Pawn Shop

Sometimes days and circumstances fall together in ways you couldn't possibly plan.
They are days that remind us that we aren't really the ones who are in charge.
They are the rare days when it's more clear than usual
that something invisible is at work, threading things together.
The following post was written last spring.
It was one of those days.

Pawn Shop
They are the reason I found myself in a pawn shop; a little girl, and the God who loves her. Her grandmother is my friend. Their family has been blended and broken many times over. Skilled at pulling two strings together, they make ends meet. They move from trailers, to low-income housing, to shelters for the abused. They are children and women-too-soon; victims and survivors. And, their occasional presence in my life forces me to see God’s heart for people, in achingly quiet and miraculous ways.

She came to my house last week, with her little sister, and my friend; ages 12, 10, and 53. She was holding her flute case, and a flute in need of repair. Her big easy smile and calf eyes break my heart. “Mary” is a 6th grader in flip-flops and jeans, with long tussled dark brown hair, and wide brown eyes. Those eyes have seen physical assault and her intimate violation at the hands of ‘trusted’ men. She chatters the happy words of a pre-teen and constantly moves to align herself with me; to gain my approval, and her safety. Everything about her has been trained to desperately seek acceptance. It is a learned skill of survival. For the sake of safety and acceptance, she has learned to be endearing. She has learned to stay under the radar of danger until she is forced to blow the whistle. She makes her life appear sweetly normal … unbroken.
Her Grandma tried to remember how to play chess with her little sister, while I tried to fix the flute. Mary tried to call me a few weeks ago, to tell me her flute was broken. I was too busy to call back. Eventually, I forgot. Too busy for a 12 year old? How can that be? What could possibly make me too busy for this… for her?
In the moment of crisis and repair, these things are obviously, critically, important. So how did this red-alert priority get foggy? Why was it so hard to choose to engage? Why did it take several weeks, and the news of crisis police intervention, emergency family relocation, and legal abuse proceedings for me to wake up and engage with this little girl? This family constantly reminds me of my own ugly tendencies toward sleepy comfort. God has used and re-used them to painfully wake and re-shape me. Through them, I am taught and re-taught. Through them I see how I am divinely called and called again, out of my wealth into the margins. Sometimes we’re mercifully doused with cold water to wake us to attend to holy moments of repair -- for flutes, or people. And, that day, I determined her flute could not be fixed.
The April sun reflected off the shiny flute and screwdriver in my hands. I listened to her tell me how the school year is almost over, and she has been sitting in the last chair of the flute section most of the year. That is the equivalent of sitting on an ‘F’ all year. But when she picked up my professional flute, I heard her send music through the tube. She can play. It’s not her ability that has her in last chair, it’s her flute. She hasn’t been able to create real music, because of the faulty instrument. We decided she’d return it to the school for repair. The band director had loaned it to her instead of rental, in order to save money. But, this repair would cost more than a year’s rental. She needed a new flute.
I’m trying to break the bad habit of promising what I can’t deliver. So I promised nothing and felt an empty tension in my gut. I told her to put her flute away in its old case. Then, I turned to quietly tell her Grandma I’d try to find something at a pawn shop. But, “No promises.” They left without my help. And when the loud old Jeep left my driveway, I sat and cried. I cried for the little girls who had seen so much, felt so much, locked so much damage away in their fragile cases. And I wrote the word ‘Flute’ on my weekly calendar. Just a word. No plan. No money.

Four days later, the warm weather sent me to the top shelf of my closet; time for a gardening and hiking. I needed to pull down my summer clothes. A pair of black pants came tumbling down on my head. I pulled them on, and my hands felt an oddly heavy pocket. Foraging to the bottom, I found lint, and $60.00! Three dormant twenty dollars bills came up with the lint. To me, it was flute money from God.
Pawn shops are usually dark on the inside and bright on the outside. And, there are deals to be had, if you’re careful. The pawn district on Platte Avenue has a half dozen stores and a lot of competition. Bold letters painted on the windows are like loud street vendors shouting for attention, “Checks Cashed! Payday Loans! Jewelry. Auto Trade. E-Z Money!.” At each shop, I kept close tabs on my cell phone, opened cases and tested instruments. Everything I saw was priced between $100 and $199. Everything exceeded my pants-pocket budget. Except one.

At “Mister Money” I pulled one flute off the shelf between dusty clarinet and saxophone cases. It had three stickers on it that said “1987 Southern California High School Band and Orchestra Association” and the word “Flute” and the name “Travis.” And dangling from the handle was a price tag which was marked “$59.99.” I’m not kidding. Over 20 years old, the silver was tarnished, but it was a functional gem. The old Armstrong flute is a classic model that is a long running work-horse of flutes. It was a real find, just one penny shy of my miraculous budget, not including tax.
The two middle-aged guys working the cashier had stopped and listened to me play. When I brought the flute up to the counter, they were curious, struck up conversation. “Are you buying this for yourself?” A frumpy older man with surprisingly cool square glasses was standing by the cash register, flipping through a phone book. He paused his search to hear my answer. With an audience of three men, I said, “Well, no. This flute isn’t for me. Here’s a story for you …” And they all listened intently. I briefly began to describe Mary, and her broken flute, and her abused life, all in need of repair. And, before I could even get to telling them about the money I’d found in my pocket, the guy with the telephone book pulled out his wallet and started to retrieve bills. He handed me 4 dollars as the cashier totaled the sale, with tax. Telephone Book Guy’s contribution perfectly paid the tax. The flute was purchased.
I finished the story with the part about mysterious ‘flute money from God’ in my pants pocket. That detail prompted him, even though the sale was done, to pull out his last 5 bucks, and hand it all to me. I’m not sure why. He just did. And, as I was walking toward the door, Telephone Book Guy said, “God Bless you,” then, he choked on his words and said, “And God bless that little girl. God bless her.” I got really teary and smiled at him. It was something strangely sacred happening right there in that pawn shop. There were better things to say. But, all I could muster was, “Thank you. Thank you so much.” And I cried all the way to the car.
Today, I will go deliver the newly polished flute to Mary’s Mom. I’m going to meet her as she gets off work at Subway down in the Springs. We talked for the first time on the phone yesterday. I’ve never met Mary’s Mom. But I know her Mom and daughter. And I know she did not escape what has been passed between those generations. Today, I expect to recognize in her, the same heartbreaking victim’s smile and survival skill that the other women possess, passed down. Because, none of us escape the bondage of generational sin; not without Supernatural help, not without Divine repair. Today I will give the flute to Mary’s Mom, for her to give to her daughter. And I will remember what I have seen.

This week, I saw a quiet miracle. I saw the heart of a loving God, revealed in a pawn shop. God put a shiny flute in the hand of a broken little girl. I watched Him accomplish it with His money in my pocket -- His Life in my soul. This week, I saw how the Spirit of a Living God relentlessly moves to wake us to love lost & innocent victims, on His behalf. I saw how He moves in personal and intimate ways that spill over and bless anybody who is listening. This week, I saw God’s compassionate pursuit and gently repairing ways. I saw it all, when I pulled His healing music out of my pocket for the giving, and I didn’t even know it was there -- tax included and five dollars to spare.
Post Script: Miracles are easily swallowed-up and buried in the quicksand of everyday life. This was true for the Pawn Shop experience. I wish I could say all of life changed for this family. But it didn't. The girls are still smiling survivors, struggling to function in school. Their Step Father is in jail and has no further rights to see them. I never did meet their Mom. She wasn't there when I went to deliver the flute. She's a Manager at that Subway now, which is a good thing. I saw my friend quite a bit last fall. Back at Christmas she came over and I gave this little miracle flute a check-up. And, I haven't seen her since. But experience tells me she'll be back around. If you're the type, go ahead and pray for this little family. Obviously, God will know who you're praying about :)


Anonymous said...

I remember this story. I read it back when it was new. I printed it off and it's in a file in my drawer (the file is labelled with your name), with all the other stuff you've written.

It made me cry all over again.