Saturday, December 10, 2016

Lost Hope - A Desire to do Good

I am an engineer, formally, and naturally. I like to fix things, and do the impossible. If you were to give me a bag of marshmallows and ask me to build the Eiffel Tower from them, I would give it some serious thought. Ultimately, I like to make things work. My default attitude is that everything can work given the right pieces and circumstances. However, in life, we do not always have right pieces and circumstances. So in the meantime all you can do is hope they eventually come along.

Part 1 - SUMMER 2008: Mark Bernthal and I decided to spend an entire day working odd jobs in Oak Park and River Forest so we could take the money we earned to go distribute McDonald's gift cards to the homeless in the Austin neighborhood in Chicago. We figured it would be a great way to go love on others and spread the love of Christ. After a full day of working, we rode our bicycles East on Chicago Ave, straight into Austin. If you have been to Austin, you know there is no shortage of people hanging out on the street. We would stop and start talking to random strangers. We did not have much in common. However, we were able to ask them about their days and families. If we sensed it was appropriate, we would offer them up a Mickey D's gift card. People weren't too weirded out by it, so all was going smoothly.

It didn't take much more than an hour or so to exhaust our gift cards. Once we were finished, we decided it was as good as time as any to head back into Oak Park. Just minutes after our departure to head home, police sirens go off. We did not think anything of it because we were just riding home on our bikes. To our surprise, the police car came darting at us and instructed us to immediately get off our bikes. Within seconds, we were handcuffed to on another and being interrogated by two officers.
Mark and I each knew we were not getting away, so after one quick and deep breath, we each front flipped and landed on each offers shoulders. We slammed them down and were able to pin them between our legs. One officer was able to go for his gun. Mark kicked it out of his hand, and I caught it. Immediately, I aimed it at our hand cuffs, pulled the trigger, and broke us free. At this point, we had the officers in a sleeper hold just long enough that they were fainting.

Okay, I am going to stop now. Slight tangent there. Everything is completely made up after we were cuffed. So getting back on track; Mark and I were cuffed and being interrogated by two officers. They were not the kindest people in the world. Apparently, they thought we had ridden our bikes into Austin to purchase drugs. We told them our story about the gift cards, but they were not buying it. We went back and forth for a couple minutes, and our defense just wasn't holding up. Things weren't going well. Luckily, I remembered that I had kept the receipt from the gift cards. I showed the offices the receipt and they finally believed us. We were un-cuffed, and told something that I will never forget by them; "It's great what you both are trying to do. But you need to realize that people here just don't care. There is no hope for them, and you are wasting your time."

Part 2 - Winter 2011: Steak n' Shake was a popular thing among my friends growing up. I'm sure it being the only cheap thing open late at night had a lot to do with it. One night, we ventured out to Steak n' Shake for some grub. A man came up to us as we were getting out of the car and asked for money. He pointed over to a mini van in the lot with a family in it. He told us it was his family, and that they were stranded with no gas. They were from Belvidere and needed to get his young daughters home, who were freezing. Suspiciously, some of us gave him some money to help him. As were were finally out of the car, we saw the mini van he was pointing to drive away without him. He was able to disappear before we could do anything. We were dooped.

Part 3 - Winter 2013: Some friends and I were driving along interstate 290 through Chicago heading towards trivia night at the one and only Hawkeye's Bar and Grill. When we pulled off at the Ashland exit, an incredibly disgruntled woman came running up to us crying, and began to tell us an elaborate story of how her car ran out of gas on the interstate, and how she's trapped. We were barely able to calm her down, but promised we would be back with a gas can for her.

Ten minutes later, we were back with the gasoline, and she was nowhere to be found. We looked for her car on the interstate as well. It was nowhere to be found either. We were dooped.

Part 4 - Now: Those of you who know me know that I am not a "city guy" per say. But despite that, I do have a big heart for the city, and the people living in it. Growing up in Oak Park and bordering the Austin neighborhood in Chicago, I was able to witness nearly first hand how difficult and hopeless life can be there.
And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest." Matthew 9:35-38
The best part of this entire post is that I get to tell you about Tommy. Tommy is a rad dude who I have gotten to spend lots of time with the past 2 and a half years. I met Tommy at an incredible ministry in the city called Grip Outreach for Youth. Every Monday, hundreds of us get together to spend time with High Schoolers who come from broken families. It is a sports based evening. I like to call it throwing dodge balls at kids for Jesus.

Tommy has been incredible to spend time with because he is such a loyal and compassionate guy. His compassion is especially what sets him a part from the other students. He has a special lens that he sees the world through. He can tell when people are hurting. Mostly, he downplays his own tough situations because he is more worried about other people. That's some toughness right there.

Spending time with Tommy also brings its fair share of challenges. Tommy does not have a dad who is around at all, and one of his brothers is in prison. This leaves him, his sister, other brother, and mom. We spent lots of time just talking about things you would normally learn from your parents, such as saving money, politics, hard work, forgiveness, responsibility....We also spend time trying to get each other out of our comfort zones. One of our favorite things to do is going rock climbing.

Tommy and I have a lot of fun with each other, but ultimately, my goal for him is to know the Lord, and to become a man of integrity by being loyal, hard working, and responsible. Any of you who are in similar situations know that this is not an overnight process, and can sometimes even feel impossible. The best learning moments with Tommy have been when he wants to learn. If he doesn't want to learn, the situation feels very hopeless.


Part 5 - My Point: Why do I keep putting myself in situations that end up failing. I try to do good, but the past has shown that whenever I do, I get scammed, or the person just wants my money, and not any real help. Sometimes it's safe to say that I have lost hope. I often feel more disappointed than I do satisfied. Why not just do me? I am wasting my time trying to make a difference in people's lives. I could be traveling more, playing basketball more, or just be looking out for #1 more.

The fact is this; I have betrayed my heavenly father and infinite amount of more times than people here have betrayed me. Despite all that, he still loves me perfectly and completely, holding back nothing from me. He blesses me through my rebellion, he feeds me through my rebellion, he provides community through my rebellion, he provides compassion, defense, loyalty, steadfastness, and strength, despite my constant rebellion. Our God never loses hope in us, because that's how he loves us. If we are going to love others like God loves us, we can never lose hope in him and in them. Therefore, my time here is not finished yet. Nor is it finished for the rest of my brothers and sisters who hope for light in this city.
Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, " I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times." Matthew 18:21-22