"I think he just ain't used to anyone being honest. It scares him."
We sat at the train crossing while the cargo screamed past, our eyes locked on smoke and steel and the sort of graffiti that always makes me feel something. I thought, Why on earth is that scary?
She ran her thumb along the edge of her phone, up and down, and I knew we needed the pause at those railroad gates, but I sure didn't know what to do with it.
For the fourth or fifth or twentieth time this week, my church-girl common sense was failing me.
It never used to be that way. Back when everyone I knew had grown up just like me, with patent leather Sunday shoes buckled across the bridges of our feet, steeped in the sort of religion that hinges on knowing the names of the brothers in the fiery furnace, back then we took turns doling out the catch-phrases of our church culture when "trouble" crept our way. We spoke in code, and though we hadn't even considered it, it wouldn't have mattered that it wasn't a universal tongue.
This was our history, the faith of our grandpas and moms, Zacchaeus, Georges Washington and Bush, Queen Esther, Amy Grant, and, reportedly, Michael Sever. It was tradition and truth, handed down, handed down, landing square in our laps.
I used to wonder what it might be like to have friends who weren't exactly like me. It made my blood pump and my heart race. I wanted to run towards it, to do something different and new. Those flannelgraphs had made me believe all the world needed was The Answer. And I had It.
The gates raised and we eased over the tracks while I counted minutes in my head. We still had five, so she strung together sentences about abuse, addiction, and shame, all before most of the city had poured its first cup of coffee. We drove past upstairs windows covered with air-brushed wolf blankets. A leathery man crossed the street and stared me down, his breath catching in the air like a burning question.
Words escape me when it comes to restraining orders and meth cookers and kids who don't know their mamas. My answers are lost in tangles of poverty and abuse, where there's no familiar back-story to bolster the fuzzy middle and we don't share the unspoken etiquette of the church - just nod along, you know this is true.
And it is.
But I can't fill the gaps when the stakes are this high. I can't make up for years of hell with a Bible story or the mention of His name. That's not my job, though I'd do anything to make it so. I wanted to be the savior of someone so dang bad. I wanted to fix the world. I wanted it to be as easy as I once believed, back when everyone was just like me.
You lost your job and your house is next and every single day you remember the skills you're trying to forget, you're running and gunning from people who want to eat you alive, suck you back in, use you and break you and feed you to lions? You need Jesus.
You hear the scratch of tinfoil and your mouth waters? You miss what it was like to sleep for days and forget your reality for just one second? You need Jesus.
You're terrified he'll learn the truth about you? You want to trust but life has taught you to dodge? You see clean houses absent of chaos and your heart throbs with wanting but you know you'll never come close? You need Jesus.
You've burned every bridge and wounded every heart and pretty soon, you'll be handed the keys to your freedom, no one will own you or frisk you or track your every move...and you're scared to death? You need Jesus.
What does that mean to someone who doesn't know who He is? Someone with no frame of reference, no childhood storybooks or family legacies or years of small moments where the pieces snapped together until they claimed it as their own?
It feels impossible, because you can tell the truth, but you can't make someone believe it.
You can speak the only words that have a chance of helping, but it won't be lost on you that you want for nothing and never have. You can say it all, but what they really need is for you to be it. And that's terrifying. It'll make you desperate for Him.
Some days I remind them they need Jesus then beg God to prove it.
Most of the time, I default to baring my guts, talking about the wrong things I've done and still do. I get impatient and sometimes rude, then walk their way with my head hung low to apologize. I talk about the places in my faith that confuse me still. I share the ways God keeps on rescuing me, not because I read my Bible every day or never cuss or have a strong reign on the worst of who I am, but because I keep proving my need to be rescued.
"You can stand around a Christmas tree with a family like Joseph's, with cheaters and beaters and deceivers, with a family like Jacob's, who ran away and ran around and ran folks down. But out of a family line that looks like a mess, God brings the Messiah...You can never be undone." - The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp