Sally Hansen), playing at the park, shuffling cards and playing Monopoly Deal. We just DO our lives, and invite a whole bunch of crazy kiddos along for the ride. I feel like you guys probably (hopefully) get a good picture of how much we love and value our neighborhood and all the kids (and grown-ups too!) who live here. We are rarely fearful, and we never think what we are doing is extraordinary or inspiring. Rather, we truly are inspired by those around us: by our neighbors, by single mommas making ends meet, by kiddos who graduate high school at twenty years old and celebrate with us in the street because they are going to college. The good outweighs the bad, the hope and promise we are able to see in our kiddos typically outshine the reality of gangs and poverty and violence that can be a mainstay in our neighborhood.
I was reminded yesterday, however, of how things can change in an instant. How a snapshot of an instant in our lives, of any life really, can quickly change from a beautiful sunset over the Atlanta skyline to a darker and more fearful one. Because last night, while Danielle and I were at Bible study for the middle school girls in the neighborhood, and Adam was rocking Caden and Jayci to sleep, one of the older boys we know fairly well was shot in the leg. Directly outside our fence, right next to our vegetable garden. Honestly, I wasn't even going to write this because I know all the parents and grandparents are probably about to freak-the-heck-out. But y'all need to know some things, and I need to work through some things (because right now I can't sleep for all the thoughts running around in my head). So here you go.
After he heard the shot, Adam peeked out the door and saw the boy laying in the street while his friends chased the shooter off with guns of their own. One of our younger kiddos was walking to our house and saw the whole thing happen. Needless to say, everyone involved was shaken-up and angry and our entire street was shut down while helicopters buzzed noisily overhead. Danielle and I rushed home. Immediately when we pulled up, the sweet kiddo who witnessed the whole thing ran up to me and sobbed as I held him close. I asked the officers if he could sit on our front porch, and I left him there with Danielle while Adam went to get his aunt, and I kept Jayci and Caden inside, trying desperately to act normal while rocking Caden and reading Bible stories to Jayci. My voice shook and I inhaled their scent, snuggling both of them in bed, thanking Jesus for protecting our family, and praying with Jayci for the boy who was hurt, for his family, for our sweet neighborhood friends. I blinked away tears, willing both of them to fall asleep so I could sort through my thoughts and calm my slightly shaking hands. I was itching to run outside and do something, anything, to help. And my heart kept stirring in the darkness, reminding me that THIS was exactly what I was here to do. That rocking my babies and whispering prayers was exactly where I was supposed to be. That God knew before we bought our house, before we moved downtown, before we were even born. He knew what would happen on our street tonight. And He had brought us to this place, for this very moment.
I felt Him calming my heart as I quietly sat and rocked Caden. His big blue eyes stared into mine, blinking heavily and slowly. His unique heart-beat pounded against my chest, his tiny fingers entwined in my hair, and he finally slowed his breathing and relaxed into sleep. I kissed Jayci's forehead lightly, tiptoed out of the room, and then cried into my pillow, while lights flashed blue and white through the bamboo blinds and police radios crackled out directives.
I cried not for my own safety, not for anything but sorrow for the young boy who was shot. Because yes, he is involved in things he probably shouldn't be. Yes, he is in a gang and has been in and out of prison since we've known him. Yes, he is old enough to make choices and those choices have consequences. But he is still only fifteen. Fifteen years old. And his mom probably rocked him to sleep when he was a baby, and probably has spent hours, days, months of her life worrying about him. And earlier today? That same fifteen year old stopped by as I pulled the van into the yard. He held MY baby while grinning, offering me a hug, and sheepishly admitting that he hadn't quite made it to school today.
And all I can think about is that I wish I had been here to hold his hand as his leg bled, as he agonized in pain, waiting for help, as they put him in the ambulance. To tell him that THIS DOES NOT DEFINE HIM. The choices he has made, the things that have brought him to lay in a pile of blood beside our vegetable garden. Those choices are not the truest thing about who he is. I STILL see it in him. I still believe that God has made him for a purpose. That there is hope for his future.
He is in the hospital right now, when we spoke with his momma on the phone, he was in surgery. Adam said the leg looked bad. Like really bad. And judging from the jeans and blood and such that the firefighters sprayed off the road, he was probably in a lot of pain. And tears are welling again in my eyes as I think of how much I want to spare these kiddos from the pain. I want to take a great big hose just like the firemen did, and quickly wash away the blood, the stains, the scars, the bullets. But I stare at the wet spot on our street, and I stare at the scar on Caden's chest, and I am reminded again and again that it is the pain and the hurt that changes us the most. We grow, we take root, we are made beautiful by the very things we try most desperately to avoid.
This truth, somehow, fails to take away the shaky-fear. It's that same bone-shaking kind of fear I felt course through me while I sat beside Caden in the CICU. Fear that changes you, cripples you, unless you offer it to the Lord with open hands. Because fear and faith are somehow inextricable. And faith despite our fear? It changes people, transforms neighborhoods, revives communities.
I realize I am easily overwhelmed by the darkness and sin on a night like last night. I start to worry we are fighting a losing battle against the streets. To wonder if there will be retaliation, if our kiddos will feel safe enough to come back and sit on our front porch, to wonder if our friend is going to lose his leg, or even his life. To see blood-stained-jeans and bullets when we close our eyes. But I am reminded even as I cant seem to sleep that we have already won the battle against this darkness. Jesus has fought for us, for our kids, for our lives and hearts. And we know the ending. He wins. Love wins. Light wins.
I wrote this last night and then slept on it (for all of 2 hours before Jayci inexplicably woke up at 5 am wide awake . . . ) I wanted to be sure I was accurately sharing what happened without presenting our neighborhood or any of our kiddos in a negative light. I prayed and begged Jesus to lay on my heart what He wanted me to share, what He wanted Y'ALL to learn from what happened last night.
The picture He keeps bringing me back to is that of the blood-stained street and the fire hose spraying it away. With a loud rush, the water works on the blood stain. The blood runs in rivulets, fading to a dull brown and mingling with water. Until all that remains is our street. If it wasn't for some gauze, and a few syringes the EMTs left behind, you wouldn't know anything had happened. That's what I did for you. This truth rings like a bell in my heart. And the breath goes out of me when it's followed by: And that's what I did for him. For the boy who lay shot, for the boy who did the shooting, for the gang in your neighborhood, for the kiddos on your front porch and your babies asleep in their beds. I poured out my blood to wash away yours. I took your hurt, your wounds, your pain. And when you offer it to me, I will redeem it for something beautiful. I will wash away your hurt, your sins, your stains. And I will make all things new.
I'm asking that you pray for our kiddos, for the boy who was shot, for the shooter, for their friends, for their families, for the kiddos who saw (and have seen) more than any kid should see. Pray for our own little family, that we would be safe and free from fear, and relentless in our pursuit of Christ even in the face of fear and darkness. And pray that God will redeem the hurt and use tonight to draw our neighborhood to Himself.
“If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.”
“To journey for the sake of saving our own lives is little by little to cease to live in any sense that really matters, even to ourselves, because it is only by journeying for the world's sake - even when the world bores and sickens and scares you half to death - that little by little we start to come alive.”