Monday, February 18, 2008

Same Kind of Different As Me

Over the last few months, I have treasured any time alone to read and finish many of the books on my nightstand. They were beginning to pile rather high, so I had the motivation to finish what I had started in many of them. This particular book was a little out-of-place with all my other mommy books, wife books, and christian lit stuff, but undoubtly, it has impacted my life more than the others. It stands in a league of its own. I wrestled through the personal lives of Denver Moore, "a dangerous, homeless drifter who grew up picking cotton in virtual slavery, Ron Hall, "an upscale art dealer accoustomed to the world of Armani and Chanel", and his wife Debbie Hall, a gutsy woman with a stubborn dream. It was a fascinating book of true friendship, sacrifice, and reconciled love. Last week as I finished the book around Valentine's day, I was once again remeinded of what TRUE love and sacrifice look like. Here is a glimpse of what the story challenges me to do with the "neighbors" in my life.

"After church, Denver stopped by the Walkers to visit. He stayed for lunch and then excused himself. "I have to go check on Mr. Ballentine," he said. Curious, Scott asked if he could go to.
I had known Mr. Ballentine when he stayed at the mission. Sometime before Deborah and I started serving there, Denver told us that he had watched a car screech up to the curb on East Lancaster. The driver showed an elderly man out of the passenger-side door, pitched a beat-up Tourister suitcase out behind him, and roared away. Abandoned on the curb, the old man staggered like a druken sailoron shore leave and fired off a salvo of slurry curses. But to Denver, he also looked ......scared. At the time, Denver had still been an island , a stone-faced loner who didn't poke about other people's business. But something-he thinks now maybe it was how helpless the man looked-plucked a string in his heart.
Denver walked up to the man and offered to help him get into the mission. In return, the man cursed at him and called him a nigger.
Denver helped anyways, learning in the process that the fellow's name was Ballantine, that he was a mean old drunk who'd earned his family's contempt, and that he hated black people. He hated Christians even more, considered them a pack of mewling, insipid hypocrites. That's why, free mela or not, he would rather have starved than endured a chapel sermon. Others might have let him. INstead, for about 2 years, Denver ordered two plates of food in the serving line and took one upstairs to Mr. B. Foul-tempered, cantankerous, and utterly remorseless, Mr. B continued to address his benefactor as "nigger."
The next year a hoodlum jumped Mr. B outside the mission and demended his social security check. Rather than give in, the old man submitted to a vicious beating that left him crippled. Unequipped to care for an invalid, Don Shisler had no choice but to find a space for Mr. B in a governemnt-funded nursing center. There, minimum-wage orderlies tended to the basics, but the truth was Mr. B, at 85, found himselfhobbled, helpless, and completely alone. Except for Denver. After the old man's relocation, Denver regularly walked 2 miles through the hood to take Mr. B some non-nursing home food or a fw cigarettes.
One day, Denver asked me to drive him there. In some ways, I wish he hadn't, since the trip stripped off my do-gooder veneer to reveal a squeamish man whose charoty, at the time, had definite limits.
When we enter Mr. B's room at the nursing home, the smell hit me first - the stench of age, dead skin, and bodily fluids. The old man lay on his bed in a puddle of urine, naked except for a neon orange ski jacket. HIs ghostly chicken bone legs sprawled across the sheet that had once been white but know a dingy gray, streaked with brown and ocher stains. Around him lay trash and trays of half-eaten food....scrambled eggs, crusted hard yellow....shriveled meats....petrified sandwiches. On a couple of trays, school-sized milk cartons, tipped over, the puddles congealed into stinking clabber.
In a single sweeping glance, Denver sized up the room, then me, wobbling and on the verge of vomit. "Mr. Ron just come by to say hi," he told Mr. B. "He got to be goin now. "
I bolted leaving Denver alnoe to clean up Mr. B and his nasty room. I didn't offer to help, or even to stay and pray. Feeling guilty, but not guilty enough to change, I jumped in my car and wept as I drove away - for Mr. B, homeless and decrepit, who would stew in his own excrement if not for Denver; and I wept for myself, becasue I didn't have the courage to stay. It was easy for someone like me to serve a few meals, write a few checks, and get my name and picture in the paper for showing up at some glitzy benefit. But Denver served invisibly, loved without fanfare. The tabels had turned, and now I feared that it was he who would catch-and-release me, a person who lacked true compassion, who perhaps wasn't a catch worth keeping.
I gained a new and more profound respect for Denver that day, my perception of him changing like puzzle pieces slowly clicking into place. He wasn't showing off, only sharing with me a secret part of his life. Had his secrets included pitching dice in the alley with a hoard of drunken bums, I wouldn't have been put off. But I was shocked that they included not only praying through the night for my dying wife, but also nursing this man who never said thank you and continued to call him "nigger."
For the first time, it struck me that when Denver said he'd be a friend for life, he meant it - for better or worse. The hell of it was, Mr. B never wanted a friend, especially a black one. But once Denver committed, he stuck. It reminded me of what Jesus told hi disciples, "Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."
Yes, this little excerpt (pgs.159-160in the book)was long, but I hope you experienced something new and revolutional in reading it. It has convicted my life in ways never before. I desire to walk as Denver walks. Serve in silence.....seeking God's approval...not man.....

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