Have you ever seen someone’s outfit, whether a inappropriate choice of clothing, or strangely-colored shoes, or even a hair-do that looks more like a hair-don’t, and you wondered what was the story behind their choice?
I have a number of younger friends on my Facebook page. Many are our children’s classmates at the dance center. I also have several former or current students from Sunday School class. Out of this special group of youngsters, I have adopted—in my heart, at least—two sons, Zach and E___. E___ now has a Facebook profile picture of himself, a beautifully sketched drawing of him in a T-shirt with a simple message:
I am sure some who pass my page are dumbfounded, if not royally offended, and that, more than once, another friend has asked, “Why would she have a friend who would wear that shirt?!!” Who knows? I might have unknowingly been judged, too, for fostering that friendship.
The truth is that E____ was once a Sunday school student in our class. I’ve talked on more than one occasion about our class of kids with a set of realities that would crush many adults. These kids are 12, 13, 14, and 15 years of age. Yet, over the years, we have worked through and prayed over at least one who found herself in an alternative school after a weapons charge, and a host of student-to-student and teacher-to-student interactions that have gone awry. We also have been a welcome respite for a group of boys whom Child Protective Services individually removed from homes, only to place them collectively in a foster home where they were sorely mistreated. My two “sons” were the last two to leave that home, taken away by CPS after some revelation of what they endured while there. Zach was moved to another foster home; I am not totally certain of his level of care, but I am in contact with him periodically, and we spent a brief period of time (less than 30 minutes) with him on his most recent birthday.
The wearer of this T-shirt, E___, is our other son. Right before he was moved out of that home, and consequently has no way to get to our church, he told of us the circumstances that resulted in his placement in the child protective process. He was born into a home where abuse was the norm, and his father, along with other men, were in and out of the home. As a very small child, he witnessed his father beat his younger sister to death. By the time he was 10 or 11, E___ was involved in the drugs, both selling and using. Not long after that, he was sent from home to home. Somewhere on that path, E___ found Christ, and it saved him from murder and/or suicide.
If my story ended there, it would be wonderful. But, having left his last foster home, E___ is now back with his birth mother. He’s also flirting with drugs again, and discouraged by where his life is currently–hence, the T-shirt. The message, I feel safe in saying, symbolizes his rage. My heart simply breaks for him, and we stay in prayer. I also continue to believe God for him, even when God seems far away to him. I believe that one day that garment will be shed, and the new one will appear that reflects his sorrow being turned into gladness. I anticipate that day with my whole heart.
In the meantime, E___’s shirt has taught me a valuable lesson about judgment. In a more Phariseean day, I would have shunned such a friendship that reflected poorly on me and my oh-so-righteous self. After all, my friends see him in that outfit! But knowing E___’s story, I can appreciate that he’s seen more of the dark side of life than most of us ever will. I applaud him, and moreover, the Christ in him, that he’s not in jail, or strung out on prescriptive medications (though “weed” isn’t the answer, either). He’s one that the church would turn away because of his appearance, and we turn many others away for similar reasons. That’s worth repentance, because even while we were yet sinners, the Lord loved us. As for me, I’m learning, through him, not to be so quick to roll my eyes at those who don’t outwardly measure up to my standard; there may be a story there of which I’m totally unaware. I’m learning to call on the Father more on behalf of those situations and people whom I don’t understand, rather than assume that I know things. Yep, I’m learning…
God bless you, dear friends.