December 2, 2014

When We Try to Board Up Our Hearts

When my husband and I first got married, we lived in a tiny house a few blocks removed from the seminary we were both attending. We had adventures in that house and made many a memory.
Our first Christmas, the gifts I'd so carefully purchased and wrapped were robbed from under our tree, along with all our other valuables in the house. We had little money, so the thieves didn't get much aside from new underwear I'd wrapped up for my husband and some cookie cutters I'd picked out for my best friend.

The couch barely fit in our little box of a living room--it literally touched wall on both sides. One night as we watched TV together, we heard gun shots just outside the window. I immediately threw myself on the floor, while my dear husband rushed to the door's peephole hoping for a glimpse of the action. He was too late; the two guys shooting at one another had slipped away.

We lived, as you can now well imagine, in a hotbed of crime. When you're in love and newly married, however, you see all these things with rose-colored glasses. Our poor parents came to visit with eyes wide open, I'm sure, but to their credit they didn't say anything until we'd moved away.

The only thing that bothered me about that house was the grocery store around the corner. We drove by this certain grocery store every time we went to church, and I'd noticed that one day it was open and then the next the store's windows were boarded up, as if waiting for an impending tornado. After many months of boarded up windows, weeds started pressing their way through the concrete in the parking lot and the sign outside fell into disrepair. I assumed, like everyone else, that it had closed down.

Then the grocery store appeared on the news. People walking in the vicinity of the grocery store had reported strange smells and, upon investigation, the authorities had discovered the grocer, upon receiving a bad report from the health department, had abandoned the store by boarding the windows but without removing any food. The meat, the vegetables, the fish, the fruit--all of it had been sitting for months, attracting any creatures that could find their way into the store.

The authorities spent many months cleaning out that store, and eventually they dismantled the building because of health concerns.

I've thought about that store quite often in the years since we moved away. What was that grocer thinking was going to happen when he boarded those windows and walked away? I wonder if, in his anger about the health department's report, he felt he got revenge? I doubt it. What were the cleaners and authorities thinking when they had to go in and face such disgust? Perhaps they felt it was too far gone, a helpless situation.

A few weeks ago, when accusations of rape at UVA ripped open our community and its ripples included the revealing of long-held secrets and pain, I thought about that grocery store. I thought about how pain can't be boarded up and walked away from because it will make itself known eventually. I thought about how anger and revenge and selfish acts affect a whole community and how light tends to find the darkness and reveal its secrets. I thought about how no heart is too far gone for God's gracious healing, even the most untended heart. Wouldn't we better off running to the Light, as Jesus calls Himself, than trying to mask and stuff the pain? Boarding up our hearts, whether from vengeful anger or fear, only leads to rot and decay.

I haven't been back to that neighborhood for many years, but I imagine there is something new on that lot where the grocery store once stood. No more boarded up windows, trying to hide the disgust and the smells. The old has gone, the new has come, and it all started long ago when someone pulled the first nail out of a plank of plywood and let the light in.