**note: for the next six weeks, my Tuesday posts will be dedicated to the Graffiti Summer Study and Do challenge (see my intro post here or go check out Alene’s blog for more info). Fridays will still be a little bit of everything.**
DO Assignment: Drive to “the other side” of town with eyes and heart intentionally open to your surroundings and open to what God reveals.
I so badly wanted this to be a neat and tidy post.
If I’m being really honest, while I most certainly spent time praying with all sincerity that the Lord would open my eyes and my mind and my heart to whatever He wanted to reveal, I think I had several preconceived ideas of how that might look.
I didn’t want to go into this assignment with certain expectations, but I did find myself hoping that this would be a holy and beautiful experience that left me broken for people and filled with God’s love for them.
And although technically I drive through what could be considered “the other side” of town whenever I go the non-interstate way home from church (it’s where I rejected Jesus on that street corner. not my proudest moment.), for this assignment, I knew I needed to see something different. Something a little less familiar.
Charlotte is big. There are several “sides” to choose from. And I don’t have to go very far from home to get to them. So less than 25 minutes from my own neighborhood, I began my 25-ish mile circles through some rough and impoverished areas of town.
As I started out on my semi-planned route (I did have a couple of specific spots I knew I wanted to see, but other than that, I pretty much just drove), I found myself unexpectedly filled with the following:
1. Hesitation – It was nearing dusk and quite frankly, these were parts of town I’d just rather not be after dark. It didn’t feel so much like actual fear (though maybe it was headed that direction), just hesitation. And bonus, my gas tank was sitting a little too close to empty for comfort.
2. Juxtaposition – On the one hand, everywhere I looked there were people and homes and lifestyles that didn’t really look all that different from mine. But on the other hand, everything was different, and the differences threatened to be insurmountable.
But then it struck me. I went to high school (for one year) on the West side of town and this first area wasn’t so unfamiliar after all. This was my old bus route. These were my old classmates. These were my one-time friends. These were their stomping grounds.
And I couldn’t help but think … did I miss an opportunity to love them then? And am I now sitting in judgment of them? What changed? What hasn’t?
I was uncomfortable there. I didn’t fit in. I didn’t belong. I felt on display with every passing glance and stare. I wanted my windows rolled up and my doors locked. I didn’t want to linger in these areas because that just didn’t seem wise. But they live there. This is home.
From there, I headed in the direction of the one of the local men’s shelters on the outskirts of uptown. Although again a more-or-less familiar area, it’s not one I ever pay much attention to as I drive through it to wherever my destination happens to be for an evening out with friends.
It was around this time that my thoughts became far less organized (not that they started out in great shape…). I was simply lost in the act of driving and watching and observing:
The apartments known for their multiple drug busts.
The motels known for prostitution.
The other motels known for murders and violence.
The street name shared with a high profile gang.
The pimped out cars that made me wonder how and where the expensive parts were acquired. Or what month they went without electricity to afford the stereo system.
The two old men engaged in friendly conversation sitting at the bus stop.
The gas stations where, although my gas gauge was inching closer to “E”, I would never dream of stopping for gas because it just wasn’t that safe.
The mom walking down the busy street with her two children … one who looked about 7, the other who was probably around 2 (the same age as the preschoolers I work with at church on Sunday mornings).
The homeless man dressed in clothes that seemed far too heavy for such a warm evening with the beard that should have been white if only the red dirt and ruddiness were washed away.
The strip shopping malls with very few store fronts that were in my language.
The countless places to buy lottery tickets.
The heightened police presence.
The high school that required increased security to keep students safe … from the outside and from each other.
The greasy fried chicken joints seemingly on every corner.
And the longer I drove and observed, the more I just couldn’t seem to get over myself.
In general, none of the areas that I drove around were completely unfamiliar. I may not spend a lot of time there, and I certainly went down some roads and through some neighborhoods that were brand new to me, but I’ve lived in Charlotte a long time. At some point or another, I’ve driven through most of these areas. Sometimes with a certain degree of frequency.
But that’s just it. I’m typically just driving through to get somewhere else. These areas are very rarely my destination. For many reasons.
So as I was driving around to be in these areas intentionally, I found myself becoming so judgmental, so guarded, so uncertain at every turn.
It felt ugly and piercing and convicting and not at all what I expected.
So yes, I wanted neat and tidy. And instead, I got raw and real.
But maybe this is better. Maybe this is right where God wants me. Maybe He’s got something in store for me – to show me, to grow me, to use me – that I can’t begin to predict or imagine. Maybe He needs to break me and strip me of this part of myself, so that He can reveal just where and how He’s moving and just where and how I can join Him.
I don’t know exactly. And honestly, I don’t want to try to make too much sense of it just yet.
But I’m still committed to stick with it and find out.
How about you?