DaRT: A Red Museum, a Golden Baby, and Several Planted Seeds

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Contributed by Julie Atwood.

“I’m getting a cathedral.” Cheryl beams at the rest of us as we finish our group prayer over where God wants to lead us on this balmy June evening. Moments later, after hopping off the train at West End, we spot it. Or at least what at first resembles a cathedral . . . a castle-like structure looming up on the east side of our stop, sprouting medieval moats and turrets.

In fact, it’s a museum. The Old Red Museum, reads the bronze plaque on the building’s massive front rust-brick flank. After testing its imposing doors and finding them locked, we scout the grassy knoll that surrounds this empty hulk for prospective humans.

Natalie and Cheryl spot them first—a mommy, daddy, and lively one-year-old. But as we head toward them, the highlighted family veers off in another direction. The baby may be grinning from his stroller, his welcome golden as the peach fuzz dotting his bobbing head. But his parents push him away from us with seeming determination, appearing to want nothing to do with a knot of praying strangers.

Or so we assume at first.

“Hi, how you doing?” Natalie lends her attention to Tim, a pudgy youth in a shouting carrot-colored T-shirt. As he studies the plaque by his feet with pursed lips and furrowed brows, she attempts to draw him out with friendly questions. But she finds Tim’s manner far more quiet than his shirt.

Meanwhile, as Brandy, Cheryl, and Julie check out an inscription memorializing the Kennedy assassination, three people sidle up to join them.

Mommy, Daddy, and Baby . . . otherwise known as Monica, Brent, and Braden.

The very trio who, only moments before, seemed bent upon escaping us.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Monica lifts her fond gaze from her baby, who’s bouncing and giggling in his stroller, to fix our group with anxious eyes. “Are we disturbing you?”

“Not at all,” Cheryl assures her. While we all return her smile and Natalie heads over to rejoin our group, the young mother proves eager to share her story.

“I’m a bank auditor, and my job requires a lot of travel. I’m thankful Brent is here with me to look after Braden. He’s made the decision to stay home with our baby, though ‘home’ these days means hotels all over the country. I only wish I could be home with little Braden, and that we didn’t have to travel so much. . . .”

While Monica chats, Brent pushes their lively little son off to the field. When he releases little Braden from his stroller, the baby gallops across the grass on nimble hands and knees. Brandy and Julie join them, delighting in the golden tot as he leads his daddy on a merry chase.

While Brandy gets Brent talking with her own set of questions, Monica goes on sharing with Natalie and Cheryl all the struggles related to her job. But repeatedly she pauses, fixes them with anxious eyes. “I’m so sorry. Am I taking up too much of your time?”

“No, no,” they reassure her with a smile. “In fact,” Natalie adds at one point, “we’re sure your family is the reason God called us to this spot.”

Cheryl nods in fervent agreement. “Please don’t apologize. It’s a blessing to us you’re speaking to us so freely.”

Beaming with relief and gratitude, Monica continues sharing her concerns. Now they involve little Braden, who wakes up at night every two hours and eats only a half jar of baby food a day. “He isn’t walking yet either,” she adds with troubled eyes, “even though he’s turned twelve months. Most of the babies in my family walked at only nine months.”

Natalie glances over to the field, where Brandy’s snatching playfully at the baby’s feet and encouraging him to do “high five.” Braden “high-fives” her twice . . . then offers her and Julie his most charming smile and cheery “Hi!” As we all watch him prancing off again at lightning speed, Natalie turns back to his mother with a grin. “He’s got to be strong and healthy to have that much energy. But we can pray for him if you like . . . for all of you.”

“Sure, you can pray for us—so long as you don’t lay any bad vibes on us.” Monica’s soft brown eyes again grow anxious. “I don’t have to do anything, do I? I mean, I don’t know much about prayer. Is there some kind of ritual God requires me to perform?”

“No, no,” Cheryl assures her. “God isn’t like that. He loves you unconditionally, just the way you love little Braden. You don’t have to do anything but receive His love.”

She starts to lead our group in blessing all three members of this family—

“Four,” Monica corrects, splaying one hand against her still-flat stomach. “Remember I told you we’re expecting another baby, how we just found out about him? It’s very important to us that you pray for him as well.”

As all four precious family members receive God’s blessings, Monica throws in still more requests. After a bit she pauses, her face once again clouding with guilt. “Am I being too self-centered, asking for things like two healthy babies and confidence in my job?”

“No, no.” Cheryl joins Natalie in reassuring the young woman. “Just like you love to give little Braden good things, God feels the same way about you.”

While our prayers continue, we all watch with joy as the young couple relax into God’s love. By the time we bid them goodbye, they’re both glowing with light . . . golden as their firstborn son’s wisping peach fuzz and sunny smile.

But we’ll soon learn not everyone frequenting the grounds of the Red Museum is swathed in warm receptiveness of God’s golden light.

Slumped on a nearby park bench beside two bulging garbage sacks, the chubby man looks weighted by a ton of garbage in his spirit. And his face seems shadowed by something far darker than his shaggy beard. As three of us greet and question him, he appears to sink still more deeply into shadow.

“You’re not from around here, are you?” His gruff question follows an eon of brooding silence. Then, brushing away all offers to pray for him, he rises and stalks off to another section of the field. Soon he’s plopped down onto another bench, several feet away from us.

We anyhow lift him up in prayer. At a respectful distance. Then offer his pain and anger—could he be a vet, still reliving the trauma of combat?—to a God who knows his hidden story and loves him where he is. After we share with one another several words and visions we’ve received about this tormented stranger, Cheryl steps out in faith to again walk over to him . . . and invite him to join us for pizza.

Though she returns to the rest of us sadly shaking her head—“It was no go with him”—she reassures us, “At least now he knows that someone cares about him. We never know, when we reach out to someone, just what seeds we’ve planted that will later sprout in that person’s life.”

As we head toward the main Kennedy memorial plaque—

“Hey, have you folks visited the memorial yet?” The man now approaching us may look ragged and homeless as the oppressed loner on the park bench. But his face, while midnight-hued as the first man’s bristling beard, is nevertheless wreathed in sunny smiles. “How you folks doin’ tonight? I’m Leroy.” He warmly pumps our hands as we introduce ourselves. “I’m out here doin’ community service, gettin’ in my hours for the Bridge. That shelter won’t serve you less’n you log in a certain number of hours every week. My job is to show tourists the monument here, look after it, keep the grounds around it clean.”

With little further questioning, Leroy shares his history as a survivor of Hurricane Katrina. “I’m not one of them Louisiana folks, though. Come from Alabama. Ya know, folks from Alabama an’ Mississippi got hit bad by that thing too.” His eyes harden a bit, lose their sunlight, as he adds, “Government give nearly all their funds an’ provided nearly all the best accommodations to them folks from Louisiana. Us folks from Alabama an’ Mississippi? Compared to them others, we got next to nothin.’ ” He rattles off comparative facts and figures, his face tight with frustration over the injustice. Then he adds, with a philosophical shrug, “But what can you do? It is what it is.”

Cheryl’s face grows thoughtful. “Have you ever heard Jesus’ parable about the farmer who hired workers all through the day?” When Leroy responds with interest, she recounts the story. “. . . and when the laborers who got hired first, in the early morning, saw the farmer pay the guys who showed up late in the evening the same wage he promised those early guys, they thought, ‘This is great. We’ve been working all day, so he’ll be paying us a whole lot more.’ But he didn’t. He paid all the workers the same amount of money . . . just because he wanted to be generous to those guys who showed up last.”

She goes on to share, “Sometimes things happen in our lives that feel unfair to us, but God wants us to know He loves us anyway.”

Leroy considers her words, offers a second shrug. “Yeah, I know what you mean. But life, it is what it is.”

Natalie then raises the issue of forgiveness, how this brings us inner peace. “Would you be willing to forgive the people in the government who wronged you?”

This time Leroy once again brightens. “Yeah,” he responds with readiness. “I would!”

Brandy offers to lead him in a specific prayer of forgiveness. As he repeats the words after her Leroy throws in several other words of his own, confirming to us his prayer is genuine. As does the sunshine that again suffuses his face when he is finished.

Cheryl reaches into her purse. “I sense God is telling me to give you this.” As she hands him a money gift, Natalie does the same. Then Brandy adds, “Would you like a Bible?”

“Would I ever!” Leroy’s eyes glow with still more golden light as his lined face creases into smiles. “I been wantin’ one for a long time now.” And he once again pumps all our hands, this time speaking words of God’s blessing over us.

The “cathedral” we found tonight might have been a locked old red museum. But God, like always, knew what He was doing when He led us there . . . to bless the concerned parents of a lively golden baby—actually, two babies—and to plant seeds into the lives of two homeless men. And while one of these men still seemed steeped in shadow, only God knows whether the seeds planted in him will one day sprout into a flower . . . brilliant as the light we saw flowing across the face of the man who chose to forgive.

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