Awful Bad

Years ago I attended church with a great older man named Charlie Franklin. Charlie was a farmer and a very sharp guy, very articulate. He was chairman of the deacon board in that church. Then he suffered a stroke. His vocabulary almost entirely disappeared. He had a few phrases down pat, though, and he used them well.

The phrase I remembered most was “Awful bad.” Charlie used that a lot. When we had men’s prayer group and someone would share their burden with us, he would put his arm around them and pray quietly, “Awful bad. Awful bad.” When a young mother suffered a miscarriage, Charlie wept with her, murmuring, “Awful bad. Awful bad.”

One of his favorite activities for most of his life was delivering food to poor families, and that didn’t diminish after his stroke. When he saw the conditions in which the poor families lived during our deliveries, he would shake his head in grief, his eyes would tear up, and he would whisper, “Awful bad. Awful bad.”

About 10 years ago, I was a chaplain with Fresno PD. One day I visited the people living under the 41 bridge near Cherry Street. Sergeant Mike Harris, the cop who took me to the area, knew most of the people living there, many of them drug users or vagrants or petty thieves he had dealt with continually during his years on that beat. I knew Mike to be a very tough, black-and-white-thinking individual, but as we walked, I saw him shake his head in bewilderment, absolutely brokenhearted.

He spoke frankly but tenderly to them all, pleading with some to get help, talking straight to others in order to spur them to make some sort of change. I was reminded of Jude's advice for helping self-destructive people: "On some have compassion, using discernment. And others save with fear while pulling them out of the fire..." (Jude 1:22-23).

We encouraged them to visit the Fresno Rescue Mission or Poverello House or to get into a program, but we were basically ignored. Mike was silent as we drove back to HQ, but I supplied my own commentary from my memory. As I watched Mike, I heard Charlie’s voice: “Awful bad. Awful bad.”

Many people have lost their ability to suffer grief at the suffering of others. Some have done that because they have given up hope. When they see impoverished areas, all they see is awful. All they see is bad. Too bad. They learn to overlook it, grow callouses on their hearts, and avoid the issue. This isn’t because they’re bad people. It’s because they’ve lost hope.

Broken houses mean broken lives. We can’t lose hope, and we shouldn’t, because if there is one thing a Christian has access to (and Habitat for Humanity Fresno County IS a Christian organization with Jesus @ Center of all that we do), it’s HOPE.

If we didn’t embrace hope, we wouldn’t bother to visualize a world where everyone has a decent place to live. Our mission statement is: “Seeking to put God's love in action, Habitat for Humanity brings people together to build homes communities and hope.”

Things are awful bad out there. We need to acknowledge that. We should grieve over it. But grief doesn’t mean HOPELESSNESS. We begin with hope, and our goal is building hope within others, no matter how awful, no matter how bad.

Just so you know, Mike didn’t lose hope; he never stopped putting his grief to work. The last time I saw him was at his annual private Christmas effort: “Mike’s Bikes.” Friends and businesses gave him bikes all year- without getting a tax deduction for it- and then, in December, he and some friends pulled them all out of a warehouse, cooked barbecue in an impoverished neighborhood, and gave them away to kids.

Grief plus hope. That’s a good policy.

It’s the one Jesus had (Matthew 23:37).

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