I Still Have Hope
Warning: This post may contain material that is not suitable for young children. Reader discretion is advised.
It was a warm spring night as I perched on the curb at my neighborhood park. The crickets sang as I sat there in the darkness. A soft breeze tickled my skin. I turned to brush my hair out of my face…That’s when I saw him – the unmistakable figure of an old friend. Even though he was a good 50 feet from me and walking the in shadows, I knew it was him. After this many years, you can know someone based solely on their outline in the darkness. I sprang to my feet and skipped across the parking lot.
I smiled at him, “Hey man.”
He wrapped me in a hug, “Faith, what’s up?”
“Oh, ya know. Just chillin. How bout you? What’s new?”
“I got probation.” He said casually.
“Wha’d ya do, bro? Oh wait, is it from that last offense?”
“So where you headed?”
“Fixin to go smoke.”
I punched his arm, “You can’t be doin that, man. You’re on probation. How do you expect to pass the next test?”
“I don’t…” he stared over my head into the night. His eyes were so hollow – hopeless. I bit my lip. I felt the familiar urge to wrap my arms around his waist and never let go, but I restrained myself. Don’t be clingy, Faith.
“Hey man, I want you to come visit my new youth group when you get off probation. Kay?”
He kicked the ground, “Can’t.”
“I didn’t tell you, did I?”
“Tell me what?”
“I can’t be doin’ church stuff. I got recruited…”
“…by?” I didn’t really want to know the answer, but I needed it.
He smiled, “by ______”. I felt my mouth go dry. I wasn’t altogether surprised, but it was still hard to hear. In fact, I was surprised it hadn’t happened sooner.
“When?” I breathed.
“Last week.” His chest puffed out, and his white teeth glowed against his bronze skin.
“I don’t believe you.”
“Well it’s true.” I don’t remember much of what happened next. Just a blur of emotions – frustration, fear, anger, bitterness, disappointment. I wanted to slap him just as bad as I wanted to take his hand and never let go. I shook my head as I stared into his eyes.
I started to back away from him, “Why? You didn’t need to go there…”
“Faith, wait.” He called.
I turned my back and kept walking, “No, Joshua…just no.”
I think back to that moment and wonder when I’ll see him again. I feel a little guilty for walking away…I’ve never walked away from him like that. Later that night he sent me a text that read, “You don’t have to talk to me anymore, but at least be happy for me.” I was torn. I’ve always tried to be supportive of Joshua through everything, but I couldn’t encourage his involvement in this new “family” at least not with a clear conscience. I told him he didn’t know what he was getting involved in, and I’ve seen it end badly countless times. He told me “I’ll be alright.” The boy thinks he’s invincible. I didn’t want to argue with him, so I told him what I’ve always told him, “Just be safe. I love you.” And he thanked me.
This is *Joshua. He is 15 years old, and he lives alone with his mom. If you met him, you would quickly learn that he’s somewhat mysterious about his past, he’s got a sweet sense of humor, his rare smile is worth waiting for, he likes to smoke weed, he likes to go to parties, he’s very interested in becoming a rap artist, he’s pretty good at basketball, and girls love his washboard abs. That’s about as far as most people get. He loves to share his music and favorite songs with people. He has a very mellow personality and likes to just relax with his friends. On the outside, he looks like your typical kid.
However, if you really knew him you would know his older sister moved out a long time ago, and his father is in prison for rape and domestic violence. You would know that his evasiveness about his past isn’t an act to be mysterious or impress girls. You would know that his brooding disposition isn’t about causing trouble…it’s about escaping pain. You would know that Joshua was abused as a child. You would know that when he was a little boy, Joshua saw his dad beat his mother and sister. You would know that the person his dad raped was his 19 yr old sister…when she was 12. You would know that Joshua does his best to respect women. You would know that he believes in true love, even though he doesn’t think he’s found it. You would know that he’s silently searching for the meaning of life. You would know that he’s desperate to believe he deserves love. You would understand why he never speaks of his father. You would know that he’s a lot smarter than he lets on. You would know that his old soul is proof of hardship and true struggle.
When anyone asks about Joshua’s childhood, his voice turns to ice. I don’t blame him. Nobody would want to talk about the things he’s seen. Josh was raised catholic, but I don’t know if he ever went to church. He tells me he prays every day, but sometimes I think he just says that to soothe my mind. Whenever I talk to him about God or invite him to church, he changes the subject. I’ve known Joshua for about as long as I can remember living in this neighborhood and he is very dear to my heart.
I’m telling you all this, not so you will pity my friend. I’m telling you this so you will understand something – These people exist. They aren’t just in the movies. Joshua isn’t alone. There are others like him – People who are searching for something. They’re looking for love in all the wrong places and desperately trying to find fulfillment in the things of this world. They walk among us every day. In fact, you won’t know these things about a person unless you dig deep – unless you’re willing to peel back the layers of their life and face the ugly parts head on. The problem is, many of us don’t even know where to start. There are so many broken people in this world, and no two are exactly the same. They all have their own baggage and what might work for one person might totally put off the next guy. The biggest problem is that they feel alone. We’ve all felt alone at some point in life…but can you imagine living that way? Many of us have to make excuses to explain our loneliness. For example, “I fight a lot with my parents.” “My siblings are judgmental.” Or “I’ve been lied to a lot..I just can’t trust people.” We have to make up reasons not to trust. People like Joshua don’t have to work very hard to find a reason not to trust. Ever since childhood, they have been taught that this world is a dangerous and hurtful place. So how do we fix this? We show them there’s light.
We get to know people. Not just on a shallow level…it needs to be deeper. It takes effort. It requires time and patience. Sometimes you will be rejected. It might hurt. If you’re like me, you run the risk of getting attached to some of them; when they’re reckless and irresponsible…you will hurt for them. When they wind up sick, pregnant, or in jail…you’ll be burdened with compassion. This isn’t something you can do on your own strength, which is fine because God is strong in our weakness.
Three lies the devil tells us about reaching into the darkness.
1) Lie: You need to get your own life in order before you go trying to help someone else
Truth: You don’t need to have your life perfectly together to show someone the love of Jesus.
2) Lie: Changing lives is for pastors and movies.
Truth: It isn’t that hard to change someone’s life. You just need to be in it.
3) Lie: That lifestyle is too dangerous, too broken, too scary. I can’t be around someone with that kind of past.
Truth: Darkness cannot dwell where light is present.
I’ve learned over the years that when you focus on someone else’s problems, your own problems seem to shrink. It’s a beautiful cycle. The less you worry about your own problems, the less daunting they become in your mind. The less daunting they are, the easier they become to handle. When you’re focused on someone else, a lot of your problems can disappear altogether. For instance, you have less time to fight with your dad, because you’re so busy finding just the right verse to explain to your friend…and when you’re done with that, you’re so soaked in the Word that you don’t get into a lot of petty arguments. When you pour yourself into other people’s lives, your heart changes.
I have a select group of people who I refuse to give up on. I pray for them every day. I know that I serve the God of miracles and everything will work out in His perfect timing.
Joshua told me a few weeks ago “you’ve been there when I need someone most, thanks.” To you that may not seem like a big deal, but those moments keep me motivated.
I still have hope for Joshua…
*Although the name is changed, I was given permission to post a real photo.