Friday, November 14, 2008

Let them eat cake!

I wrote a post earlier this week, and then decided to remove it because the situation it involved was too current. Now I feel like the blog has a vacuum in that post's absence, so I thought I'd replace it with an old story about an interaction with a neighborhood friend I once wrote for my church newsletter while still living in my intercity community. This fits into the listening-blog in the theme of listening-to-what-our-words-sound-like.

***

“So I heard you got hitched!” Clayton interjected his normal introductory question as I walked into the kitchen. By now I was accustomed to his dry way of trying get me riled up, and I didn’t even give him a response. Instead I pulled some leftover salad out of the fridge and joined him at the table where he munched on some cereal.

“How’d the great job search go today?” I asked the tower of a teenager.

“Terrible,” he returned with light-hearted candor, shoving another spoonful in his mouth to indicate he was done talking.

“It’s hard to find summer jobs this late in the season,” I tried to empathize. Clayton, one of the few kids from the neighborhood to make it to a university, was navigating what is often the most frustrating season of the college year. Without family, summers were excruciating.

“I’ve already put in 37 applications,” he challenged. “This is beyond hard.”

I nodded my agreement.

“I hate staying on the floor of the Ugadas’,” he continued, referring to the Liberian family-of-nine who had invited him to stay with them in their tiny four-bedroom house. “I hate that I don’t have a family. I hate feeling like I’m running this race as fast as I can with so much going against me, and slowly I look up and notice that no one is cheering… but I have to keep running.” Clayton looked pleased with his analogy peppered with various expletives for dramatic effect, and poured another bowl of cereal.

“I know it’s rough,” I concurred. “I do also know that things get better; nineteen-years-old is thankfully not the end.”

“Oh, I’ve heard that one before!” he erupted. “Things are always supposed to be getting better: ‘Maybe after middle school, maybe after high school, maybe in college.’ They’re always just about to get better.”

I felt like we were suddenly in the middle of a very different conversation. “I don’t just say that because I want it to be true,” I struggled, shuffling the salad around my plate pensively. “I say that because I’ve been coming to know this God who runs the world, and he’s a God of redemption.”

“Are you telling me to have faith?” he challenged. “If I just believe, things will become peachy? I may end up with a terrible life, but one day it’ll all be over and I’ll be in heaven where things will be wonderful? Are you telling me I have a pie in the sky to look forward to one day?”

***

Was I? Maybe I was... maybe I threw clich├ęs at Clayton because I didn't actually have any confidence that God would care for him in the here-and-now. Maybe I can't honestly expect myself to believe that of Clayton if I don't believe it of myself. Maybe step-one of learning to love is learning to be loved.

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