I can still remember each moment as clearly as if it were yesterday. Life has a way of immortalizing those certain instances of change. I have always had memories of being a child floating around my mind in wonderful pastels. I’m not fool enough to believe that those memories represent perfection, but I do admit that they feel perfect to me. In my mind’s eye everything had a distinct season and all was filled with joy. The future was ripe with possibilities. There was nothing that I couldn’t do. At one point I remember wanting be a gymnast, a scuba diver, a neurosurgeon, and a teacher. –Likely all at once! But things change. Your dreams receive one shock after another until your pastel imagery is forever broken up. I thought about this on my last trip to the Barbour Hotel. The Barbour is a homeless shelter for men and women with HIV/AIDS.
It was cold, and long dark when our two Raven vans arrived. Everyone was joyfully busy pulling the content of the vans onto the sidewalk and then up to the top floor of the building where we were preparing a Thanksgiving feast. Along with two other teammates, I had been asked to share a little bit about my life and what God has done in me. I had no real idea of what I should say.
Upstairs in the shelter, tables and chairs were being moved this way and that. Table clothes and decorations were being laid out in special order. On my first trip to the Barbour I felt the dinginess of this small upper room acutely, but on this occasion a transformation was fast underway. Moreover a portion of the team had labored for hours on a huge Thanksgiving meal. Now the product of that labor was being set up as a line of foil pans across a festively covered table. In a few moments the team managed to transform the dull common area into a warm dining room. The women-folk donned rather humbling hairnets, and the doors opened to receive our guests who had been waiting patiently for us in the stairwell. As they began to enter the room some one of the team turned on the stereo. Though many of the people gathered spoke Spanish, the selection being played was –oddly enough– by a Messianic Jewish singer, and in Hebrew. The music filled the room and my thoughts began to take on certain shapes.
Nearly two years ago I was wrapping up an eight month stay in Israel, traveling through the land, visiting with friends as well as making new ones. –Learning the culture, speaking the language, etc… It was a wonderful and challenging time that I didn’t want to end, but it did. How the time passed by so quickly I have no idea, but it did. I began to think about transitions, both good and bad. It wasn’t long before I knew exactly what I was to share.
Maybe it’s hard for us to imagine people as they once were when see what they are presently before us. Surveying the room, it was interesting to think about the different lives that sat before us listening as the other volunteers and I spoke about parts of our lives. Many of us have known times of incredible difficulty. Perhaps they were so difficult because the were preceded by good times. Life can change in an instant for either good or bad.
I vividly remember the day I learned that my parents marriage was ending. I can remember the lighting in the room and how I cried until it seemed my eleven year-old body could only shake and sob. In an instant I knew what I had not known the day before, and it changed my world forever. The safety that I knew my whole life vanished and gave way to years of uncertainty. In one moment lack was introduced to a life that had previously only known the comforts of the middle class. Even my parents themselves seemed to morph into people I had never known before. My life changed forever and I could never regain what was lost.
The people who sat listening to me speak had likely experienced similar drastic changes. Many had spouses and children, held jobs and lived comfortable lives before life changed, seemingly in a moment. That’s how fragile all our lives are. Our worlds can even be rocked by things we didn’t cause, and decisions we didn’t make.
I remember how long some of the dark nights of my life seemed to last. Sometimes they seemed like they would never end. During those times my mother would always remind me that the things I was facing would not and could not last forever. She would tell me that my life and everything that happened in it were in God’s hands. –That He alone knew the end of a things before it’s beginning. She was right. Many of those things are now behind me. Some of them changed gradually over time, while others seemed to change in an instant. It was much like the reality of my solitary runs on the beach in Israel. The Mediterranean seemed to stretch unimpeded before me and I felt so connected to and embedded in that place. However, that beach in Israel eventually gave way to the concrete jungles of New York and the suburban greenery of New Jersey. Things are so different now.
The amazing thing is that God has never been surprised by any of the changes or transitions in my life. He knew all along when those changes would happen and how long each period of my life would last, although I was clueless to it all. I shared this with the men and women before me, many of whom knew what I spoke of in greater depth than I did. The good news that I was able to convey was that, not only was God never shocked by any of the things that happened in my life, but He was also able to bring me through every circumstance. He knew how much adversity I could handle. He was with me in the good times as well as the bad. He has measured out our times and is able to bring about change for the good in just one moment. Through all of life’s transitions, ups and downs God will be with us. He will hold our hand and guide us through if we want Him to. Our problems, as well as our lives on earth, are temporary. God is eternal.
As we made ready to leave our team leader translated into English as a man with a grave looking face spoke to me in beautiful Spanish. He told of how his encounter with the Raven team had lead him to attend service at Times Square Church. He explained how he was moved by the sight of the people and the sermon that was preached, which he heard by translation. This man decided to follow Jesus. He gave his heart to Jesus for the first time in his life. As he spoke, his grave face broke into the most genuine smile. I cannot easily describe what this smile was like, or the effect it had on the rest of his face. It totally transformed the seriousness of his initial expression. He was beautiful. He spoke of the transformation that had come over him. “I am no longer afraid to die,” he said. He even introduced me to another friend who he invited to come to the next service. A decision made in one moment has changed his life forever.