Saturday, April 16, 2011
About 10 minutes off of the highway, in the small town of Adelanto, California, is an abandoned Air Force housing complex. Driving past the worn-out guard shack one enters what looks like a snapshot of post-WWII Germany -- rows upon rows of empty old houses, demolished, dilapidated, and barely standing. It stands like a violent ghost town...a deserted relic of life as it once was, but without the aura of peace and solitude. Unlike a ghost town, which is abandoned and left to itself, it is apparent that these buildings have been re-visited by vandals and thieves.
A few months ago, I visited this complex. Walking through these homes was surreal. Broken windows, battered walls, and half-collapsed ceilings are all that remain of these once-vibrant living quarters. Empty shell casings strewn across the floor, and a beat-up sign that reads “Danger: Firing Area”, is a reminder that heroes, and their families, once lived here. This was where they spent their off-time, raised their families, and engaged in life as we know it. Even so, what stands today is a thrashed and deserted relic with holes punched in the doors and trash littering the crumbling rooms.
There is something about old, abandoned buildings that has always intrigued me. I feel a curious connection to these places that no one seems to have any use for anymore. There is an unspoken history in its walls, and I often wonder what kinds of things went on there – what kind of life took place inside it’s corroded rafters and broken windows.
A few days ago, I ran across some pictures of some old, abandoned mansions. Some of them were magnificent castles, while others were quiet lakefront homes. How noble and magnanimous they were. All of them were beautiful, with overwhelming character and personality.....and all of them were run-down, abandoned, and empty on the inside.
As I looked at these vacant, lifeless buildings, I thought how odd it was that at one time, they were bustling with activity. What kind of life did they hold? What kinds of words were spoken in there? Undoubtedly a family once lived there, and friends and relatives came to visit. Perhaps there were hugs, joy, and laughter...but perhaps not. Perhaps there was rather despondency, loneliness, and even violence. Undoubtedly, there was once life there – but now they are abandoned, run-down, and all but forgotten.
A building can be beautiful on the outside, but unless there is life on the inside, it’s just a tomb.
As I said earlier, I have always felt a connection with these abandoned and forsaken homes, desolate and forlorn in their beauty. There is a certain solitude and loneliness that pervades their walls. No doubt, the floorboards are rotting, and the landscape outside is barren and overgrown...but even so, it still stands, and still has the capacity for life.
Indeed, the most telling sign that a building is vacant is its outward condition. I think people are a lot like buildings. When a person feels abandoned and empty on the inside – when there is no life or spark or vitality – then there is often no motivation to care for the outside. The outside reflects what is going on internally. Anyone who struggles with depression will tell you that when depression hits it’s hardest, there is little concern for the outward appearance.
The unkempt, bedraggled appearance of an unoccupied home is simply a reflection of its vacant, lifeless state. Much of my life, even from a young age, I felt abandoned, empty, and run-down. Abandoned buildings were objects of intrigue to be explored. A deserted home was a treat and an adventure for me. I would walk through its hallways, open its closets and cupboards, and look for any sign of life to be found. Often, there was none.
I would feel a certain affinity to its empty and lifeless condition. Even so, each one held the capacity for life and exuberance. Even the starkest, most run-down home once harboured life – and was built for a purpose. No building was ever constructed for no reason.
To this day, I see real beauty and intrigue in an abandoned building or house. Abandoned mansions fascinate me. They stand so grand and glorious, beautifully constructed according to someone’s unique and special vision of artistry and elegance. Someone constructed plans for it. Someone laboured over it. Someone invested in it. Someone moved in, and decorated its walls with beautiful pictures and filled it with lovely furniture.
Somewhere down the road, it was left behind, and what was once so grand and glorious now stands as a lonely, desolate vestige of what “once was.” That building will always be useless unless someone moves in and takes residence. It will always be “barren” unless someone fills it with life.
I think that people are a lot like buildings. The Bible says that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” God designed us with a purpose in mind, to be filled with His life and His Spirit. Just as no building has always been abandoned, so no person has always been empty and alone. Life circumstances can crush a person’s spirit, rendering him broken, lifeless, and empty.
Even so, the same sun that shines on the vibrant, bustling home also shines on the empty, abandoned home. A beam of sunlight light streaming through a window, even a broken window, can fill a room with warmth and brilliance. If a room is empty, the sunlight will only reveal this emptiness. It can never bring life to a barren room. Likewise, God’s light shining in the human heart will reveal its desolate and barren condition, but only when His Spirit is allowed to take residence will the room be filled with life and love.
In John 14:23, Jesus says “If anyone loves Me, he will keep my word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make our home with Him.”
A house is only as lively as those who make their home inside its walls. A home is not defined by a building, but by the quality of life that exists inside that building. When I see an abandoned house or building, I see both the past and the future. I see the remnant of a life that once was, and the possibility of a life to come. In the present, it is just a building.