I’ve fallen in love with New Orleans, it’s true. It’s seeping into the very core of me, but I think I’ve been blinded a bit by this initial love at first sight. Up until this point, my knowledge of this city has in a way been very on the surface, and I quickly fell for its beauty, quirkiness, and spirit. But, as a lot of us know, with love often comes pain.
As the holidays are drawing near, things have gotten a little crazy around here. Crime seems to have increased, and maybe its been this way all along… but it’s been brought to my attention recently because it has been closer in proximity to me and my community.
In the past week and a half there has been a mugging, an armed robbery, a car jacking, and a drive by shooting that have either affected someone in my community or occurred near my house. I’m not saying this to alarm anyone. I have not felt unsafe in the least sense I’ve been here, but it’s hard not to let the fear and anxiety set in after these events.
I’m struggling. A darkness has set in, and a fog has settled in my mind.
This place I love is so broken.
It’s always hard when you begin to realize things aren’t as you wish they were, and you get awakened to how the world really is…
One my roommates is the garden coordinator for a school here in New Orleans. It really is incredible what she’s done in just a few short months. On Saturday I went and helped her with a community garden day she had organized. I was in charge of helping kids paint signs to label all the vegetables and flowers they have planted.
I was a little apprehensive in going because something very tragic had happened in this area just a few days before. Despite what had happened, the community rallied together and helped in the painting of signs, planting of trees, watering of plants, and spreading of mulch. It really was a beautiful day. It was so good to see something so beautiful in a place where so much ugliness had occurred just a few days before.
I felt like my faith in this city was being restored as I experienced this community coming together to restore this garden.
Everything went well with the kids. They loved painting the signs and were so enthusiastic about helping bring more color to the garden. For some reason, there was one girl in particular that grabbed my attention. She was around 11 years old… older than the rest of the kids, and had kind of an attitude about her. She wanted to take the orange tree sign home with her to hang on her wall. She also wanted to paint over the other kids work so the signs would look the way she wanted them to look. I let her know that she would not be taking the sign home, and that she was contributing to something bigger than her room, in a joking way of course. We went back and forth, I reflected her joking attitude back, and we got along alright.
During the community day, the kids were painting on a new bench with a tarp over it, and I had done my best to make sure we didn’t get any paint on the bench. While cleaning up, I was pretty impressed at how little of a mess was made. I left the bench for a few minutes to grab something to drink, and when I returned, a bunch of the younger kids were drawing on the bench in chalk. I joined in with them, and studied the drawings they were making, but then I realized that the one girl who had gotten my attention was writing in pen on the bench.
I got pretty frustrated, and told her to stop and also asked her if she realized that what she had written was in permanent ink. With her little attitude she acted as if she didn’t realize it was permanent and walked away. Disappointed, I grabbed the pen and began to walk away when her friend said to me,
Did you read the permanent thing she wrote?
I hadn’t read what she had written. I had just assumed she had written her name, or some kind of doodle like the Garfields I used to draw when I was little. I walked back to the bench and searched through all the little chalk drawings until I came to the words in pen that said:
I let hatred be my motivator.
Man. I was knocked backwards. I can’t believe this 11 year old girl wrote these words. This was her doodle. Her first thing to come to mind to write on this bench. How could so much darkness and depth of sadness come out of an 11 year old girl? All of a sudden this little oasis of a garden in the middle of this shady part of town had been infiltrated by this ugliness.
The part of New Orleans that I had been blind to had shown it’s terrible face again, in the words of an 11 year old girl.
This situation painted a pretty clear picture of what had occurred in my heart in the past week and a half. The little beautiful garden of New Orleans that I had created in my mind has been infiltrated by this ugliness, this corruption, this brokenness….
and it has changed how I see everything.
I’ve taken off my rose-colored glasses and now see the world how it actually is. I hadn’t really heard the sirens before, but now I hear them constantly. The daiquiri place my roommates and I always joke about going to is actually a place where two people have been shot and killed in the past year. The people walking by as I fill up my gas tank have the potential to hurt me and take my things.
I find myself putting my keys in between my knuckles as I walk to my car, ready to defend myself from those who are ready to attack. As I get up to get more coffee in a coffee shop, I wonder to myself if my computer and other belongings will be there when I return.
I hate this new change in me.
I’m sick of learning more about people, places, and systems that we are under and realizing that they are utterly broken and messed up to the core. I’m sick of being disappointed.
I want to have faith in this city I love, and the people in it. Even those who use hatred as their motivator are human beings with needs and beating hearts who are fiercely loved by God. I should love them too despite this feeling of fear, despite this feeling of betrayal.
God calls us to hope for something better, to hope for heaven here on earth. It is so hard to live in the reality of this messed up world, caused by our own brokenness, when the core of you longs with every fiber of your being for something greater, something that seems impossible, something that is not of this world.
I have hope that this little girl will let Love be her motivator, and see the potential that lies within herself. But the sad truth is, she believes she will only live to be about 23 because of gang violence. Her life is half over. Why wouldn’t she live by what she has seen, this hatred that she has been taught is the driving force and power in life?
I feel like I’m hurting all the time, I feel like my heart is breaking.
I hurt for her. I hurt for those who resort to violence to meet their needs. I hurt for my community and the specific members who have experienced things that will forever change them. Things that no one should ever have to go through. I hurt because of this jadedness that is hardening my heart to others, to this city, to this country, and to this world.
Despite it all, God has continued to be faithful as I have wrestled to process these emotions and fears. He has met me during my devotion time and is clearly trying to tell me something. I feel as though my heart is hardened and I’m not yet ready to completely receive what He is saying, but I want to share these scriptures with you that he’s placed on my heart.
On Sunday morning, my devotion was called A Safe Place to Hide and focused on Psalm 46. Here He is reminding me He is my fortress.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
This morning God met me once again with another passage from Psalms 53. This Psalm gives a voice to the passionate plea for justice. I feel as though God was letting me know he feels my pain. That he is right there with me.
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity; there is none who does good.
God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.
They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.
Have those who work evil no knowledge, who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon God?
There they are, in great terror, where there is no terror! For God scatters the bones of him who encamps against you; you put them to shame for God has rejected them.
Oh that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When God restores the fortunes of his people, Let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.
Honestly, the most I can muster is to read these passages, and know that they will bring me comfort eventually. All I can do is hold on to these truths, even though my grip is so weak:
Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened. 1 Peter 3:13-14There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18