There are worse places you can be… I am currently sitting on a balcony overlooking a pool in the courtyard of the Place d’Arms (a hotel nestled in the thick of the French Quarter). Sure, it is 6am and I am only awake because my 8 year old kicked me out of my bed… but isn’t that what memories are made of! Plus, it gave me the opportunity to give you an update. So, as I sit here, swat mosquitoes and dream about the beignets that I’ll be eating at the Cafe du Monde in a little bit, let me tell you about yesterday.
Leaving San Antonio was bittersweet. We had such a wonderful time and the friends we made there were great. We had stayed at a friend’s house which is owned by an OB doctor with two lively kids. The doc does work with families who live in poverty and had some great stories about her work there. My boys loved that they now had two friends to play with and burned off a ton of energy running around the playground at Lakeland Air Force Base and jumping in and out of their pool.
But, like all good things, that had to come to an end. We hit the road around 6:30am and headed to Louisiana. About nine hours later we pulled into N’awlins!
A little side note here… the kids have been amazing! We were very concerned with having them in a car for as long as they have been, but they have been great! I am not trying to jinx myself here, but after well over 20 hours in a car… I couldn’t be happier.
So, we pulled into New Orleans yesterday. We were famished after the trip, so after check in at the hotel and a brief tour, we hit the sidewalks to find a place to eat. Now, the way that I have been locating restaurants lately has been through Yelp and it has not let me down yet. It is what I used to find a great little hole in the wall in Phoenix called “Cafe D’lish” and what I used to find our next stop… The Camellia Grill.
The Camellia Grill was a 4 star rating and only one dollar sign (that means cheap) and in walking distance of the hotel, so we took the stroll 0.2 miles and walked into this little restaurant. You sit at a counter in this little hole in the wall and the staff are incredibly friendly and kind to your kids. I was quick to ask for a recommendation… as I do at about every restaurant I go to… and ended up with a Catfish Poboy (I am a strong believer in eating according to my location and Catfish sure sounded great!) It was really good! If I go back I think I’ll try the smothered Roast Beef Poboy… it sounds amazing! After some delicious grub, we hit the road again.
We walked to the main strip and crossed to water, choosing to walk the path which borders the river. It is filled with locals, tourists, homeless and artists. From the dixieland music blasting from the riverboat to the chorus of an out of tune “Free Bird” being sung by a homeless guitarist… music was in the air. I walked and smiled as I watched my kids (ages 4,8 and 13) take it all in.
It’s new and different.
I had the talk about things that are “inappropriate” before we came. Being here two times before, I knew of all the “T-shirts” or sayings that pop up in the store windows and wanted them to be aware of what was appropriate and what was not. I didn’t want them to be surprised. I wanted to have that discussion with them first. I wanted them to know how to react when you see something inappropriate. I wanted to teach them about “bouncing your eyes” when you see a half dressed woman and not returning for a second look. (A lesson on Lot’s wife would be great here… but I just thought about that now. Maybe later today!)
I hear people talk sometimes about the French Quarter being the “city of sin”… and they are right. It’s here. It’s out there. Drunkenness and debauchery and sexual depravity and even some others that I choose not to discuss here. If you can name it, I’m sure it’s here. And what makes this “so bad” is that it’s not hidden. It is out there for the world to see. There is not just an endorsement, but a flaunting of it. But more on that in a minute.
For those that can take their eyes off the evil, there is an incredible beauty here. The music is like no other. Tara and I peeked our head into a club that had musicians playing that far outweighed any talent that I have seen in recent years. The singing was the quality of Aretha Franklin and the musicality of the band was impeccable. This was not some “garage band” bar band, but phenomenal musicians who had a love for their crowd and a commitment to excellence with their music and their showmanship.
A few blocks down we popped in to hear some jazz. They quickly ushered us past the crowd to the very front row. I, literally, could have strummed this guy’s banjo myself. It was awkward and uncomfortable and awesome… all at the same time. The talent was like no other. And there was music like this going on in every place down the block. Phenomenal musicians giving their skill and their talent to audiences who truly appreciated their craft.
Let’s get back to the sin…
In every crowd that I’ve seen since I’ve been here, the one common characteristic that I’ve seen are God’s children who have been filling them. His creation… His loved ones… His kids. From the urine stained homeless man strumming his six string to the banjo playing Jazz man who I could have helped play to the drunken man who finds himself waking up in a puddle of his own vomit… God loves all these people. In fact, He loves them so much that He came to die for them.
The problem for us is that it is messy to reach people like this. They don’t look like you or act like you (or maybe they do… and in that case you understand exactly what I’m saying) and it is easier to simply look at them as “people like that”.
But, I got to tell you the truth… I was once known as “people like that”. I was the kid who partied too hard and looked “different” and was seen as a lost cause to many. I was “given up on” because of how I acted or how I behaved. But, there was a lady who I met one day that looked past all that and saw a “human being” in desperate need of the love of Jesus and shared with me the love of God and the Gospel message… and my life has never been the same since.
The lesson for my kids… and the lesson for me… is that sometimes we have to look past our initial thoughts on a place or a person and try to see it the way that God does. See it filled with hope and a future… see it filled with people who need Him… see it as an opportunity to shine bright and not simply as a place to avoid.
So, we continue our journey. We continue to see life and love and messy humanity all mixed together into a ball of awesomeness. We’ll continue to shine God’s light and, as a father, I’ll continue to answer tough questions. I will continue to try to hear God’s voice over the noise. I will try to learn lessons in my travels to help others. I will continue to let the N’awlins cuisine fatten me up and I will continue to love people and life.
Today, allow yourself to see God in all the facets of life. Next time you look at “one of them”, remember me… for I was (and am) “one of them”. Shine God’s love into every life that you come into contact with and you just may be surprised at what you find Him doing.