This is an image of a graveyard with a blue tint.

Hold Your Breath

Old Lady Dour was reputedly known as a poor, begging recluse who only appeared at nighttime, and even then only when the moon was out. Whenever she made her rare ingressions, she donned an outfit of tattered and torn black clothing. Her eyes were a cool, stone gray…an icy silver that flickered in the moonlight…

“…and I’m telling you,” Dougie bravely affronted as he and April approached the cemetery gate, “I bet I can sit on her grave for half an hour and not run away.”

“Just make sure you hold your breath when you do,” April meekly reminded him, “so you don’t take her with you.” She was alluding to the belief that if one breathes while nearby a freshly dug and recently occupied grave, one could accidentally inhale a restless spirit that hadn’t yet accepted death.

On this night, Dougie was there at the city graveyard to challenge that superstition as well as show April how brave he was; what better way for Dougie to prove himself to April than to fight off any evil spirits that would try to possess him.

Dougie took the first step inside the hallowed space, but April wouldn’t move. Dougie then reached back and offered her his hand. She hesitated for a brief moment, and then at last reciprocated his grip. To him, her hand was soft and warm, and he felt lucky enough to catch her eyes at the same time her eyes caught his. She then joined Dougie inside, and the couple set off into the night.

The cemetery looked sullen enough. Old and new headstones for the dead glistened in the moon’s pallid hue. Dougie felt a reverent fear as the two of them tepidly trod over granite and grass. Autumn’s leaves crunched underfoot as the two made their way through the nocturnal necropolis to find Old Lady Dour’s grave – wherever it was.

“Do you even know what her headstone looks like?” April asked.

“Not really,” Dougie honestly replied. “I’m surprised she even had enough money for a real headstone.”

They looked and looked, but they found nothing. Neither one of them thought to bring a flashlight, and even with the moon giving all the light it could, it was still hard reading the names on all the different grave markers.

After half an hour or so of bending over at the right angle only to find the wrong names, they agreed that they needed a break. Dougie found an old, smooth tree stump and laid his jacket on it for April to sit, and she gladly accepted his chivalrous gesture.

Dougie stepped back to give April her space, and it was then when he realized that the earth around the stump was really soft, as if it had been freshly dug. A tremor in his blood began to race through him. He slowly crept around to the other side of the stump and froze as he saw the name DOUR carved into the bark.

He couldn’t blink as he then saw the apparition of Old Lady Dour herself hovering over April, her lithium eyes piercing the black shrouds that fluttered around her. April then, too, realized that the stump on which she was sitting was the “headstone” they had been looking for.

“Hold your breath,” Dougie managed to mutter before following his own advice. The ghost remained over April and the tree stump as Dougie’s cheeks inflated with the expired breath that desperately needed to release and replenish itself. He felt a heaviness on his chest, and he began losing his focus on reality as he thought he saw the spirit get ever closer to April…

…then Dougie fainted to the ground.

He woke up a few minutes later, still a little dizzy from holding his breath for that long. Still on the ground, he quickly patted himself all around to make sure nothing about him had changed. Dougie then let out a sigh of relief; he hadn’t been possessed.

Wanting to leave, he got up and quickly grabbed April’s hand just as she grabbed his before, but he stopped walking and his heart sank when he felt that her hand was no longer soft and warm like it was before; it had turned cold and despondent – even lifeless. He lifted his head to look into April’s eyes only to find that they weren’t April’s eyes anymore; instead, they were a cool, stone gray…an icy silver that flickered in the moonlight…

city of children, ensenada, mexico, orphanage, game, girls

Year Four at the City of Children

This Saturday, I and several others will be leaving for the City of Children. We’ll be doing our best to obey the Great Commission, and we’ll need all the encouragement we can get.

It’s my fourth year going, and I still get jittery excited just thinking about it.

We as the Fairlane group will be joining a group from Southside Church of Christ – not the one here in Shelbyville but the one from Winchester – not the Winchester here in Tennessee, but the one from from Virginia. These guys are on fire, and I can’t wait to fellowship with and be encouraged by them.

The City of Children

The City of Children is an orphanage located in Ensenada, Mexico on the Baja peninsula. We’ll fly from Naahville to San Diego ans then load up on a huge shuttle bus, cross the boarder, drive around (not through) Tijuana, and end up at the orphanage just outside downtown Ensenada.

The orphanage itself is pretty well-cared for. It is maintained by people who actually care for the children living in it and show that care not only through loving the children but also loving and respecting their living space.

But it is surrounded by a world of dirt floors and plywood ceilings – a world of physical hunger as well as spiritual starvation – a world only two hours away from San Diego. It’s unsettling to think of how close this world is; it’s even more unsettling to think of much of that world has already leaked into our world.

A Typical Morning: Work Projects, Construction and Benevolence

Breakfast is served at 7:30 whether we wake up for it or not.

Then we’ll divide into three groups and set out for the day at 8:00. One group will stay at the orphanage and work on projects at the home. The other two groups will set out for the community. They then will split: one to do some kind of construction work and the other to do benevolence.

The group that stays at the City will work on projects around the property. Some years, it’s been repainting some of the boys and girls’ dorms. Other years, we’ve dug trenches and laid cement for future groups to build on. This year, since there is a drought in the region, we are setting up water collection stations (basically gutters and barrels) to help out the drinkable water supply.

The construction work always varies each year. In last year’s case, we built a house for a woman (whose name escapes me) and her grandchildren. She and the kids were living in a 9 x 10 wooden shack. Our team built her a fully operational house with electricity, running water, and a kitchen. And we did it all within a week. I usually don’t brag, but that is some hard work, and I’m glad it was for that woman and those kids. I’m honestly still kinda in the dark about this year’s project. I know it has something to do with rebuilding and repairing a local assembly house, but I’m don’t know what all we’ll be doing. #GonLearnToday.

My favorite morning activity is the benevolence work. We’ll carry food boxes and personal hygienic items to families in need. We’ll also talk to them a little bit, try to encourage them in their affliction as best as we can, sing and pray with them. This is personally the most uplifting for me because I feel my spiritual talents involve empathizing with and encouraging strangers. Hopefully they feel the same way.

Afternoon Nap Time…or naw

Once everyone is gathered together again, we’ll meet in the visitors’ dining hall for lunch. Throughout the week, different age groups of the children will eat with us…don’t eat the peppers, no matter what the kids say.

After lunch time…just when you want to take a nap…it’s PLAYTIME! It feels like a curse because we all want that nap, but it’s so much more a blessing because we want to play with the kids and the kids want to play with us. The game of choice is soccer (fútbol), and I usually end up being goalie (am I right?). But there’s also basketball, kickball, scavenger hunts, good ol’ “Yo Tengo” (which means  “I Have” …what we call “Keep Away”).

After playtime, we have an hour to rehearse for our Vacation Bible School skit for that day. We produce these skits ourselves, and we practice them here at home before performing them.

An Evening of Fellowship, Praise, and Discussion

At 5:30, we’ll all meet back in the kitchen for supper that we also share with the children.

Then at 6:30, we migrate over to the auditorium for the VBS singing, skits, and classes. Our theme this year is all about being “Fishers of Men.”

We’ll open with song. The fun part is singing in Spanish the songs that I have being singing in English my whole life. I especially like noting the differences between the English and the Spanish versions. Sometimes lyrics sync up, and other times they don’t; it’s interesting to me at least because even when they are different, they still give the same expression.

Then the skits go up. As much as I want to follow this typical day at the City of Children in order, I’m compelled to save the skits for last.

After the skits, we’ll break into classes divided by ages. I gravitate toward the teen and young adult classes because, once again, I feel that I can best empathize with these guys and gals, and hopefully encourage and be encouraged by them. And the discussion is actually engaging. One might think the language barrier would hinder most of the communication, but it doesn’t really matter. There are translators to help everyone understand each other, and the discussion actually flows at a normal pace.

Goodnight, Sweetheart

After classes have let out at 8:00, we’ll all meet up at the pavilion attached to the American dining hall for one last snack and a little more playtime with the kids. Then they’ll head up to their dorms at about 8:45 and get ready for bed.

We, on the other hand, will meet up for an American devo, fellowship, and encouragement. Because at the end of the day, we will all need that encouragement from each other. This is where we strengthen the bonds amongst ourselves so that we can be a better team. You’d be surprised how much irk and ire within the group can be lifted and carried away by the rising smoke of the campfire.

After our devo, we’ll go to our dorms and turn down for lights out at 10:00 PM sharp (yeah right…but for real, though).

Personally Fulfilled Via Drama

The reason I wanted to save the skits for last is because this is where I feel like I’m at my peak.

Storytelling is my passion, and I earnestly believe that people can grow closer to God through stories. Jesus did it through parables, and I feel like we can do it through these skits.

This year, I’ve had the privilege of writing, directing, and acting in the skits, so it’s hard not to be a little proud of them. This is, after all, what I want do for a living, and this is an opportunity that I have to exercise those creative muscles.

The Definition of Pure Religion

This all culminates into one Super-Objective: to help those who can’t help themselves.

I love how James puts it:

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27)

“To look after orphans and widows in their affliction” is the phrase that always comes to mind when serving at the City of Children. Not just because it mentions orphans and widows but because it mentions their affliction.

We often don’t think of the word “affliction” because it’s a little archaic. A better understanding comes from looking at the Greek word Paul used, which is thlipsis. It means compression, pressure, and distress of mind. We better understand it as being between a rock and a hard place.

This affliction affects everyone in some way. And sometimes, we can’t realize our own affliction until we see it in other people.

And it’s in this affliction where we all meet each other. It’s a subterranean platform to which we’re all brought down, and we need each other to help each other get out of such slumps. I used to think that people could get out by themselves, but the suicide of a best friend convicted me to change that notion.

It reaffirms the fact that humans are tribal creatures and should rely on each other in the hard times. Instead of ambitiously climbing up the hierarchy, we find much more comfort in bearing each other’s burdens, carrying each other’s worries, and meeting each other’s needs.

That’s what I get from serving at the City of Children, and I pray that anyone who serves there with or without me can feel the same fire I do.