My friend Shannan is the real deal. She is living a beautiful counter cultural life and is a hero of the faith. Her new book is stunning as she chronicles how she was rescued from the life she always wanted. It’s an honor to share her words here in my space today. Today’s devotional is in partnership with Thomas Nelson.
The first time I met the next kid who would become my own, it was January and he wasn’t wearing a coat. He had no close family connections and his birthday was around the corner, so we decided to take him to a sit-down-and-order restaurant for his first time.
His name was Robert, and that’s all I knew.
In terms of potential awkwardness or unmet expectations, taking a stranger out for his seventeenth birthday felt fairly monumental. What if he was sullen? Rude? What if he cussed in front of the kids or texted all through dinner? The possibilities for failure were incalculable, but it didn’t stop me from ticking down the list. By the time we arrived to pick him up, the whole event felt like my personal risk, and quite honestly, I wanted to turtle into my puffy coat and hide.
Just as my well-honed flight response was kicking in, he slow-poked from the trailer where he’d been staying, wearing a red T-shirt covered in skulls, his bare skin fading into the darkness around him. Just like that, I loved him a little. Deep inside, under my protective layers and all my excuses, buried beneath my ignorance and pride, nearly suffocated by my false realities and unholy ideas, a brand-new spark was lit. The flame flickered small, barely breathing, but a part of me knew in that moment he belonged to us and my heart would never be the same.
He was poor.
He was, for all intents and purposes, an orphan.
But neither of those facts had any real bearing on why I was already tamping down the urge to mother him as we took our seats in the restaurant. My heart was not responding to the commandment from Psalm 82; it was reacting to the palpable presence of God pinging across that vinyl booth.
Just a taste, just one, and I swallowed the hook. I gulped it down, feeling the pinch of the barb as it took permanent root. It felt like surgery, like a place inside me was being changed, extracted, added to, something.
One year later, Robert disappeared from our lives, gone without a word or shadow. When he reappeared seven months later, it was to tell us he would soon be the father of twin boys.
I drove him to the hospital to meet his sons on a sticky June evening.
Two months later, he was arrested and sent to jail.
God often shows us our purpose in quiet ways. We see a sliver here, a slice there. There are moments when our hearts thump in our chests, and we’re left wondering what it means, patching his holiness over our humanity and seeing the way it gives shape to our tattered edges.
We kept returning to Robert, exhaling each time he returned again to us.
We couldn’t undo the past, or lean the scales more in mercy’s favor, but we could drive to the county jail, send our shoes through the metal detector, and make him smile twice a week. We could fill yellow legal pads with our high hopes for him and drop them in the mail. We could nearly bankrupt ourselves with overpriced jailhouse phone calls.
The trick-math of this upside-down Jesus economy promises that we can never outspend our reserves. There is little limit, only capacity.
Robert taught me I can never be good enough, middle-class enough, or faithful enough to change someone’s eternity. It’s not my job. Never was. He taught me to be a better listener and the importance of saying “I was wrong.” He continues to teach me about unconditional love and my fundamental need for grace, reminding me that my worst moment doesn’t define me.
We can’t give him back his first twenty-one years. We can’t unstitch old wounds or paint him a rosier future. We sure as heck can’t hand him eternity of make him want our faith.
But we can love him with a love that doesn’t stop trying and hope it matters.
We can prove again that he can’t outrun his chances, no matter how many times he moves in and out of our house.
We can mend our broken places into a blanket that covers all of us and call it a family.
Excerpt from Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted