(Warning, this might be too hard for you to read if you're dealing with grief right now)
TWO BIRTHDAYS...TWO TOTALLY DIFFERENT CIRCUMSTANCES
This past week, two little ones had birthdays.
One little girl we call our “princess.” She turned seven, amidst much rejoicing complete with presents, a special breakfast, cards, decorations, plenty of photos and videotaping, love and laughter. This little princess is greatly cherished, and the memories of almost losing her during childbirth make us all the more grateful. She is being given the best that we can give her in life. Most likely, she will have scores and scores of birthdays in her life... a life full of promise and amazing possibilities.
The second little one we don't know. She was born this week on her one and only birthday. There will never be parties thrown for her. She won't open up presents and smile for the camera as her daddy says "cheese" for the umpteenth time. She won't be asked what kind of cake she wants or receive "happy birthday" calls from her grandma. She won't grow up with a gaggle of brothers and sisters teaching her how to jump rope or dance to The Wiggles. She'll never sit on her earthly daddy's lap and be told how much she is loved. Only her Heavenly Father will hold this little girl and let her know that she is His precious one forever. For the day that was her birth day, is the only birthday this little one will ever know.
On Sunday morning, within walking distance of the state capitol building, several churches, ministries, and hospitals, a dear friend made a tragic discovery. This person is one of the homeless people who worships alongside our family at the outdoor worship service we attend on Sunday afternoons. I love her heartfelt hugs and how sweet she is to my baby. But this dear woman is absolutely devastated, because yesterday morning she found a little baby dead beside a dumpster, it's umbilical cord cut with a broken bottle and left lying there to die.
You'd think that something of this nature would be headline news. You'd think that folks would be both outraged and appalled, that our churches would be stirred up out of complacency and worry about trivial matters, saying. "We've got to do something to change the lives and hearts of those in our city!"But there is no widespread grief or outrage, because except for the few that live down in that crime-ridden, impoverished area, no one knows. The police know. And any other involved officials are going to know, but where are the newspaper articles and TV news features? I've been searching the stations and websites, and I can't find that anyone knows about it or finds it newsworthy enough to write about.
A baby--precious, made-in-God's-image baby was found in a trash dumpster, and that's not news that our community needs to know about, be shocked about, be motivated to do something about? We can't save this little one, but what about others like her? What do we as Christians need to be doing to bring about change? It's not stricter laws or more lenient ones. Good laws do help; laws that allow new moms to leave their babies in safe places with no questions asked are good.
But that's not enough.
The basic problem lies in an inner-city culture that has not only been consumed by death and destruction, some of it self-inflicted, but also by a suburban culture that has turned it's back on the inner-city. The majority of folks living in the ‘burbs have either fled Jackson due to crime, high taxes, poor public schools, and a messed-up city government, or they've never lived there and plan on spending as little time there as possible.
Many people are downright afraid of Jackson. They watch the news and hear of all the murders and robberies and rapes. They drive through with locked doors on their way to the zoo or the museums or the concerts and see the crack-houses and gang graffiti.
They can afford to stay away, live someplace safe, and in the process, they can forget about the inner-city and those who desperately need the love of Jesus. They need to know that God loves them. They need to know that there is hope in Jesus. They need to know that they can escape this hell-on-earth. They need to know that they are not forgotten. They need to know the love of a Father that they've never seen on this earth.
I'm not naive. I've been around long enough to know that there are some people that are not going to change no matter what. There are some people that will choose crime and death over redemption and life. But there are others who are willing to change; they just need someone to help show them the way. I've met those who have changed. It can happen. God is the author of beautiful life stories, stories of beauty from ashes.
I can't help but think how different the headlines would be today if that precious little one had been found dead in one of our affluent suburbs. But she wasn't. She was born among those left behind, those who couldn't afford to flee. She was born to "one of those kinds of people.”
We know some folks whom God has called. Amy Lancaster and her family left a big house in an affluent neighborhood in a safe town outside of Jackson and moved back to be among "those kinds of people.” They love their neighbors and do everything they can to point them to God and His good, redemptive plan for their lives. And she hears on a regular basis that what they are doing is crazy and pointless. That "those kinds of people" will never change. That basically, they just need to be walled off from the rest of society until they kill themselves off.
Two little ones. Two different lives.
One is greatly treasured and has a beautiful life ahead of her. One is now with her Heavenly Father because she was born to someone who didn't know the value of life--her life and her baby's life.
And all over our state, our country, our world, there are two kinds of little children--those who are loved and have hope, and those who are living surrounded by death and destruction.
And all over our world are two kinds of people--those who know and do nothing, and those who know and are called to action.
If we bear the name of Christ, if we call ourselves Christians, there should be no doubt in which camp we find ourselves. Not all of us are called to move to the inner-city. God has unique callings on each person’s life. I am not about to sit here and say that we should all be carbon-copy ministers. But we should all be making sure that we are doing what God has called us to do in this world. We should not let fear or laziness or ignorance stop us.
Shane Claiborne says that it's not that American Christians don't care about the poor, but rather that we don't know the poor. I would expand that to say that it's not just the poor that we don't know; we also don't know those in desperate need of spiritual hope and deliverance. We've become isolated from them for a myriad of reasons: busyness, laziness, ignorance, selfishness, fear, insecurity, cynicism, prejudice, fear of failure, and even plain and simple lack of love.
I had a friend one time who told me she didn't want to hear the facts about a hard subject, because then she would have to act. I think that's how many of us in the Christian church think. I can't go down to the inner-city ministries and not get emotionally involved. If I go, I'm going to get to know "those kinds of people." I'm going to hear about the abuse they are experiencing, the closets they sleep in, the fears they have, the addictions they fight, the diseases that are killing them, and I'm going to care.
And once I care, I must act. I can't do it all. But I can do what He has called and equipped me to do. It hurts to care, but it hurts too badly not to care--it hurts them, it hurts me, and it hurts my Lord.
For whatever I do, or don't do, for the least of these, I do it, or don't do it, unto Him.