The Lingering Burden!

Life hits you
exactly in the spot
you don't wanna be hit!
BUT, it hits you there anyway!
AND it hits you hard!

The burden of the streets has been striking me so much recently. It's a deep burden! I'm seeing so much, way too much, pain and devastation rising to the surface. People are desperate; looking for answers and seeking answers. Tears are flowing, anger is brewing and the pain is palpable.

Walt's psychotic midday murder, where the killers still roam free, did everything to increase that burden. It was a senseless brutal killing; for no apparent reason, my friend was gunned down in broad daylight on a crowded street. The police have personally told me, Walt wasn't even the intended target. To phrase it another way, the killers purposely shot the wrong man 8 times; execution style!

Walter had just made it, he had fought and climbed out of the grips of homelessness, people were proud of their "brother"; he'd successfully moved into his own place, had a baby on the way and had just finished volunteering at our shelter. He had become an inspiration, yet on this particular day, he simply wanders around the corner, and some young men, (apparently dressed as women), gun him down.

A horrifying event like this, rocked the Cornerstone family in a new sort of way. Walt reminded us all of the frailty of human life. How quick it can all be gone. It wasn't just his friends and family who wept and mourned, it was the whole Cornerstone family. Fear ripped through us all, causing us all to think, look up to the heavens, and cry "Where does my help come from?" Walt's tragic death lit a fire, that spread through the men, women and children that surround and come into CCO!

As I took in all the pain and tears that flowed throughout Uptown, I realized there was a heavy burden falling on me. Whereas, the Cornerstone family supported and lifted each other up with extraordinary courage and love, there was a heaviness that seemed to linger. Even though the week was filled with miraculous housing stories, where the seemingly hopeless and helpless moved into their own apartments after years of homelessness, a black cloud seemed to cover all the goodness!

I was finding it hard to process, this was a new kind of dilemma. Death is ever-present in the homeless community, it is expected, but this death was so different, it happened before our eyes! It embodied the word "senseless". He wasn't sickly, he was a young healthy man, oozing with potential. I found the burden great, and as I rode this roller coaster of emotions, I asked myself "What is my role here? What am I to do? What am I to be?"

When I went to church that Sunday, the pastor mentioned a passage found in Matthew 9, and the words in verse 36 struck me heavily, "seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd."

I don't feel like a shepherd; and more often than not, I feel like a lost sheep. Yet, there was absolutely no denying it, this senseless, pointless murder had caused this verse to come alive. I felt compassion, a deep troubling compassion, because the people I love, the people I know, the people I see every day, were distressed and dispirited, roaming around like "sheep without a shepherd".

The burden lingered, and oh, the burden is not small....

Me, consumed by my own fragile humanity, can only do so much! As much as I wish and pray, I cannot bring Walt back from the grave. I needed to be a source of comfort. I needed to be someone who gave his shoulder to cry on. I needed to be someone who gave listening ears. I needed to be someone who's there. I needed to be available. I needed to somehow help people find closure in this extremely devastating and depressing reality!

It's now been three weeks since we witnessed and heard those fatal shots echo throughout Uptown. His blood still stains the pavement, the shooters still roam free and the people still grieve.

Out of the ashes, an unusual and strange hope occurred. Despite all the depressive realities that constantly surround them, this unusual hope happens frequently at Cornerstone and amongst the homeless; I was privileged to see songs of faith, love and joy pushing through the ballads and dirges. People are rising up in remembrance of Walt, praying and using his life as an inspiration.

Within the lingering burdens that invade our lives, there isn't any magical formulas. It's just the simple need of being available and loving our neighbors "as ourselves." It's simply walking through a door and not knowing what's on the other side. It's allowing their needs to rise on our lists of priorities. It's letting these mourning "sheep without a shepherd" know that they and their needs are vitally important to us!

Since that tragic day, there have been numerous occasions where people were given opportunities to both mourn Walt's death and celebrate his life. Despite the suddenness and surprise of it all, Walt received a wonderful variety of "homecoming" ceremonies....

A group of friends prayed, wept and sang around the spot where he was shot, Ceasefire held a prayer vigil in that same place a couple days later. The attached photo shows the street memorial that some of his friends set up and many of us signed. Unfortunately, someone insensitively removed it, denying us the opportunity to give it to his grieving family.

We held a memorial service in CCO, giving everyone a chance to speak, weep, pray, sing, eat and write memories in a book for his unborn son. It was a truly beautiful time, I able to witness so much love and compassion. People kept saying the words "Cornerstone family", and emphasizing the beautiful brotherhood and sisterhood that flows here in Uptown. I may have orchestrated this service, but it was this family and their love that caused love to flow on it's own accord

Finally, over 40 of us from Uptown drove to the Southside for his funeral. We met his parents, family and many people who knew him. He was truly loved and honored in this home-coming ceremony. We heard one his relatives from Mississippi sing a wonderful rendition of "it is well with my soul". The service was truly beautiful in word, song and prayer. We drove to the gravesite and saw him lowered into the ground. It was now finished; Walter had been honored, loved and respected in his death, we had celebrated his brief life; God had been glorified and we were able to leave in peace!

The burden had been enormous, in fact, the burdens are never small at Cornerstone! My role wasn't to boss every one around and take charge, no, my role was to simply be present, to help, to offer anything I could and to allow the grieving process to flow. My role involved driving, allow the grieving girlfriend to take some flowers from our little memorial service, orchestrating a memorial service and getting laminated copies of the "street memorial" to the right people, so they could get a little more comfort in the uncomfortable!

There was a few other ways I contributed, but it was the Cornerstone family, a phrase they coined and used repeatedly, that rallied together, in love, making hope appear in such a horrible and senseless tragedy. Whereas, I could help make certain things happen, whereas I could give a little time or space, it was this family, united in poverty and grief, yet born of hope and compassion, that showed me the bonds of comfort and love! It was this family, that wouldn't let Walt's death go unnoticed and undignified, they have allowed his legacy to live on.

And together, as a family, we were able to cast our burdens at the feet of the One who said, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30 NASB)

Rest in Paradise Walter; you were truly loved my brother! Until we meet again in paradise, rest in peace!

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