Last week's New York Daily News cover enraged many Christians, but not this one. I don't know everything prayer might do, but I do know that it has a powerful effect on me. It's results are tangible, but sometimes it is a matter of seeing them that way. The answers come in ways I don't expect, masked as everyday occurrences and easily missed to the hardened spirit.
For months, I've been praying the same prayer: help me connect my children to the needs around us. They know about needs in Central America-- they've visited and seen the world's poverty. It's much harder to see it here-- where it has become normalized. I didn't know how to connect them in the tangible way we all need if we are to open our hearts: through relationship. Buying pencils and backpacks and sending them off to anonymous people is a great thing to do, but it doesn't create a lifetime giver. To change a heart, we must be in relationship. I didn't know how to provide that for my kids, so I prayed.
The first answer came. Steve and his wife Rosie were sitting out front one Saturday when the kids were at the office with me. (Read here to meet Steve) Eager to meet them after many Steve and Rosie stories at home, Sam and Caroline greeted them immediately with (Hershey's) kisses. I can barely explain how or why I've come to love Steve and Rosie so deeply, so I also can't tell you why my children took to them just as immediately. Their charm warms us, and I can only say that I know I am meant to know them, they are the Holy Spirit on a city bench-- ragged clothing and blankets heaped thick this winter--and all I can see is God in them. I see it in their grace, in their persistent work asking for money from Bloomington's passerby, in their endurance of spirit as countless unknowing people look at them wondering what we've all wondered: are they con artists or are they really in need? Would they use my money wisely if I gave it? They have their dignity robbed from them daily, and still they show up with grace.
So it is that Steve and Rosie were an answer to my prayer-- peppering our Thanksgiving break with questions from Sam about where Steve and Rosie might be sleeping when I tucked him in at night, and from Caroline about where they were eating Thanksgiving turkey, or if they even got to eat that day. Connection to the need-- answers to prayer.
The next answer came just as suddenly as we left a Habitat event held at the church next to our office on Saturday. It was cold and dark outside, past 8 o'clock. I had three kids in tow down the stairs to head home for the night. I could smell him before I saw him: Rick had likely been numbing his tired heart with alcohol for the better part of the day. He was slumped against the wall, rubbermaid tote for a stool, and teary as he explained he just came inside to get warm and thought it was the church for the Saturday shelter. As I searched my phone for the location of that night's moving winter shelter, Rick introduced himself to the children. Told them about his grandkids. He humanized himself. He told us how hard life is. He had spent some of his last money buying food at the local grocery store and sat down to eat it only to be approached by a security guard asking for proof that he had paid. He'd lost the trust of his family and come to be questionable even to strangers.
The shelter was the other side of town, a long cold walk of more than 4 miles, and one Rick clearly could not make in his current mental state. While my partner drove Rick to the shelter, I was graced with questions from the littlest ones: why doesn't he have a warm house? Can't you build him one? Is it the same as when you are homeless in Minecraft? Can you get new resources like in the game? Will he get better?
I don't know, loves. I don't know if he will get better.
What I do know is this: the God I believe in doesn't have a magic wand-- God looks more like Steve and Rosie and Rick. Prayer doesn't afford us riches or magically and instantaneously heal disease; prayer opens my heart to the opportunities for grace that are happening all around me every day-- if I choose to accept them.
Is God fixing the world? Perhaps a more meaningful question would be this: are we connected deeply enough to the spirit of love which will help us heal this broken world?