Friday, January 31, 2014

The Longer Way Home

I’ve been ferrying the note around in my purse for months, hoping to see him. I suppose I’ve been carrying around his story too, hoping for a different ending. Turning it over, studying it, weighing it. And putting it back, waiting to share in this space until I could tell you of a prodigal returning home, a conversion, an adoption. Something hopeful. Something beautiful.

But sometimes life doesn’t spin the direction we want; and I’m trying to lean into a God still good, regardless of which way our life spins. And to remember that hope and beauty aren’t dependent on a happy ending.

See, I still often find myself turning to take the long way home. Driving through unfamiliar neighborhoods, searching facial planes and swaggering gaits in all the places I think I might find him. It has been months now since we’ve seen him. His grandma tells us oh he’s doing much much better honey – he comes home now every few days to shower and wash his clothes.

Six months ago now, we had him in our arms. And I wonder what we could have done differently to stop him from walking away.

Adam drove home from camp this summer to sit at his hearing, and my heart pounds as I wait for his phone call. I wrote Sabo while he was in jail. A two-page, typed-letter (because you know I’m anything but concise), filled with my hopes for him. My belief in him. Our love.

When my phone finally rings, I hand Caden to a counselor, and whisper for Jayci to play with the kiddos. Finding an empty cabin, I close the door behind me and stand in the dark. Adam says: I have Sabo. We are coming there.

What? I ask. I need details, never Adam’s strong suit (it must be a boy thing). Adam says the first thing Sabo told him was that he got my letter. In fact, he clutched it with a grin throughout the hearing. He told the judge that we believed in him, that he would do better. And so the judge released him on house arrest, except that he could go with us. He could come to camp to work and help. We already discussed this possibility; spoke to camp leadership, who agreed he could come.

So for the next hour while we wait, I set a space up for him. A mattress on the floor, fresh sheets, clean towels, a brand new pack of Nike socks. I pray while I sweep sand from the floor, and watch Jayci dance in circles singing Sabo is coming! Caden repeats her refrain, although I am certain he has no idea of whom he sings.

And then he’s there. He carries Jayci everywhere on his shoulders. He helps break up a fight, sharing his new socks with some of the kids. He laughs and teases and he and Zack spend all their time together. The counselors cant quite believe that this is the Sabo who just got out of jail, the one we told and warned them about. My nerves feel taught as I wade cautiously in the tension: wanting to believe in change, and waiting for it all to fall apart.
The sun beats relentless on my back. I hold a wriggly Caden in the lukewarm pool water, and watch Sabo splash Jayci while she giggles and climbs on his back. In my deepest heart, I want to believe that he has reached the turning point, and I know that God can do it. But I’m just not sure he has. I feel a pit in my stomach, waiting for the bottom to drop out.

I see one of the campers say something to Sabo and his whole body stiffens. Quickly, I clumsily splash over to intervene. The camper wont back down, and Sabo gets angrier. He calms himself down, but his anger simmers below the surface, rippling in his 16-year-old shoulders. I lead him gingerly, far away from the pool and the heckling camper. Depositing him with Adam to work at the lake, I take the kids up to the cabin for naps.

Things unravel quickly from there. I sit with Jayci on her bed reading stories, and we hear Sabo’s shouting before we see him. Jayci cries at his demands to go home. He yells profanities, trembling with anger carried in curled fists and pacing steps.

We cannot force him to stay, and we cannot risk the safety of the campers and our own children. So I find myself driving with tears trickling quietly down my cheeks, following twisting roads back towards the city. Sabo’s body still shakes with anger. He is sinewy crossed arms and narrowed eyes. I pray for words and for wisdom, driving silent, my own body quivering with the gravity of his choice. I am witness to the tug-of-war in his heart.
And I turn the music down to say it: Look, I understand completely you don’t want to talk about it, but you need to know that there is no point in this drive too late for me to turn the car around and go back. We aren’t mad at you, and we don’t want you to leave. We still love you.

He stumbles over his words as he uncovers the root of it all: but if you guys actually knew everything I’d done, you would never ever still believe in me.

No amount of reassurance from me will change the stubborn set of his jaw. He wants to go back to his corner. They know him, know the worst of everything he has done, and they don’t care.

And don’t his words echo all of our greatest fears and deepest desires tangled up together? That we are incapable of being fully known and still fully loved.

He leans back his chair, closes his eyes, clutches his arms across his chest, and falls quickly into the kind of sleep that escapes from a world altogether too dark.

I drive with both hands clutching the wheel, my own heart racing shaky. This feels far too momentous, bigger than me. I am ill-equipped, and certain that I am not enough for this task. And so the car drips with thick silence; our breathing matched, each locked in our own uncertainties and fears about who we are and who we think we should be.

I breathe prayers for courage, for words, for wisdom. Finally, I pull the car into a Mellow Mushroom, gently tapping Sabo awake to tentatively ask if I can buy him dinner before bringing him home. He nods slow, rubbing his eyes. Finding seats, we order our food and I turn to small talk. We laugh over memories of Zack’s face smeared with pizza grease at the Braves game. Of the first time he held Jayci, tiny in her pink burrito-wrap-swaddle. I tell him about seeing Dexter last week: He looks like a grown man; he scared the crap out of me! I exclaim, and we make eye contact over a laugh. His muscles relax slowly as he sips his Sprite and we split a pizza.

Pray-without-ceasing seems more reasonable now than ever. Except perhaps at Caden’s bedside. I suppose matters of life-and-death bring clarity to our neediness. To our inadequacy and His great grace.

So I swallow pizza and gulp Diet Coke. He refills my cup for me, and when he sits back down, I take a deep breath to begin. As easily as this conversation went in my imagination, words come far harder when answered prayer becomes reality, and I am terrified of screwing-it-all-up. And yet, his eyes don’t drop below dark lashes. They hold mine, fierce but open.

I ask if he remembers when we prayed together at camp, over six years ago, for Jesus. He nods almost imperceptivity, and I swallow deep before continuing. Did you mean it? I ask him gentle. He nods again, his eyes never lowering from mine.

Then Sabo I say it brave, my voice refusing to shake as it stands in the truth: God looks at you and he looks at me and he sees exactly the same thing – the righteousness of Jesus.

Sabo laughs a little, shaking his head. Truth be told, it’s a little bit of a hard pill for me to swallow too. How can we be the same when I’ve done so many GOOD things and he has done so many BAD? But the gospel stares me in the face, with deep brown eyes and a stubborn set to his jaw. Because ALL sins nailed at Golgotha. Not just mine, not just his. All of them. And the ground stands surprisingly level here at the foot of the cross. I grab his hand across the table, and continue:

I know you think you have done too much, gone too far. I get it. But when I told you there was no point too far into the trip for us to turn around? I meant it. And God means it too. There’s no such thing as too far down the wrong path to turn back and let Christ set you on the right one.

And you’re right Sabo, I don’t know everything you have done, and frankly I’m not sure I want to. Because all you have to do is ask and it’s forgiven. And even beyond that, forgotten. God limits Himself and says He will remember your sin no more. Not just my sin Sabo, yours. All of it.

Deep breath.

And we love you no matter what. Because He does. Oh, my dear Sabo, I know your life hasn’t been easy or fair. I know it’s hard to imagine a loving Father and forgiveness when you’ve never experienced it. But you made a choice to belong to a God who will pursue you relentlessly. And He does not disappoint, nor does He give up.

He picks up his Sprite and drops his eyes. But does not let go of my hand.

And here lays exactly the point I wish I could pivot the story on a different trajectory. One in which Sabo changes his mind. One where he runs towards an ending where he knows not just in his head, but also in the deepest recesses of his heart the love and grace of God.

But that’s the thing about loving people, about bruised hearts, and hoping alongside the hurting. Sometimes things don’t end how you want them to. And I don’t know why some cycles continue. I don’t know why Caden runs literal laps around our home while the baby in the bed next to him lays in the ground. I don’t know why Zack currently resides in a bedroom in our house, while Sabo resides in a “trap house” smack in the middle of the biggest open-air heroin market in the nation. I dont know why the ones we love the fiercest and hope the most for, sometimes make the biggest mistakes of all. Willfully turning their backs on grace in favor of having more babies they cant raise, or making money no matter the means. I don’t know why some hurts fester while others heal.

I don’t know.

But here is what I DO know: God knows my heart needs to love Sabo right now. To cry with Jayci when she asks why we haven’t seen Him. He gave me Sabo as a gift, and I don’t know the ending because God’s ways are not mine. But the story cannot be finished, because His kingdom has not yet come. And so I wait with hope, my fingers twitching with the reminder that Sabo heard my words and held my hand. That perhaps the snow that falls across our front yard right now will blanket his corner, his street, with white. And remind him of truth. The truth that fresh starts and clean slates aren’t only found in storybooks or in nice-white-neighborhoods. But that Jesus specializes in new beginnings, in forgiveness, and in starting over. And I hope that truth will carry him home. Maybe never to us. Or maybe one day to us. But either ending, whatever the ending, I know that Sabo belongs to a Savior who will redeem and pursue. And I rest in the release that comes only from relinquishing my hold on that which never belonged to me in the first place.


  1. " But the story cannot be finished, because His kingdom has not yet come."

    Geez. Clinging to this for so many -- myself included. This is truly beautiful.

  2. "My nerves feel taught as I wade cautiously in the tension: wanting to believe in change, and waiting for it all to fall apart." As you well know, this sort of summarizes part of my existence right now.

    You and I are connected at the heart, forever, because of these boys. I'm so thankful for you, so thankful that you keep sharing your truth with beauty and grace (and that you're such a DANG GOOD WRITER).

    I should probably come back and read this, oh, every day.

    I shouldn't expect the story to be finished. You're SO right. Thank you for that. I Love you so much!!

    1. of course, that doesnt mean we stop hoping for change right? it's such a hard line to walk sometimes!

  3. Replies
    1. ditto and thanks for your prayers dear friend!!

  4. Geez, Becca, thanks for making me cry first thing on a Friday morning! ;)

    I wish I could talk to Sabo, and I don't even know him. Because I wrote about this exact problem last night on my blog, of feeling so unworthy of being loved that I sabotage everyone who comes close. Of how I want people to love me and push them away when they do. Of not understanding how God can love me when I've gotten so much wrong...and I'm about as sheltered as a nun in a convent if you held me up next to Sabo. If only he knew how not alone he really is.

    I will continue to pray for Sabo, for his heart, his safety, for him to return to the Lord who loved him first and loves him best and to you. I'd like to say I have a picture of where you just unexpectedly open your front door one day and pull him into your arms, but we all know that life is never that movie-esque. And I will pray for your aching heart as you wait. Love you, sister.

    1. Oh friend, thanks for sharing your heart - and I know I feel the same way about how similar our hearts can be, even though our lives look so different - Thanks for your prayers!

  5. I just read your post to my coworkers. 4 of them don't believe in Jesus. Everyone cried.

    I pray for Sabo too. I pray constantly. May God hold him safely in the palm s hand.

    1. Thank you friend. And for sharing and reading to your coworkers and the fact that the gospel is beautiful, not my words or Sabo's life or anything but Him. Thank you for prayers!

  6. Oh Becca.... my heart hurts with you. For you. For your family losing this one you love (though hopefully only for a season.) For Sabo... Praying God's truth shatters the lies in his head and his heart... that God's love and light break through the darkness and bring him home.

  7. I don't even know what to say. This post was heart-breaking in this world's reality & beautiful in our God's truths of which you so eloquently write. I read this with tears streaming down my face. Praying for Sabo and you.

  8. Oh, Becca. I don't even have the words to say how beautiful this is. How beautiful you and Sabo are. Love you, friend.

  9. Wow... this is so powerful because it is so true. Sabo is the same as you and me... loved and forgiven. Thank you for this post. It is eloquent and so very, very true. Praying for him... and his story... and for the fresh snow as a beautiful reminder.

  10. Oh, my sister in Christ. I am weeping along with you for Sabo and holding on to faith that someday we will rejoice together as well. Praying for him. Praying for you, too.

  11. This makes my heart ache. I know you love those boys so much & I can't imagine just watching him make choices that continue to lead him down the wrong path. God definitely put y'all in Sabo's life for a reason and his story isn't over yet. I found some of my former students in Mississippi on Instagram yesterday and the pictures they were posting broke my heart. It is so hard to get out of that life cycle. I am so glad you & Adam are helping kids that need good role models. Praying for you & praying for Sabo.

  12. I started to read this when you posted it, and then I closed it and bookmarked it for later... today was the perfect time... I pray often for your sweet Sabo AND my "Sabo" pray that they both know that God loves them no matter what, We love Him, because He first loved us... I also pray that they both know that this is just the beginning of their stories and if they both surrender their lives to Jesus He will write a beautiful story for each of them.

    I love you sweet friend....

  13. This made my heart hurt but also rejoice in His ability to forgive. It is amazing.


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