Monday, August 27, 2012

The Long Way Home

Sometimes I take the long way home, hope clenched fierce in my chest. Perhaps, I think, I will catch a glimpse of him riding his too-small bike to the corner store. Or maybe strolling down the cracked sidewalk with other mohawked and wiz-khalifa-haired boys. I duck my head at offers of drugs. Smiling shakily at the police officer giving a questioning stare, I drive my squeaky van slowly, searching faces beneath snapbacks and colorful bandanas. Last time I saw him, I yelled out the window and waved, hopeful. But he barely acknowledged me, this boy who holds fast to a corner of my heart, who Jayci called “brother” right along with Zack.
His frame is shrunken, his cheeks angrily pockmarked with adolescence. He wears a red cap pulled low over his eyes, which are trained stubbornly on the ground.

If I’m honest, my heart has been bruised by him. Angry blue and purple, tender to the touch. And it has been easier to ignore that bruise than to poke at it.

Better to wash your hands of him.” His grandmother’s words echo in my ears, and I think that yes, it probably would be easier, less painful.

But not better. Because when we agreed, more than five years ago, to enter into his life, we said YES to the pain. To the heartache and hurt and anger and flailing and fighting. Because a wounded heart, a child who has faced great loss left ungrieved, felt abandoned, been forgotten by the system, by the world, by whoever. That kind of hurt can produce more hurt, can believe lies, can chase after all the wrong things in hopes of finding love, in hopes of belonging.

It only took two weeks for them to kick him out of school. For them to confirm what he already knows: “better to wash your hands of him.” And I see it in his downturned eyes, his intentional swagger and the words he calls out to the girls passing by. He believes them. And it’s easier to ignore a bruised heart than to poke at it. But he has been ignoring his bruised heart for too long. Bruises faded from purple to yellow, and he built a wall to protect. To prevent more bruises. Pain is hard, and things aren’t always the way we envisioned them.

Babies are born with broken hearts, held by beeping machines and blinking lights rather than tender mommy-arms. Our kids take the wrong path. Teenagers walk away from our arms and into the world, determined to ignore the God who pursues and loves.
And sometimes mothers die from drinking too much. From a hardened heart turned to all the wrong things. Liquid amber relief to numb the bruises. And sometimes that same child gets passed around, aunt to uncle to grandma to aunt . . . “better to wash your hands of him.” And what lesson does the heart learn, what message is spoken to little ears listening in the dark? No one wants you. You will never be enough to make anyone stick around.

And the world, even those of us who say we love Jesus, who declare that we will always love our neighbor as ourselves, seek justice for the orphans, pursue good for the fatherless? We see him standing on the street corner with jeans sagging nearly as low as his heart. We watch him narrow his eyes defiantly, yell to girls as they get off the school bus. And we avoid his gaze, trying to lock our doors inconspicuously, muttering about policing harder and cleaning up the streets.
And again he hears it: you aren’t worth it. You will never be enough. They are better off without you.

But I hear that familiar whisper in my ear, Jesus reminding me: he is worth it. He is enough. And you need to tell him.

I’ve already tried to tell him, I remind my omniscient Father. I’ve already spoke truth softly to him, and harshly, and loudly, and every other way that I can think of.

Tell him again. And again. And again. Until he hears you.

I imagine what it will look like, this conversation. He will quickly accept my offer of a McChicken sandwich and Sprite. I know his order by heart. I will park my van crooked in the package store parking lot, shaking my head and shrugging my shoulders at the homeless who quickly surround me asking for just fifty cents to ride the bus to the first day of the job they just got for the first time in years.

He will walk with his bike as I fall-in-step beside him, my gold-flecked flip-flops and his pristine Nikes crunching on gritty pavement, gingerly navigating broken glass and cracked sidewalks. We will share our fries, and I will look deep into his distrustful brown eyes framed by long dark lashes. He won’t drop his eyes to the table, not this time. Instead he will listen earnestly as I tell him the truth: I’m not better off without him. That we refuse to give up, that we will follow him to the darkest corners of the places his choices take him. That our house will always be his. We keep a ready supply of ranch dressing and Frank’s hot sauce, just in case.

He will look at new wrinkles around my eyes , at my conspicuously milky skin in a McDonalds full of boisterous chocolate. He will look and see Jesus, not me. He will hear the voice of the One who has always known and loved Him, and He will know that He belongs, that he is loved and that he is worth it.

I imagine him hugging me, coming over to our house and cuddling Caden close while listening to Jayci’s endless chatter.

But the truth is that he might not ever acknowledge my invitation. He might duck his head and shrug his shoulders at his partner’s questioning stares. Regardless, I wont keep protecting my bruised heart and ignoring his. Because he is teaching me much about my Savior. About a God who is relentless in pursuit, who leaves the 99 to find the one who has been lost. And for that kind of love, that kind of God, I’m willing to tear down walls around my own heart. To recognize that making myself vulnerable, allowing myself to love fully and pursue wholeheartedly not only opens myself to hurt, but allows me to experience grace in bigger ways. And His grace will cover it all, for him and for me. Our bruised hearts, his ungrieved losses, my longings, our futures.

I idle at the light too long, my belt squealing as red flickers to green and honking cars swerve around me. Reluctantly, I pull off and turn the corner without finding his face in the sea of narrowed teenage eyes and white tank tops.
One thing I know for sure: God is rearranging things in my head and my heart every single time I take the long way home. He’s tearing down (as He’s apt to do) all the things I thought I knew, boundaries I thought I needed to put in place to protect our family and myself. And as He gently rearranges, something beautiful is emerging.

"What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost." (Matthew 18:12-14)

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

God sets the lonely in families.


  1. I passed him this morning. On the corner of 22nd and Lehigh. I passed him and I pulled over. He wouldn't come. I cried. I prayed. I was stared at. I drove on my way to work with a heavy heart.
    I hope they come back. I know Jesus is waiting and ready for them.
    Thank you for going the long way and reminding me to go the long way too.
    Love, Beck

  2. Evetytime I read your bloc I feel like I'm reading my heartbeat on paper. I'm with you. I understand. I, too, will not give up.

  3. I have a boy like this, that God put on my heart told me to get off the fence and commit to him. I did and his story has a good ending so far but the road was hard. The Lord did some miraculous things, to this day it's hard to believe. I will keep ya'll in my prayers

  4. we have so many kids like this in the school where i teach (they are elementary kids who have seen and experienced way more than they ever should). it breaks my heart. but i am taking strength and courage from this post. i love what you are doing for those kids and i love that your children are watching and learning from you and your husband.

  5. Hey, look? Our bruises match.

    Beautiful words, Girl. Beautiful images, too. I so get this kind of pain. Praying for your boy and ours...

  6. Praying that it all happens just as you imagine.

    Y'all are amazing!

  7. beautiful. Praying for this boy and you.

  8. beautiful. Praying God continues to open your heart to him while protecting your spirit

  9. Becca. Wow. Ro and I wanna take the long way home with you soon. I admire and appreciate you for your devotion and sacrifice.

    We're praying for you.



  10. Praying for your boy's heart. For all of your hearts. Love you.

  11. Keeping you and your boys in my prayers!

  12. You and that heart of yours are simply amazing.

  13. Beautiful words from a beautiful heart. {{{HUG}}} Praying that all will happen as HE intended it to.

  14. I was the little girl who's Mama chose that poison amber over her baby girls...the one who was told, time and time again, "you are worthless. You are unloved. You are no good." Jesus swept in, He saved me from a path of wickedness, of death...all because a few people in the Church did not give up on me. May God bless your efforts, your love, your lives! I am praying for him. All he wants is to be loved. He's just too afraid to admit it...praying for him...


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