Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Broken brotherhood

When I’m not on the road, I have lunch with a group of longtime friends on Wednesday afternoons. Some of these men grew up here in central Florida, others of us are transplants. We are as different in background, upbringing, education, financial status and careers as you could possibly imagine.

We’ve met in at least 8 different restaurants over the 14+ years we’ve been together. None of our meeting places were what you would call “haute cuisine” by any stretch of the imagination. We started in the upstairs room of Jeanette’s (a local lunch spot long since gone) followed by The China Pearl that proudly served the best (and only) Chinese buffet, Mongolian Barbeque and cat in town. There were several other short stops along the way but our longest by far was Wilbur’s. They served the best southern/soul food in central Florida; fried chicken, fried gizzards, fried livers, fried fish, fried shrimp, fried okra, fried hamburger, fried onion rings (by now you get the idea that they fried just about everything.) Red velvet cake was their signature desert, sending anyone into a diabetic coma. There was a certain ambiance to Wilbur’s that started with the fact that the floor was so sticky that you could literally come out of your shoes as they remained fixed to the grease infused carpet while you kept walking. We’d probably still be there if the health department hadn’t shut them down, or if they had paid the rent.

These days we meet at La Botana, serving the best Mexican food around. It’s located in the back of a convenience store with about 6 tables and a small kitchen, but the food is really phenomenal and at modest prices. The burritos are huge, homemade salsa (pico de gallo, salsa verde) and hot sauce that burns the top two layers of flesh from your month, tongue and throat. I know of nowhere else in central Florida where I can get pork cheek tostadas. Yes, that’s correct, they take the cheek from a pig’s head, cook it and serve it on a fried tortilla with lettuce, tomato, onions, salsa, sour cream, etc. While the floor is not nearly as memorable as Wilbur’s, you really need to bring an English-to-Spanish app on your smart phone if you’re not totally fluent in Spanish.

As a group we’ve been through thick and thick together, good times and bad. We’ve lived and walked together through births, deaths, cancer, graduations, comas, successes, failures, weddings, moral failures, loud laughter and uncontrollable weeping. I count it an incredible honor to call these men my friends.

Recently a son and wife of one guy both experienced broken bones in relatively short succession right after one another; one ankle and one collarbone, one hairline and one requiring surgery. As he took us through what he and his family were experiencing, I could hear their personal pain of the breaks, changes in lifestyles; the long and painful recovery process. It was helpful for them to know there were others that went through similar experiences. They were surprised to receive an email with an attached x-ray showing a wildly shattered fibula where Humpty Dumpty was put back together again with 7 screws and a metal bar. And unless you’ve had the most unfortunate opportunity to see me in shorts without shoes or sox, and then looked closely at my ankle for scars, you would never know that it was my x-ray.

I think it’s safe to say that we all have scars of some kind; some are more visible than others. Some are physical, some are emotional. Some live with open wounds that are really sensitive to the touch. They will do anything to protect that hurt from being bumped up against, or even noticed.

And scars do not travel alone; they come with their close cousin, pain. I know that some of you feel totally alone right now in your pain and your suffering. You have a sense of living on a small, pain infested island with no bridge, no lifeline, no ferryboat, no rescue.

It may come as something of a surprise to hear that God personally did this too. He didn’t sit up in heaven and just look down at us. No, he personally “experienced it all himself—all the pain, all the testing” that you and I go through. Without any anesthesia, he felt the complete and total force of the pains we endure, but not just to collect information or experiences. In Jesus, God came and went through the same things we do so he “would be able to help where help was needed.” [1]

Hope and comfort start by knowing that we are not alone. But we need someone to walk with us daily as we feel the searing intensity of pain. And because God experienced all sides of pain just like we do, he is able to help you and me in our deepest pit.

While living in another part of the country, I stopped by to visit a mother a few days after her son was discovered in his apartment by friends. He had struggled for most of his adult life with drug addiction, having been in and out of several rehab facilities. Speaking about his apparent overdose while standing in her front yard, I heard a broken woman and mother talk about the red-hot dagger in her heart. I watched tears of anguish and heartbreak roll off her cheeks and onto the ground. Feeling totally inadequate, I listened and put my arm around her. Through the tears and pain she slowly but surely moved from talking about her deep sorrow and transitioned to how God was with her and her family. She explained how comforting it was to know that Jesus had gone through every temptation that we had, and was there to help us. I marveled at how she left the pain to lean on his love. As she began to wrap up her story, she told me that Jesus was there to help her and was truly comforted by the old hymn, “I Need Thee Every Hour.” I looked into her tearful, red eyes and with a great sense of unworthiness finally said something. “Yes, every hour, and sometimes every minute, every second.”

That’s the kind of God Jesus is. He went through pain, grief, disappointment, experiencing separation and loneliness more than we’ll ever know. And he did this all for us, to bring us back into a right relationship with him. And once reunited with God, we can move forward reuniting with one another…a band of brothers.

Bring your pain, scars and problems to Jesus today. He’s the only solution, the only savior, the only source for healing.

Blessings - Chet

Chet Gladkowski speaks and writes on topics that touch on culture, life and faith through GLAD Associates. This article is taken from a chapter in his upcoming book.

[1] Hebrews 2:18

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