In between church services yesterday, I strolled through the lobby in search of coffee. Sitting in their usual spot on the sofas near the bookcases was the group of homeless men who come every week.
I waved, then walked over to say good morning.
These kinds of conversations are always a little awkward for me. Despite being married to a pastor, and therefore frequently chatting with people I don't know very well, I am terrible at it and (frankly) terrified of it. But I have learned over the years that saying something is better than saying nothing, and so I do my best and hope it is enough.
One of the men thanked me for something I shared in church a couple of weeks ago, about my ugly soul and the great need we have to love and be loved by flesh and blood people.
"Life is hard," he said.
And I wanted to say the right thing to him. I longed to find words to make his life better, to give him a home and a family. I wished that I could build him a refuge somehow, a place that all his pain could end and heal the broken road that brought him to a life on the streets.
But all I could say was, "Yes. Yes, it is."
My own aching soul song tuned itself with his. Our circumstances are different, but each heart knows its own sorrow, and foolish is the one who ignores the kindred way we all long for more than this world can offer. None of us is home yet, although some of us have a more comfortable wait than others.
I looked out the window behind him at the rain and the cold and wondered where he would go when church was over. Who would he sit with, how would he stay dry, what would he do to find some semblance of comfort on a day like this?
When I asked one of the men those questions, he just looked at me and answered, "I don't know."
Some lives are harder than others.
We talked a bit more and then we said goodbye and I returned to the place I take up every Sunday morning next to Mr. Fantastic. I carried that conversation with me. I hoped that a few hours in our church, the meals we provide, the love we offer, would help them make it through the miserable day.
As worship began, my heart listened for the voice of God in the midst of that man's ache. What is God's answer to the ache we all feel for belonging, for home, for comfort?
He said this to me:
We can scarcely fathom these curious ways of the One true God. What do we know apart from Him of a love that covers up our vulnerability and failure? Aside from His divine intervention in our lives, when else have we lost everything precious to us, only to find that mercy won it all back for us? Who else has loved us enough to rescue us from darkness at the cost of His own life?
Who is like this God of ours, who sees how very hard life is, who enters into the war for our souls, and carries us home as tenderly as He can?
I painted a quote from The Last Battle by CS Lewis on a canvas a few weeks ago. It hangs by our front door, and while it welcomes all who enter, it is not a promise that the walls of this house will forever provide a home for us. That is a joy we will cherish many days from now, when the colors of our lives fade and the haziness of heaven comes into sharp focus at last.
All the pain of this life will be washed away in the great homecoming. We will sit beside the One to whom we belong: He who covers and triumphs and saves us. I think we may be surprised to see His great love and mercy and grace welcoming so many who tripped and stumbled along as they followed Him.
None of us deserve Him, and yet He covers and triumphs over and saves so many.
Until all that happens, there are people He wants us to comfort and love; there is mercy He is waiting for us to pour out; and there is grace he is asking us to give. Because there is a Kingdom being built one life at a time, for the glory of a great and unusual King who calls the least of us His priests and princes, and I am humbled to be counted among His people.