Disclaimer: I feel like I need to add this to let you know before you continue reading that I have returned to the blogging world after taking some time off to work with my kids to understand that their stories are stories the world needs to hear good, bad or indifferent and most of the stories you will read here are real and I have asked permission to share them, and some of them I’ve have shared prior to posting for approval. So know that the words shared here are raw and from my heart and might be hard to read sometimes but they have been “kid approved.”
Quadruple shooting injures four, six people die over the weekend from gun shot wounds, Ms. Colleen my friend was killed last night, Ms. Colleen my uncle was shot last night, Ms. Colleen my dad was murdered over the weekend… for most of you these are just stories on the 11 o’clock news, for me it’s personal. It’s people I know and love losing loved ones, it’s people I know and love losing their lives to the street. It’s real and it hurts and while I know that it’s sin nature and I know that a lot of times it’s a series of decisions that has brought us here, it still hurts and it never gets any easier (I’ve decided the day it becomes easy is the day ministry is probably not the place for me anymore).
A few weeks ago I was driving down the street on my way home from a life date and I heard the gunshots ringing out behind me, not too close, not too far, but too close for my heart. In that moment my heart broke because I knew it would be a matter of time before the phone rang, my Facebook messenger would ding with an alert or I would get a text letting me know who was just shot, and whether they lived or died, this seems to be an almost daily occurrence these days. I knew that in a matter of minutes I would being explaining to another kid I love that I don’t understand why this is happening other than sin nature sucks and we need Jesus.
I would listen to them try to make sense of this in their head and wonder when it’ll be their turn, every single time this happens I hear, “Ms. Colleen when will this be me,” and every single time I try to explain that while I cannot protect them from everything I can help them set-up a life plan that allows for better decisions, I can provide them safe alternatives to the street life, I can be a support for them and encourage them in their walk towards Jesus and something bigger for their lives.
That particular night I had to drive past three balloon memorials in our neighborhood to get home, it broke my heart even more to know that sometime over the next few days I would be driving one of my kids to a candlelight corner vigil for his friend “K” that was murdered that day and that another light pole in our neighborhood would become an anchor for balloons, stuffed animals and t-shirts memorializing another young life taken. In my head balloons and stuffed animals represent happy times, celebrations and birthdays, it’s not fair that these things that are “happy” are now what is a constant reminder of death in my life and the lives of people I love. This morning I decided to take a little drive through the neighborhood on the way to visit my favorite Dunkin Donuts friends and I counted between my house and the coffee shop 12 light poles with balloons or remnants of balloons that’s TWELVE lives that have been taken… most likely in senseless street violence of those twelve I can tell you the name and something about ten of those lives. Some of them are teenagers who will never get to graduate high school, will never get to see the other side of a different life, a life outside of the ‘hood they grew up in and lost their life in, some of them are uncles who were trying to make a way the only way they knew how, some were young adults who stepped into the only path they knew because that’s all they had been exposed too, while I don’t agree with the lifestyle choices that got my friends to this point in their lives I mourn with my kids the loss of someone we loved.
I stand with my kids and I wonder when this is going to stop, when someone’s life will be worth more than $30, a few nights ago a friend of mine was robbed at gunpoint near our home for $35 dollars I said out loud in that moment “I cannot believe that someone’s life was not worth more than $35, when will we value the lives of others? When will we value our own lives? I don’t believe that it’s an accident that in my own life I have been wrestling through value, worth and sin nature at the same time we are walking through what sin looks like with our teenagers in our Wednesday night GEM program, and at the same time that I have to remind my kids (especially my teens) almost daily that these things are happening because we are born into sin nature, and that while a relationship with Christ does not give us a perfect and easy life, it means that we will have an eternal life with Him if we accept the gift He’s offering us.
You’re probably wondering where I am going with this, but as I write this morning of how the life of the streets is heartbreaking and how I am reminded daily of the reality of sin nature in our lives I am reminded that in the midst of this chaotic world we live in, this city with a murder rate approaching 100 before we even reach the half way point of the year that there are amazing things happening around me including a sweet teenage boy who will be graduating high school in a few weeks and going to college in the Fall when just a few months ago college was not on his radar and we weren’t even sure he would be able to graduate with his class. Another teenage boy is preparing to apply for early admission (as a junior) to Liberty University, and whole bunch of other teens around me are preparing to change their lives and do big things. The other day I picked up three teenage boys from their class trip (this is another blog entry for another day) and while we were driving back home we got into a long discussion about how unfair it is that these particular boys have GPA’s of 3.5 or higher, play sports and have big plans for their lives and because of where they live and the color of their skin they’ve already been judged, they’ve already been told that there is no hope for them, these boys will prove the world wrong they will go onto do big things with their lives, they have a plan and they have the desire for something better for their lives, I’m proud of them and told them the other day that I have officially declared myself their biggest cheerleader and as long as they kept the motivation and desire I would do whatever I need to do to help their dreams become a reality.
I want to end with this challenge for you, the next time you turn on the news and you are inundated with news story after news story of another person who has lost their life to the street I beg you to stop and remember you don’t know the circumstances that brought this person here, and that while they may not know who God is or ever have the chance to know who God is they were created just as you and I, in the image of God (So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them, Genesis 1:27, ESV) they are someone’s child, mother, father, brother, sister etc. instead of judging pray, pray for their loved ones, pray for the people, all of the people who are affected including the person who took the life. I also challenge you that next time you see a black teenager on the street don’t immediately make an assumption about that child. Because you don’t know their story, you don’t know what their life is like, take a moment say hello, smile at them. Yes I know there are “troubled” teens who are terrorizing out streets, but there are also good ones who are just walking to school, who are working hard to make their lives different, give them a change to prove themselves before you’ve already categorized them. If you’re local to Baltimore (or even if you’re not) I challenge you to come visit, come have dinner, come hang out with some of these kids, I guarantee you they will change your mind about some of the stereotypes you’ve created in your head based on the media and how the world tells us we should view “hood kids.”