The Fear of God: More than Just “a Healthy Respect”

First, my apologies for being so lax about posting! What a season this has been! For months and months, I focused on finishing my book (Seven Days of Fearlessness). Then it was time to jump into grant-writing season (yes, I’m also a grant writer). After 4 1/2 months of that, I’m finally coming up for air. 

I plan to spend this next season, i.e. the summer of 2018, catching up on my writing, spending time with the grandkids, and doing short videos on the topic of fearlessness. Today I’m offering this excerpt in regard to the one fear that banishes all others: the fear of God. Enjoy.  

Though you don’t hear many sermons about the fear of God—and although the modern American church has lost much if not most of its fear of the Lord—the Bible has plenty to say about it. “Blessed is the one who always trembles before God,” we read in Proverbs (28:14, NIV). To fear God is to recognize His authority, dominion, worth, and supremacy while also acknowledging our insignificance and depravity apart from Him. I realize that many people “tone down” this topic by claiming that the fear of God is simply a “healthy respect” such as we’d offer anything that has the potential to get out of hand, such as a bonfire. But I disagree. God isn’t anything like a bonfire; in fact, He can hold the fire of a trillion burning stars in His hand.

When I think about the fear of God, I’m reminded of the ocean. Almost every summer, Kenny and I spend a week in our favorite place on earth, Tybee Island. We’ve developed a ritual: the evening we arrive, after darkness falls, we walk down to the beach. When we’re 30 feet or so from the water, I hand Kenny my shoes and he waits patiently as I take off, barefooted, into the surf. There’s something about the ocean that completely unravels and overwhelms me, so every single year, the same thing happens: I cry, and then I laugh—and often I do both simultaneously. Sometimes I run up and down the beach a little, sometimes I shout into the wind, but always the feeling is one of terror and worship.  Every trouble and sorrow that has hounded me is instantly washed away with the surf. I experience exquisite joy and relief, but also the compulsion to fall on my face and cry, Woe is me!

The first year we vacationed in Tybee was also the first time I ever swam in the ocean. Kenny and I bought boogie boards so we could play in the surf. As we jumped the gentle waves for hours, my emotions seesawed from exhilaration to dread and back again. From time to time, I was overcome with the realization that the body of water I was standing in was 25 thousand feet deep in some places and had swallowed thousands of lives. The potential for destruction was unlike anything I’d ever seen or felt, and yet I never wanted to leave.

I knew that what I could see on that brilliant, clear day was nothing in light of the vastness that was the ocean. I imagined the colossal creatures that swam deep under the surface, where no light penetrated. It made other so-called dangers seem laughable. And yet … something inside me wanted to experience this ocean in all its fury, to drown in it, for lack of a better phrase. Nothing had ever scared me like the sea did, and yet there was no place on earth I would rather have been—and this is still true.

Sometime during that first trip to the island, I realized I’d never encountered anything that embodied my feelings about God as perfectly as the ocean. On one hand, He’s “terrible” and terrifying; on the other, He shatters all my preconceptions, sweeps away all my sorrow and guilt, and makes all my other fears seem silly. He’s endless and infinite and yet I’m curled up in the palm of His hand. He evokes tears, laughter, joy, and terror. I want to drown in Him.

To fear God is to sense His fury: to recognize that He could, with a flick of His finger, annihilate every living thing. But here’s where the fear of God begets fearlessness in all other matters: the fact that He could annihilate us in an instant means He can do the same to our enemies.
And even though He could snuff out a billion times a billion stars with a single breath, He’s chosen to save rather than crush those who call Him Lord. Meanwhile, He’s defeated darkness, sin, and death, and one day His enemies “will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers” (Revelation 17:14, NIV).

 

“O Lord God of heaven, the great and terrible God…” (Nehemiah 1:5, KJV). 

Photos: fotolia

Remembering the Shadow-Seasons

“Now I am hidden in the safety of Your love.
I trust Your heart and Your intentions.
Trust you completely, I’m listening intently.
You’ll guide me through these many shadows.”
—United Pursuit/W. Reagan

This song has been wrecking me all day… but not because I’m in a place of “many shadows.” This season is good and bright and plentiful. But I’ve experienced shadow-seasons in the past; some were very long and saturated in pain. Yet every time, the Presence reassured me that He was around me, above me, within me, below me. And often, He granted me joy—not trifling, temporary happiness, but deep-in-the-belly, overflowing joy—right in the middle of the shadow-seasons. And it’s because of this kind of faithfulness that I can say today, “I trust Your heart and Your intentions.” His heart is pure beauty, and His intentions are pure goodness.

The kingdom of God is topsy-turvy. You might think that the flourishing, happy seasons allow me to live a little more independently, but the fact is that I’m no less needy than I was in my darkest shadow-season. I’m not able to breathe, much less do anything of any value, apart from Him. Life is lovely and yet I’m still desperate to have more of Him—and then more and more and more.

I often feel like Bartimaeus, the blind beggar who hollered “Jesus!” at the top of his lungs. Those who possessed a bit of dignity and class said, “Hush. For Pete’s sake Bartimaeus, tone it down.” But he only shouted louder because he knew the hopelessness of his situation. He knew he’d despair without the Lord’s touch. Like Bartimaeus, without Jesus’ touch, I’m blind to everything that matters. I’m a beggar. I must have the One who gives my life purpose and beauty whether I’m in “many shadows” or dancing in sunshine.

May we never, ever stand in the light and forget that it was His unspeakable love that carried us through the shadow-seasons.

 

How to Create a Prayer Closet

On the floor of a closet for 30 minutes a day for 30 days in a row: that’s how I’m starting this new year.

If you’re thinking that a half-hour of God-time per day ought to be part of my life already, you’re right. In fact, I’ll take it a step further: abiding in the Lord’s presence continually ought to be second nature to me after several decades of Christianity.

But there’s something different about being in a closet—a literal, dark, slightly dusty prayer closet.

IMG_0605Long ago, I created my first PC. It was back in the 90s, and I needed a place to escape the chaos in my life and just be with God, so I designated a small bedroom closet. I didn’t even need to clean it out, since we’d just built the house. I simply threw a blanket and pillow on the floor, along with a CD player (this was back when they were bulky and ugly), a journal, a tiny lamp… Voila! Finished.

I remember the first time I crawled inside that closet. It was so small I couldn’t stretch out, so I sat down on the floor, cross-legged. Then I switched on the tiny lamp and hit the power button on the CD player and waited to see what would happen.

WHOOSH.

The presence of God swept in so quickly and so completely that I started to cry. I was dumbfounded at the difference between sitting in that little closet in the near-darkness versus just a few feet away, on the other side of the door, in the bedroom itself. There was something about those four walls, which served as a boundary between myself and everything else. The sounds from the rest of the house were muffled; in fact, with the music playing I couldn’t hear a thing. And nothing was “pulling on me,” like the pile of laundry waiting to be folded or the stack of bills on the dresser, because I couldn’t see any of that. And even though I hadn’t instructed the other human beings in my home to leave me alone while I was in my closet, and even though they probably thought I was a little daft, they didn’t interrupt. If I’d been sitting in chair in some other room in the house, Bible in hand, they wouldn’t have hesitated to vie for my attention, but there was something different about the PC from day one, and they sensed it.

In the years since, there have been seasons when I’ve had no prayer closet (though this has little to do with lack of space because I’ve discovered that if you want a PC desperately enough, you’ll find somewhere to put it). There have also been sweet seasons of frequent and consistent PC time. What does a person do in a prayer closet, exactly? Sometimes, absolutely nothing. In our society and culture, doing nothing is a spiritual discipline, so I’d just lie there in the Lord’s company. Many times, I wrote. Often, I prayed or read my Bible. Occasionally, I ate lunch or drank a cup of hot tea. Sometimes I read a devotional. More times than I can count, I just chatted with Jesus and let the music speak to my heart. Frequently, I crawled into the PC with the intention of staying just 30 minutes, but the atmosphere was so yummy I wouldn’t come out for an hour and a half.

IMG_0602
Annie the Wonder Dog wonders what I’m doing.

Anyway, since we moved a year ago, I’ve been (let’s be honest) lazy about the whole PC thing, and my spirit has been aching for it. So a week ago, I cleared out the guestroom closet floor, added a miniature lamp and some blankets, and committed to never using that space for storage again. I still have Kenny’s suits and a few of my dresses hanging on the rod, but that’s no big deal since there’s still enough room to lie down (albeit barely).

If you could see my house, you might wonder why I need a PC at all. This place has plenty of space for the two of us, including half a dozen cozy spots to curl up with God. Not to mention that since I work from home and my husband doesn’t, I’m here alone virtually every weekday, all day. There’s no chaos in my home like there was in the 90s, so I’m not escaping anything … yet I still need those four walls to set me apart from everything else. I need it to be impossible to see my desk, the laundry, the sink full of dishes. I need all sounds to be muffled except the rhythm of my own breathing or the music playing on my tablet. And I need the darkness.

 

Yesterday was Day One of the 30 days. As I suspected, the Presence rolled in immediately, creating an atmosphere of peace and deep contentment. Today, when the 30 minutes were up, I couldn’t stand the thought of leaving. So I stayed.

How can you create your own PC? It’s easy:

Decide that the presence of God is worth more than storage space.
Take everything out of a closet and stash it elsewhere (or just clear a space if you’re lucky enough to have walk-ins).
Vacuum up the cobwebs and mouse droppings.
Add a chair or a few blankets, a tiny lamp or lantern, your journal, Bible, etc.
Here’s the most important step: climb in and shut the door.

 

 

 

 

 

When the Cloud Moves Before You’re Ready to Move

The following is a devotional I contributed to LifeWay’s Renew Daily online devotional, available through DevoHub:

IMG_1808Have you put a great deal of time, emotion, and energy into a project that you just knew God intended for you to do, only to have it fizzle out prematurely? Suddenly you’re confused: Did you misunderstand God? Did you do something wrong that caused Him to abort the mission? “I did all that for nothing,” you say, as though the process itself amounts to nothing because your expectations haven’t been met. But sometimes the process is as crucial as the end result.

Remember that, during their forty years in the wilderness, the Lord required the Israelites to pull up stakes whenever the cloud moved, whether that was twelve hours (see Num. 9:21), two days, a month, or a year after they’d settled in (see v. 22). They never knew when the cloud might move, but “as soon as it lifted, they broke camp and moved on” (v. 22, NLT). Imagine the satisfaction of finally completing pens for the livestock and digging up the hard ground for a well—and then feeling the brisk wind that preceded the moving of the cloud of God.

Today, if you feel like you’ve invested yourself into a dream only to see it dissolve, remember that the Lord’s definition of “completion” is different than your own. You can’t always know why He moves you on before you’ve seen a task through to completion (as you imagine it should look), but the key is to move when He does, and go where He goes.

Isa. 58:11 (NKJV): “The Lord will guide you continually.”

When the Cloud Moves—Before You’re Ready to Move

The following is a devotional I contributed to LifeWay’s Renew Daily online devotional, available through DevoHub:

Have you put a great deal of time, emotion, and energy into a project that you just knew God intended for you to do, only to have it fizzle out prematurely? Suddenly you’re confused: Did you misunderstand God? Did you do something wrong that caused Him to abort the mission? “I did all that for nothing,” you say, as though the process itself amounts to nothing because your expectations haven’t been met. But sometimes the process is as crucial as the end result.

Remember that, during their forty years in the wilderness, the Lord required the Israelites to pull up stakes whenever the cloud moved, whether that was twelve hours (see Num. 9:21), two days, a month, or a year after they’d settled in (see v. 22). They never knew when the cloud might move, but “as soon as it lifted, they broke camp and moved on” (v. 22, NLT). Imagine the satisfaction of finally completing pens for the livestock and digging up the hard ground for a well—and then feeling the brisk wind that preceded the moving of the cloud of God.

Today, if you feel like you’ve invested yourself into a dream only to see it dissolve, remember that the Lord’s definition of “completion” is different than your own. You can’t always know why He moves you on before you’ve seen a task through to completion (as you imagine it should look), but the key is to move when He does, and go where He goes.

Isa. 58:11 (NKJV): “The Lord will guide you continually.”

 

An Encounter with Swamp Monsters

In the late 90s and early 2000s, my friend Debbie and I went camping about twice a year. We’d load her car with everything from the basics (like tent and lanterns) to totally useless stuff (like whitener strips and a welcome mat) and spend a few days cooking pancakes over a butane burner, hiking until we hobbled, and pulling ticks off our ankles. At the time, I was almost two decades into a 23-year marriage that was void of everything that makes a marriage tolerable, much less meaningful. Anxiety played a daily role in my marriage and in life as a whole, but a few days at Fall Creek Falls always reminded me how to breathe again.

Debbie and I always took full advantage of those outings to work on our issues. Mine included codependence, unhealthy boundaries, a victim mentality, and—of course—fear. One of our approaches to helping me overcome fear was to take night hikes. We’d wait until nine or ten at night, when all was deathly still and dark, grab our flashlights, and venture down a trail, away from the safety of neighboring campsites and the reassuring flicker of our campfire. Into the deep woods we’d go, armed with nothing but my can of pepper spray and her husband’s buck knife.

Usually we’d walk for ten or twelve minutes, congratulate ourselves, then turn around and walk back. But on this particular night, we either took an unfamiliar path or went a little farther than usual—I don’t recall the exact circumstances—but the point is that our surroundings seemed especially eerie and unfamiliar.

Just a few minutes into our walk, we both shrieked as a deer, startled from its bed in the underbrush, shot to its feet and darted away. The forest was so dark that, even with flashlights, we couldn’t tell if it was a buck or doe, but it sounded massive, cracking tree limbs as it retreated into the blackness. Hearts pounding, we pressed on, determined to go a little further.

Suddenly, we stepped out of the thick woods and onto a peninsula of sorts. The area looked like a swamp. In front of us was a stretch of land or water—the shadows made it impossible to tell which—interrupted by clumps of tall grass that shuddered in the breeze and created peculiar shadows. The place screamed of swamp monsters and unnamable creatures with jagged teeth.

For a long, icy moment, we both stood motionless. Then, as if on cue, we pivoted as fear propelled us into a dead run—down the dirt path, through the brush and the inky darkness we sprinted, tripping over one another, flapping our arms like birds caught in a snare, laughing one moment and screaming the next.

When we burst out of the trees, back into the fire-lit circle of our cozy campsite, we collapsed to our knees, choking with laughter and trembling with lingering fear.

We were appalled at how miserably we’d botched our night hike. But today I have to wonder: Was our experiment in fearlessness a complete failure? I don’t think so. Granted, we bolted, but not before we’d completed the task we’d set out to do. In spite of all the screaming and flailing, by golly, we did it.

Sometimes God will ask you to jump through a ring of fire and you’ll say yes even though you’re terrified of fire. Sometimes you’ll jump while shrieking and flapping your arms. In the end, the fact remains that you said yes… and you jumped.. and you cleared the ring without being burnt to a crisp…

and that is victory.

Sneak Peek at Fearlessness

Man pushing a giant, heavy stone, rock over the mountain.Here’s a sneak peek at the book I’m currently writing, Seven Days of Fearlessness. My goal is to finish it by the end of this month. My plate is less full than normal right now, and I’ve set aside a week to hide and write at a cabin in the woods owned by some friends of ours (thank you S and T, I love you), so finishing is actually feasible. However (if this isn’t the most ironic thing I’ve said all year, I don’t know what is), the whole idea of finishing this book about fearlessness is giving me anxiety: What if, when I’m finally done, I realize I’ve written nothing more than a 30,000-word collection of drivel and slop? Or what if I leave out something crucial, or—worst of all—say something that’s not doctrinally sound? What if I not only fail to find a publishing company who wants it, but they send me rejection emails full of LOL emoticons?

And that’s when I remember that I’m doing the very thing this book addresses: fretting. Spending my energy on worry. Wasting precious time on ridiculous, exhausting thought processes. In other words, the truth the Lord gave me, and which I’m attempting to put down on paper in this book, needs to be said. So let’s get on with it.

When Jesus called His disciples, He expected immediate obedience, and they gave Him just that. The moment He said, “Follow Me,” they dropped what they were doing and walked away from their old lives. There was no time to second-guess Jesus’ command, work out the details, overthink the situation, or even say goodbye to their friends and family. Imagine if Peter, Andrew, and the rest had said, “We want to follow You, Jesus, but it’s scary to abandon everything we’ve known to go who-knows-where and do who-knows-what as Your disciples. As soon as we muster up the courage and work out the details, we’ll give You a call.” No doubt Jesus would have moved on and found other disciples who were willing to obey before they possessed full understanding, unwavering faith, or unflappable courage. 

Sometimes, faith and fortitude arise in our heart, followed by obedience. But more often, obedience must happen while faith, understanding, and courage are in short supply. Don’t wait for the courage to follow Jesus unreservedly, or one day you’ll be eighty years old and wondering why He never gave you the wherewithal to change your corner of the world. The original command—”Follow Me”—is all you need to obey. Courage and clarity will be released in the obeying. 

 

From: Seven Days of Fearlessness

The Contemplative Life

I’ve always been intrigued by the writings of monks and priests—Thomas Merton, Brennan Manning, Brother Lawrence. Manning used to spend months alone in a cave, with no companion except God, and though part of me cringes at the idea of such solitude, another part of me understands it. I live continually with a relentless longing to be with God every day, all day—to “splash around in His heart,” as a friend who now lives in heaven described it. I can think of no better way to spend a minute or an hour, a day or week or lifetime, than in connection with God—sometimes talking, sometimes silent, but always in His Presence, always listening, always aware of His nearness.

IMG_4830.JPG

I thank the Lord for a husband who’s more than happy to take second place in my life, who doesn’t doubt my absolute love for him while also making ample room for my madness for God. Kenny doesn’t blink an eye when I crawl into my prayer closet or pull on my running shoes and head to the park because I can’t go another minute without getting alone with God. He takes it in stride when I talk aloud to Jesus, though sometimes he has to ask, “Who are you talking to?”—knowing the answer could go either way.

FullSizeRender 10.jpg

I used to find the verse “Pray without ceasing” confusing: How could a person possibly get anything done if all she did all day was clasp her hands together, close her eyes, and intercede for the sick? But there’s nothing impossible about that verse at all! To pray without ceasing is simply to cultivate a constant awareness of Jesus, to converse with Him with the ease of one who talks to a best friend, to develop the ability to see Him everywhere. There’s no striving in this kind of life; in fact, if you’re trying to white-knuckle your way into His presence, give it up. You need only to lean back into Him because He’s already there, within you and around you. Dare to see, taste, and hear Him right where you are, right now. Practice His presence, and one day soon you’ll realize you’ve spent the whole day tuned into the heartbeat of Jesus.

That is the contemplative life.

Brown Bag Sunday

Ever since May of 2016, my husband Kenny and I have been pastoring a little church that meets in a coffee shop. We call it Brown Bag Sunday, and it’s made up of all sorts of people. Roughly 70 percent of them are homeless. Few things have brought me as much joy as this little gathering. We tell people to come as they are, and they do. We tell them they don’t even have to be sober to show up as long as they “behave.” Is that bad? Is that too permissive? I don’t think so. What do you do when you’re tormented by alcoholism or drug addiction but you also know that you need God? You come to Brown Bag Sunday.

Don’t misunderstand me. Not everyone who attends Brown Bag Sunday is homeless, or an addict, or an alcoholic. BBS has its share of hard-working, God-fearing congregants, some of whom are clean as freshly fallen snow (and others of whom are also homeless or addicted. You can’t be saved and addicted at the same time, you say? Puuulleeeeeeesee). Anyway, we’re a motley bunch of ragamuffins— to varying degrees flawed, homeless, employed, unemployed, addicted, straight, gay, victorious, depressed, hungry, full, fat, thin, sober, drunk, and so on. You get the picture.

I do know that we have a pretty high percentage of folks who would never walk into the typical church.

I love the local church. I have such respect for the local church! But one day, years ago, I brought some friends (a married couple) with me to church on Sunday. They didn’t smell very good, and their clothes were ragged. As soon as we walked into the building, one of the deacons offered the husband a clean jacket to put on. My friends were utterly humiliated, and I was appalled. They’d been deemed “not good enough” to be in that building, to be part of the Body of Christ. They were both Christians, both hungry for God, and both deserving of a little hospitality.

But their clothes weren’t fancy enough.

I never forgot that incident.

A handful of years later, around 2002, I was finally part of a church that loved the homeless. One morning, a certain homeless man named Paul walked into the building during the Sunday service and grabbed one of the big cornbread muffins that someone had laid out for anyone who needed a snack. As my pastor preached, Paul stood in the middle of the aisle and rubbed his thumb back and forth across that muffin, watching the crumbs fall to the floor. He didn’t stop till he’d destroyed the whole muffin. And what did the rest of us do? Nothing. We all knew that Paul just did this sort of thing. It was no big deal. Sometimes he talked to himself, but he was never belligerent. If he wanted to butcher a muffin, no one minded. If he talked to himself a little, fine.

As I watched Paul and the rest of my church family, I thought, This is church. This is IT. I knew I’d never again settle for being part of a congregation that didn’t accept the Pauls of this world. Never again would I be satisfied to call myself part of a so-called church that had no room for the mentally unstable, the addicted, the homeless, the “least of these.”

The fact that God is allowing Kenny and me to love, teach, and feed fifty people, some of them just like Paul, is an honor I don’t deserve.

 

My Husband and the Homeless Man

A year ago, I wrote the following entry for my husband’s blog, ProveItClarksville.com. If you’ve been following Doulos Chronicles for any length of time, you’ve probably realized that Kenny and I live a rather unusual life. We dated by hanging out in homeless camps, got married (i.e., eloped) beside a fountain without prior permission (and me in bare feet), and launched a soup kitchen six years ago that now distributes 25 thousand meals every year. In other words, we’ve had our share of adventures. A few of them have impacted me to the core. Last year, when Kenny voluntarily went homeless for the second time, was one of those occasions….

My husband Kenny was homeless for a while in ’96, while going through a divorce and trying to keep his business afloat. You’d think that one such experience would be enough for anyone, but last summer, in an attempt to give a face and a voice to the “invisible” population that is the homeless in our community, he lived as they do for two weeks. This year, he felt God nudging him to once again spend some time without a roof over his head. Two days ago—a week into the assignment—he came home for a visit.

kenny-julyWe decided when he first ventured out that we’d set aside Sunday to see one another and catch up. I’d pack a picnic, and the dog and I would meet him near his camp so we could all take a walk and eat lunch together. But the weather didn’t cooperate. So, rather than sit in the rain or try to squeeze all three of us into his tent, we decided he’d come home. We didn’t want to exploit the situation—after all, he was living as the homeless do—so we committed to sit on the porch rather than in the warmth and coziness of the house.

Once I knew he was on the way, I straightened up the porch, even setting out some candles. Back in the house to retrieve another match, I caught a fleeting glimpse of Kenny through the front window. Feeling suddenly like a teenager with a crush, I opened the door to greet him.

I wasn’t prepared for what I saw.

Let me interrupt myself here and say that there’s a look, a demeanor, that the chronically homeless have—but it’s more than the obvious. In fact, after you’ve interacted with the homeless long enough, you’ll spot “the look” even in those who go the extra mile to maintain their appearance, because it goes far deeper than the external.

aKenny had “the look.” What I saw as I peeked out our front door was a man who looked like he’d been on the streets for a very long time.

Granted, there were the obvious things: he was dressed in layers against the rain—stocking cap, raincoat, sweatshirt, T-shirt, and overalls. His shoes were soaked, and from his left shoulder hung his backpack, loaded down with essentials. His eyes and mouth were tight with pain as he gripped his cane and hobbled toward me with short, faltering steps.

Then there were the less obvious things—namely, the deep, vast heaviness in his eyes. He was clearly carrying burdens that had nothing to do with the gear in his backpack.

It’s nothing new for Kenny, who’s a bit rough around the edges and has never shied away from hard work, to look a little scruffy or exhausted. As a sound engineer, he has worked impossibly long and difficult gigs in brutal weather. I’ve seen him dazed from lack of sleep, and bone-tired from many hours of physical labor. But this was nothing like that. I realized I was seeing Kenny with what the Bible calls the eyes of my spirit. Here was a battle-scarred warrior. God had allowed one week of homelessness to affect Kenny exponentially and at an accelerated rate. As Director of Manna Cafe, he can’t “disappear” indefinitely, so God is ensuring that he feels the suffering of the homeless and identifies with their plight in just a short time. After all, suffering breeds compassion. The Lord allows it “so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Cor. 1).

A few skeptics have remarked that Kenny’s experiences in homelessness are nothing more than camping trips. If only that were true! He would never have ventured out right now if he didn’t feel compelled by God. In the natural, the timing was bad. There’s a great deal going on at Manna Cafe. Kenny has been burdened mentally and emotionally by some important issues. Then he spent his first day of homelessness with a stomach virus, and sleeping on the ground has been ruthless on his back. He can’t stand or exit his tent without a cane in each hand. He’s also withstood spiritual assault—the sort that’s overcome only with obedience and prayer.

For a long, painful moment I could only stare at him. Then I made the poor guy stand there for a moment longer as I snapped a photo because I didn’t want to forget what I was seeing. Finally, I wrapped my arms around him, and he relaxed.

And then he wept.

This would continue throughout the day: his voice would catch, or a tear would randomly roll down his cheek. At first, he was baffled and frustrated by his runaway emotions, but I knew there was more to it than either of us could comprehend. He realized that the weight and weariness he’d felt while praying and walking the streets of Clarksville, or crouching in his tent at night, had been less about back pain and falling temperatures than it had about spiritual warfare.

As Kenny shed his outer layer and changed his shoes, he looked around the room and said, “It looks good in here,” as though I’d painted or redecorated—or as though he’d been gone for months and had forgotten the details of the room. We spent the next hour or two wrapped in blankets and picnicking on the back porch. I caught myself not just watching but observing him. There are little gestures and nuances that belong to the homeless, and—once again, what should have taken weeks or a month had taken seven days—Kenny had already adopted a few of these gestures: the way he maneuvered a piece of smoked fish into his mouth with his fingers, the way he uncapped a bottle of water with his teeth.

I also noticed that Kenny seemed slightly out of place… but not because of his demeanor; we’ve had many homeless people in our home, and some have lived with us, but this was different. On one hand, he had all but melted into the seat, like one who finally feels safe after a harrowing experience; but on the other hand, it seemed he wasn’t allowing himself to truly be at home, or to separate himself from his camp and from the state of homelessness. He was there with me—but not quite. I was reminded that homelessness is not just a geographical condition but a state of mind.

“This doesn’t feel like your home right now, does it?” I asked.

“It feels foreign,” he admitted. “I feel out of place, like I don’t belong here.” Like many wives, I want my husband to feel like a king in his castle, so I was tempted to fly into action to ensure he was completely settled and comfortable—and present. But the Lord deterred me: This is how it has to be; he’s not finished out there yet.

We nibbled on grapes, talked, and watched our dog, Annie, play in the rain. At one point, she did something silly, and Kenny burst into laughter. For a moment, as he tilted his head and the corners of his eyes crinkled, I caught a glimpse of the Kenny who is a devoted husband, a prophetic musician, and a visionary who said yes when the Lord told him to feed the hungry. An instant later, he was gone, and the weary homeless man had returned. Back and forth it went for a few minutes, like the novelty collector’s cards we had as kids that shifted from one image to the other when we tilted them. I’ve said many times that we’re all just a hair’s breadth away from homelessness ourselves, but now, as I watched this vagabond who was also my strong and steadfast husband, I realized that the reverse is true as well. Underneath it all, we’re all the same.

Ours is a “hippie house,” which means we have a swinging bed on our porch, so when Kenny’s eyelids started to droop, he lay down and immediately feel into a deep, luxurious sleep. Several hours later, he woke and ate again, then allowed himself the extravagance of a shower. Too soon, it was time for him to go.

Needless to say, it was painful to watch him leave. But my consolation is that even as the Lord is allowing Kenny to be tested, His ways are perfect. Out of the weight that Kenny is carrying will come something priceless. As someone has said, “There is nothing heavier than compassion.”

Version 2
Kenny (second from R) with a few friends from our winter homeless shelter, 2014.
%d bloggers like this: