For some reason teenage boys find the idea of unscrewing the top of a salt shaker and then handing it to the first unsuspecting person who needs salt hysterically funny when all of the salt pours out onto that persons plate or meal when they are least expecting. I know I sure did.
Becky Pippert has written a well known book called Out of the Salt Shaker and Into the World. Little did I know that this would be an apt description of the vacation that my family and I just finished. I guess I should be more mindful that when I pray, not only is God listening, but He may even answer my prayers and probably in ways that I least expect. Some time ago I had been praying that the Lord would open my eyes to the needs of the world and renew my passion for those who do not yet know him as savior. Living in a Christian community and working primarily with Christians can at times limit my interactions with non-believers.
As we pulled up to the vacation condo that we had rented at the beach in North Carolina, I got a hint right away that this might not be our normal vacation situation as we passed the pool area where a large number of adults were laughing and talking loudly. Looking more closely at the situation as we unpacked it appeared that a number of the folks around the pool were enjoying “adult beverages” and that one or two may have had more than their fair share at 3PM in the afternoon. As we walked up to the second floor and unpacked into our tight quarters (amazing how things look different in real life vs. pictures on the internet) it became clear that we would be in close proximity to all those staying in the same building and would probably hear more than we had bargained for. The exterior wall of our apartment was right above the pool area.
That night, we also discovered that our desire to be near the center of town and close to the beach also led us to rent right next to all of the live music venues in town. It was going to be a long first night. Deb and I settled down on the pull out sofa in the living room while our boys slept on bunk beds in the hall way. My sister and her husband had the “privilege” of using the one bedroom that was provided and we all settled down for the night after playing some board games together. I finally dozed off to sleep some time after midnight and probably while the live music was still playing. At around 3AM in the morning, all the adults in the apartment (my boys can sleep through anything) where awoken by the loud screaming of a clearly drunk adult in the building directly across from us that lasted for quite a while and included crying at various points in his tirade. Going back to sleep after that took a while and when we woke up in the morning, we found out that my brother in law had observed some folks doing drugs on the side walk (sniffing Cocaine) right next to the pool. This was not the start to our family vacation that we had been anticipating and yet it was exactly what God had planned for us. It gave us a great opportunity to talk as a family about the consequences of using drugs and alcohol to excess in a way that our boys really understood. It also made me think about how much Jesus must love those people in spite of my judgmental and negative initial reaction.
Things did calm down during the rest of the week and later we found out that the drunk young man who woke us all up had been an alcoholic who was alcohol free for six years until that night. Unfortunately, he had gotten in with the wrong crowd and given in to temptation. His tears were real. This condo community, comprised of a number of individuals who were not visitors, but lived in the building year round showed a great deal of concern for him and tried to get him help all week long at various rehab centers, but none would take him. On our second to last day, an ambulance and several police cars came to take him away and we did not ever find out what ultimately became of his situation.
During the week as we were walking to the beach, I overheard two women talking and laughing together. The one women said that she was thinking of getting back together with her husband for money reasons even though they had gotten divorced. The other woman responded that she had thought of doing the same thing, but did not know who she would go back to as she had three previous husbands. My first thought was of Jesus talking with the Samaritan woman at the well and how Jesus’ love transformed her life and her community.
At this point in the vacation, I began mulling over how sheltered my life really is and asking the Lord to keep my eyes open and my heart in tune with His. Sure enough, on Friday my phone rang and I was informed that our team in Center City had just been robbed at gun point. My heart was not immediately sympathetic with the robber and instead I became indignant and angry that God would let this happen to CLC. It was one thing for me to observe these things (even if a little to close for comfort) and it was certainly another for this to happen to two of my team members.
Driving back to Philly, the Lord allowed me to reflect on the content of a great book that I had read over the vacation called To Change the World by James Davison Hunter where he presents a concept called faithful presence – simply being the people that God has called us to be in the places that he has called us to serve – less words and more action. At points on this vacation, I felt like God had handed me a salt shaker with the top unscrewed and was laughing at me. Then I realized I am actually supposed to be the salt spilled out for His use – He was not laughing at me, but simply giving me new eyes to see with.
I do not know what is ahead the rest of this year, but I certainly do have a renewed passion for all the people that God puts me in contact with and look forward to seeing what He will do with His salt.