The story part of this post today is going to be relatively small. And the quotes are going to be relatively long. But how do you cut out sentences that are packed with so much wisdom? My decision today is that you don’t. You write the words that have so profoundly affected you and you hope that your readers will read.
I have ingrained it into my head that there is no child that doesn’t deserve a chance . . . or eight. If a child is suffering, even if he has done terrible things, it is our job as adults to continue nurturing, guiding, protecting until he’s no longer a child. And when I’ve gotten frustrated with a kid and find myself thinking, “Fine. He’s made his bed, let him lie in it”, this leads to journaling sessions to bring myself back around to remembering that he is a child, in need of nurturing, guiding, protecting . . . . You get it.
The one child who has consistently been exempt from this rule has been Jose Luis. I have frequently called him ‘the worst off street child I’ve ever met’. I had known him for two years before I ever saw him sober. 75% of the time that I would spend an afternoon with the kids, he would be passed out nearby. I never sought him out, invested extra attention or purposely invited him to meals. When he was awake, he would usually tell me that I don’t love him. But thankfully it was usually “You don’t love me. You only love David.” (Phew, there’s my out.) “That’s not true! I love more kids than just David!” Actual complaint successfully avoided! Now, who’s turn is it in our marathon game of ‘Con Quien’?
In July, we went to a fair and he was there with Catrachos Al Cambio – the detox center primarily for street kids. His eyes were so bright! He was witty and friendly…and awake. I think my highlight was when he said “Take a picture of me with the laaaadies.” He said that he hadn’t used in hours and as he opened a candy wrapper I was amazed by the shaking of his hands. Withdrawal was hitting him so fast. At the end of the day, the van was loaded up with kids. During the debriefing meeting back at the center , he did something unexpected.
He asked if he could live in Catrachos.
He wanted to get clean. Start a new life. Leave the street.
He lasted two weeks.
Anti-climactic story, right? Two weeks is nothing. We get pulled in by the drama and sadness. But then we want everything to be overcome. We want to see success.
But consider a few things:
The strength it must have taken Jose Luis to last those two weeks…
The proof that somewhere deep down, he wants something better…
And that maybe he knows he deserves it.
That is today’s success story.
Thinking about Josue Luis makes me think about Tattoos on the Heart.
More specifically, it makes be think about Greg Boyle’s take on success.
“Once you choose to hang out with folks who carry more burden than they can bear, all bets seem to be off. Salivating for success keeps you from being faithful, keeps you from truly seeing whoever’s sitting [or is passed out] in front of you.”
My natural inclination to invest in kids who I have decided ‘have a chance’. The kids that I can write happy blogs about. (Or at least blogs that have happy endings.) Jose Luis doesn’t fit into this category. So what’s more important, attaining our definition of success or choosing to BE with a child who may not ever overcome?
“The tyranny of success often can’t be bothered with complexity.”
(Or the inevitable two steps back that come after one step forward. Or seeing the battles that are being won even if the war is being lost.)
“Success and failure, ultimately, have little to do with living the gospel. Jesus just stood with the outcasts until they were welcomed or until he was crucified – whichever came first.”
I don’t want to turn these kids into statistics. I don’t want to create a rubric to measure who is worthy of our time and attention. I want to be more like Mother Theresa who said “Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you.”
“Jesus was always too busy being faithful to worry about success. I’m not opposed to success, I just think we should accept it only if it is a by-product of our fidelity. If our primary concern is results, we will choose to work only with those who give us good ones.”
(Hmm, which part of that last quote is most important and should be bolded….yep….all of it.)
“You stand with the belligerent, the surly, and the badly behaved until bad behavior is recognized for the language it is: the vocabulary of the deeply wounded and of those whose burdens are more than they can bear.”
What if we could see these actions that disgust or anger us as a cry for help, as evidence of a lack of love, instead of a cut and dry show of disrespect?
“In the end, effective outcomes and a piling of success stories aren’t the things for which we reach. Though, who am I kidding, I prefer them to abject failure and decades of death. But it’s not about preference. It’s about the disruption of categories that leads us to abandon the difficult, the disagreeable, and the least likely to go very far. On most days, if I’m true to myself, I just want to share my life with the poor, regardless of result. I want to lean into the challenge of intractable problems with as tender a heart as I can locate, knowing that there is some divine ingenuity here, ‘the slow work of God,” that gets done if we’re faithful. Maybe the world could use a dose of a wrong size approach; otherwise the hurt wins.
Maybe there are things you can’t reach.
But you can stretch your arm across a gurney and forgive and heal.”
Will Jose Luis be reached? Can he be? I have no idea. I would love it if a future blog could be dedicated to his one month or one year anniversary of being off the street. But if the next time I write about him, I tell you that he tried, and failed, will you think that I’m wasting my time? Or more, will you think that I’m being irresponsible in where I choose to make an effort?
I pray that I will be able to resist this innate desire to prove with numbers that what I’m doing is worthwhile. I pray that I will be unashamed to say that we often pour into people with little expectation of results that validate our work. I pray that I never look at a child and decide not to help him because helping the well-behaved child next to him will increase the likelihood of donations.
I pray that I will have the patience, tenacity and commitment to say
“We see in the [the kids] what they don’t see in themselves, until they do.”