Oh Lord, what a sense of humor you have…
This morning at church was awesome. Zack, one of our pastors, preached on Jeremiah 29, and I'd never heard this passage explained so well before. The series for the summer has been Connect, and lately we've focused on connecting with lost people, and today, specifically, on our city. Seems such a daunting task, but also so exciting to think about investing in this amazing and crazy city, about really knowing and loving people, and living out who Christ is in the darkest places, in the hard situations where it would be a whole lot easier to act like a jerk than a follower of Christ.
The whole sermon was great, but what really got me, right from the get go, was Jer. 29:7—
"But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare."
How many times have I read and zeroed in on verse 11, thinking all about my own future and welfare, and here, God is saying to the Israelites, no, focus on building up where you are. Grow where I've planted you, and THEN you'll see great things happen. It reminds me of Isaiah 1:19, where the Lord says that when we're willing and obedient, we'll taste the best of the land. That really hit me on the way to India, my need to draw near and follow Him in order to really experience India for all it was worth.
And today, I heard a similar call, but a little deeper. Well, I don't know if that's the right way to say it…a little more long term, maybe? The challenge was to invest in our city, to settle down and live and love and not just focus on getting through until things are better. To not demonize the city, focusing on and trying to avoid all the bad, or go to the other extreme and romanticize it, overlooking the pain and brokenness and basically using it for what we can get from it.
Not either of these, but instead to find a balance that allows us to LIVE in the city. Invested. Struggling. Loving. Hurting. Wrestling. Doubting. Fighting. Praying.
I was very pumped when I left church this morning, feeling even more of a confirmation from the Lord about things He's been working out in my heart over the past few years and the joy that this is exactly where I'm supposed to be right now, and maybe for quite a while.
And then I went to Walmart.
Good grief, I'm SO glad I lived in another country for a few years—otherwise I think I might have lost it in the midst of all that craziness!
There were people EVERYWHERE. Aisles crowed. Tons of carts. They were out of all sorts of random things like onions and yogurt. Nothing was where it "should" be, at least not according to the Walmart layout I'm used to. I waited in line for a good 20 minutes before I checked out, and Lindsey, who actually got in line before I did, waited about 45 minutes.
It was worse than Walmart on Christmas Eve. I honestly felt like I might just lose it, and one guy totally did—he was standing near the insanely crowded checkout area and he just kept yelling, "OPEN MORE LANES! We're paying good money here—you need to OPEN MORE LANES!!!"
It would have been funny if it hadn't been so true and SO insane.
The "funny" thing about it was that, as I'm standing there, feeling panicky in a way that I hadn't sense my early months overseas, I realized that this was part of what it was going to mean to live in the city.
I was honestly planning it all out—retreat! Thinking, I'll just go to Walmart when I got to Lafayette—even if that's only every few months. I'll do anything else…I can't handle this.
But God really spoke to me there in the checkout line and I had to face the fact that this is part of living in New Orleans. Yeah, I probably won't go back to that Walmart on a weekend again, but I will have to deal with craziness, and I will have to choose each time…
Love or leave?
Am I really committed? Am I really willing to follow wherever You lead me, Lord? To prayerfully take advantage of any opportunity you give me?
I don't know. I want to be, but it's definitely not going to be easy.
I did have an interesting and somewhat spiritual experience as I waited. I asked God to guide me, to let me learn something or see an opportunity with someone. Nothing amazing happened in that moment, other than me maintaining my calm and patience, which actually is pretty remarkable now that I think about it! I tried to keep a smile on my face as I waited, and when I'd finished paying for my groceries, I just looked at the cashier and said, you're doing a really good job of keeping your cool in all this.
I don't think that comment totally changed her life or anything, but she did seem to appreciate it.
I don't know what's in store tomorrow or the next day for me here in New Orleans, but I did learn this today: if I want to love this city, I am really, truly, totally going to HAVE to cling to You.
Help me Lord!