There were some moments during dental school when I wanted to [insert extreme and irrational self-destructive or escapist behaviour here]. I would then reread my dental apps personal statement, wonder “HOW COULD I POSSIBLY BE THE SAME PERSON WHO WROTE THIS? WHAT AM I DOING HERE? AND WHY ARE THERE SO MANY OTHER THINGS I WOULD RATHER BE DOING RIGHT NOW?!” (all caps because I yell a lot in my head), laugh, then finally get back to cramming for the next day’s exam.
A few months ago I posted about God’s amazing and unexpected financial provision while living in “el barrio”. Meanwhile, there are “costs” of living in the inner city that occasionally get to me. Perhaps in those times I should reread that old post, laugh, then finally get back to living.
More than gun violence, drug addiction, and witchcraft, I bashfully confess the things in my hood that bring me down the most are:
MICE. COCKROACHES. LICE. THE SMELL.
But God! God uses these thorns to gently remind me of my need for Him. Mini devos from North Philly:
Ralph. Speedy Gonzalez. Jerry. Mickey. You are not cute. You are not my friend. Why must you plague my kitchen? You owe me rent. Stop leaving your poop on my counter. Why are you immune to poison? My mother’s voice in my head says, “The mouse is so small! And you are so big!” True, the mouse is probably more afraid of me than I am of it. I’m not sure what to do with that thought. Then enters the Lord’s voice, “You, like the mouse, act like you own things that aren’t yours.” I am so small before a big God. I should fear Him first.
Some of my most joyful memories are of short-term mission trips to the tropical developing world. From time to time I think about how it would be great to move there, where life is simple. Surely they must not have insurance or EMR problems in those places. I see a cockroach in my house. I freak out. I chase it with whatever insecticide I can find. Then I remember that generally speaking, the closer to the equator, the larger the bugs. Discontentment quickly turns into relief, for such a season as this, in such a place as this.
I haven’t gotten lice [yet]. As if I need another reason to be itchy! Lots of my co-labourers in the hood have gotten “los piojos” from children on our blocks. Children who don’t get a lot of attention at home. Children who are touchy and fascinated by straight East Asian hair. Children whose parents won’t “get it together” and can’t take time to comb out the nits or even do laundry. The thought of lice makes me not want to touch them. The Jesus Christ I read about is not like that at all. Help!
North Philly stanks. It stanks like old house, urine, second hand weed, third hand smoke, alcohol, dirty diaper, cars that shouldn’t have passed the emissions test, and anaerobic bacterial waste products found in hard dental plaque. As long as I’m in this environment, all the scented candles, cleaning products, fabric softeners, shampoos and lotions can only mask, not eliminate these smells. Unfortunately, it seems some folks don’t realize the stank is on them. Even more unfortunately, the stank is probably on me, or at least gets stuck in my nares. In the words of my college pastor, “I’m sure there is a sermon illustration or two in there somewhere.”