Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Staying Part

Three years ago, we were still hanging pictures on our walls and unpacking boxes. Calvin and Ruby had just started at their new school and our hearts were wide open. The scary part was over. We had done a hard thing. We had listened. We had obeyed in the face of doubt.

We had no clear ideas about what to do next.
We didn't know we were just here to live and be normal humans, and we didn't have a clue how difficult that would be at times. We didn't know how much easier it is to help someone than to invest over time and grow to love them.

Our early jitters were swept away. The unknown quickly unraveled into something we were made for. We were simply home.

Please hear me when I say this: Just because something is unfamiliar doesn't mean it's not exactly what you were made for.

Our streets have been so quiet lately. Neighbors come and they go. This community of transience has surprised me and stressed me out. For us, the hard part was getting here. For many others, the hardest part is staying. That's something I knew nothing about, four or five years ago. I didn't realize how much work it is to be poor. I wasn't aware of lives being lived as sparring matches on a chess board. It's calculated and orchestrated, everything hinging on a single move. Stability is short-term and upheaval imminent. Reacting swiftly is among the most prized skills of the streets.

Mixed into the comings and goings was a woman. I met her early and thought she might be the reason we we came. The reason. It was more than enough, and she made my life better all the time. We spent hours together and the ways our lives intertwined made her burst out sobbing more than once. She was a miracle. I was inspired by her resilience and the way she parented her teenagers with stubborn love and vigilance. She became my friend. My sister.

She was the last person I expected to leave.
I see her kids now, from far away and up close, and I don't have any answers for them.

I worry for them, and for all the boys across this city with lives so rattled that stability is their great unknown, setting fear into their bones like an fever.

They react swiftly, and sometimes with force. There is no justice for these boys, born of hustle and grit, made too early into men inside homes shaped by lack.

There is justice for me, and for you. You know that, right? We stand protected by a margin for error we'll never even test. They react against a world hellbent on hating them, and it only takes one time.

If you don't think it's true, visit your county jail. Learn about your local juvenile justice system and take a hard look at the kids inside. Better yet, move into a neighborhood where you watch fifth graders with Coke-bottle glasses grow into high-schoolers that scrap one time at the park and pay for it with their entire future.

"What it comes down to, then, is the idea that the very same situations and behaviors are treated completely differently depending on how nice your stuff is. Kid gets into a fight at school? If he's black and poor, he's going to jail. If he's rich and white, he's going to military school. Was your daughter busted with drugs? If she's poor, she's getting charged. If she's rich, she'll go to a nice rehab facility for however long proprietary demands. The only reason it looks like our kids misbehave more is that we can't afford to cover up for them when they do." - Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado

I never, ever cared about any of this before I moved to the city. I never read those books. It doesn't mean moving is necessary in order to care, just that it was for me. Sometimes I miss the nights where we sat on the porch and only thought about ourselves. I never broke my own heart.

My life is delineated by two places - the farm, and this city. For better or worse, my reality has lined up in two tidy columns, and I'm sure it's a little confusing. My actual living isn't so different here than it was "before". I have more neighbors, I take more walks, I see more shabbiness. But I'm still me and I love this city like I loved that land. I still enjoy the same things. I look mostly the same, but with a few gray hairs. Many of my friends are the same, and many are new. My day-to-day operations aren't vastly different.

So, why the two columns?

It's because my heart- and head-space are occupied by dramatically different things. I don't live on a block riddled by gang violence. Crime and defeat stay mostly hidden in the shadows here. But I have seen enough to realize an entire underworld I never knew before, and it rolls around inside me like a marble in a can. My worldview is being shaped as I open up my life up to a different (not worse) kind of living.

I'm acutely aware that my opinions are becoming increasingly unpopular. I know, I know. I've become that person. And I won't apologize.

God tells us over and over, "I will save the weak and helpless ones; I will bring together those who were chased away." (Zephaniah 3:19) His heart beats for the fugitive kids and their tired-out, spent-up moms and dads, the ones we're quick to ignore or chase away.

When we allow our lives to intersect with souls wearing the sharp edge of pain, we cannot expect to walk away unmarked. I can't do a single thing for daughters abandoned by their Moms, or sons expected to fail. I can't help them at all.

But I feel myself rising up for them, and I don't know where it will go from here.

Three years and counting have taught me this: going might be hard, but it's the staying that will break you.

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  1. Thank you for refusing to whitewash this for those of us who live comfortably on the other side of poverty and need. You help me see better.

  2. "There is justice for me, and for you. You know that, right? We stand protected by a margin for error we'll never even test. They react against a world hellbent on hating them, and it only takes one time."

    Preach it. Literally.

    My comment ended up being a page long. So, I'll re-read it and ponder dusting off the blog and maybe post it there so I don't blow out your comment space with my ramblings.. But, please know that this post has stirred up and re-revealed so many things. Bless you for posting it. ~ Dana

    1. And I love you forever for it. Let me know when you post bc I want to see it. Love being stirred with the likes of you.

  3. Yes to all of it. Man. That one TedTalk that you recommended on the subject of justice for white vs. black teens was haunting. Thanks for crying, speaking, sharing, all of it.

  4. As someone who lives in the city where crime is on our streets AND in the shadows this just hit me. The staying part really is the hard part. When I hear about my neighbors being chased after on her run, gun point robberies, car thefts it does make me want to just move out to the country where time stands still and nothing bad happens (an illusion of course). Because you are so right--I don't break my own heart.

    God is connecting our neighbors hands and hearts as we look out for each other though. But at what cost? To push the poor and broken out? Then where do they go? That's been so much on my heart lately. What's the root of it all and how can I water it to give it nourishment? I think this is a blog post in the making for me too.

    Thanks for always challenging me.


  5. May we all rise up and be the church God has called us to be for these precious souls who continue to be trapped by the hand of cards that have been dealt to them. Bless you , in your fight for them and for speaking Truth! We cannot keep turning our heads and call ourselves Christ followers. Thank you for your gifts being used for Him so many ways!

  6. "but it's the staying that will break you"- never truer words were spoken. Whether it is where you live, or the hard relationship you are in, staying is the hard part. And Shannan- you are never unpopular with me- you speak a truth that I have watched and lived with my son- I also live in 2 columns. "My world" is a warm home on a quiet street with enough food and good honest work. "His world" is one of living haunted by past mistakes and choices, trying so hard to start again, but never quite getting out from under. Even as his parents we have been lied to and hurt so many times that we don't trust, are hesitant to help. And I also have become increasingly unpopular, not with my true friends, but with those who refuse to hear us when we try to share the truth of poverty, homelessness, despair and addiction (primarily our families…). It is a broken world- all around us. We must pay attention!

  7. You are just so right. Thank you for hearing God's call and thank you for writing this blog to inspire me and others to answer ours. You make the world a better place and not just in Goshen, IN.

  8. Jesus came to live on earth when the down and dirty were the everyday norm. Injustice was the only justice. But he didn't gather his church together and run away with them. He stayed and brought light to the darkness. Why do we feel entitled to live a life free of the hard stuff? Someone once said Jesus said "to go", but he didn't promise you would come back. I have learned so much from you and Cory. And one of the biggest things is to not rationalize why I need to stay in the safe zones. We say its not about us but about him, but we live just the opposite and explain it away by saying he just wants to bless us. You my dear, are living a truly blessed life!!

  9. Oh FPFG, you've gone and done it again. Can we just sit for a couple of hours on the couch and talk heart to heart about all these things? It'd take me a while to get there....or you here...but it would be SO worth it!

  10. Thank you for being "one of those people" and never apologizing for it, we need more. Much love xox.

  11. "There is justice for me, and for you. You know that, right? We stand protected by a margin for error we'll never even test. They react against a world hellbent on hating them, and it only takes one time." Thank you, thank you for this. Such truth. And so few privileged folk see it.

  12. I can't wait for your book. Or our salsa date that I swear is going to happen one day. These words make me uncomfortable in the best way. (heart emoji)

  13. So blessed, edified, challenged, and encouraged again. Thank you Shannan!

    And each of you gals who have commented - I don't often read comments, but was blown away at the sisters I have near and far! Sipping something on my Heaven porch one day I hope to hear the hearts and stories of each of you also :-)

    Love, Analene

  14. Reading this in your morning email, I thought "she nailed it." and so did the first comment posted. Shannan, your writing paints a picture that we can't ignore. You are a blessing, and a challenge. Looking forward to your book! I follow Cory on IG and his few posts broaden my sense of what you two are accomplishing, just by being you. Blessings!!

  15. have you heard of this book and this guy?

    keep talkin', sister. we need to hear, even if it's hard.

  16. "can't do a single thing for daughters abandoned by their Moms." Yes, you can, you can be a Casa Advocate (court appointed special advocate), it's not everything but it at least gives a child a voice once they hit the court system. For some children, it will be the only time in their childhood they'll have a voice and it does make a difference. After the initial training, it's only 10-20 hours per month of your time.

  17. I am reading this months after you wrote it, but I had to comment. Your prose is amazing. I can feel your pain and your empathy and your words are relatively few but say so much that needs to be said. Just amazing...