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Monday, June 15, 2015

I Thought We Were Going to Save the World...

Expectation #1...

In 2003, Phil graduated with his Bachelor's Degree in Christian Education, from Nazarene Bible College.  We made the drive from our current assignment in Iowa to Colorado Springs, for commencement, with two toddlers.  When I look back on the pictures, all I can think is, "We were so young."  Nobody wants to hear this when they're 23, but I'm sorry.  It's true.

I bought Phil a gift for his graduation, a globe, because as far as I was concerned this was the final step in what seemed like an interminably long process of preparation, and now the world was ours - to have and to save.

At best, I have a superhero complex, but it's really more like a savior complex, and it's incredibly scary when I start thinking that I need to play God.  I don't think this is all that uncommon for pastors and their families, but it can be dangerous and destructive on multiple levels.  I often think I have kicked this habit, and then, as I was beginning the collaborative writing process that led to this blog, I did it again.

I currently live within easy driving distance of the statistically most dangerous city in the United States.  It's one of those "famous last words" situations.  Phil said once that he never, ever wanted to live in Iowa.  Guess where we ended up.  And we loved it.  I should have learned from this, though.  I should have known better than to say, "God, I will go anywhere you want me," and then to mumble under my breath, "Anywhere but Flint".  Can I take a moment to mention, here, that I love Lincoln, Nebraska, and I never, ever want to live in Jamaica?  Oh wait, God does know my heart, right?  But I digress.

At any rate, living close to where I grew up for the first time in over a dozen years has allowed me to reconnect with old friends from time to time, and I have enjoyed this immensely.  I have a friend from my youth group days who has been going through some difficult life circumstances, and knowing that I was going to have a little bit of free time on my hands over Spring break, I decided to contact her to see if she would like to go out to lunch.  There is nothing wrong with this, in and of itself.  In fact, pastors should seek out those who need help and help them.  If I have learned one thing, it's that people need you to be present.  They need you to listen.  Compassion is a good quality to have.  But here's the thing.  I knew, instinctively, that I was going into "rescue mode".  I could feel it.  And sometimes when this happens, I let my guard down a little bit too far.  I'm not talking about building up walls that no one can penetrate.  That would be useless.  I'm not talking about loving God and serving people only when it's safe.  That's absurd.  But be smart.  Be cautious.  Remember the little things you teach kids, like safety in numbers.  That kind of thing.

Well, anyway, I arrived in Flint about twenty minutes too early, and after a U-turn in downtown, I found myself in a secluded parking lot behind an apartment building that I couldn't quite figure out.  I sent a message to my friend, who didn't respond, and then I remembered that she might not have reliable phone or Internet connections, because not everyone lives in the safe and easy world where I live.  So I hid my laptop, sent my fourteen year old son a text that said, "Pray for me," took a deep breath, and exited my mini-van, locking the doors behind me and strategically placing keys between all of my fingers.

I walked around the front of the building and opened a door.  This led to another set of doors, which were locked, so I stood there for a few minutes, trying to figure out what you do to gain access to such an apartment complex.  A security guard walked by outside.  I breathed a sigh of relief and then wondered, briefly, how hard it would really be to fake being a security guard.  This is about the time when I turned and saw that there were buttons to push for each apartment.  Easy enough, I read all of the names and then found that my friend's name wasn't listed.  I pulled out my phone to get her apartment number from an earlier message, while looking around suspiciously, hoping that none of the people on the sidewalk outside were going to come mug me and take my phone.  And, at this point, I was chastising myself, relatively loudly, in my head, because just because someone lives in Flint, this does not make them a thug.  I found the apartment number, didn't recognize the name, positioned my finger to push it, and then wondered, again briefly, maybe far too briefly, if my friend's Facebook account could possibly have been hacked and if I really knew who I was summoning.  Clearly, I have been reading too much YA fiction.

So I called the apartment and a man's voice said, "Who is it?" and I answered, "Lisa," as if all anyone would ever need to recognize me, immediately, is my first name.  So he said to wait and he would be down in a minute.  I think it was more like three or four minutes, but he did show up, trailed by my friend's adorable three year old daughter, who I recognized from pictures.  Whew, this was the first indication that I was actually at the right place and probably not going to be murdered on the street.

So I followed them down a hallway, and just as I was stepping into the tiny elevator, he says, "[Insert friend's name]'s not home, but you're safe with me."  Oh my goodness.  This should, without doubt, have been the moment where fight or flight kicked in, but as the elevator door was closing, it became painfully obvious to me that there was no way I could take this guy, and wait, the elevator door was closing!  I started making small talk with a three year old.

When the elevator stopped on their floor, I was hit with a stench like I have never smelled before, and this man let me know that the neighbors were cooking something.  I am certain that this something was not edible.  I am also certain that the smartest thing to do in this situation was to walk past their apartment door and straight down the stairs, out the complex door, and to my vehicle, but when he opened the door and I looked at that little girl, all of my maternal instincts kicked in, and I couldn't quite bring myself to leave her there without her mother.  This is, of course, ridiculous, because she is surely in this predicament on a regular basis, but I can't do anything about it on most days.

So I walked into the apartment and spent the next forty minutes sitting on a futon that may or may not have been infested with bed bugs, and taking turns talking to a stranger who wanted to show me pictures of said bugs and their eggs between puffs of cigarette smoke that were landing squarely in my asthmatic face, and reading The Pokey Little Puppy to the little girl who was sitting on my lap, enamored by my nail stickers and playing with my hair.

My friend finally showed up and informed me that she couldn't go to lunch, after all.  What?  I can't really say if missional engagement with the world happened or not.  Maybe I'll never hear from her again, or maybe I'll find myself making more trips to downtown Flint.  What I can say is that I did not share this story with my husband until I was standing in front of him, in the church office, peeling off as many layers of "I don't know what just happened, and I don't know what I smell like," as I could in a public place.  It sure made for a lot of funny looks from the church staff. 

Here's what I remembered.  I can only do what I can do, and I should be more aware of my own limitations, or at the very least I should carry Mace.  This could have ended very badly.  I love joining God in God's work of redemption, but I'm not going to save the world.  Neither are you.  And this sucks, because we both legitimately want the world to be saved.  The good news is, somebody already did this.


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