Monday, April 6, 2015

When Cupcakes Aren't in the Forecast

I picked her up at 9:15, all keyed-up jitters, her hands folding and unfolding in her lap as we chatted away the next ten miles. Are you getting enough to eat? Having any morning sickness? Those people you're staying with, are they being fair?

None of her answers were positive, but it didn't matter. There wasn't room for a single cloud in the sky, that day.

I waited in the van while she ran inside the building with its low-lurching roof-line, my window cracked just enough to catch slivers of conversation. Wisps of cigarette smoke crept in with the breeze. A tangle of second-chance bicycles jammed the side yard.

She emerged ten minutes later, a free woman.

"She handed me the scissors and let me cut the ankle bracelet off myself," she said.

For the second time since I've known her, she was walking in the wide space of justice, the end finally tipped in her favor.

I had baked her cupcakes the night before, and frosted them in the morning. Funfetti - her favorite kind. She'd been craving them. It doesn't happen often enough, but I filled those tins with pleasure. I wanted her to have a celebration, even if it came to her in processed, artificial-everything cake.

These are the good days around here, and we're learning to snap them up. Because move past that first moment in my mini van when her cheeks flushed with possibility, and you'll see it looming. Take just one step to the side, one tiny step, and you'll feel it breathing down her neck, making you anxious in your close proximity. Eat your cake and your biscuits with gravy, go ahead and order the tallest glass of juice, but I dare you to believe it'll stay this way forever. You know better, now. So you'd better bake that cake like you mean it and you'd better linger in the booth.


The months have blurred since then. She's still wearing her smile, but only because she's some kind of miracle.

All around us, life chews our friends and spits them out. These are souls that matter to us, not in a rah-rah, "love one another" sort of way. These aren't just our neighbors and they aren't "the least of these", they are wounded souls who stand before us as mirrors. We recognize ourselves. We realize, over shared space and spent time, all the ways we are wrong.

Our hearts are fused, so when theirs split open again, we're left clutching our chests and gasping for air.

When we moved to the city, there were days I dared to imagine true community with these people living hard, hard lives. We would help each other out, lend a hand, borrow cups of sugar or an egg. We'd look out for each other's kids while we beat back addiction and poverty and the tiresome bent of our hearts to wander. We would fight life together, celebrate together, share meals and pews, pile up on long snow days and run the streets in July. We would be the best kind of fusion.

There were days we tasted those things.
But from this vantage point, I don't think I had a clue about "true" community.
I probably still don't.

Here's where we are right now: We are living our lives. Most of the moments are lived at the atomic level - the opening and closing of cabinets, the clanking of dishes, the piles of library books (probably overdue), a brush against hair, commercial breaks, dinners when it's just us six.

But stirred into the mix are humans we love, and our lives keep banging up against theirs. There are friends I've never talked about, so sacred was the space our hearts created. There are friends (the same friends) who have slipped off the grid. They have left us feeling abandoned, and that's not a scenario I ever imagined.

Our neighbors, the ones we connect with most easily, come.
And we love them.

We love them in all their wild places. We live alongside their living just as we raise babies and dream in the dark. It's so easy and it's so freaking* hard. We let them in. Our kids let them in.

Then they leave.
They "fail".

All it takes is one more missed day of work, one more month of back-due rent. It's a car that won't start. It's dad hauled to jail.

It's a needle meeting blood. Just one needle.
And they're gone.

The problem is, I feel like I'm built more for the cupcake days. I might be a sunny-day friend. A good news friend. I'm a whole lot better when it's a whole lot easier.

I'm starting to believe this isn't something I'll ever be good at.
Our hindsight trajectory might show that we actually break people. 

Jesus calls these friends of mine blessed, and I don't doubt it. But I feel sorry for them to be stuck with me instead of Bob Goff or the nice ladies at church or you.

We swore we weren't here to fix anyone.
So why am I left feeling angsty that no one seems to be getting better?

I keep praying for my botched-up heart to be fixed and for a heart that is compelled to love, even if it takes half a day to get there. I pray against cynicism and jadedness. Mostly, I pray against the perils of common sense.

I keep coming back to Jesus, because it's all I seem to do right, and He keeps saying to go. Just go. He says to align myself with His love and try my best to share it. He expects my imperfections just like I expect my neighbors' and they surely, by now, expect mine.

It's our hot-messness that was meant to be shared, and I'm beginning to see the baring of mine as holy work.
This happened right as I was leaving to pick my friend up on her independence day. Of course it did. The frosting was all junked up, but they were still exactly as cupcakey as we hoped.

And because I can't think of a more fitting analogy, I'll just leave it at that.

*stay tuned...I have more to say about this.