Thursday, March 19, 2015

Dry Bones

We watch boys march towards seventeen like a precipice. Then tumble over its edge like a cliff, landing impossibly tangled in the streets. No one calls them boys any more, except maybe us; instead, they find themselves solidly in the land of young black male. I want to shake each by ever-broadening shoulders and beg them to stop giving themselves over to the stereotypes. Their instagram feed leaves little to the imagination, and I scroll past quickly. Certainly, I never watch the videos.

It all feels lately like a hopeless tangle of fights and arrests. And we watch, mired in our own helpless uncertainty as everyone gives up on them, until finally they give up on themselves. Can anyone escape this warzone unscathed? I roll the question around in my chest, hoping the answer may yet surprise me.

Pearls before swine, people tell us. We’re wasting our time, should be focusing more on the “good kids,” the leaders, the ones whose feet land solid on the path towards success and escape.

A few problems wrap themselves around this theory, not the least of which is how to decipher which kids will make it out. Whose coattails could we ride, claiming their victory as our own? Three kids on our basketball team this year graduated last summer and went off to college full of promise and hope, only to find themselves woefully unprepared and back home after a single semester, with fewer prospects on the horizon and deepening defeat ringing around their eyes.

And no matter how often I turn it over and flip it around, I cannot make this theory jive with the Jesus I know. The one who doesn’t give up on people. Who chooses the least-likely as leaders. Who ushers in an upside-down Kingdom, and eats at the tables of sinners and prostitutes. Who promises hope in the darkest places, and asks why we tremble in the midst of the wildest storms.
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Last week’s basketball game ends in boisterous victory, a clatter of chairs and basketballs echoing as we exit into the cold, puffs of our breath hanging in the air. One of the boys gets angry, and refuses to get in the car. Adam follows his trek down the dark road in shorts and t-shirt. I shiver just watching, and we all coax and plead for him to get in the car, or at least to put on a coat. Defiant, he ignores us and juts his chin skyward as he continues his march. The rest of the boys laugh uproariously and I fret as I drive them all home, occasionally calling Adam to check on their late-night walk down marginally icy streets. Finally, I circle back around, my tires crunching and blinker flashing, stopping next to a cemetery shrouded in blackest night. They both climb quiet into the car, and we drop him off at a friends house, because he has nowhere else to go; which is all he will tell us before texting a few days later to inform Adam he never wants to see us again. We are unsure of what even happened, and let tears slip out alongside hope he knows he can always come back.

Adam spends more time at the courthouse and then the bail-bond building. They’re trying to give him ten years, one of our boys worries about his older brother, by all accounts another good kid who went away to college only to quickly find himself back home and mostly unemployable. I try to imagine my life without the last ten years: no marriage or kids, no ministry or house in the city.

You know God, I tell Him during a long solo drive back from North Carolina: what we really need is a win. Because it all feels like a endless circle of loss, like all we’ve done is offered to step ourselves into the never-ending cycles of poverty and hopelessness that entangle all around us.

I keep driving, occasionally pulling a handful of starburst jellybeans from my stash in the middle console. In the quiet stretch of highway ribboned before me, it dawns on me like a flash: the real problem is that I’m still thinking of it all in terms of wins and losses. Like a giant tallyboard somewhere somehow determines the weight and success of what we spend our lives on. But God doesn’t operate the way the world does. This is the best news, of course. But I keep forgetting, listening again to all the wrong voices. I insist on using my own standards of success, more tied to my middle class values than to anything that resembles the Kingdom Jesus whispers.

Maybe what you need, I hear somewhere in my heart, is actually more losses. I try desperately to ignore this whispering, shushing myself loudly and quickly turning the volume back up on the radio.
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We arrive late to church and can't check the kids into the nursery. Instead, they sit quietly beside me in church for all of five minutes before things dissolve into tears over phone-playing and sharing the Bible and who has a bigger piece of offering envelope to draw on. I grit my teeth and drag them from the sanctuary, climbing into the car before dissolving into tears.

Adam shows me his phone when I circle back around to pick up the boys from youth group. He has pulled up the text from the boy who marched home in the cold, saying he never wants to see us again. I feel nauseous and stop to throw up, despite being well into my second trimester. The kids squabble over chocolate milk and I send them to their rooms indefinitely.

Two days later, the next basketball game ends in a fight and the police getting called. Adam isn’t there, but my children are with me, and they sob as they watch boys they know and love throw chairs across the gym and shove the referees.

It’s all too much, I tell Adam. I quit.

More losses, I hear.

But why, I wonder. Why more losses? Why not a win? It would certainly help boost morale, you know.

But perhaps we dont win by fighting the darkness so much as by surrendering to the light. Because God doesn’t need our tallyboard of foolishly calculated “wins,” so much as He desires our hearts. Because He’s the one who created everything from nothing. Who breathes life and sinew onto dry bones, even as we try desperately to hold together skeletons.

Maybe what we really need is to throw out the whole system we use to measure ourselves. To upend our thinking so we gain our life by losing it, and find His strength right there in our weakness. Maybe we dont know the whole story, because the Kingdom is both here and has not yet come.

When we first started doing inner-city ministry nearly nine years ago, we visited a church in the middle of the scariest (we thought at the time) part of Atlanta. The pastor spoke on Ezekiel, sweeping his hands and announcing this is the valley of dry bones. I look around at the expanse of what looks dead, hopeless, like unending cycles and unshakeable defeat. And I remember that we can never breathe life by our own effort. And that we dont define success or defeat by anything but the very breath of God moving into the most-dead places.

Through the eyes of men
It seems there's so much
We have lost
As we look down the road
Where all the prodigals
Have walked
And one by one
The enemy has whispered lies
And led them off as slaves

But we know that
You are God
Yours is the victory
We know there is more to come
That we may not yet see

So with the faith
You've given us
We'll step into the valley unafraid
As we call out to dry bones come alive, come alive
And we call out to dead hearts
Come alive, come alive
Come up out of the ashes
Let us see an army rise
We call out to dry bones come alive

Oh God of endless mercy
God of unrelenting love
Rescue every daughter
Bring us back the wayward son
By Your spirit breathe upon them show that
You alone can save
You alone can save
-Lauren Daigle 

9 comments:

  1. Wow. Just wow. Praying for your hearts in the valley of Dry Bones ... and yes, still asking for a win, even when losses matter, too! Love you!

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  2. I don't even know what to say except this was such a powerful piece. Hugs and prayers to you all.

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  3. Wow..... I have a blog piece almost identical to this waiting for post, I'm not sure what I'm waiting for... but the words you wrote here are almost identical to my words, my heart and my feelings lately... I love you sweet friend.

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  4. There's no way you could have known how much I needed to read this today. More losses. That will echo in my heart as I learn surrender.

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  5. I love this, Becca. It is so much more of the same of what He's been patiently telling me for the past 3 years. Have you ever read Jean Vanier? You can find some interviews with him on YouTube and go from there, but I think you would really be refreshed by what he has to say. Blessings friend!

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  6. I love it when you write the whole truth like this- it's heartbreakingly beautiful and utterly glorious.
    Lifting your arms from here
    Love you so -

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  7. Oh, Becca, I can't imagine the depth of weariness you feel or the longing for some glimpses of hope. I am praying for your hearts -- for God to mend them and bind them and fill them with Him. I'm praying for endurance and wisdom and God's love to penetrate the hearts of all these kids you're loving and serving and fervently praying over.

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    Replies
    1. I love you friend. Your kind words and constant encouragement just mean so much. And your prayers, keep them coming.

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