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From a Distance 

From a distance, San Diego’s lights glisten like diamonds on velvet. I sit on my porch overlooking the city and watch them erupt to life. By the time the sun sets behind the horizon, the sky above the silhouetted build­ings glows with the warmth of tens of thousands of lights.

But when I drive through the city on business, the diamonds quickly lose their sparkle. Velvet turns to burlap and the warmth chills. Along north Broadway, men and women in evening attire stroll the street, holding hands, window shopping. Others rest at curbside restaurants sipping espresso. A little south, though, things change. Men and women in tattered clothing carry plastic shopping bags and rummage through trash bins.

One night I parked my car and stepped onto the sidewalk, moving closer than usual to the invisible residents of downtown—the people I often step around or avoid altogeth­er. Like Randy, an alcoholic, slumped against the graffiti-marred brick wall outside an Adult Video store. As I squatted beside him, I noticed a styrofoam cup at this feet. Next to it, on a torn piece of cardboard, he had scrawled, “Thank you.” I counted 50 or 60 cents in pennies, nickels and dimes at the bottom.

Randy is not a stranger to those who linger outside the row of liquor stores, thrift shops and century-old hotels. He told me he sets himself there every day, from 8 a.m. until after dark. Except when it rains. During those times he stays in his room across the street, watching television and drinking cheap whiskey. “Not many people on the streets when it rains,” he avoided my eyes as he spoke. “No sense gettin’ wet for a couple o’ dollars.” I tried to start a conversation about spiri­tual things, but he waved me off. “I know what you’re tryin’ to do.” This time he looked at me. “Tryin’ to help me. But I’m doin’ fine.” 

I’ve thought about Randy many nights afterwards as I sat on my porch, staring across Mission Bay toward the skyline. As I did, my thoughts drifted closer to home. I don’t like to admit it, but San Diego’s lights illustrate my life. From a distance, I also sparkle. Ask anyone who works with me or attends the same church. To them, I am a well-educated, successful nurse-manager. I am a family man, author, teacher - a leader within my sphere of influence.

But closer in, the glitter barely covers the burlap. Ask those who live with me. My wife and children know the angry words, the hypocrisies (transient as I hope they are), the broken promises. They know the tattered clothing beneath the starched suit and tie.

Yet, even they don’t know me the way God does. He steps into my life and understands my secret thoughts. He knows each of my deeds and every word before it crosses my tongue (Psalm 139). Even the “Randy” within me is open before him - my inner-person, who often convinces me that I am doing fine, while I am, in truth, “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17, KJV).

That’s why I need Jesus - a lover who knows so well my arrogant boasts, my lustful stares, my prideful thoughts - yet loves me, nonetheless (1 John 4:10).

I need a Lord who forgives every sin I bring before him in repentance (1 John 1:9). I need a friend who never gives up on me, who continues his work, changing my burlap into glistening robes (Philippians 1:6). I need a Savior to save me from what would be the eternal consequences of my sins (John 3:16).

Richard Maffeo


 Last updated  April 09, 2016