When we moved back to the states we wanted to be intentional neighbors. We had grown accustomed to living in the city in Santiago and naturally wanted to find something similar in Louisville. I thought we would move where there was a high Hispanic population because we were accustomed to that culture and language; however, our hearts were drawn to Shelby Park. And so began our journey for city life. I grew up in a very small town so this was more of a stretch for me than I realized.
We began a relationship with our neighbors. Thanks to off street parking we exchanged hellos frequently outside. Ms. Pat was a God send. She’s the matriarch of her family and we’ve had the privilege to meet many of her family members of the last year and half we’ve lived her. She realizes I’m a small town girl and has proven to be a great resource to teach me about city life. At every opportunity, we’ve tried to serve, but one recent day made neighbors family as we fell into the trenches and mourned together.
We were gardening in our backyard as the girls played in the dirt and I chatted with a neighbor. I’ll never forget the sound of panic in Ms. Pat’s voice as she ran into our backyard yelling for Jeff. Her grandson had been shot and Jeff raced her, DeeDee (the boy’s mother) and his sister to the hospital. Norman died before his friends could get him there. As we sat in her kitchen that night surrounded by grief ridden family members, her son explained that Little Norm was shot in the back by one of his friends over a moped.
I returned home with an overwhelmed and troubled heart. A young man was shot and killed a block from where our City Group meets each week for dinner and prayer a month ago. Some fellow Christians in the neighborhood were robbed by gunpoint in their own backyard over the weekend. On Monday night, our City Group prayer walked the neighborhood. Fifteen minutes after we left the park, a woman was shot and killed while she sat on a park bench near the playground where dozens of children were innocently swinging, laughing and playing. And one night later, Norman was gone. I tried to make sense of how people could take a life so quickly. It was senseless. I remembered the faces of Little Norm’s friends and brothers. Their eyes were dark with grief, blazing with bitterness, hungry for revenge and justice. I cried out to God for our neighborhood. For peace. For unity. For reconciliation.
Over the next few days we made some phone calls and began taking meals over to the family. We enjoyed sweet time with them as we learned more about Little Norman’s life. We put a slideshow together of photos that revealed Norman was the baby of the family, the comedian who kept everyone laughing, a charmer with a warm smile, and a boy with dreams to become a man. He was only 17. He was scheduled to graduate in May, he had been accepted to KY State University, and a coupon for his senior prom tuxedo has arrived in the mail that day and lay on the coffee table surrounded by his photos and candles.
His mom walked us to the car that evening and shared a story that brought me to my knees. Little Norm had been in a lot of trouble as a kid. He had just been out of juvenile detention for 14 days when he was murdered. She said he had changed when he came home, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. Then, she found a journal. He had written out a beautiful prayer to God asking forgiveness and direction as he felt called to be a pastor. His last words in his journal were “Lord, preserve me”. His mom wept in hope for her son’s changed heart but despair as she recalled his last words to her minutes before he was shot, “Mom, I’m coming home.”
At the vigil, family, friends, and the news media surrounded the scene. His brother walked away in deep grief. His mother could not even attend. Christopher 2x encouraged the kids against anger and towards self control. I was frustrated. Those were symptoms, but the problem was deeper. The problem was pride and not striving for hope and peace in a Savior above ourselves. We continued to the wake and were overwhelmed by the number of people and deep grief of so many young people. I prayed silently, “Oh Hope, come and rescue us”. A fight broke out right after we left. They locked everyone inside the funeral home. Someone broke their jaw, some kids had a gun. The police came. Where was Peace?
I sat during the funeral looking at a young man dressed in white surrounded by flowers. I longed for Hope to be restored to these young lives. For another Way to do life. For them to know they are valued and to learn to value others. To understand they were made in the image of their all powerful God as were their enemies. A pastor spoke about Little Norm approaching him at the detention center. Little Norm wanted to change. He felt a deep purpose in his life that he had never experienced before. Then another pastor read Little Norm’s journal prayer as his eulogy. He said Little Norm was a leader and that was evident by the number of people at the funeral. He told them Little Norm was leading them now towards a different life, a life of hope over hopelessness, peace over violence, love over hate. He encouraged them to follow his lead and in a matter of five minutes, Norman’s two brothers, his uncle and nearly 10 friends walked to the casket and committed their lives to a new way of life in Christ.
"No Outlet?" Not Necessarily...
After such a hopeless week, I was overwhelmed by God’s mercy. I looked across the room and I didn’t see gang members, troubled kids, hopeless family members…I saw image bearers of an almighty God who had engraved each of them on His heart. Peace had been planted, we were unified in purpose, and reconciliation was beginning to take root.