This past week I found myself walking the streets of South Philly. Looking around at basement window bars of the row houses reminded me of the bars on my windows when I lived in West Philly 35 years ago.
I was 23, without God and without hope in the world, working in an art gallery and living in a cockroach-infested apartment in the dingy basement of a large, old building. Next door, in the other apartment in that end of the basement, lived a guy who said he worked for the Mafia. He bolted his doors with massive bars, like a medieval prison, and was planning to embed his walls with chicken wire to prevent the police from busting through.
He once asked me if I needed anything, like a new TV or radio. I asked if it was stolen and he said, “What? Are you religious or something?” Another time, he asked me if I’d keep his gun for a few days in case the police popped in on him (but I was too scared to).
I’d walk the streets to the bar, or the store for my staples of macaroni and cheese and chicken noodle soup, which I’d eat straight from the can. I’d walk the streets, trying to avoid people asking for money or groups of tough looking teens. I was often depressed and miserable.
But then the One who chose me in eternity and sent his Son to take on flesh and be slain for my sins, saved me and gave me new life.
35 years ago, I never could have imagined God would redeem me and put a new song in my mouth. Or that he’d give me a wonderful wife, kids and granddaughter. That he’d give me Christian brothers and sisters to care for my soul. That he’d call me to pastor and preach and know my Creator and experience his steadfast love morning after morning.
We can’t conceive the plans God has for us for good, joy and blessing. We have no idea what God will do for us or with us tomorrow or 10 years from now.
As I walked the streets this week, head down and collar pulled up against the cold, everywhere I looked I could see God’s glory. Sewer caps glistened, reflecting the sun. A tangle of confetti and colored ribbon next to the curb was beautiful. The Bambi Cleaners sign made me grin. I was walking the streets of Philly again.