Desert of Solitude

A grown man cried in my arms tonight.

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Photo credit: Life is Color

February 14, 2014

I wasn’t expecting much from the day when I awoke this morning. It’s been snowing heavy in the northeast this week. Yesterday I braved the weather and went to work. This morning, before getting out of bed, my dominant thought was: please let it be bad enough outside so I’m justified in staying put and working from home. After dragging myself out of bed, I tripped into the living room to look out the window.

As I pulled back the curtain and opened the blinds I was nearly blinded by the brightness of the sun bouncing off the pristine white snow piled high on my patio.

My first thought was: It’s beautiful out.

Second thought: All this snow will melt in no time in the blazing mid-30 degree sun.

Third: There’s no excuse not to go to work.

On the agenda for the day was lunch with a friend and Bible study after work. Staying home to work didn’t really save me from anything because I had other commitments that required me to leave my apartment.

Lunch was heart wrenching. My friend is dealing with life altering issues from various areas of his life he believes he has to be a bulwark of strength for. I left him with the message: Gentleness is strength.

From my own experience, it’s when I try my hardest to be strong – exhibiting my idea of strength, anyway – that I am the most brittle. In my brittleness, I easily break. However, as I learned again that evening, it is in my gentleness that others see power and strength in me.

After lunch, I headed to the office. I did my best to be productive on a Friday afternoon before a three-day holiday weekend (*wink, wink*). On my way to Bible study I actually stopped in the McDonald’s next door to my church for a Shamrock shake. It’s my favorite special shake and I haven’t had one mixed with chocolate in years. (Side note: This is how the enemy distracts us – in very innocuous ways.) I was going to take the shake to go but decided to sit and enjoy it. But when I finished I was in no hurry to leave. I sat there staring out the window looking at people rush past, half listening to a conversation of two foreigners, one African and one European, discuss their origins. The African was claiming he was from America. He had one of the thickest African accents I had ever heard and the European wasn’t convinced either. Oddly enough, the European claimed he was from France and he didn’t sound too French either…. Anyway, I found myself sitting there listening to their debate about origins and identity for several minutes after I had finished my shake.

Eventually, I made my way up to the Bible study. Sat in the back of the room. Attempted to take notes. I was so not interested. I wanted to go home. Since I had missed most of the study (leaving work late and sitting in McDonald’s), it was over in no time. Yet, I sat there in my seat. Playing with my device. The woman in front of me left the room, but not with her things. The man sitting next to her turned to me and said, “God bless you, sister.”

I responded in kind. In the next breath he was pouring  out his heart. He’s a veteran. He has nightmares from multiple tours in war zones. He recalled parachuting with comrades behind enemy lines and seeing his fellows getting shot down in the air. Worst yet, he shared the horror of holding on to a fallen soldier as a shield. And worse than that, later seeing his best friend get shot in the head next to him while they were in a dug out. His mom and sister died in the States while he was away fighting. Even worse than all that, when he finally returned stateside with shrapnel in his body, he was denied benefits and had to fight for treatment. On top of all that, he’s homeless.

As he looked at me, tears filled his eyes and he asked me, “How can I ever get these thoughts out of my head? How can I stop seeing these visions over and over again? Is it possible for me to have peace? I want the peace that Christ offers.”

Perhaps it goes without saying, but I will say it anyway: I saw this man as the reason I fought my lethargy all day. I hadn’t experienced loss, death and homelessness in the same way he had, but I had experienced it. I knew what it was to be a target of an enemy intent on stealing my next breath and all my hope. I knew what it was to wonder if God was even paying attention to me, if He was even aware of what was going on in my life. I shared that with him, then I asked him two questions: (1) Can I share a scripture passage that helped me this week? (2) Can I hug you?

He said yes to both.

I intended to read Philippians 4:1-9 to him. I had been meditating on this passage during the week. But a few sentences in, I realized the chapter had advanced on my tablet. I looked up and told him, “This passage is intended for you, because it’s not the passage I turned to.”

1. From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus. I am an apostle because that is what God wanted. Also from Timothy, our brother.

2 To the holy and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ that live in Colossae:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father.

3 In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 because we have heard about the faith you have in Christ Jesus and the love you have for all of God’s people. 5 You have this faith and love because of your hope, and what you hope for is kept safe for you in heaven. You learned about this hope when you heard the message about the truth, the Good News 6 that was told to you. Everywhere in the world that Good News is bringing blessings and is growing. This has happened with you, too, since you heard the Good News and understood the truth about the grace of God. 7 You learned about God’s grace from Epaphras, whom we love. He works together with us and is a faithful servant of Christ for us. 8 He also told us about the love you have from the Holy Spirit.

9 Because of this, since the day we heard about you, we have continued praying for you, asking God that you will know fully what he wants. We pray that you will also have great wisdom and understanding in spiritual things 10 so that you will live the kind of life that honors and pleases the Lord in every way. You will produce fruit in every good work and grow in the knowledge of God. 11 God will strengthen you with his own great power so that you will not give up when troubles come, but you will be patient. 12 And you will joyfully give thanks to the Father who has made you able to have a share in all that he has prepared for his people in the kingdom of light. 13 God has freed us from the power of darkness, and he brought us into the kingdom of his dear Son. 14 The Son paid for our sins, and in him we have forgiveness.

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