Boy in the Fountain

Boy in Fountain

The little boy sat in the water directly on top of a water spout, cooling off from the heat. How old does he look to you?

He loved the feel of the cold water, contrasted with the hundred-degree temperature of the day. There were other children in the fountain – running, splashing, yelling, having fun. But this little guy just sat there. He didn’t need much; just to be there was enough. I asked around until I found his mother, and got permission to take the picture. I didn’t want her to think I meant any harm. I mentioned that I had children and grandchildren, and I thought her son was adorable. She looked at me, hesitated, then nodded.

Posting the picture on Facebook, I received likes and comments from people all over the country. They wrote things like Cute, Adorable, Smart boy, Awww, and Can I Adopt Him. I “liked” every comment.

A year later, I still wonder about him from time to time. What’s his life like? Has he grown much? What’s his family like? Does he ever go back to that fountain?

And I wonder about his future, too. What will become of him? Will he like school? What sports will he want to play? What kind of music will he listen to? What does he want to do when he grows up? Although that may change a hundred times during his childhood.

Then, in light of recent stories in the news, I wonder if he’ll turn out to be a good kid who grows into a fine young man, or if he’ll get into trouble along the way. Will he ever be shot at by a gang, a friend, or a policeman? These thoughts are very real in America these days, and I wonder about this little guy.

I also wonder about my own grandchildren. One of my sons married a woman of color, and they have children. I know their interests, their likes and dislikes, their preferences, what they want to be when they grow up. My eight-year-old granddaughter wants to be a doctor. Her five-year-old brother wants to be Buzz Lightyear or Spiderman, depending on the time of day, of course. They love school and learning. They love being part of a congregation of faith. They love playing family games. Life hasn’t turned ugly for them, yet. But it could. Hate is a powerful force in America. Racism is still prevalent. Unkindness lurks.

I wonder how they might turn out, too. Will they fulfill their dreams? Will they get into trouble? Will they ever be the victims of prejudice? Will they have to defend themselves simply because their skin is darker, or their hair gives them away? Might they be subject to racial profiling some day? So far, they trust adults, those in authority, such as teachers, pastors, and police officers. Will they ever find their trust betrayed? Will they ever be afraid of being shot by someone they trust?

When I finished my lunch appointment and walked back to my car, the little boy was gone. His mother must have decided he’d been in the fountain long enough. He probably needed lunch. Perhaps it was nap time. Maybe she needed to go to work.

Soiled Lives

Phone 2

When I answered the phone, it was my uncle. Though he had sons of his own and I had a father, he always called me “Son.”

“Son, I understand you want to be a pastor?”

“Yes, sir.”

“So you think you’re called, huh?”

“Yes, sir. I do.”

“Son, if you are really called to the ministry, meet me at the church Thursday morning and spend the day with me.”

My classes at San Diego State were on Monday-Wednesday-Friday, so Thursday morning I got up and went to the church. I had no idea what he had in mind. After chatting for a few minutes, he said, “Follow me.” We got into his car and, without saying a word, drove to the outskirts of town, pulled up to a cluster of tiny, two-room shacks, and parked on the dirt in front of a small green hut, too small to be called a house or an apartment, yet this was someone’s home.

Uncle got out of the car, and I followed. We walked up to the door of one of the units, and he knocked. No answer. He knocked again, louder this time. Again, no answer. “I know he’s in there.”

He tried the door, and found that it was unlocked. Slowly he opened it, and went in. There on the bed in the small two-room cabin was a man: drunk, passed out. A mixture of vomit, diarrhea, urine, and alcohol on the bed, walls, sofa, and floor. The stench was overwhelming, as if attacking my nostrils and throat. I thought I was going to throw up.

Without saying a word, without even a grimace, the pastor took off his suit coat and tie and handed them to me. I watched as the man of God took on the role of the servant. He turned on the water to fill the tub, then went over to the bed. He undressed the man, rolled up his putrid clothing, and placed them into a garbage bag. He picked up the still-unconscious drunkard, naked and filthy, placed him carefully into the tub, and bathed him. I thought of the scene in the Gospel of John where Peter said to the Lord, “Wash all of me. Not just part of me.”

After washing the drunk, who never did wake up, he said, “Watch him to make sure he doesn’t drown.” Then he went back to the bed, stripped it of the blankets and sheets, and put those into the bag with the clothes. Finding an old towel, he mopped the walls and the floor, repeatedly going over to the sink to rinse the crud away. He searched the dresser drawers til he found a set of clean sheets and a blanket, and made the bed. There was a fresh pair of pajamas in a drawer, and he placed them on the end of the bed.

After cleaning up the place, my uncle returned to the bathroom, dried off the comatose man, carried him to the bed, and put the pajamas on him. Covered him up, and tucked him in. Then he took the bag of soiled clothing, bed linens, and a few other things that needed to be laundered, walked out to the car, and put them in the trunk of his car.

After locking the man’s door, we got into the car. The foul smell was not confined to the trunk of the car.  It filled the passenger compartment as well. The stench came with us, not only because of the awful stuff in the trunk, but because the filth had gotten onto my uncle’s suit. Although by now it was almost time for lunch, I thought I was going to lose my breakfast.

Instead of going back to the church, we drove to the pastor’s home, where he took the bag from the trunk, went straight to the laundry room, and washed the man’s clothes and bed linens. After showering, my uncle dressed, and we went back to the church. Before I got into my car to go home, he said to me, “Son, that’s what ministry is all about. Good people soil themselves and make a mess of their lives because of sin. Your job as a pastor is to find out what Jesus wants you to do about it. And then do it.”

Though my uncle is no longer alive, I never forgot him — or that lesson. As we go about the daily tasks that the Lord has called us to do, sometimes we find ourselves cleaning up our own messes; sometimes the messes other people have made. The ugly scenes are often the result of sin, our own or someone else’s. Some of the mountains of debris we are called to help clean up are caused by years of neglect, ignorance, discouragement, abuse, or failure.

In Lakeland, Florida, at the center of Southeastern University’s campus, is a bronze sculpture of Jesus washing the feet of one of his disciples. The sculpture is titled “Divine Servant.” I think of my uncle almost every time I see it. It is a great work of art, beautifully depicting the call for genuine disciples to be servant ministers. Ironically, the sculpture is beautiful, whereas the brokenness of human lives is quite unattractive, and working with broken people can get ugly.

Seervant Leader Statue

In his book, Facing Messy Stuff in the Church, Ken Swetland talks about the ugly, painful situations church leaders have to deal with. “Churches are made up of sinners whose lives are broken – sometimes because of their own choices, sometimes because of experiencing wrongs outside of their control. . . . Resolutions are hard to come by.” He goes on to write that the church is “. . . a fellowship of people who come together to worship God, serve him in the world, and be agents of healing in the lives of broken people who make up the church.”

As we respond to the situations that people have made of their lives, their families, their cities, or their nation, it is helpful to keep in mind that we have a rich heritage of serving in Jesus’ name, cleaning up the stench and the debris of people’s lives. As my uncle said, that’s what ministry is all about.

Silhouette 3

Potholes

The Lord must have been showing off his artistic skills when he made northern Arizona. On a recent trip, we visited the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest, and the Grand Canyon. Such beauty on a massive scale.

We enjoyed downtown Flagstaff, and even spent some time standing on a corner in Winslow. Then, after a day in Kingman, we decided to drive out to the town of Oatman, on Old Route 66. We heard that the wild burros roaming the desert also walk the streets of Oatman, but we discovered they practically rule the town. In fact, they were the main attraction for many of the visitors. And, rather than being “wild,” they were definitely people-friendly. Even little children were feeding and petting the animals.

Shadow

Our day-trip was delayed, however, because on the way to Oatman, we hit a pothole. We weren’t going very fast, but the cavity in the pavement was deep, its sharp edges instantly puncturing the tire. Our only option was to pull off to the side, call for a tow truck, and wait . . . and wait . . . and wait.

Sometimes life happens that way. We make our plans and have a schedule to keep, but suddenly something happens and we find ourselves unable to do what we wanted to do. That’s when our automatic response system kicks into gear, and it’s usually negative.

Some people get angry. “Great! Our day is ruined.”

Some become sad or depressed. “Why did this happen to us? This is horrible.”

Others start blaming. “If you were watching where you were going, this wouldn’t have happened. It’s all your fault.”

Or criticizing. “I can’t believe they’d leave a huge pothole like that. They obviously aren’t doing their job.”

When things don’t work out the way we planned, or the way we hoped they would, it’s better to remember the words of Philippians 4:12, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation” (NIV). That’s hard to do, but so important if we want to maintain a sense of joy and happiness.

If we can train ourselves to stay positive, and if we can discipline ourselves to avoid the automatic negative tendencies of our personalities, then hitting a pothole doesn’t have to ruin our day. Nor does it have to become a point of tension in a relationship. It could actually become a catalyst for discovering a blessing that the Lord might have in mind for us.

Can you imagine Paul and Silas sitting in prison, grumbling, blaming each other or the government, getting depressed, and complaining about the conditions in the jail? No, that’s not what they did. Acts 16:25 tells us that “about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing” (HCSB). Their joyous faith during terrible circumstances led to the jailer’s family putting their faith in Christ.

James 1:2 reminds us to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (NKJV), because it’s often through the disappointments of life that the Lord is able to shape us, refine us, and develop our character. And sometimes, he performs a miracle or answers a prayer in the process.

The tow truck finally arrived, the driver put our car on the flatbed, and took us back to Kingman. The repair shop didn’t have the tire we needed, so they had to overnight one from Phoenix. Since it wouldn’t get there til the next day, we rented a car and went to Oatman to see the burros. That evening, we had an unplanned date night. Dinner and a movie in Kingman, Arizona.

Wild Baby Burro