When I was 25 years old, I paid $15,000 for my first house. They wanted $20,000, but willingly took my offer.
If you saw the house, you’d know why I got a deal.
Quite a few window panes were broken out, the kitchen had only a sink (no cabinets), and the floor was lower in the middle of the house than at the edges. (This was due to the fact that the previous owners decided to cut the main floor joist in order to put in a heating vent).
Though the previous owners had departed, the house was inhabited by an extended family of mice and a small bat.
I named the bat Nicodemus because he only came out at night.
The house fit nicely into the neighborhood.
Mine was one of the more upscale places on the block. It was one of those neighborhoods caught between the interstate and progress, and both were passing us by. However, after moving in, I found I had the most intriguing of neighbors, and we soon became friends.
There was “Sis” who lived next door and was married to a quiet alcoholic, Walter. Her mother, “Mama” lived across the street, and let me borrow her lawnmower if I’d mow her yard, too.
Mary, an operator with AT&T, lived on my left, and Everett her cab driver husband, who liked driving more than being at home. Mrs. Nichols, who regularly ran for mayor, lived a few doors down. (She consistently received only 8 votes, all from the neighbors).
Across the street in the apartments was Big Malcolm, who obviously had lots of friends, because each day, people visited him every fifteen minutes or so and left with small gift bags.
And then there was a woman whose name I never knew.
She also lived in the apartments. Her weathered face bore the scars of a rough life, and her frail frame seemed unsteady. She too had frequent visitors—all men. We all knew what she did to make money, and we didn’t like her very much.
One night, my roommate, Eddie, and I were sitting out on the front porch, as good Southerners do. He began playing his guitar, and soon the neighbors had joined us for “Old Gospel Night.” Sis, Mama, Mary, Mary’s mom and a few other wonderful misfits were there, singing old hymns together.
We finally sang everyone’s favorite, “The Old Rugged Cross.”
We sang the first verse and the chorus, the second verse and the chorus, and then it happened. Toward the end of the chorus of the second verse, a figure started walking through the darkness toward the house.
It was her. The woman we’d shunned.
She came up on the porch, nestled on the railing, and joined in on the third verse. And when we got to the chorus, she belted out a harmony that would have rivaled Vince Gill.
It was the most beautiful, lilting harmony I’ve ever heard.
And I’ll cling to the old rugged cross
Til my trophies at last I lay down.
I will cling to the old rugged cross.
And exchange it some day for a crown.
She sang the forth verse and the last chorus, and then wandered silently to her apartment.
I was silenced by my arrogance and judgment, Tears welled up in my eyes.
While I had been sneering at a prostitute, I had completely missed a deeper truth – that the woman across the street was once a little girl who had been in Sunday school, singing songs of hope and redemption. And somewhere she’d lost her way, and had been wandering a long, long time.
And all she wanted was to come home.
I was reminded of a verse in the New Testament in Romans (4: 17). In essence it says, “He is a God who sees things that are not as though they were.” In other words, God has an imagination for people.
Think about it – he didn’t see Abraham and Sarah as a childless couple. Rather he saw the parents of a new nation. And he didn’t see Paul as a killer of Christians, Moses as a stutterer, or Mary Magdalene as a whore. No, he imagined them as they would be.
Since that day on the porch, I’ve tried to adopt that mindset. I’d encourage you to adopt it too. Don’t believe what you see. That’s boring. Instead, develop an imagination, for yourself and for others. And by doing so, you’ll learn about mercy and grace.
You see, everyone has a song they need to sing, and they know it by heart.