A Red Sneaker in a Dark World
by C. Kevin Thompson
It was December. The sixth grader got up from his seat in the middle school cafeteria and shuffled toward the exit. No bigger than the average third grader, his small frame made the binder under his arm seem huge. His soiled “hoodie” jacket draped from his head and hung to his knees. It did a good job covering the well-worn jeans and even dulled polo shirt with green and blue horizontal stripes.
I wouldn’t have noticed him if he hadn’t stumbled. Stepping out of his shoe, attempting to keep up with the other students, he stopped. The expression on his face oozed sadness. A depression. Defeat. He dropped his binder on a nearby table, reached out with his socked foot, and slid the shoe close.
That’s when I saw it.
The red “Converse-like” sneaker. Heel counter beaten down and flat. Shoelaces tied and lopping over the sides. Dragging the ground. Ends dirty.
He slid his foot into the shoe like a slipper, scuffed both rubber souls against the tiled floor to cinch up the fit, and snatched his binder from the table in a huff. Walking out, I noticed his heels. They hung off the back. At least two sizes too small. Probably more.
As he walked out of the cafeteria, I called over the other administrator responsible for the sixth grade and asked her about the boy.
“Yea,” she said. “We have someone picking up a pair of shoes for him. We plan on giving them to him tomorrow.”
They did. I was there. And he beamed from ear to ear. Shoes that actually fit. As if they were the first.
I would later learn his family was beyond poor. Although they had received help from various places and organizations, including nearby churches, it seems there is one thing most organizations shy away from: medical bills. The mother had some kind of illness. Cancer was my guess. The father was doing his best to raise the kids, I heard. And take care of his wife.
There are myriad other stories I could relay. Just like his. Ones of sadness. Depression. Defeat. Some even worse.
We live in a dark world, you and I. A world getting darker by the day. A world without hope. A world in despair. The problems seem too many. The hurts too deep to heal. It’s easier to cloister ourselves. Barricade the door to our hearts. Place the family in a spiritual bunker. We Christians are good at that sometimes. We go from our Christian homes to our Christian churches to our Christian stores. Keep the kids home and “train them up in the way they should go.” It’s a dark world out there. We have to protect. “It’s Biblical,” we say. And we find the verses to back up our actions.
Yet, God did exactly the opposite. In generation after generation when Israel had rejected God and His prophets (2 Chron. 36:16)…in a time when idolatry had so infiltrated the nation that trying to distinguish Judaism from paganism proved difficult (Jer. 2:5-8)…in an era where God’s people bowed the knee to one of the most prolific empires ever to exist (Luke 2:1-3)…in a very dark world indeed, “God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those under the Law, that we might receive adoption to sonship” (Galatians 4:4-5).
Not only did God send His Son. He sent His Son as a baby. The human condition at its most vulnerable (Luke 2:7; cf. Isaiah 9:6).
Salvation entered this dark world by being vulnerable.
As a believer, trudging through the filth and decay we call modernity, I battle the urge to become hard of heart. I find myself wanting to build taller walls around my spiritual life. A desire to be less vulnerable. It grows as sin runs more rampant. As foul four-letter words—non-existent a generation ago—are used by twelve-year-olds like “and” and “the,” it’s easy to want to run away. As societal norms run more and more counter to God’s original design, it’s easy to demand spiritual retribution for all the hurt and destruction being witnessed. As wrong becomes right and is lauded and honored, it’s easy to pray for God to send a legion of angels to correct, once and for all, the spiritual inequities.
It’s easy to justify, isn’t it? Easy to rationalize. Holy indignation.
Yet, every time I think of that little guy in those red sneakers, I’m reminded of why God still has me firmly planted on planet Earth.
To be a light. In this dark world.
Whether I’m administrating at my school or writing my novels, the mission is the same. To imitate My Lord. To enter a dark world. In a vulnerable state. And shine my light as bright as I know how. Shine it on the truth. To show the way. Shine it into the dark corners. To flush out the devil.
That comes in many forms for me. Correcting behavior by talking to a student. Showing him or her I care. Expressing my sympathies to overworked teachers who increasingly become “the bad guys” in an upside down world. Writing a story, exposing the philosophical flaws of a Godless society, the ugly side of human trafficking, or the errors of scientific haughtiness.
And regardless of my status or worldly accomplishments, God continues to bring opportunities across my path. Continues to make me vulnerable.
One red sneaker at a time.
C. Kevin Thompson is an ordained minister, having served churches in New York, Mississippi, Texas, and Iowa. He is married (for 33+ years), has three daughters, two sons-in-law, and five grandchildren. He speaks in churches on occasion, presently works as an assistant principal in a Central Florida school district, and plays the drums in his church’s praise team. He is a huge fan of the TV series 24, The Blacklist, and Criminal Minds, loves anything to do with Star Trek, and is a Sherlock Holmes fanatic. His published works include two award-winning novels, The Serpent’s Grasp (OakTara, 2012) and 30 Days Hath Revenge (A Blake Meyer Thriller: Book 1).
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