But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. (Psalm 5:11 ESV)
The recent snow and ice experience we had in Alabama sent many looking for refuge, including me. I got stuck in Birmingham in the middle of the snow and ice. I watched as car tires spun helplessly on ice, as cars slid into one another, and as I-65 and Old Montgomery Highway became massive parking lots while people abandoned their cars for warm shelter.
I stood in the line at a hotel with almost a hundred others who had not planned to do so just a couple hours earlier. As the day and night went on more and more people walked off the interstate and to the hotel where no rooms were available.
Restaurants were closed, beds were not available, and more and more people kept walking in off the interstate. There was probably a hundred people trying to sleep in the lobby, several people were in the conference room, there were even some people trying to sleep in the hotel gym. I noticed the look in many faces: desperation, fear, disorientation, confusion. Some people could not get to their kids who were stuck at schools. The hotel phones were not working in the rooms and many people had no cell phone chargers, so fear of lack communication also began to escalate.
I walked into to one restaurant that was open and watched as fear and self protection took over. A couple of folks threatened the waitresses (who had been working 17 straight hours!) because they said they needed to stop taking orders and close (food was running out and they were exhausted). We were able to diffuse the situation, but I saw what we all have witnessed in adversity; both beauty and ugliness come out.
Over two days I also watched as people sacrificed for one another, as some began to look out for others' interests above their own. Hotel employees and Waffle House waitresses were treated as people who were also in the struggle and as fellow sufferers.
I watched when personalities and shared laughter came out as humanity was shared together. More and more throughout the nights I began to see and participate in glimpses of the grace, mercy, and kindness of the Kingdom of God. I can't help but tear up when the Kingdom Of God shows up in the loving words and actions of others.
It's the kind if thing that stops you in your tracks. This world is an awful and harsh place. It is not fair. Injustice, pain, and mistreatment are normal. So, when people stop competing and connect with one another in their weaknesses and suffering, amazing glimpses of God's heart, mercy, and provision appear.
I have been watching this happen in my neighborhood and in Montgomery for almost eight years now. When "us and them" shifts to just "us", it is powerful. It certainly isn't widespread. Self protection and a million divides are strongly entrenched.
But a long time ago Jesus said, "The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed... It starts as the smallest, and grows larger than all the other garden plants and the birds of the air come and nest in its shade." The heart of God, demonstrated through the life changing power of the gospel, growing, relentlessly, even as it does unnoticed by the self protecting. He, through it, brings true shelter.
It is here, and it is growing. We have the honor of watching many people come together around some tough circumstances in our community. Sometimes, the feeling is the same as it was when watching so many walk off the interstate in the snow storm: despair at the violence, poverty, hopelessness, and fear. But we are looking at generations of suffering and not just two days.
And, in the middle of it, God is present. His gospel is spreading, and His people are embodying His heart and love. He is truly becoming a refuge for many of us together.... Refuge from hopelessness, from poverty, from racism, from pride, from "us and them," from selfishness, from being disconnected from Him and each other on every level. He is a refuge; He is the only refuge.