“Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”
–Psalms 30:5 (NIV)
Opening the car door, Austin Carter stood and stretched his legs. He had taken a big risk, and he had finally reached the destination which he had been led to believe that others only dreamed about. But the man who had once been known as the life of the party, now saw only despair.
He had stooped shoulders, and lines creased his ruddy countenance. Most of his teeth were gone. Instead of a three-piece suit, rags adorned his frail body. While I can’t describe him any further, let’s just say that his appearance was that of a nomad.
While many of his homeless brothers and sisters were too poor to travel, Austin reminded himself that at least he had a car which still ran. Unlike him, many of the men on the street were trapped and tired of the snow, and longed for a good place to spend the winter. Among other places, they talked about Phoenix. They had heard it could get unbearably hot there, but they figured You could always find shelter in a public building. Austin’s interest was peaked, and he listened while waiting in long lines or sleeping behind buildings.
Without weighing the pros and cons, he made an impulsive decision that night. He told himself he would head out the next morning, as anything was better than freezing to death. He didn’t really know where he was going, but he knew he was tired of the cold. A warm climate which protected people against the elements sounded more than inviting.
Austin knew he had to escape from much more than the cold. He also had to try and escape from his past. But he knew this would be next to impossible, for the past held onto him with a grip like a vice.
Getting up early, Austin left home without looking back. After several delays, he finally reached Phoenix. It had been a long trip, and now Austin’s focus was on finding the poorer part of town. He gasped when he saw his surroundings, and he was filled with regret for what he had done.
Not too supprisingly, the temperature was blistering, and the car baked in the sun. Slowing down, he found himself in a state of shock, wrinkling his forehead. He let out a low whistle as he saw the men who lined the streets. He couldn’t believe the dinginess which greeted him.
“Do people actually call this place home?” he wondered. “I have been more than foolish.”
Climbing out of the car, Austin surveyed the landscape more carefully. But he still couldn’t find one thing that held out any hope. Everything looked so bleak and depressing. Why had he listened to strangers on the street? His head pounded, and he leaned on a dilapidated old wall that stood in the shade.
While it was true that the circles he used to frequent would now be closed to him, it was also true that he had no desire to stay in New York. That city had once been home, but now he had traveled across the country on a hairbrained scheme without weighing his options.
Austin was furious with himself, and at the end of his rope. He was also out of money, but it was much too late to turn back now. What he had done was insane, and the only thing he had accomplished by running away was putting a lot of miles on a car that had once been beautiful. Now it was only a rattletrap, but it was also the only thing he could call home. It could get chilly in that car, but at least it provided some shelter.
Austin was growing more and more tired and despondent, as unwelcome thoughts successfully rallied for his attention. Like a bad movie that played again and again, they paraded relentlessly across the screen of his mind.
For the hundredth time they whispered in sinister voices, “This was all your fault! You may never have been wealthy, but you weren’t poor either. You should have saved up for a rainy day, but instead you bought everything you wanted.
“But it was all a sham, wasn’t it, Austin? You bought big houses and cars, and you held all those elaborate parties. I’m so sorry, but it looks like you made your choice.”
“But I was able to give my wife and dauters everything, wasn’t I?” Austin protested.
“Everything but you!” came the retort.
“Just shut up and leave me alone!” Austin snapped.
But the harassing voices continued. “When you lost your job things weren’t so rosy, were they?”
“No,” he grudgingly admitted. “Everything changed in the blink of an eye, and I went from being on top of the world to living in this dump. What am I supposed to do now?”
Today I would like to talk about Haloween. If you’re going to the office party or just dressing up, maybe you’re thinking about wearing a mask to top things off. So you might pick out something that stands out from the rest, and while you may not necessarily like it, you know that you will be able to take it off once Halloween is over.
But think with me for a moment about another kind of mask. Maybe you have not experienced loss in the same way as Austin had in this story, but we all carry scars from the battle of life. The question is: have these mental scars caused you to put on a mask?
While you might not be running like Austin did, we all have a tendency to try to escape when times get tough. But again, like Austin, these escapes often fill us with regret and steal years from our lives. Jesus was emphatic when He said that the thief only came to steal, kill and destroy, while the scriptures offer life and healing.
I wish I could tell you that I haven’t experienced this loss and regret, but I began running from God in a subtle way. Without realizing it, I put on the mask of self-protection, instead of putting on God’s armor. Because I saw pain and suffering all around me, I tried to run from God while pretending to serve Him. However, I found out that His joy was my strength, and that He could see me through the storm that swirled through my life at that time.
So if you are suffering any kind of loss or disappointment, know that God can do the same for you. His Word points to a man who bore a degree of pain which you and I can’t comprehend, while His lips assure the believer of His constant presence.
If you find yourself wearing a mask today that is hard to remove, ask the God of the Bible to help you take it off. Then, why not replace the mask that you were wearing by letting Him walk with you through this shadow of death called life? Draw close to Him in your pain, and He promises to draw near to you. He offers unspeakable joy as you look to Him for fulfillment.
Thank you for reading this, and may the Lord give you a wonderful week! We are trying to reach people who are hurting, so if God lays it on your heart, please consider becoming a partner with us. If you would like to make a donation, please visit www.hcmachaplains.org and click on the Donate Now link. You can also send donations by mail to HCMA (Healthcare Chaplains Ministry Association). Our ID number is 560. The address is 101 S Kraemer BLVD, Suite 123A, Placentia, CA 92870. Finally, you’re always welcome to join our Monday night Bible study or Tuesday night prayer meeting. Both are conducted by conference call, and they take place at 5:30 PM Arizona time. Our conference number is 712-775-7031, and our ID is 607518748. We hope to talk with you soon!
If you have questions, comments or prayer requests for Timothy or Stephanie Burdick, please call 507-369-6861.