Tuesday, April 25, 2017

When There is Still Hope

So I wrote these words originally in 2013. But I cannot think of anything I need this morning more than this reminder. That there is, in fact, still hope. Even on our darkest and most disappointing days. Hope wins (even though now the statistic would be zero-in-five-of-our-kiddos-has-never-been-arrested).

Maybe one of you needs this reminder today too: 

I tease his tiny fingers until they curl around mine, tracing the freckles dotting his upper lip and chin with my fingertips while his eyes flutter into sleep. And tears drip off my own chin unchecked. His sixteen-year-old momma watches Pitch Perfect in the other room, and this baby unhinges me into the conviction that it is all just too much.

Six years ago, we got to know 5 ten and eleven year olds. They fight and tease and wrestle like siblings, quick to argue and quicker to stand up for each other: growing up in the projects together will do that to you, I suppose, solidifying community and family in mysteriously beautiful and unexpected ways. We have watched these five lengthen from all-knobby-knees-and-gap-teeth into teenagers who look more adult than child. And of the five, three are not just teenagers enmeshed in high-school drama, but mom or dad. Only two are still in high school at all, and one of those two at an alternative school. There is only one of the group who has never been arrested. And the odds stack ever-higher against them.

I finish reading Grady Baby, and flip back to the front to see when it was published. 1999. I wonder, even before I can stop myself, how many of the babies from the book find themselves, fourteen years later, back at Grady to deliver their own babies.

Sometimes cynicism mounts; the weight and pressure building until it all feels hopeless, not to mention entirely-too-hard. If you’re not growing your ministry, if you don’t have measurable results, you’re dying. He smiles at me after telling me this, and I smile back bravely, sure he can see the waver beneath. Because I look at our “results” and I’m not sure we have anything we should tell potential donors. I can talk all day and climb up on my soapbox about stopping the cycle and helping the kids and fighting for their futures. But things in the trenches look different than they do from the air.
The window on the door has been shattered when we walk up to the neighborhood high school. After discussing whether we should just reach through and open the door ourselves, we buzz ourselves in and wait patiently for a reply. When we tell the lady in the front office we’d like to volunteer, she wrinkles her nose and look confused while rifling through files to see if they even have a volunteer form of some sort. No one has ever done this before she offers by way of explanation. So we file tardy slips and shuffle tenth grade files back to the ninth grade drawer, and pull folders out for kids who have moved or dropped out. And it’s not glamorous, and perhaps even a little futile. But we show up anyways.
Yesterday during play-time, Jayci managed to dump out every single solitary card game we own (which, by the way, is a very large number of card games), and mix them together into a giant mountain of cards that were impressively thoroughly shuffled together. I walked in to find her sheepish. She tells me she accidentally made a big mess. I contemplated just shoving them all back in the baskets as they are, pretending it never happened and just pulling out cards when we need them. Finally, I sigh loudly, and perhaps a little dramatically. I yell for Adam; together, the three of us sat cross-legged on Jayci’s floor for nearly two hours sorting out cards. Occasionally, Caden is distracted from the play kitchen where he cooks “hot gogs,” and runs over to mix up our piles a little, to all of our chagrin and loud protests.

Putting cards in the right boxes, shuffling file-folders into alphabetical order, feels both strangely satisfying and smacks of futility. Because some of these kids wont show up for school tomorrow. And chances are better-than-good that Caden or Jayci, or both of them in a show of mischievous solidarity, will dump out all the cards again. And I’m not sitting here writing because I have this all figured out. I certainly don’t have an answer, or some wisdom to share with you. I write because I need to process why-DO-we-keep-showing-up? To process why we keep shuffling and sorting and reaching down into the grittiness of it all.
Sun streams through the windows as I wipe tears from my cheek and chin and gently wrap him in a blanket, burrito-style, just like we did with Jayci and Caden. Then I join his momma in the other room to watch Pitch Perfect, and can’t help myself from singing along. I jiggle him a little until his blinks lengthen, long lashes resting on his cheek and wrinkles smoothing from his forehead. He relaxes into sleep and I hold him close, ignoring my mile-long-to-do-list. On the drive back to their house, she tells me about the “other white lady from church,” (not my church, I don’t know her as it turns out) who helps their family and bought her sister a car. Through tears, she tells me how when church-lady (her words, not mine) met her son, and realized she had decided to keep him instead of giving him up for adoption, she said: congratulations, you flushed his life down the toilet.

We pull up to a red light, and I fight back my own tears, laying my hand on her arm. You know that’s not true right? I ask her. She shrugs. And I remind her that God doesn’t make mistakes. That despite the odds, and although raising her son will not be easy, THERE IS STILL HOPE. Because I have to believe that is true. I have to. Or else I might as well stop showing up. I have to believe that Jesus cares far more about us standing in the right place than He does about us being right. He would rather me stand with this precious young momma than stand and accuse her. Because I have to believe that the shame of this deep-seeded-belief, that her own life is worth-less, is exactly what led her to stare down the barrel of a life she declared again and again she didn't want for herself, and pull the trigger. To sleep with him, to have a baby, to step right into the cycle she has fought against for sixteen years.

And so we measure our success not with statistics or growth charts, but with love. And we hold our ground, refusing to be moved by what the world tells us we should be doing. Even when we trip over disappointment and set-backs, we regain our footing in the sure and ever-present promise of hope in Jesus. Because the darkness will not win, and success neither belongs to us nor can be measured by us anyways. Don’t we follow and chase after a God who delights in turning things on their head anyways? Where the first are last, and to find your life you lose it? We hold our ground, standing in solidarity with our neighbors, in an unexpected and beautiful kinship with those around us.

Maybe I’m wrong, maybe we should care more about outcomes and statistics and RESULTS. There are certainly not any grant-givers or funders breaking down our door to offer us money for our “one-in-five-of-our-kiddos-has-never-been-arrested.” But I am holding-fast, nevertheless, to my belief in the slow work of a patient God who doesn’t give up on us. Who watches and waits for the prodigal to return, and then lifts His robes and runs to him when he takes the first steps towards home. We will believe in our kiddos until they believe in themselves. And in the solidarity and kinship of linking ourselves to them forever, regardless of decisions or outcomes, we open ourselves up to hurt and disappointment. But we also open ourselves to the beautiful heartbeat of hope and to the realization and we belong to each other. And we can finally believe the words of Jeremiah when he says “In this place of which you say it is a waste . . . there will be heard again the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness . . . the voices of those who sing.”


  1. I'm reminded of a conversation I had recently with our pastor, who when I expressed similar frustration about our ministry here in Dallas, told me "Remember that God's scoreboard for us is based on one thing - faithfulness. We sew seeds where we're called to serve, and He takes care of the rest. Maybe we never get to see the fruit. But we're called to keep faithfully sewing." Your faithfulness encourages and blesses me.


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