It was almost dusk when Cory saw our friend Jason trudging up the sidewalk, his earbuds jammed into his ears as usual.
Pulling up to the curb, Cory swung open the passenger door and Jason hopped in. Young, lanky, and handsome with a wide, easy grin, I find him impossibly lovable.
Jason is one of the people we’ve learned to carry in our hearts when he disappears for long stretches of time, holding on to him in ways he isn’t even aware of and praying him home. Absorbing from a young age the message that he wasn’t worth much and struggling to keep up with his gang-banging brother, he exists in the in-between of incarceration. For those with a record, there is no end to looking over their shoulders. Slipped beneath the microscope of our criminal justice system, it is a sobering reality that nothing more than a minor technicality or mistake wields the power to land them back on the wrong side of the razor wire. Like so many others we know, he rockets wildly between the hope of change and the plague of self-defeat.
The jail seems to have a strange, magnetic pull on him, the same force field that draws him back to its walls seems to repel him away from any steady job that comes his way. The plot- points rarely vary, but this is his story, every bit as important to him as the threads of my life are to me. The short drive was all the time Jason needed to fill Cory in on the basics.
“I’m making money.” He chuckled, staring out the passenger window with lost eyes. “But I’m not working.”
Twelve days later, Jason called, asking for a ride across town. This time he was strung out and suicidal. Any hope he’d fought to hold was now circling the drain. I was already in bed when Cory came home and filled me in. Those were the nights when sleep felt most like the enemy. I tossed and turned, pounding my pillow, imagining his apartment just half a mile away. Is he there? Is his mom with him? Does she know he’s hurting? Does she care? For all the comfort close proximity can bring, when you find yourself fully sunken into the low terrain of no-matter-what love for someone clinging to the far edge of wellness, on the worst nights, their despair can feel like the half-life of your own. We stare at the ceiling while our calls are ignored, and morning waits at the end of an impossibly long corridor.
In his novel Ordinary Grace, William Kent Krueger wrote, “The miracle is this: that you will rise in the morning and be able to see again the startling beauty of the new day.”1 I suppose that’s a more lyrical version of my heart’s cry during those wide-awake nights. That’s the miracle I want most for my neighbors, to be startled by the beauty of this world, and to see it as an expression of God’s endless love for them.
Here in the land of the living, we are learning that no work on earth is ever finished. There’s no clear moment of day or night, just minutes spent sliding away from the sun and then back again. There is no clean cut between bad and good, or lost and found. Most days, we’re all a little of both, weary souls with failing night vision, just trying to make our way home.
When I was a kid growing up in the country, my dad taught me that the best way to carry something heavy is to carry something equally heavy in the other hand. From personal experience, this applies to buckets of water, overstuffed suitcases, concrete blocks, grocery bags filled with large cans of SpaghettiOs, and dense emotions.
Decades later, I remain a distracted and forgetful student of balance. Gratitude and sorrow aren’t, as I once believed, mutually exclusive. They pair quite well together, one in each hand. It can be easy to ebb into the dark seas of sadness, staring too long at grief and disunity. The trick is to keep filling the other bucket. The sadness is real, but there is so much more to the story.
Today I lost a person I was never brave enough to love. Today I’m a mom too tired for this tough parenting gig. Today my friend sends tear-stained text messages, and I follow suit. Today my child is sick, and no one can help him get better. Today jail turned to prison. But turn the page. Can you see it? Here, our neighbors invite us over for their daughter’s twelfth birthday party, heaping our bowls with spicy broth. The rest of them chatter rapidly in Spanish while we gesture wildly about the delicious food, our eyes and noses running from the chiles. After dinner, they bring out the cake, and after another moment of discussion we don’t understand, they sing “Happy Birthday” in English, just so we can sing along.
Here, my addiction-afflicted soul sister shows up unexpectedly two nights in a row, bass bumping, to give me a hug and keep her word. I walk back inside to my family watching TV, the smoke from her cigarette clinging to my sweater, and I can’t help myself. I call it all good.
Here, someone is hired. Someone falls in love. Someone celebrates seven months of sobriety, someone gets out of jail, so we bake a cake and plaster it with sprinkles.
The way of resurrection is also the way of the cross. It goes both ways.
After a particularly gray season in our lives and neighborhood, a friend asked me with concern, “Are you still sad?” I responded truthfully. “Of course I am. I’m sad every day. I’m also happy every day.”
Isaiah 25:8 speaks of God swallowing death forever and wiping away our tears. Only recently did I discover that some translations read,
The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces.
A more obscure translation shows God wiping tears from “every cheek.” After a lifetime of hearing, God will wipe the tears from every eye; this feels like an important discovery. We aren’t supposed to live dry-eyed. No, we were made to feel pain. It rends us from ourselves. It smudges our view, hides us away.
Once we understand that pain is not an indictment on our faith, we’re at liberty to feel sadness with our joy, a sprinkling of salt on bittersweet chocolate.
There in its blending, we experience the solace of being stowed away in the shadow of God’s wing along with everyone else.
Jesus promised us an abundant life, but abundance implies everything, both the sweet and the salty. All of it counts toward aligning our character to Christ’s. This is real wealth, the startling opulence that leaves us fully satisfied. We won’t find it in manufactured heartache or attached to the end of sin. It’s not darkness we’re after. It’s real companionship, the kind that stares at the ceiling until morning breaks, no matter how long it takes.
- William Kent Krueger, Ordinary Grace (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2014), 195.
Excerpted with permission from The Ministry of Ordinary Places by Shannan Martin, copyright Shannan Martin.
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The sweet and the salty, the sad and the happy mashed up together. It helps to remember that Jesus was “a man of many sorrows” Isaiah 53:3, doesn’t it? Along with joy there will be agony, and along with grief there will be rejoicing. Abundance. Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily