Confession: I am a drama queen.
No, really. I am. When life, with its many ups and downs, happens, I maintain the persona that I’ve got it all under control and I usually buckle down and get through it, but I have yet to escape the practice of putting on a “production” while doing so. I disguise this flaw with humor, good storytelling, and sometimes even feigned spirituality, but no matter how I dress it, it’s pretty ugly. It reveals my lack of trust in God’s plan for my life, my sense of entitlement to a “carefree” life, and even a form of pride in wanting to be noticed or acknowledged for my trouble.
Though the ‘downs’ contained in the few short weeks since my transition to Philadelphia have been many and intense, I must admit with shame that I’ve faced the majority with utter weakness. I’ve cried and freaked out too much and not trusted God enough. Fortunately, His tenderness is greater than my failures and in each instance, I’ve been providentially cared for. This trail of grace went unnoticed for awhile – I’d say a quick prayer of thanks and pat myself on the back for “managing” that problem. But when the next trial would come, as it was certain to do, I’d pull an Israelite and forget about all God had done and despair about my present circumstances.
On Thursday morning, I left my house to go to work. I normally rely on public transit for my daily commute, but on that day, I needed to get beyond the reach of the reliable PATCO train, so I was driving. The only problem with that plan, though, was that I had nothing to drive. To my consternation, my car was neither where I had parked it, nor anywhere else within a two-block radius. After a series of phone calls, I was able to piece together that my car had been impounded and was waiting to be picked up nearly 3 miles away in what I understood to be a sketchy part of town. I began my walk, barely holding back tears and grumbling in my heart. As I walked, I was quickly distracted from my own little problem by the brokenness I saw all around me. While I don’t live in a particularly great part of the city, the destitution I discovered a mere few miles away astounded me, more reminiscent of the developing world than urban America. I walked further and came across APM (http://www.apmphila.org), a community development organization that is taking ownership of their community and seeking to alleviate the effects of poverty, one family at a time. Their presence, I realized while walking, is that of an island to a shipwrecked sailor, clinging to anything he can reach for life, and is making a difference in this neighborhood to the point that someone just passing through could see and feel it. Walking further, I turned a corner onto a portion of Germantown, called The Avenue, a multiple-block stretch that I later learned has one of the highest concentrations of violent crime in the area. I was surprised for the second time on this walk, this time for a different reason. The street before me was alight with colors – red, teal, orange, pink and more covered nearly every square inch for two blocks. All of this color seemed to spilling out of a wildly decorated building on the corner, called The Village of Arts and Humanities (http://villagearts.org/). Though I had never heard of it before, I discovered later that this bright building houses a host of programs that use the arts to target the needs of North Philadelphia, everything from youth leadership development, to literacy training to community revitalization. The colors I saw all around me were part of the Village’s initiative to give The Avenue a new face. And while they couldn’t hide all the effects of poverty on this area, the colors spoke hope into the life of this community. Even from an outsider’s perspective, it was evident that contained within this community was a group of people who were not bound by despair, but rather committed to affecting change in their neighborhood. As I continued down The Avenue, I couldn’t help but be reminded of some of the villages I’ve visited in Haiti. The colors gave the neighborhood a feel similar to that of the Caribbean and I smiled, remembering a people that I love so dearly. No sooner had this thought crossed my mind, when I passed by a church that bore the name, ‘Haitian International Ministries,’ a tangible evidence to the concentration of Haitian immigrants in North Philadelphia, that I didn’t even know existed. I stopped walking as I realized more fully the grace that had been extended to me over the course of a few miles. It was in that moment that I realized the walk I was on was divinely appointed. “See, Child,” my Father said, “you are so fixated on your own problems, following the tracks of your own life, focused on the good work that you think you’re doing, but I want you to see what I’m doing in this city.” My heart was overwhelmed in that moment with thankfulness for God’s grace in leading me down a path I normally wouldn’t walk and showing me things in my own neighborhood that I wouldn’t have otherwise seen.
The large ransom I had to pay when I finally arrived at the towing garage disheartened me a little, but the morning’s events were so seasoned with God’s tenderness, that I couldn’t be too upset.
Whether I realize it or not, the providence of God is always as present in my trials as Thursday morning showed, I’m usually just too blind to see it. While I want to characterize my problems as if they are equal to the world’s end, they’re simply not that bad. I’ve already been redeemed from the absolute worst fate that I could ever experience, and God in His great mercy, is using these “momentary, light afflictions” to make me more like His Son. I praise Him for both the cloud and the silver linings we sometimes see.
May I be a drama queen no more.