words, it means turning your home into a hotel. Her eyebrows went up and she tried to form a response, but couldn't. All she could say was, "Well maybe that was how it had to be back then. You just can't trust people now." Really? So you could trust people better back then, two thousand years ago, I responded? She laughed and saw the silliness in that assumption.
I told her that my family and I had been making our home a hotel for strangers for many years now. She asked what was the longest we'd had someone live with us. I told her briefly of Gregory, the demon-possessed, crack/meth addict, homosexual, homeless-for-twenty-years, black man who lived with us for six to seven months, who was delivered from all of that on Easter morning in 2006. She looked shocked. God's power is always surprising to those who haven't experienced it. And real stories - first-hand, eyewitness testimony stories - of God's power are even more surprising.
So I told her that if it took us all these years to get comfortable with the idea of turning our home into a hotel for strangers, then it may take her a while to get comfortable with that idea too...especially since she's the "customer"! She laughed. So did Robert, holding an aging, trembling, Shih Tzu, Lord Caramel, in his lap. (His toy Chihuahua, Sissy, broke her leg and handed Robert and Colleen a thousand dollar vet bill). It's weird, I told her, that our culture makes us feel uncomfortable around stuff like this. I explained that the whole point of the gospel is an announcement of good news that God is doing something for us that we can't do. That changed my life, including my view toward the "charity" of others. I'm God's charity case, for sure. And that means everyone else is my "charity" case. Except, I don't look at it like charity. That's what some people do for less-fortunate persons, in order to make themselves feel better. Romans 12:9 and following calls that just plain, genuine, authentic, fervent love for one another.
They can't do for themselves, right now. She works a decent job at the nursing home a block from my house. And he's gonna apply at Cracker Barrel come Monday morning. We're heading to Goodwill right now to pick up some new duds so he can look sharp at the application and hopeful interview. But they have no apartment, slept in their car for two nights, and have no way to buy and keep food. They have a station wagon with an inflatable mattress, and all their currently worldly possessions in the floor boards of the vehicle. No one should live like that when Christians are around. And if they cross my path or anyone at Church in the Boro, their lives should be marked by a rescue from us, just like God rescued us when we were helpless.
Where does stuff like this go? I mean how does one rearrange his life and task list to make people the focus of ministry once again, rather than all the aggravating administration that seems to always eclipse real ministry? I have no earthly idea. I suppose that's what walking in the Spirit is about, and being led by the Spirit. He interrupts our agenda with His agenda, which is to seek and save the lost, to love one another, to show hospitality to one another and help others in need. Christians are marked by being led like this. No doubt this brings a grinding halt of frustration and confusion to our lives, especially since we live in Western cultures by the clock and "to do" lists. But God wants to alter and revise our culture, making it about His kingdom.
We're praying that God would bring His kingdom to earth like it is in heaven...right here in our home. This is where the "magic" happens. This is where the rubber meets the road, where the nitty-gritty happens. It happens around pizza tonight as Robert and Colleen join us for family night...as they humbly accept our "charity" sleeping on a pull out couch, Robert eating dinner with us each night, figuring out how to juggle our family schedules with theirs, helping Robert find work and a place to live, creating resumes, etc. It will happen around the Super Bowl Sunday night, which they are desperately looking forward to.
This is the simple kingdom.