“I didn’t want to come to your stupid Bible study,” Sophie* blurted out as they handcuffed her ankle to the chair. She brushed her blonde bangs out of the way, rolled her big blue eyes and added, “But I wanted cookies!” She spent the next twenty minutes telling us that before coming to juvi she didn’t believe in God but that this Jesus stuff made sense to her. Then she looked up at us, pointed her 13-year-old finger emphatically and proclaimed, “But I have some questions!”
Like every other Tuesday night we had just finished Bible study with the group. We were in the back meeting with individual kids to answer questions and pray. I made my weekly plea, “Girl, call me when you get out of here!” A half dozen previous requests were met with silence so I was completely unprepared a month later when my phone finally rang.
“Hey Nicole, it’s me.”
I knew exactly who “me” was.
Thank you, God.
My cousins Ella and Melanie, eleven and thirteen, were spending spring break with us and we were about to make dinner. We stopped what we were doing, hopped in the car and made the 40 minute drive into town to pick Sophie up and bring her out to the homestead to join us for family dinner.
While Sophie and Mel mixed shredded cheese, pizza sauce and all our favorite ingredients into a large mixing bowl, Ella and I patted the squeezed-from-a-tube crescent rolls into the bottom of the cupcake trays. We slopped our delicious concoction into the dough-lined holes, delicately laid the doughy lid over the top and popped our pizza-filled cupcakes into the oven.
As we waited for dinner, Sophie gazed at her surroundings. She noticed some pictures and my guitar propped up against the wall, looked up at me and exclaimed, “Wait, you play music and people pay you to do it?!”
“Sure do”, I said with a nod.
She walked over to get a closer look at the wall lined with Josh’s hunting pictures.
“And Josh takes people hunting and fishing and gets paid to do it?” she exclaimed with disbelief. She was truly puzzled. People get paid to do things they enjoy?
Ding! Pizza was done. We enjoyed the fruits of our labor and afterward went for a walk through the fields that surround our house. Our nearest neighbor runs a bakery out of the industrial kitchen downstairs in her house. I explained to the girls how she sells her baked goods all over the County. Sophie piped up again, “She bakes things and people pay her for them?!”
Sophie has grown up in a world of addiction and scarcity and households enabled by life-long dependence on government aid. She spent her days filling boredom and deep sorrow with TV, drugs, sex, alcohol and unhealthy relationships.
It has been said of children that more things are caught than taught. In a world of shame and failure, she had come to believe she wasn’t worth much at all.
“I was nervous to hang out with normal kids,” she admitted on the drive home, “but that was really fun!”
She told me earlier that she had worn her nicest shirt for our special cupcake pizza dinner. She looked so beautiful. If only she could see herself like I do. If only she could see herself the way God does: a bundle of pure delight.
In “Tattoos On The Heart”, Father Greg Boyle points out that, “All throughout scripture and history, the principal suffering of the poor is not that they can’t pay their rent on time or that they are three dollars short of a package of pampers … The primary suffering of the poor is shame and disgrace. It is a toxic shame – a global sense of failure of the whole self. This shame can seep so deep down.”
If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that somewhere down the line I had come to believe that some lives matter less than others. It is easy see the guy pan handling on the corner or the drunk asleep on the bench and think, “Good grief! Get a job!”
But if we were to put it in park, step out of our heated leather seats or air-conditioned, freshly washed cars, walk our $150 Nike’s over to the bench, give up five minutes of our oh-so-busy day, take a seat and listen - we just might be surprised.
Time and time again, I’ve watched defense mechanisms shatter and expose people for who they really are: a scared little boy or a wounded little girl deep down inside who was once “at-risk”. At risk of believing the lies of the enemy - that they are worthless and unworthy of being loved.
The second they chose to believe the lies, they turned into truth.
So, if our innate human value doesn’t depend on what we do but rather in the fact that we’re each made in the image of God, then I guess the life of a junkie in an alley who just robbed a convenient store matters just as much as Mother Theresa’s.
What does this perspective require of me? Of you? I think Greg Boyle’s “Tattoos” defines it best: genuine and authentic compassion. That is, “A compassion that can stand in awe of what the poor have to carry, rather than standing in judgement of how they carry it.”
I guess it’s up to each of us to decide what that’s going to look like in our everyday lives.
Sophie went to treatment for a methamphetamine addiction last summer and has been sober for almost a year … but will you continue to pray for her and the rest of The Landing teens?
*Name changed to honor and protect my sweetheart.
Please pray that our kids would be:
Built up in Christ
Rooted and established in Faith
Filled with the Holy Spirit and a full understanding of the knowledge of God’s will
Strengthened and encouraged by the love of Christ which passes all understanding
Filled with all the fullness of God
Would find purpose and rest in her/his Father’s arms
(Colossians 2:1-7; Ephesians 3:14-19)