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)


  1. Oh girl - can't stop the tears. Every time you write of Robert he captures a piece of my heart and my prayers. I love how you all love.

  2. Love this shannan. can't wait to see what God does through robert. he is destined for amazing things, i just know it.

    been wondering how your relatives that lost their daughter in the accident a few yrs ago are handling things? that's how i first came to your blog {through some link from somewhere}.

  3. It's so so beautiful. I just want to keep telling you thanks for sharing the hard, the hope and the beauty with us.

  4. once upon a time, I went to the Easter sunrise service inside ISP. Long story. Many years ago. Changed me forever. Not sure they would ever even allow that again. Funny thing... I can picture everything you describe from the roll of quarters, to the opening mouth wide. You are making a difference to those who watch!

  5. Did you hear the Pope is saying his first Holy Thursday Mass in a juvenile prison instead of St. Peter's? There, my friend, is a man after your own heart - and mine.

    1. I KNOW! I have been geeked about this all week!

    2. I also read that the pope was going to wash the feet of the prisoners? Or he did elsewhere? Poor memory.. But shards of it are good!

      Loved this post. Love that Robert calls you Mom and that his Dad showed up in cowboy boots!

      Hold on to the joy- it's the hardest emotion for humans to deal with because it makes us worry "what's going to happen now? This is too good to be true." Etc...

      Sounds like the best day!


  6. Every time I read your posts on Robert, I cry. What a tender, sacrificial, grace-filled love you are giving him. I just wish I could know the whole story and how it is he came to call you Mom and Dad. It's beautiful and I can tell that your life is richer in having this relationship. Bless you for being faithful.

    1. Hey Suzie! Our journey with Robert started 2 years ago, but the Mom/Dad thing started a few months ago. You can read about it here:

      And if you want to go back further:

      Thanks for your kind words!

  7. First I'm laughing and then I'm crying. I love you and Robert so much. Thank you for this, this is indeed church.

  8. Wow! I stumbled on to your blog during a giveaway for one of Becky's (Farmgirl Paints) cuffs and have enjoyed coming back time and time again to read your new posts. I couldn't take my eyes off of this one. I absolutely LOVE to read about what God is doing in the hearts and lives of others and your story touches me deeply. Thanks so much for sharing!

  9. Oh, FPFG! I can't take it! I thought I cried every last tear I had at our Easter contada (in suburbia) today, but alas, there are more! Bless, bless. The beauty of the cross. It's for every one of us. So thankful for such a sweet Savior and His obedient children, Robert's folks. :) Saying extra, extra prayers for all of you tonight! Love, love, love.

  10. LOve this. Love it all. (But especially the crack about the cowboy boots. Nothing better than laughing with our kids.) SO glad you are his family, there is nothing to change a person like a family and acceptance.

  11. I can't help but wonder how many lives will be impacted because of watching your love for each other!!!! BLESSED early Easter you celebrated today!

  12. Girl. Kelly has done an Easter service before for inmates at a maximum security prison. He said he's never heard men sing so joyously as they did. Redemption is the most beautiful sight ever. Is it weird that I want to call you mom, too?! ;) I just love you and your heart so much.

  13. oh, shannnan.
    robert cuts my heart open every time. just rips the band-aid right off.
    love your heart, girl.

  14. i totally agree with amanda! tears. heart in my throat. i'm learning to love the big orphans around me through your love for robert.

  15. crying my eyes out over here! LOVE LOVE LOVE. Love the reminder that God is never done using us, that I would never want to miss out on what he has for me no matter how hard it may be. Thank you for sharing your story.

  16. girl, quit. this was almost too much for me tonight. almost. the mom and dad part kills me- "when he finds every little reason to call us mom and dad".

  17. That is so stunningly, beautifully wonderful :)

  18. nice FPFG....I love this boy's sense of humor. It seems to connect you guys.

  19. Shannan, I tear up for Robert every time you write about him. And when you write about being scared for him, or what it is like to leave him there I lose it. I love that he calls you two Mom and Dad. I got shivers reading it. God is good and you are awesome for going and doing as He wants you to. I sometimes read your blog and hope that I am not just MISSING any directions that God is giving me, whether on purpose or by being oblivious. Thanks for faithfully writing about makes it easier to know what to pray for. Coming from someone who definitely lives in suburbia. :)

  20. I can see his hand and I'm waving back.

  21. An absolutely beautiful post overflowing with redemption, grace, hope and love... Loved every word.

  22. An absolutely beautiful post overflowing with redemption, grace, hope and love... Loved every word.

  23. I'm 55 with four children and two Grandbabies, I feel (most of the time) that I get it , that I understand it. But you my dear are so insightful, so full of love, and funny as hell. You're only going to get better with age. Keep going!

  24. So beautiful and brings that lump into my throat.

  25. I can picture his arm, waving out the his parents...from the suburbs.

    You know those pieces of childhood you wish you could give back?
    Well, I think you just did.
    The heart of it, anyway.

    Sounds like he told you to watch for him and then made sure you could see a kid heading off to a long summer camp (who isn't so excited about the prospect), who sticks that little arm out of the top third of the bus window as far as he can (how can he reach that far - is that his shoulder?!)...because he wants you to see him, saying, "Don't forget me, call me, visit me, don't forget me! - and bring me back home as soon as you can. Home, I'd rather be home."

    You two, have given him Home :)
    Even if Cory does wear cowboy boots.

  26. I love every piece of this. Next time wear a cowboy hat!

  27. In tears once again from an amazing post. Wow, no words. Incredible story you're sharing, not just to us readers but to Robert. The impact your family is making is huge. Thank you :)

  28. This is good stuff...very good stuff. <3

  29. maybe your best post ever?

    so rich and filled with lives that reflect Jesus.

  30. so, so thankful for Robert in your make us love him through your words, through your example of unconditional love to him..if you decide to give Robert away...could my husband & I have love him, to encourage him, to hug him...please tell him that he is loved and prayed for by many who may never even see him...but because Jesus first loved!..beautiful post...worth reading over and over!

  31. You don't know me, i don't know you, we don't even live in the same country. I somehow came across your blog awhile ago and I'm reading it like a maniac-- just eating it right up like its manna... you speak straight to the parts of my heart that yearn for more love, search for beauty in the broken places, beg for Jesus. And this post made me cry right smack in the middle of my university class, where, incidentally, we are talking about religious customs. This is beauty, this is truth, you are shining love. This gave me chills.

  32. What a testimony of God's love - on this blog and at the prison. I feel privileged to have read this today.

  33. The posts about your oldest son are my favorite.

  34. I love Robert too. Crying tears here, so thankful to see Jesus at work in other people, in the real hard places. This is such a beautiful post, and what a blessed young man that Robert is to have you writing your love down here for him to look back on someday.

  35. I am a bonafide lurker who just wants to say how much I love this post. New here, will have to go back and read the back story, but Love the post. Love the way you love Robert. Love how God is using you.

  36. This was just amazing. As the wonderful Glennon Melton would say, it was brutiful. I love reading about your boy and the way you teach each other about love, forgiveness, family, God and even vending machine food:) Saying so many prayers for all of you.

  37. Love your post... couldn't wait to see if you would write about your trip to see Robert. Thanks for sharing; am all teared up here. You are a blessing!

  38. Oh. my. literary loveliness. Kingdom love just oozed out of my computer screen. Kingdom love that inspired me to walk back into my classroom tomorrow and love the heck out of all those hellions in my room throughout the day. To find the Roberts in my life and help hand them pieces of their childhood.

  39. oh my swelling heart!!! I'm crying like a baby!! The Love! The sweet raw tender genuine love!!!! Thank you for sharing this journey with us....its such a gift <3. Tell Robert that there are so many people out here who love him and are praying for him <3

  40. This is so beautiful. You are being the kind of person you couldn't find in this post: You are making sure that this one man isn't stuck in a mess without someone to help him get out! You are an inspiration. You are the face of Christ in the prison - where He should be seen! Your biography is the one I want to read when I need inspiration to be a better person! Do you see how many people need to hear your voice?! I really want to see you published and will do whatever I can to help. If you need an editor, write me!

  41. Ah! We don't get to take quarters in - - we sit in plastic chairs, us on one side and her on another, with a little plastic patio like table between us - no touching except for a hug at the beginning of the visit and a hug at the end. Isn't it amazing how much you can squeeze into a 2 hour visit?! Blessings to Robert!

  42. Thanks to Robert and his suburban parents for refilling my faith on a grey morning. You are always just what I need to hear. Now I'm ready to put on my big girl panties n face my day.

  43. dying over here....
    so grateful you love grateful he lets you and loves you guys back.
    so hoping and praying that his stay there is short lived. have you ever mentioned how long he will be there?

    you are so right...that was the perfect day at church.

  44. girl...i gotta email you with something on my heart. i have been praying and i read this.
    maybe just run it by you..maybe it is nothing
    i am busy today but will try to throw something together by tomorrow.

  45. I love Robert!!! I love him a lot.

  46. Hi Shannon, I decided to feature this post(with a link) on my site for Good Friday. It's such a powerful story. Thanks for sharing your heart.

  47. FPFG I want to be just like you when I grow up, wait a minute, I think Im older than you are?! I love the Jesus-in-you.

  48. Shannan, I'm Mariah's mom (GreatManyThings) but I'm going to start describing myself as Riley's g-ma, I think. Anyway, I've been following your posts about Robert. Started out just interested. Then I found myself volunteering with some young adult offenders through our county children and youth agency. We'd eat dinner together and talk about everything and laugh and, out of nowhere, I ended up volunteering my heart as well as my time. Today I found out that my "Robert" left the house last night and didn't return. MIA. Which means, if/when they find him, it's off to jail. Again. And I'm in pieces on my kitchen floor. Not sure why I'm telling you this all except that it's fresh and I had a feeling you'd be able to understand. I pray that God blesses your committment to the ones He's entrusted to you. And I pray that mine trips over a crack in the sidewalk and falls face down in front a policeman. Tonight.

  49. please keep up the posts about robert. they are my favorite.

  50. it was church.
    my goodness.