Souvenir

Lights speed past us so quickly that the small ones burn bright streaks against the darkness. Headlights come our way and blind us. Streetlights illuminate the world. Business center logos shine from the upper rim of the thirtieth floor and cast our city in color.

I lean on Hayden’s shoulder as he drives down the highway at night. We’re both sleepy. Not so much jet-lagged as travel-lagged, having flown two legs from the Caribbean to Miami to Dallas in a day.

Our bellies are full and a little upset from the diet whiplash: a week of rice and beans to a day of Wendy’s and Tex Mex. We just watched a movie from the comfort of an air conditioned home with a couch and full fridge and beautiful wedding invitations stacked on a table. This is home. This is the house where I grew up—where I was brought home from the hospital and grew up safe and clean and carefree and then left to go to college where I had my meals paid for, which provided me a job where I can live in the city and travel the world to share about Jesus once a year.

We just got back from one of those worlds.

That world is hot and humid and wrecked by Communism. It’s the island of old cars and even older, crumbling buildings. The people are tired. The sun has aged their skin to form wrinkles beyond their years, their teeth are rotting, and their children don’t have enough milk to grow healthy bones.

One of them built his own house—from the foundation to the plumbing and electrical—because he couldn’t afford to buy one.
One of them, when asked her favorite food, responded, “Do you mean the food I like or the food I can actually afford to eat?”
One of them has never seen snow or owned a watch or left his country.

But that last one has something I do not.

We were walking down the street one day, and he looked over and said, “I prayed for you and your future husband last night.” Not “I will pray” but “prayed.” From the discomfort of his smelly, open-windowed, mosquito-filled home that’s cooled only by a small plug-in fan, he laid in his bed and talked to God about us. He asked God to be with us. To help us.

And we think we have it figured out, but we are so so wrong. Because I sit with a diamond rock on my finger on the arm of my fiancé in a one-year-old Corolla that still smells new as we drive by brilliant lights that can sell us anything we want and we have the money to buy it, and with every mile we drive, the memories fade. We push further and further inland into our reality, our world, our comfort, and the faces of the poor start to blur like the lamps lighting up I-75. We are sucked into forgetfulness.

I hold his arm as he holds the wheel, and he pushes against the tide that is pulling those memories away from us. He fights against it and talks to me about what he’s learned—what we’ve learned. He helps us remember.

We remember that the comforts of home don’t bring the happiness we really want. Not when you’ve seen what we’ve seen. We mourn for their lack, their simplicity, their needs. But we can’t wait to get back to our beds, our food, our roads, our language. Back to the things that satisfy our taste but don’t fill our stomachs. Back to the things that promise us joy but rob it and promise us comfort but end up digging pits in our hearts.

The pits grow deep when we don’t feel desperate for God and don’t cry out to Him. Yet the others in that world, in their nothing, are fostering a love for the only One who can really provide by recognizing Him as just that: Provider. They think they have nothing, but they really have it all. We think we have it all, but we are empty. As the Enemy silently ravages our sick, prosperous culture, our hearts are turning to stone like the Dallas skyscrapers stretching their colossal necks to heaven.

He stares at the road as we roll across a giant overpass.

“Maybe that’s how they can mourn for us,” he says. And his eyes tear up, and the colored lights shine in them blue and green and yellow.

Cars speed by, and shiny buildings race against them.

“How will we remember all this?” I ask.

And he retells me the story of Exodus, how the people kept forgetting, and God kept reminding. How when He passed over their children and spared those with blood on the door, He gave them a way to remember that big event—a celebration called Passover that they would repeat for the rest of time. And every time they celebrated Passover, they would be reminded of what they’d seen, what their fathers and fathers’ fathers had seen. And they would know their God as faithful and good.

So that’s what we will do. We’re not the only ones who come back from mission trips and mountaintop experiences just to fall back into normal life. The Israelites did it too. So like them, we will carve out time and places and Ebenezers to make us recall—to remind us to remember. Cause we’re humans. We need that.

This is one of those reminders right here—my best souvenir.

And I write this from a cool room on a soft bed with thick pillows. One where the light bulb doesn’t flicker, and all the furniture matches. There are college boys partying and playing loud video games in the apartment downstairs…I can hear their victory cries every time they score. And they are having fun, and that’s good. But it also hurts a little because they don’t know. As they play, they don’t know that I sit here and write about the irony of their lives compared to the lives of those in that vastly different world where I woke up this morning. One world alive, the other growing cold.

We must fight against the cold. We must remember what we’ve seen and heard. When we mourn their lack, we must also learn to mourn our plenty. And we must pray that like the bright lights of our world, our hearts will grow warmer with time instead.

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