Cheeseburgers in Paradise

Today was a wonderful day spent with many in my community who came together to spread some love to those who need it badly due to the current state of fear spreading across this nation.  I will open with a prayer for all those families who are scared right now, who do not know what may come tomorrow, and regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum these are all children of God who are deeply loved just like anyone else.  Jesus please make yourself known to all of those who are living in fear right now and show them The Way to everlasting peace and joy.

A local pastor and myself were talking last week about an apartment complex near my house who honestly live in third world conditions.  I was telling Pastor Jason that we should go over there sometime and host a free BBQ to feed the needy and fill their hearts with love from this community, something they need more than food for sure.  The danger in telling Jason these things is he is a “shoot first, ask questions later” type of guy, so as you might expect his reply to me was “let’s not just talk about it, let’s do it, when?  Next weekend?”  So it was settled, we’d have a free BBQ for these neighbors in our community and we chose today for the day.  That was all the planning we did, but it was all the planning we needed apparently.

One of the hardest things I’ve had to witness in a long time is the overwhelming sense of fear I felt as I walked from door to door hoping to hand out little flyers letting the residents know about the lunch that was coming later today.  It was not any fear I felt for myself, but I could sense the fear of those living behind locked doors, the fearful eyes peeping through the a break in the window blinds.  The worst one for me was an upstairs apartment, before I knocked on the door I could hear the sound of young children playing and laughing, running around expressing pure joy inside their home…until I knocked.  Then all I heard the mad scramble of heavier footsteps, the adults whispering “shhhhh” to all the children, silencing their mouths and extinguishing their little hearts that had burned with happiness only moments earlier.  The sound of fear is crushing, at least it was for me at that moment.

I had posted a brief comment on Facebook about needing some additional side items and so many wonderful people dropped of cheese, cookies, drinks, plates, etc.  We had already been given enough burgers, buns and water for 100 people, which I was confident was enough, actually I should say I had faith it was enough, because I honestly had no idea how many even lived there or let alone how many would come.  We all met down at Desert Rose Ministries on Main Street and I was very surprised at the number of volunteers we had, but then again I wasn’t because when I leave the “planning” up to God he always gives me enough.  We packed up the supplies and loaded the grill into a trailer and headed over to see what we might do out of love, in the name of Jesus, for those who need it most.

At first it was a little slow going, a few kids I have known for about a year know came out and we talked to them, and fed them the first few cheeseburgers that came off the grill.  Slowly but surely more and more children came out to investigate what was going on.  I’m betting the smell of grilling burgers was a big reason many wanted to know what was taking place in their parking lot.  Shortly after that a neighbor from across the street came with a truck load of toys for the children, so we laid out a tarp to keep the children and toys off the wet grass.  After a short while a few of the women came out to test the waters, these are the mothers, grandmothers, and aunts of the children who we were already feeding.  As the day went on more and more of the residents started to let down their guard, and peek past the giant wall of fear they had been living behind, to come out and enjoy the party.  I found out later one of the first women to come out had told some others who lived there that it was one of the little girl’s birthday, so they were more inclined to come out and enjoy the feast.  Before too long we actually did have a party going, kids were running around in the grass, a few of the volunteers were playing basketball with a crew of kids as well just across the street.  New friendships were being formed, eyes and hearts were being opened on both sides of that wall. Some of those who live privileged lives were heartbroken and shocked to learn what poverty looks like only a few blocks from where many called home.  One woman and I were talking and she made a comment about mission trips, and basically said we’ve got plenty of need RIGHT here under our nose!  She honestly had no idea, and that was the point of this day.  Many of us live in sheltered and secure little lives where we don’t know about the extreme conditions some are living in, and honestly some of us don’t want to know.

Today was a beautiful day, even as the rain started pouring down, it was not going to drown out the love shining brightly all around this small community.  Jason made a comment later about the rain actually being a blessing, as some of the men who live there were sent home from work early as a result and they too received a warm meal and a little love from a neighbor.  There was just so much joy in a small window of time, a window that opened a little wider and just enough for love to sneak inside.  As we were packing up and getting ready to leave a man named Alfonzo showed up and at first I thought he may be another husband coming home from work, another daddy looking for his little ones running among the crowd.  But he was another neighbor from a few blocks over, and he had been trying to find something to do with a bunch of bicycles he had.  He told me he walks through the neighborhood all the time but had never seen anyone outside, but today he saw what he thought was a party and a bunch of people, so he decided to pack up the bikes and helmets and drop by.  As a result many little ones were blessed with beautiful bikes, and they were SOOOOO excited!  As I drove away I could see them them riding circles around one another, smiling bright for all to see.  My belly was full, my heart was complete.

 I turned up the music on my stereo connected to my iPod and ironically enough “Cheeseburger in Paradise” came up on my playlist.  I had to laugh, and then I thought about it and what a great name for this day.  We served a little over 80 burgers, and we opened up the hearts of so many people to a new community of friends that did not exist only a few hours earlier.  It was easy to look at all the faces surrounding me and see joy and comfort in their laughter.  The fear that consumed people that morning was replaced with friendship and trust.  That my friends is paradise, any way you look at it!

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