82 Christmas Parading Cop Cars

I’m driving back home after a run, noticing the persistent knot of anxiety in my stomach for the 97th time. I find myself thinking about this twenty something stage of life and how, from a billion different angles, people, places, and things are changing rapidly, like the wind, and I feel like a little wishie dandelion in a big field wondering why I’m no longer yellow, hoping I don’t get mistaken for a weed, and also hoping my seeds won’t scatter away at once. But I am not a dandelion, I am a human. Driving in a car. Getting closer to my neighborhood, I say my constant prayer to ask God to keep me safe again just one more time.

I know.

Some people are pros at living life, shining their little light in the inner city, just like anywhere else.

I myself am a scared, fearful, constantly awed, diversity-loving, naïve city dweller.

So bear with me.

I’m getting closer to my house, knowing my beloved and ever-patient roommate had left for Christmas break and unless I decided to find a friend to stay with, I’d be spending the night in the hood, alone, with no one else in the house. I started crying, realizing that until moving, I never had placed myself in situations where my safety had crossed my mind. I know. You’re probably sick of hearing me cry or me writing about crying or telling these stories. I’m sorry. As pathetic as it may sound, I was crying. It started raining (of course) and it was dark (fits with the story, right?). I made a right turn to get onto my one way street and noticed two pulled over police cars with their lights on, flashing. Of course. I peered in my rear view to see if I could make out anything going on. Realizing my eyes we no longer on the road, I snapped out of it before I could hit a parked car. ((Turns out that later on that night, I would find out through a neighbor that they were there investigating a double shooting. I’m glad I didn’t know that at the time. ))

I find a spot outside my house, park the car, and step out, sighing, “God, I don’t know how much longer I can do this,” feeling discouraged and in need of direction, trying to ignore my own cynicism and fears that often ensnare me into the Kingdom of Me. I don’t mean to keep arriving there. I start off in the Kingdom of God and suddenly I find myself at a bread and breakfast all-inclusive stay at the Kingdom of Me. I’m done. I want out.

I walk to my doorstep, steady rain falling, and notice cop cars pulling on to my street, sirens blaring. Above are two police helicopters swirling shining spotlights in irregular patterns. One, two, three, four, five police cars. I’m already crying, but now the tears were really coming as I begin to quiver at the thought of what could be going on. This must be bad. This has to be bad. Six, seven, eight, nine. Given the numerous cop cars and an influx of neighbors opening their doors to see what’s going on, I am scared, wondering what on Earth could be happening. I am shaking and cold and have snot spread in every direction on my face (I am not a clean crier). Ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen police cars. I want to pray but I don’t have words. Fourteen, fifteen…firetruck.

Firetruck!?

IS THAT SANTA CLAUS!!!??????

“MERRY CHRISTMAS!” a classic voice shouts from the window, waving to the neighbors.

“Look, Santa,” I hear one of my neighbors call out to her children, urging them to come outside.

Sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty one, twenty two and a… MEGAPHONE?

“MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!”” kids shout from the megaphone, hands out the backseat window, waving.

Twenty three, twenty four, twenty five, twenty six, twenty seven, twenty eight, twenty nine mostly smiling police officers, occasionally waving to the crowds on the street.

I am still crying. And shaking. And now smiling and laughing, laughing so hard my stomach feels like it’s doing crunches. Thirty, thirty one, thirty two, thirty three, thirty four, thirty five, thirty six, thirty seven, thirty eight, thirty nine. I am smiling at the heavens, feeling the steady rain meet my face like long-time old friends embracing one another in an airport. The moment is so… holy… so joyful.

Forty, forty one. Yes, I’m still counting. The cars are still coming, sirens flashing, some sounding, some with smiling officers, others looking just about as confused as myself (especially the police officer driving a Harford County police car… something tells me this county cop has never seen something quite like this before either. There’s a first time for everything :))

Fifty. Sixty. Seventy. I kid you not. I believe the final count was 82 (I was having a hard time keeping track because all my soul wanted to do was look up at the sky, and let my tears and my smile sing praises to the Lord because my mouth and brain could not put together a single word.)

Just when you think you can’t take one more evil, one more injustice in this world, when you feel incapable of dealing with one more fear, ask one more “what if,” face one more worry, drone one more repeated prayer over and over again for the same thing, God will do something. He will do something to sustain you, something to embrace you. He will do something comical like send 82 Christmas-parading cop cars onto your street just to make you smile and laugh in a way that only God could do. He will find a way to make it possible for you to retain hope in your heart, and whisper,keep going. I. Love. You.” I am wet from rain and tears and all I want to do is dance in the rain, dance in the middle of the street with reckless abandon, arms out open, spinning and singing, and hug each and every neighbor outside, renewed with faith, hope, and love.

But I have snot on my face. Perhaps I should shower before thinking of exchanging hugs.

I draw in one more breath of the surprisingly warm winter air and whisper back to God, “I love you too” and head inside.

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On a Cold Winter’s Night That was so Deep

December 16, 2011
It was Friday night and I took in a breath, smiling, as we were driving around to Coldplay on the way to running Christmas errands. You know those Friday nights, where the moon is out, stars-are-shining kinds of nights that give you that “God-it’s-good-to-be-alive” feeling.

And then it shifted.

Flashing lights in Baltimore City are not an uncommon sight. But this time, there were three police cars pulled over and a silent ambulance, lights still flashing. I held in my breath, nervously taking a closer look. In the middle of the adjacent street was a man, lying on his side, not moving. A couple of officers stood over him. A crowd gathered on the sidewalk.

Brian and I were probably behind a red light, looking at this scene for less than a minute. But it felt long, drawn out, like a thick fog of stagnant barrenness surrounding the streets and air. Laughter turned to solemness, like a train derailing, catching its passengers off guard, trying to keep them stuck in that moment. Flashbacks of kids on my block showing me a bullet came to my mind. I saw scenes of conflict and yelling that I’ve observed in neighboring streets. The essence of depravity, as though God himself in heaven was crying, stretching out his arm to rescue, saying, “no, this cannot be, this is not what I have intended for my people.” Perhaps the only thing you can do in such moments is instinctively pray. So we prayed. Prayed for peace. Prayed for reconciliation between whatever and whomever led up to that man lying in the street. We prayed for this city, that God would shed that redeeming love upon in scandalous grace that only a father up above could provide.

We were quiet for a little while.

I’m not sure what you’re supposed to say after you pass by a scene like that.

The green light forced us to move on. We ran some Christmas errands and strolled through the city to dazzle over Christmas lights. But for some reason, my mind kept drifting back to the man in the street. I didn’t know why; I knew this kind of stuff happens in the city. But this wouldn’t leave my mind. Perhaps it was because it was Christmastime, and I’m used to seeing people exchange in acts of good cheer, but instead, this exchange felt dismal. I don’t know how to describe it, exactly, but it felt like that scene was trying to take over, wanting to steal away the joy, the peace, the love that this season so beautifully epitomizes.

We drove home and stepped inside. Slowly, gently, God began showing me what he had to say about that scene that wouldn’t leave my mind.

I began to cry. I stopped fighting to keep the ears from spilling over the corners of my eyes, and let them fall down like rain. I didn’t have to pretend that one could be completely numb to violence, or homelessness, or poverty.

I didn’t have to pretend that I wasn’t scared. I didn’t have to play that game of shoulder-shrugging complacency or ignorance.

I felt it full force. And grieved.

I grieved over the depravity of this world. I grieved over the 193 needless homicides this city experienced this year. I grieved over the fact that perhaps if those men in conflict had grown up their whole life with positive role models guiding them, encouraging them, challenging them, and most importantly, doing life alongside them in a way that lifts up, allowing each individual to remember that we all have so very much to live for; perhaps then things could have been different that night. I grieved over the voices that all too often get stuck in our minds, voices that negate self-worth, that tell us to give up trying, that tell us things can’t change.

No. Surely that’s not what we were created to believe.

I grieved over all the ways in which The Church has directly and indirectly expressed who is “in” and who is “out”, who is “right,” and who is “wrong.” I grieved because I think it is possible for The Church to be synonymous with love, but right now, unfortunately, words such as “judgmental” and “fragmented” can be painstakingly accurate too. I’m sure you can envision such an image or news story right now. Missing the point completely, I am crushed when the world is presented with an incomplete Gospel of the One who loved us before we were born, who says that there is no condemnation for His children.

I grieved harder as I looked inward at myself. I mean, not just a surface check, but a guttural check inside all of those little parts of myself that no one sees, the parts that store my own layers of contempt and self-centeredness. The part that acknowledges how quick I am to dismiss those who don’t see my perspective, the part who still doesn’t love others with a completely unconditional love (like Christ), and who still holds my purse tight when walking around the inner city, because, after all,“they” could be trying to steal, “they” might have a gun, or “they” might otherwise harm me (see the self-centeredness and assumption making?). I grieved over just how stubborn and cynical I’d become over the past few years. I grieved over evil. I grieved because it is still here and present in this world, trying to take life out of our years. I grieved that after living in the inner city, I couldn’t deny the reality of racial polarization and that there is still much work to do if we want to see races completely reconciled one to another. I grieved over ignorance and apathy. That there are voices out there that get us caught up in things that don’t matter, distracted from our purpose. That demean us. That demean others.

BUT.

That’s. Not. How. The. Story. Ends.

That’s not how the story ends.

Dozens of times, I’ve heard the Bible described as something like, “the divinely inspired word of God.” I get that. But I can no longer concede to say the things that I’ve been spoon-fed to say. Instead, I find the Bible …difficult. It’s challenging; it’s beautiful. It’s simple; it’s confusing. I read things that make me angry and never want to open another page again. I read things that seem so unlike the God I know. Then I read things so beautiful that leave me amazed and feeling connected to something that has sustained and enriched millions of lives over the course of hundreds of years. I read of a redemption that can cover every wrong, of a companion, a guide, a friend, who desires nothing more than to journey life with you… or rather, you with Him. To come, as you are, and experience a kind of Kingdom incomparable to this world, but desperate to be experienced in the here and now.

I stop crying; I see it now. Faith, hope and love. Love of God, love of others. We can stop there and leave the rest out. I don’t care anymore. I was drawn to Christ and came back to the message that I can always, always come back to time and time again: love God, love others. That hope entered this world innocent… as innocent as a child in a manger. That hope entered this world naked, comforted by swaddling cloth to keep warm… and I too need to let myself “be naked” and vulnerable and allow others into my heart and life to show God’s love for me through their warmth, their love, their embrace and acceptance in both my weakest and my strongest moments.

Evil never stopped that hope, that joy, that comfort from coming into this world. And evil will never stop what is to come. Evil did not have the last word that Friday night. Evil didn’t win. It never will. Hope won. Love conquered. It always will. Undeterred and more drawn into this redemptive, unable-to-be-stopped kind of love, I knew God had the final say that night and always will. And that final say when we meet with our Creator will be, “welcome home, my child” with music, dancing, and song.

And just then, a familiar tune popped in my head. …On a cold winter’s night that was so deep…. Noel, noel, the soft angelic murmurs sang.

It was a cold winter’s night.
And it was deep.

And just like in Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago, hope was still very much alive.

Thoughts on Change

6.28.11

I recently moved to inner city Baltimore and moving day spurred up some emotions within me about change. This is a little snapshot of what I feel like God is teaching me about change.

•••

I’ve often heard that God is unchanging. Which is a good thing. But I’ve come to believe that while this is true, we also serve a God who knows change. No one stays in a flood when there’s an ark to carry you. No one stays in exile when you’ve got your God calling you out of slavery. No one stays a baby, born in a stable…

Take a look outside. Flowers need pruning. Rain needs to come to water gardens, fill oceans, and satisfy thirst to every living creature. All things must change, all things must grow. Our Savior knew that. Our Savior did not stop changing culture through radical love of all people -even the love of enemies- despite questioning commentary from the people around him. He didn’t stop touching Lepers, who would never have otherwise experienced the uplifting gift of touch just because of pointed-finger rule keepers. In fact, Jesus came to bring about change, despite the opposition he faced. When his days were closing in, Our Savior did not give up in the garden of Gethsemane. Our Savior did not stop when people mocked him and spat on him. No public dismay, nor disapproval, nor pain would change his plans nor thwart him. He pressed on; he moved forward. Though doom and death faced him, Sunday came, and a new beginning arose. None of this would have happened; the climax of the story would have occurred had our Savior not pursued the plans and dreams God had put on his heart. And if Jesus, the redeemer of the world, can go through change- pretty drastic change-, then so can I, then so can we.

Change is like a double-edged sword: I don’t like it, but it’s the very thing that moves me, that escalates me, that God uses to grow me. When it comes to that impelling moment of impending change, God reminds me it’s time. It’s time to move. It’s time to move forward. It’s time to know that the days ahead are going to come, regardless of whether I resist them or embrace them.

It’s not easy. Change is never easy. Maybe because most change isn’t meant to be about ease or convenience; change is meant to be about growth. Change is looking on the other side of the mountain, up high, from the top, knowing you would have never seen this incredible view had you stayed where you were, had you never began your climb. Change is GOOD. Change elevates us. Without change, we become trapped. Trapped to our surroundings, trapped to familiarity. We don’t grow; we become stagnant, stuck, indifferent.

Are there changes going on in your life? Could it be time to make a change? No matter how big or small, Jesus is present. If it’s not time for change, are you staying in your circumstance out of fear? Out of comfort, out of familiarity? Jesus can carry you to the next destination. Let change move you. Let change grow you. Be a part of what God is doing and don’t resist it. Throw your hands up in the air if you have to, and say, “God, I don’t get it.” Tell Him and tell Him and tell Him over and over again if you have to; but know that this doesn’t change who He is and what He can do with an open and willing heart. Be open. Be willing. Be present.

                                                  Forget about what’s happened;
                                                don’t keep going over old history.
                                                         Be alert, be present.
                                            I’m about to do something brand-new.
                                              It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?”

                                     -Isaiah 43:16-21 (excerpt) –The Message