This past week while gardening in the front yard I experienced catcalls from broken men as they drove by; they seemed to think entitled to comment about my weight.
Sadly it wasn’t the first time.
A few years back I spent time outdoors helping a friend by doing light painting. He had offices at a very busy intersection outside of downtown. Out front was a wooden sign, about 8’ x 10’, installed several years ago. Like all things made of painted wood, it needed maintenance.
Driving past one day I noticed how shabby the sign appeared and stopped to have a closer look. The situation was dire. Most of the furring strips — that secured the sign to its posts — had rotted through. One hearty gust of wind and the sign would collapse. And the paint was flaking off.
My friend is a busy kind of guy running his business, attending to his family, and being active at church. I offered him my help repairing the sign and he gratefully accepted.
Painting is something I can still do and a three-step ladder is not an issue. We talked about what needed to be done and bought supplies. I looked forward to helping him and being outdoors under the locust tree.
Over several days the work progressed as expected. What I had not anticipated was feeling vulnerable.
The building is located in a section of town that is not the best. Low-income apartments surround his building on two sides — two shootings took place there last summer — and across the road is another complex. Traffic cuts off from the main street down the 100 foot road in front of his business. And the traffic is loud. There were cars and trucks with mufflers gone bad, the deafening thunder of open trailers hauling equipment hitting potholes, and jacked up cars with punk-rock blaring hate-filled words.
At first I felt uneasy working alone with no one in the offices, and assumed I would feel more at ease with time. After all, I was painting on Saturday afternoons on lovely spring days.
That attitude worked for the first day. It was after the second that my fears rose. There were catcalls from drive-bys, the being looked up and down by gangs of adolescent boys, and abusive yelling that escaped through open apartment windows.
I felt exposed and vulnerable. I couldn’t tell who was good or who was a threat. I prayed for my safety as each car drove past, prayed as I avoided eye contact with people walking by. Twice, overwhelmed by fear, I scurried into the offices to quell my panic; I had to finish that sign!
I read one morning Acts 14:16-17 “In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways; yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”
Up on the ladder again, painting around lettering, I wondered how many of those that passed, including the men who bellowed slurs from cars, knew God and had faith. The Lord allows us all to choose our own way. He offers the same fruitful seasons to the trying-to-be-good and those not-yet-seeking-goodness.
The Lord did not leave our world without witnesses — and that would be those of us with faith. I realized that working to make the sign look better was a witness to charity, my calmness as the gang of boys sauntered past an act of trust in them that they could perceive. To the people watching me from apartment windows, they saw a desire to persevere beyond the catcalls.
Back then and again recently, I found a means through my anxiety. My default is to pray, and I did for those who passed my way.