Shadows in the Desert

Bring me the music for the revolution
It puts my mind at ease, to know
We’re the problem, we’re the solution
The cure and the disease
But life is trying to force me
Force me to trust
I’ve done all I can
I’ll do what I must

Ben Harper

I used to sleep at night. That all changed when I moved to the most violent city in Mexico in a house surrounded by razor-wire. A broken front door that did not lock, creeks of a cinderblock house sagging and flexing under the heat, sounds of a restless city penetrating the walls of wood and concrete, my mind was constantly kept from rest. Violent and wild dreams became frequent, waking me to pray for our hurting city, pacing the floor or staring into the darkness at the empty ceiling.

It was 4 am one morning in February when we awoke with hearts racing to heavy foot steps running across our roof directly over our bed. We could not sleep the rest of the morning, wondering, peeking out windows, praying. We never learned who was using our roof to get around the colonia. I remember feeling vulnerable and anxious, going through scenarios of how to protect my wife, my life.

It happened again Saturday night, same time. 4 am, noises and footsteps on our roof, but this time not running. We spied out the windows for a short time then we went back to bed, we had been through this one before. Five minutes later, more noises. Up we flew back to the windows, listening, praying. Nothing. What was it? Is someone trying to break in? Back to bed. Three minutes later unmistakeable presence on the roof. I ran to the office, made a quick call to Juan who lives a half-block away, got dressed and snuck outside. I met Juan at the front gate, he grabbed a large piece of scrap wood and we began searching through the blackness for whoever was hanging around our house.

We walked to the far end of the property and noticed down the hill a small party dwindling at the ex-drug lord’s house. Four naked people in a dirty swimming pool sipping beers. We were unsure if it was someone from the party who had been creeping around, so we turned back toward the house, and then I saw it. The body. It was laying down on our roof in the shadow of the swap cooler. I immediately thought that he was laying there in the shadow, still and quiet, waiting to make his move. “Juan, there he is!” I whispered. I climbed up on the low roof as quietly as I could, gave Juan my hand and helped him up, and we walked up to the body. He was young, mid twenties, dressed like he had been to a party, fake diamond earrings, shiny belt buckle, pearl button cowboy shirt. He did not stir. Is he asleep? Is he faking it, ready to jump up and fight or run? Dead? I scanned his shirt and the roof for blood but did not see any. We carefully stood over him ready to fight, ready for anything. Juan poked him in the shoulder with the stick and quietly told him to wake up. Adrenaline pumped through my veins. I was glad that we were able to finally confront the guy who had kept Misty and I up for the past 45 minutes. He was not dead. He was blitzed, totally drunk, passed out. Another nudge with the stick and he began to stir.


“What are you doing on my roof? This is my house, Compa.” Juan held the long stick out toward him.

His eyes blinked and fluttered and he finally became fully aware of where he was. He began chewing a piece of gum that had been tucked away in his mouth. He leaned up on his elbows, the stick inches from his face. “Calmase. Take it easy. Take it easy.”

I was surprised that this guy could speak intelligible words. He slowly sat up.

“Who are you?” Juan questioned, “Where are you from? Whose family are you?”

He stood up on wobbly feet. ” I’m Lalo’s cousin. Don’t worry about it. What’s with the stick? You gonna hit me with it?”

More forcefully, Juan said, “You can’t be sleeping on my roof. What are you doing up here?”

Juan had every right to hit the man, call the cops, whatever he wanted. I could have taken advantage, kicked him off the roof. He had had me worried and anxious for 45 minutes. He had threatened us, scared my lovely wife and trespassed on our roof. Juan chose grace, and once the guy realized that we weren’t going to kick the crap out of him, he began browbeating us. “Tomorrow I am going to come back and hurt you both! You’ll see!”

He stumbled across the roof, over the razor wire and onto the neighbor’s roof. I was amazed that he did not get tangled into a bloody pulp in the razor wire. He walked the length of our neighbor’s roof toward the street, stopping to sputter more threats along the way. He managed to land back on the ground without our help. I jumped off the roof and into our front patio, the adrenaline still racing, ready for whatever. Glaring, he walked passed our house within feet of me, with an empty 40 oz Carta Blanca beer bottle in his hand. It had been laying on the ground right where he jumped off the roof. ” You f**ing gringo, I will see you tomorrow!” He  walked up the street fifty feet, turned, and hurled the 40 oz. bottle toward our house. It collided with the razor wire and shattered right next to my Tacoma. Juan jumped off the roof and we walked over to our next door neighbors’ who were standing out in front of their house. The lonely drunk walked up to the next block, turned around and threw a rock at all of us. It only made more dogs bark.

We never called the cops. Juan walked back home and I went back to bed. I was exhausted but struggled to fall asleep. I dreamt about people breaking into our house, I was scared and helpless and too late to protect my wife. It made me lean into God’s arms as I tried to give him my cares and stress.


4 Responses to “Shadows in the Desert”

  1. So glad you posted this… I totally butchered the story trying to retell it to Dallas. I’ve been repeating over and over for ourselves… ‘Fear no man, fear no man, fear no IRS, fear no IRS…’ What an awesome place you guys are in to be truly running to God for EVERY need! Can you imagine life without Him…

    Love you more than frozen store bought tacitos!! (not that I’ve ever bought them, cuz I haven’t… EVER)

  2. isaac Says:

    Man, I don’t even know what to say. I wish I were able to stand next to you two physically. I’ve been praying these three verses for about a week. I don’t know if they are even applicable, but hopefully they will encourage you too.

    Ps. 86: 1 Hear O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. 2 Guard my life, for I am devoted to you. You are my God; save your servant who trusts in you. 11 Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.

    There has been so much that has divided my heart in the past year, and these verses really grabbed me. How much I want a simpler heart! Know I am praying for you.

  3. “Go Gonzo!”

  4. Isaac,

    That is a great Psalm. I really dig that in the Psalmist’s despair, within his conflicted heart, he continues to speak of the goodness of God, that he is “ready to forgive & abundant in lovingkindness to ALL who call…” He has been our source of strength and perspective. Like Hosea, he has brought us to the desert to speak tenderly to us…our doorway of hope.

    We can truly feel your prayers!

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