August 14, 2012

For the hungry heart

I learned, as a girl, to believe in the promises of God- learned how to trust. My mom spoke Jeremiah 29:11 over us and I scribbled the same reminder in the front flap of all my journals:

Hope against hope, I trust in You.

And sometimes it can feel downright insane to trust in what you can't see - when life just seems all wrong. Sometimes, trusting in "what will be" is the only way through.  

As a high school senior I couldn't see beyond the next twenty-four hours. I wanted to believe in the promises of God when all went haywire. I wanted to believe He had a plan, maybe even a back-up too. I had messed up and I needed to know that all would be well.

Because from where I stood, the  locusts were feeding on my days and on my future. I needed to know He would buy back what time was devouring. 

When I was seventeen I walked New York City with a youth pastor who served up grace and truth like no one I've met since. We had walked the streets of Quito just one year before and our conversation was still going. He fearlessly led our group of teens to the city. We slept in rows and our sleeping bags overlapped on the second floor of a men's homeless shelter.

For ten days we called The Bowery Mission "home". By day we served up steaming plates and then washed them again. We painted walls and stairwells, gave out sandwiches and soap on the Midnight Run.
Each day, the men filed into Bowery chapel pews, always a precursor to a hot, free meal. And for some reason they invited us to lead worship ... us white kids from white suburbia.

We did our trembling best.

But really, they led us and when we looked out into their faces, all we really knew was that we didn't know a thing.

Because those men walked in off the streets and they were glad to open their mouths for praise before they ever opened them for food. They bellowed six simple words that soared up to the heights, cut right to my core. The men meant what they sang. And I felt hollow.

It is well with my soul.

I stared straight ahead and my eyes welled up. I tried to sing but that sound of their words ... it plunged into deep places. And I envied them.

I needed it to be well with my soul too.  

We walked up and down Bowery Street in July heat and the city smelled of concrete and rubber, exhaust and stale urine. My eyes blurred and stung while I cried on the inside for some soul healing.
All the while, I couldn't eat. Not at The Bowery, not anywhere. Not for a good year before and not for several after. Not well, at least. Never letting myself get full ... my hungry heart starving right out in the open.

by LuciaM

Each night, bakery trucks rolled up to the curb and we met them outside, assembly-line ready. The pastries, breads, donuts and bagels hauled in from all over the city, just twelve hours stale and unsold. The men who were hungry for a sweeter life fed on the city's finest treats. And those sweet smells crazed me and the youth pastor watched real close, watched me pine away and pass them along the line, right under my nose. He wondered with grief while I denied myself anything good at all.

But the men were thankful. They fed their mouths and filled their guts with the bounty. It was the city's goodness and they swallowed it down as if it were God's.

And it was. 

It's strange now, how my memories of that time aren't so much about homeless men ...
but of hungry me.

That pastor walked me through Central Park and through The Met. We looked at art and I told him how my life seemed to be turning out all wrong, one grey/green sloppy brush-stroke at a time. I forgot about hope and a future. I was disappearing into shadows, my self melting into my mistakes. He offered plain bagels and he pulled out his bible right there in the middle of the city.
He said how sorry he was, acknowledged the hunger. And he offered me Jesus.  

It has been sixteen years since I slept hungry in New York City. But a few weeks ago, I drove down Bowery Street.

On the way to a birthday surprise with friends, the street sign caught my eye and the moment snuck right up. And I hadn't been back since my heart has been well. Suddenly there we were, away from home and on city streets.

And can't Jesus prove a promise kept at any moment He chooses?

Because for the better part of July, we'd been living in a cabin in the woods. We' been working for friends who said "come." I played camp nurse while my family played hard.  

We lived simple on our friends' Pocono property where kids pulled in by the busload all summer long. Weighed down by heavy living, they stepped out of New York City concrete and into God's creation. They came hungry and hoping, unable to name the deeper need. They sang by campfires, slept in cabins. They prayed to crazy rhythms I still can't find and, at Fort Plenty, they ate their fill.

They came to me with belly aches and tears and it wasn't a nurse they really needed.
Because I can recognize Homesick and Hungry when I see it.

And for a few sweet weeks, we sat back and watched their souls fill right up.

For each of the seven days they came, they took in mounds of love, heaps of encouragement. They drank down God's promises over broken lives.

Promises that are hard to conceive of ... near crazy to believe.
They sat in a chapel where the praise went up and the light streamed in. They heard about a plan and they imagined a future. They listened and believed as others spoon fed the hope.

And I didn't catch the irony until we drove Bowery Street that night, the four of us together. Our closest friends for all these years, all this time ... this camp. They work for The Bowery.

So when we took a night off to celebrate, we made our way toward their headquarters, toward the city. We sat on hot concrete and we talked of time and change and friendship. I held my husband's hand while we marveled over our children who slept back at camp, how our God knew long ago about their plans for a hope and future. How He knew about our plan.

How He knew about mine.

We laughed hard and sang loud in the backseat. We ate cannolis and gelato, shared cappuccino. I was filled with all things good and my God made sure the moment wasn't lost on me. My husband and the others kept right on talking while my eyes stung quiet in the backseat. I took it all in: the heat and the smells and all the bounty that's been mine since then. This time, when the sweet smell of grace passed under my nose, I inhaled it long.

I received all the good and I whispered "thank you" from a satisfied place.

Later that night, we drove from Little Italy and back towardcamp. I brushed remnants of city sweets from my teeth, washed July sweat from my skin. Our drive past Bowery Street had been inconsequential for the others. I didn't fill them in. But for me? It was the sweetest celebration of the night:

a celebration of a God who keeps promises,
a God who fills empty spaces,
a God who is always enough.

It has been sixteen years since I was hungry in New York City.

And I'm not hungry anymore.
It is well with my soul. 

Thankful today for Rich and Suzy- for showing Jesus in radical ways, for celebrating life so well. Grateful to Dave S. who walked and talked with Truth and Grace. And humbled for the privilege to serve among the all-stars of Mont Lawn Camp. Thanks for loving His kids, every single day. 

1 comment:

  1. Every word from you is a gift, Abby. This was so beautiful.