Monday, March 23, 2015

Sliders

He sits at my island, directly across from me, while I chop peppers, stir the sauce, drag a soapy rag over crumbs.

Robert sits to his left. On the stools, you'd never know D is a full eighteen inches shorter.

They say they're brothers. Or maybe cousins. I don't remember for sure, but they've bound themselves by some intangible, untraceable forever. It took me a while to realize this, but it actually means something to them. This is their code of honor, and it overrides the lectures they dole out to each other in turn. It supersedes the days when they write each other off, cuss each other out, fall clean off the grid. If I asked them (and I should,) they'd probably say they're stuck at this point. You can't pick your family.

But they did.

His chipped front tooth holds the light like it often does and all I can see is him, as a child. A ten-year old, just like Calvin. A boy who dreamed of owning the block and kissed his mama every night.

I stand there in my weekday ponytail staying busy so they'll keep on talking. It doesn't matter that Robert is my son, I study them like it's the night before finals. I've missed so much, but cramming has its perks.

I can always tell who Robert's talking to on the phone just by the tone of his voice. There are at least three distinct dialects, and he falls in and out of one of them while they make fun of each other's hair and drop their g's. Every "you" becomes a "y'all", in the singular. Their eyes shine.

This is the language they share, so they speak it. Sometimes.

D "has'ta bounce," and I invite him over for dinner the following night.

It's the exact thing that makes Robert's friends nervous and put-on-the-spot. It's not what these kids are used to, this "professional" way of making plans and keeping them, the premeditated torture of sitting twitchy around a table without their phones.

I know all of this, but I don't make it easier. I need this one in my life. I can't explain it. I loved him the second I met him, and nothing else about him mattered. He's loved by his mama, I'm pretty sure, but call me an Auntie, if Robert's your brother. Call me your foster mom (this is a weird thing that happens when a kid from hard places feels loved by you but isn't exactly sure how to define it.) Call me your second cousin once removed. I don't give a rip what you call me, just stay. Here.

"We'll order pizza," I tell him. That might be easier to commit to than the stuff I usually cook. Besides, I think, stirring the pot on the stove, I don't have time to cook tomorrow, anyway.

His face flashes uncertainty, then rebounds.
I've made a life of catching those wisps before they've diffused.

"Do you not like pizza?"

"I do...I was just hoping for those chicken sliders."

The light bounces off the angle of his front tooth and hits me square in my soul. It breaks the earth. I'll feel it there for days. I'll watch it grow.

For all the time I spend wondering how to love people better, the moment feels suspiciously lacking in bullet points. Plans and programs and promised prayers still fit so nicely in my hand. I know they're traps, shoddy stand-ins for relationships and actual sacrifice, but they're tidier and they almost never break my heart.

"I'll make you chicken sliders. Extra pickles," I say without hesitating, pulling chicken thighs from the freezer, not so much a gesture of kindness but a veiled, preemptive guilt-trip. Do you see me thawing this chicken? Auntie isn't playing, so don't play with me. You'd better show up.

In an instant, my agenda shifts. My plans are left leaning in the corner, waiting for a different day. My priorities realign. I'll be making chicken sliders. And you don't need me to tell you a chicken slider is useless without homemade mac and cheese.

The point here isn't that I'm good or kind or extra-sacrificial. You'd have done the same thing. I know you would have.

The point is, relationships grow relationships.
Community changes us.
Opening our hearts to the unexpected frees us from our tired standy-bys.

The point is, love means sacrifice, and sacrifice is freaking hard.
But not always.

D showed up early the next night, an extra guy in tow.
We filled our paper plates then went back for seconds.

Our measly definition of family slips easily between the cracks of what God calls family.

All three of them felons, they talked about prison - which one was the dirtiest, which one the "freshest". When I asked D if he'd been to prison, his response was quick and without a hint of humor, "Nope. Not yet."

For three hours, we loved those boys the best we could.
We parented them, because they secretly like it.

We played board games and like usual, they hesitated. Then, like usual, they didn't want to stop.

When they left, we had a talk with Calvin and Ruby, and not for the first time, "It probably seems like everyone eventually goes to jail, but it's not true. We've never gone to jail. You will never go to jail."

I would trust those men with my home. My children.
My hunch is, trouble hasn't seen the last of them.
But their hearts are good and I know God is gunning for them.

I don't know if a chicken slider is enough to nudge them anywhere, but the good news is, a chicken slider was never meant to save them, and neither was I.

My job is to love, and some days, it's like breathing.
Some days it's brown sugar with cayenne, meat falling off the bone.

Those are the days I hold near me, a promise for the other days.
You couldn't snatch them away if you tried.


{Recipe: Jenna's Pulled Chicken Sliders with these pickles.}

37 comments:

  1. I read often, post never, but today I just had to come out of hiding to say how much I love this post. All of it, every detail. So blessed to see how God is working through you and praying for similar opportunities in my new community.

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    1. Thanks for saying Hi, friend. I totally get that most people don't comment. Still, it's fun when you guys come out of hiding. :)

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  2. "The point is, love means sacrifice, and sacrifice is freaking hard. But not always." I just got big news from my oldest yesterday and I'm left feeling weak, selfish and vunerable. It will all be fine, but hard, sacrificial for sure. This post almost brought me to tears (almost, beause I'm still holding on to my stiff upper lip) lol Thankful that He isn't finished with us yet!!

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    1. Weak, selfish, vulnerable...check, check, check.
      Sounds about right. :)
      In this with you, Sister.

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  3. Oh my word. Laughing and crying and knowing beyond all doubt that I need to translate this into my life. We don't live in a neighborhood like yours, and I don't know if we ever will, but even so - there are children in our neighborhood who need love like this - and probably grown-ups too. I fight my own selfishness and my own judgement and my own intolerance on a daily basis - usually closing the door then suffering under a wave of guilt. "I should love better than this", is usually what I'm thinking on repeat as I put our house back into familiar order. I can't love if I'm judging and counting minutes till they leave.
    "Plans and programs and promised prayers still fit so nicely in my hand. I know they're traps, shoddy stand-ins for relationships and actual sacrifice, but they're tidier and they almost never break my heart." Yes. And I want so badly to love, but sabotage myself by wanting all things neat and tidy and well-behaved. My fault is expecting that it should come easy. But in this moment, I know it won't. It's very very hard sometimes, but that doesn't mean I should give up. I've seen D before, in your Becoming video, here, and on IG, and I love him through your pictures. That's easy for me - because you're doing all the hard work. It's time I buckled down and did mine too. Just. . . where to begin?

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    1. Listen, it doesn't matter AT ALL where you live! These boys don't even live in my neighborhood...they just drive over and camp out. Grab those kids in your neighborhood. They will rock your world (and make you tired and sometimes grumpy...) but mostly, they'll rock your world! ;)

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  4. "a chicken slider was never meant to save them, and neither was I." so good. we were never meant to save anyone, were we? but we like to take on that role. sigh.... we were called to love and light the way to the One who can Save. thanks for doing it in your corner of the world.

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  5. I held my breath the whole time I was reading this. Chicken sliders ----> communion.

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  6. Good stuff, Shannan. Wish we could have tea!

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  7. I. Loved. This. What a beautiful picture of Kingdom work, raw and tasty and real. Thank you for sharing!!!

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  8. Oh my word. So beautiful. Love this.

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  9. That was a good story for my soul.

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  10. love this. beautiful.

    i want to love this way: with food, and open heart and home.

    thanks for sharing.

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    1. Girl, you want it because Jesus wants it.
      He will fill your kitchen. I know it!

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  11. wow. beautiful! like poetry!
    a fave of mine:
    "A woman’s moral influence is nowhere more powerfully felt or more beneficially employed than in the home." ---whoever the people, that come and go in your home are. thanks for your story sharing!

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  12. I soak in every word you write. It stirs something in me. It makes me think. It makes me plan. It makes me smile. It challenges me.

    God is good...

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  13. This reminds me of the Melton quote "Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody's business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy".

    I think about this quote daily and have it printed and hanging in my kitchen. It touches my soul and reads true. It whispers to me with your "Robert" posts.

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  14. This is easily one of the best things I have ever read. It is like you are with boys. You are telling us something so important (so very, very important) but it is couched in the everyday, in a context that makes it seem possible despite it being a hard truth. To me the everyday stuff is what makes a difference, not the big monumental stuff. When you look at that big stuff, you almost always see a trail of small activities that lead down the path (good or bad). Thank you for sitting down and typing this one out! Keep doing what you do!

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    1. Girlfriend, thank you so for your kind words.

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  15. I'm thinking your rewards in Heaven will be great for the Warrior you are.

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    1. I mean, anything I do "right" is countered by an awful lot of ugly...as usual, I go to bed thankful for grace. :)

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  16. Hey. Wasn't it you who said you wouldn't be able to post as often because of obligations? And yet, here you are making me cry.
    We do something similar to this. On the last tuesday of the month we host taco Tuesday. We have three teenagers, one tween, and an 8yo clown. We also have a rape victim, an ex-stripper and her baby, some college students, and a slue of teenagers who don't know Jesus yet. We are a Motley Crew to be sure, but we are all just the same. We need a place to practice love and somewhere to eat tacos.
    Thanks for writing even when you have so much on your plate. My heart feels happy.

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  17. Whew.....I sit at my work desk and type and erase and type and erase because I can think of no words to say how much I loved this post. Thank you.

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  18. You are so right! I copied this line of yours...".The point is, love means sacrifice, and sacrifice is freaking hard.
    But not always."
    I hope you don't mind but I'm putting it on my chalkboard in the kitchen. So I can read it every day. Thanks.

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    1. I'd be honored to camp out in your kitchen!

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  19. phew.....this post BLOWS ME AWAY! you speak so much of God's truth. it's like a natural spring that never stops flowing. keep on with it. don't stop. know that your words are continually changing lives. we're listening to God through your words.

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  20. Girl, you're heart and the work The Lord is doing in your home is breathtaking! Thanks for sharing, encouraging and opening our hearts to the possibilities that love can give us.

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  21. Auntie isn't playing, so don't play with me. You'd better show up. < Laughing out loud :)
    Our measly definition of family slips easily between the cracks of what God calls family. But their hearts are good and I know God is gunning for them. << Yes and yes.
    My job is to love, and some days, it's like breathing. <<< Thankful for those days.

    Always need to be reminded my job isn't to save, just to love. So freeing.
    And board games, I'm gonna try that.

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  22. Your words make me want to love better.

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  23. "My job is to love, and some days, it's like breathing." Love this.

    Made me think of 2 Peter 1...God's given us everything we need for life... What if this includes simple things like a slider recipe?

    The way God loves is infinitely grander than anything I could scheme up. Yet it's often so simple. Love reading about how He loves through you.

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  24. I read a lot of things, with beautiful pictures and idea and creativity. And I love those things, they inspire me. My soul though, my deepest parts, LONG to read these kinds of words. Of love and being in the midst. I am so proud of you guys and I don't even know you. May God create a desire to remind me that is the kind of love that I want to always be about

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  25. Oh Shannen....I love your heart and ability to share it so freely and bravely. Good stuff. I thought you weren't going to be writing as much? :-}

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  26. "I would trust those men with my home. My children.
    My hunch is, trouble hasn't seen the last of them.
    But their hearts are good and I know God is gunning for them.

    I don't know if a chicken slider is enough to nudge them anywhere, but the good news is, a chicken slider was never meant to save them, and neither was I.

    My job is to love, and some days, it's like breathing.
    Some days it's brown sugar with cayenne, meat falling off the bone."

    Yes. This. Living and breathing this with you. I have some big boys in my life that I love something fierce, and yet it is painful and hard. One lied to me this weekend - about something silly and dumb - and it hurt my heart. I needed to remember these truths this morning, THIS TRUTH. That I am just going to love and love and love...with food and parenting and space and ceaseless prayers...and trust that He is "gunning for them" with a fierceness that I can not even imagine. So glad I took time to read this to start my week.

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  27. i can't wait to meet Robert. and D. :)

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  28. I love your words all the time and the heart behind them, but this post especially was beautiful and moving. I'm in a place where I am learning more about love and challenging my priorities. Thanks for sharing so much with us here. Bethany

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