Sunday, June 2, 2013

Cigarette Burns and Pooping in the Bedroom

I'm thinking I'd rather be in bed right now, but I have too many details from other people's lives swirling around in my head (again).  I have a friend who marvels at how the world is big enough to hold all of the stories that it contains.  I'm starting to wonder the same thing.

My boys were eager to get back to the skate park after being out of town for a few days, so we headed up this afternoon with a cooler of drinks in tow.  Bringing food and drinks for the skaters was part of the resolution we made at my last women's meeting, in an effort to "love the sinner, but hate the sin".  It sounds presumptuous and judgmental even to write it.  Of course, skating is not sinful, but there are a lot of other things that often go with the skating lifestyle...Sex, drugs, rock and roll?, rebellion, tattoos/piercings and language that would make a sailor blush. 

They're not worse sinners than me, or people who dress well, or people who keep their lips buttoned.  They're just not so careful about covering it up.  Sort of refreshing in its own way, if you think about it.  The point is that these kids need love like everyone else on the planet.  They're just not (always) the most approachable or easy to love. 

I took my seat at a picnic table, and in 5 minutes, (I think my little guys were inviting them) there were 6 dudes at my table throwing back drinks and talking to me for the first time.  I'd seen several of them before, and one was quick to say "Y'all are the coolest parents that come up here."  And I thought I'd been invisible every time...

Most of them came and went, but two stuck around.  It didn't take long to notice the (nine) cigarette burns running down the right side of the skinny, shirtless one.  As I was talking to him, I kept thinking how he looked like Jesus.  Not just because we're supposed to see Jesus in everybody, but for real.  His hair was dark and almost shoulder length, and his eyes were honest.  I told him he had great hair.  He said "thanks", showed me how he couldn't get his fingers through it, and shared his dreadlock plans with me. 

In short time, I learned he's almost 20.  He lives with a roommate (who has nine cigarette burns down his left side) and his anti-social girlfriend.  Their self-inflicted cigarette burns are a memorial to their friend who died when he was hit by a train.  Apparently, he convinced eighteen friends to burn him with cigarettes, so they each did half in his memory. 

He has one brother and thirteen sisters.  They are mostly "half" sisters, because his mother was a "crack whore", so their dads are all different.  They were all eventually adopted by the same family, but they "never really cared what I did".  He said the best piece of advice he's ever received was, "You only live once, so you better enjoy it the first time around."  I countered with the idea that there are a lot of things that are good for you that don't necessarily feel good.  He acquiesced, but followed with, "But, only if you have to."

His goodness came through when we started talking about the three-year-old boy I've seen up there.  He said he saw somebody give him a cigarette once.  It was the only time he beat somebody up.  "You don't give cigarettes to a three-year-old."  Agreed.  He went back to skating and circled around every time he got thirsty.   

The other guy made me want to cry...
After describing himself as a "roller coaster addict", he painstakingly described a "Haunted Adventure" house experience, and said we should never go.  I very sincerely told him that we wouldn't.  Little by little, the conversation moved from this scary fake experience to his scary real experience.  He jumped around between mission school this, and group home that.  There was something about how he and his sister were left beside a Georgia highway when he was a baby, and his struggles with a learning disability.  Later on, he and his sister were adopted, but only to be sexually and mentally abused.  His adoptive mother locked them in their rooms and wouldn't let them out.  "If I had to go #1 or #2, I had to go in my bedroom because she wouldn't let us out."  He and his sister communicated through an air vent.  They were eventually put in foster care and bounced around the system. 

He pulled up his shirt to show me his rose tattoo in honor of Lady Gaga.  Apparently, he's a big fan, she has something similar, and that is good enough for him. His vulnerability was palpable, and when he showed me that he knew the alphabet in sign language, I could see his hand trembling.  He is 24-years-old.  He is looking for a job and planning to start school in the Fall.  He lives with a lady who ran a group home where he previously lived, and her children.  He affectionately calls her Mom. He attends Church with her dad.  He knows he makes mistakes, he knows God forgives him, and believes "I am a man of God." 

My sons were "in and out" during these conversations, but my 8-year-old caught on that the second guy had suffered a lot and heard me repeat something I heard Mother Angelica say once. "When we are suffering, that is when we are most like Christ.  If we are not like Him at any other time, we are like Him when we are suffering."  To this, my son said, "I guess I've suffered."  I said, "No, you haven't."  He said, "I've suffered a little.  My great-grandmother just died."  I said, "Yes, but you didn't suffer."  And he said, "I guess I wasn't really that sad."  Right.

I vacillate between thinking it is and isn't good for my kids to be at the skate park.  Today, it was good.  It was good because they got to see that these kids are "nice".  Even if they use bad language or have metal in their face.  It was good because my oldest son heard about real suffering, and consequently, realized that he has not really suffered.  Having parents who love you enough to make you go to bed at night, chores here and there, and something other than your favorite food for dinner is not suffering.  In lieu of going to Africa to appreciate what we have, I think we'll be going back to the skate park.  We still have a lot to learn.

Dear God, I don't know how I continue to meet so many people with such painful and incredible stories.  I can only assume that you are "hooking us up", so thank you for the privilege of being on the listening end.  Lord, have mercy on these kids, and on their parents, who will have to give an account for them on the day they meet You face to face.  Please, give me the grace to show them Your Goodness, Truth, Light, and Love.  Thank you for my Regnum Christi sister, Robye, who provided the drinks I brought today, and all of those who spur me on in my faith.  God, bless us all.  Amen. 

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