Sunday, March 24, 2013

Suburbia is Relative

Phone call last Friday:

Me: So, did any of the guys from your pod give you heck about me and Dad?
Robert: Yeah, some of them did.
Me: Why?
Robert: They said you're white and from the Suburbs.
Me: Well, we're white.
Robert: And you're from the suburbs.
Me: We aren't from the suburbs! We live in what's called a "declining neighborhood".
Robert: Mom. You built your house. You live in the suburbs.
Me: Okay, the house is new...but it's NOT in the suburbs.
Robert: Mom. You have a basement. With, like, a real floor. You live in the suburbs.
Both: (cracking up laughing)
Me: The kids go to the poorest school in the city.
Robert: Well, I don't think I would brag about that...
Me: But that's the point. We love it here. We came here on purpose.
Robert: Why would you ever do that?
Me: Because God told us to. God loves poor people!
Robert: (dying laughing)
Me: He doesn't want us to only be with people just like ourselves. He wants us to understand we're all the same!
Robert: Okay, but you live in the suburbs.

Today's visit:

Me: (looking around the room) So, are any of these guys the ones who pick on you about me and Dad?
Robert: That guy behind you.
Me: Is he nice?
Robert: Pretty much.
Me: Does it embarass you?
Robert: No way! 
Me: What makes him think we're from the suburbs?
Robert: Well, it doesn't help that Dad wore cowboy boots to prison.
Me: (crazy-loud laughing)

I woke up this morning, put on jeans, gingham (green), something gray. No jewelry. Not even my cuff. (I feel naked without my cuff.) 

I inhaled a Subway ham and cheese flatbread sandwich from the drive-thru (pepper jack cheese, peppers, tomatoes, spinach, chipotle sauce) while Cranberries sang us all the way to Michigan City.

This is what alone time with Cory looks like these days. (I'll take it.)

We talked about the small fries, about Spring break, about church and God. Mostly, we talked about our big kid, the one who's 19 and way taller than both of us. The one with (reportedly) 16.5-inch biceps. (Up an inch since county? Sounds suspicious...) We dreamed about all of the pieces of childhood that we'd like to hand back to him.

All I kept thinking was, "You're never too old to come home..."  He was an orphan for so long. But God didn't give up on his story and he made ours better than we thought possible by trusting us with him.

It's the sort of win-win that makes both sides slightly terrified that it's too good to be true.

But it's true.

We waited in line with our roll of quarters. Walked past the "You Are Entering This Area at Your Own Risk" sign. Raised our arms, pulled out our pockets, opened our mouths as wide as they go. There he was at the table, his face set like a stone until the moment he spotted us.

"I been watching out my window for you. I saw you walkin' from the van. I got up early cause I was so excited."

We bought vending machine junk food and hunkered down, not even noticing anyone else in the room. We talked big business and small potatoes and it all fell around us like gold coins. I resisted the urge to bank the bits that in my mind add up to a guarantee for a trouble-free future. I should know better, and I do. I made myself take my eyes off him now and then, because, hello, it would be weird if I stared. But that's what I want to do, and that's how I know he's mine.

I'll never be able to explain what God did to Cory and I, but I probably won't stop trying.

I can't properly lay out how the convicted felon favored to win the minimum security pull-up contest became our boy, but he did.

We looked him in the eye while we talked deep, deep, heavy. I reminded myself now and then to exhale. I told him some very hard truths and he took it like a man who knows Jesus, who has Jesus with him - everywhere. He chewed it up, swallowed it down. And I love that kid. I love him every second. I love him when I tell him we want the world for him. I love him when he says his first stop out is to pick up some smokes. I love him when he finds every little reason to call us Mom and Dad. I love him in the way he shows respect to people who haven't earned it. I love him in the way he giggles like a child. I love him in his protective tendencies and his flinty resolve that we are his. I love him in his bad habits. I love him in his curiosity and his insistence that the bacon cheeseburger in the vending machine is too expensive. (We didn't give him a say in the matter.) I love him in the way he calls the Bible "the Word". I love him for trusting us. I love him so much for trusting us.

It's time to go and I never want to. None of us wants to. I say, "I'm not leaving" and without a beat he says, "Well, then you'll have to go down to Madison County (the women's prison) cause you can't stay here."

He hugs us each, then he hugs us both together and I hope that guy behind us sees the way two white people from the suburbs might carry the full weight and all the beauty of Robert in our hearts as we drive quiet down the road home.

He tells us to look up at the window on the left, promises we'll see him there.

So we get to the van and look up and please don't ask me how, but there's his hand, outside the building, waving furiously as we roll away and I try not to cry.

This was church today. And we told him next Sunday is Easter so we won't be able to go, but from where I sit now, I just can't find a better way to celebrate our living hope, Jesus, who was "handed over to die because of our sins, and raised to life to make us right with God". (Romans 4:25)