Looking for the image

pilsen-mural

When my niece Anna visited, we spent an afternoon hunting murals. This is a mural in progress in Pilsen.

Before we moved, we held one last yard sale in an effort to avoid extra drop-offs at the thrift store. People asked, naturally, “Where are you moving?” Our response—inner city—garnered a lot of head shaking, puzzled looks, raised eyebrows. A couple people even offered gloomy predictions. “You’ll miss this,” they said, gesturing at the trees and yard. “You’ll get tired of the noise and the people and the dirt.”

I nodded. I was sure they were right. I’m sure now they’re right. I will certainly miss, deep in my soul, the waving trees and open spaces and wooded trails that were a great part of my life in our old town.

But I’ve asked, since even before we moved, that God would open my eyes to see loveliness right here in our new neighborhood. I’ve asked him to gift my eyes to look beyond the trash and poverty and sorrow and see elements of beauty.

He’s answering this prayer, but not in the way I expected. Yes, I do notice the old, turn-of-last-century architecture in our neighborhood—somehow-still-complete stained glass, gorgeous old stonework, intricately carved wooden doors—and the neighborhood gardens and the creativity of things like truck-tires-turned-flower-planters and murals brightening abandoned buildings.

But I’ve been most surprised by the beauty I’m noticing in God’s masterpieces, His people, these fellow bearers of His image. I’m seeing more than the destitution of those who hang out all day at the closest L station—I’m seeing the ways they cram close under the bus shelter when it rains, waving their arms at those outside to join them. I’m taking joy in the older men playing chess at dusk at the edge of the park, just under the rumbling L train, their heads bent low in concentration. I get a thrill of excitement at every baby I see, with face fresh and innocent, at every little girl with her hair fixed just-so, at every daddy proudly walking his kids to school. I’m looking for potential and not threat in the groups of young men sitting on doorsteps or walking, strong and sure, down the streets. I’m noticing the city worker riding on the back of the trash truck, dancing in plain sight of everyone to the music coming through his headphones. I’m thankful for the watchful eye and gentle wisdom of the neighbor who’s lived in the house across the street nearly his entire life. I love that on the same street corner on a Sunday morning I saw a man dressed for church—cane, hat, polished shoes, vest, and tie! so sharp!—and an older woman dressed in cheetah pajamas, hood with cat ears pulled up around her face. They seemed comfortable in each other’s presence. I’m noticing the woman, sitting on the seat of her push walker, earnestly carrying on a conversation with the air in front of her, and rather than feeling discomfort, I’m wondering if maybe she isn’t talking with God, maybe she “sees” more than I do.

Will I miss my regular romps through the woods? Absolutely. That forest spoke to me of the beauty and grandeur and glory of God. I saw God in it. But it’s not God’s greatest handiwork.

We humans are. No matter what brokenness we carry—be it obvious or more subtle (even socially acceptable—like greed)— we are still his intricate, beloved creations who carry the image of God!

And that’s not limited to only the “beautiful ones” among us, nor to the saintly, the brilliant or the gifted. You, me, the lady in cheetah pajamas, those who hang out at the L station all day/every day, the alcoholic who regularly sleeps it off in the alley behind our house…

Made in the image of God.

I’m looking for that.

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Made for Good

Chicago night skyline, Em's

photo by Emily Underwood (to see more of her work, click on her name.)

This past Sunday my family and I attended the Missionary Baptist church right around the corner from our house. It was their annual outdoor service, so we sat under a tent in the church parking lot and sang, danced, listened, worshiped—and fanned ourselves—along with the church’s very welcoming congregation. Pastor Turk, speaking about how Christ’s purpose gives us purpose, reminded us near the end of the service that not one of us—not one human being given being by God, made in the image of God—was ever created for evil purposes.

“You were made for good,” he said. “You were made to be a blessing.”

The very next day—Monday—as Em and I drove and walked along North Avenue to shop for her school uniform pants, we saw several people holding signs, asking for money. Begging.

I want to set the record straight right now. This post is NOT about whether those with means should or shouldn’t give cash to homeless people. It’s not about the reasons they are homeless or begging or about what they might do with the money they receive.

This post is about the people themselves: the woman and teenage girl sitting outside one of the upscale clothing stores, jacket hoods pulled tight against the rain; the man who squats with his back against a metal fence, his leashed cat next to him; the guy, clearly strung out, asking for train fare; and the lady who chants the same phrase, “Just a dollar. Only need a dollar,” over and over and over again All. Day. Long.

These human beings make sorrow rise in my heart every time I see them. And whether I give them money or not (I’m not telling.), I try to make eye contact, to say “hello,” to smile, to see them.

This past Monday, there was one man, one man in particular…

An older gentleman, standing at an intersection, his head up, his eyes looking straight ahead, his sign reading, “Lost job. Need help to get back on my feet.”

Grey haired.

And there was something about him that felt like a punch in the gut.

The words of Pastor Turk came back to me. “He was not made for this,” I thought. “He was not made for sorrow and humiliation. He was not made for other human beings to pass by, some obviously trying their hardest NOT to see him, some scanning him as if he were an animal in a zoo. In God’s kingdom, he will not be doing this. No one will be. We will each have a clear understanding of each other’s dignity, of the God image in every single person, including ourselves.”

This—some humans walking past and around those who hold cardboard signs as if they were no more than a tree or a light pole—is not right.

This—those humans holding signs, most of them with their eyes downcast because it’s less painful to not know you’re being blatantly ignored—is not right.

The sorrow lingered. As I prayed, a question wandered into my mind. Jesus, is this how you felt all the time you were on earth? Was there always a sorrow because you knew this is not what we were made for? Because you saw each human, created to be citizens in God’s world, walking around instead without true knowledge of Him, oblivious of each other at best, downright cruel at worst, full of fear and anger.

Did you walk through each day looking at those around you and thinking, “This is wrong. This is not Kingdom life”?

Is this what I am meant to think, to wonder? Is this sorrow supposed to linger, to always color my perspective, to remind me this is not the Kingdom? And is this sorrow ironically supposed to lead to hope? Because a Kingdom must, by definition, have a King—and ours is coming.

And he is good, and He works good.

He works good—even through and among and in his broken people.

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,

On earth as it is in heaven.

 

*If you’re a regular reader, you’ll recognize a new look to the blog. The header photo was taken by daughter Emily, and she chose the new format as well. Hope you like it!