If I had to choose, it really wouldn’t be much of a contest between Marvel and DC Comics – Marvel would win just about every time. That said, I happen to be friends with a family of superheroes that would probably fit right in with the DC gang.
Like every legend, it didn’t start out as a way to get publicity or notoriety; it started in the kind, epic heart of a little boy named Ewan, who wanted to help people who are homeless in Detroit, near where he lives. His parents decided to put Ewan’s heart into action, and through the magic of social media, it has become a cause that not only the family works on, but one that the community is helping make happen. Elderly widows, Boy Scout troops, and random strangers contact SuperEwan’s mom, Ange, and twice a month, they load up vehicles and take food, clothing, and other supplies to people who struggle. No questions asked. No names collected and turned into any agency. As far as I know, no one has ever been turned away.
SuperEwan is humble, silly, empathic, and smart. It’s no surprise that he is such an admirable kid when his parents are such welcoming, open-hearted people who continue to impress me with their honesty and grace. His younger siblings, a preschooler and a toddler, get in on it, too, packing baggies of toiletries and tagging along on “Adventure Days.”
If you haven’t seen his page already, pretty pretty please check out http://www.SuperEwan.org! There, you’ll find links to articles about their adventures, television interviews, and more. There are also ways for you to get involved, whether it’s a donation or reblog or other effort. There is a Facebook page, too, and he gets really excited about new likes/followers, do even if you can’t donate, a “like” will make him smile – and he has a great smile. SuperEwan is a nonprofit organization, meaning donations are deductible.
Relationships are hard and people are frustrating, but love is easy.
Trust is scary and faith is a gamble, but love is easy.
Forgiveness is humbling and grace is unfair, but love is easy.
I needed to be reminded of these things today because it seems like the bad week has stretched into two weeks, and it’s exhausting and it would just be so much easier if I could decide that love is harder than I can handle. Because if it’s harder than I can handle, then it’s easier to give myself a pass.
This past week, my five-year-old nephew, Elijah, made it into the local newspaper. That morning, he had declared himself to be a secret superhero named “Lava” and went to school in plaid shorts and a brightly colored striped shirt and brightly colored gym shoes. Why? Because he loves superheroes and (at least that morning), he loved those clothes. That’s not why he was in the newspaper, though. He was photographed with another kindergartner as they walked through a school fair with their arms around each other’s shoulders. When my sister asked him who the other kid was, he said it was his friend from another class. He couldn’t tell her his name, though. He just knew that they were friends.
I wish I could love like he does. I’m supposed to love like he does.
Elijah is really too young and has had a thankfully privileged enough life to not hesitate to love the things and the people around him. He’s still five, and has all the stubbornness that comes with being five, but he hasn’t yet learned to be distrustful, resentful, or skeptical.
It has felt very hard to love some people lately, especially people who have hurt my friends. I’m very protective of my tribe and when they are hurt, I want vengeance. There have been a lot of moments lately when I’ve prayed “but do you know how hard it is to love the people hurting my friends?”
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” from Matthew 11; NIV
Love is the burden we’re to carry. There are a lot of learned lessons that become obstacles in carrying that burden. We get hurt and we hurt others. We mistake hardness for wisdom. Somewhere along the way, we get this mixed up idea that we get to hold off on loving people.
But over and over, I am taught another lesson: loving people, as reckless as it may seem, as often as it requires that I practice the things I listed at the beginning of my blog, is a far better use of my time, gives me a deeper peace, and partly satisfies the desire for holiness. Some day, I hope I’ll remember this lesson instead of the other ones. I want to be like Elijah, who, like that one Jesus guy, is OK with loving just because the person is there for me to love.
It was sunny and I was on the way to the bank when I met her under the tree that had such beautiful leaves. She was smaller than I expected, shier than I expected, and dressed in flannel, despite it being August. She was smiling and polite and didn’t fit with the tough, attitude-filled brat image that I’d gotten from people.
It was dark and cool in the late fall evening when I dropped her off at her house and she said “Cindy, I like you a lot. I hope you’re our minister for a long time.” I don’t even remember what activity we’d been doing that night to prompt such flattery, but her grandmother assured me that she hadn’t liked a minister in a long time, so if she said it, she meant it.
It was miserably hot out without a cloud anywhere as I drove her and the younger girls to camp, singing pop songs at the tops of our lungs, laughing when someone got the words wrong. No one wanted to admit to why we all knew the words to the One Direction song and blamed it on it being overplayed and annoying instead of the fact that it was really stinkin’ catchy.
It was any given Sunday, but especially in the fall, when she and I teamed up against her grandpa in our football rivalry. He was a huge Packers fan but we had much better taste, finding every excuse to stick Bears logos on anything that would sit still long enough.
It was just the two of us and her sister in the van when we left the Starbucks parking lot. She liked Strawberry Frappuccinos, and I had a vanilla latte, and we talked about boys the whole way to Iowa. I tried to get her to see that she deserved someone who loved her like every girl should be loved.
She wasn’t just a kid in my congregation. She was Becca. She is someone I loved. She is someone I still miss every single day.
These are the memories I am choosing to remember. Not the hospitals, court dates, police reports, or case workers. Not the green organ donation bracelet I wore for months after her death. I can’t forget these things. They are as seared into me as anything I can possibly imagine. I’ve decided that I can choose which things I remember, though. That I can choose which memories flash first in my mind when I think of her. Yeah, she had more tragedy and heartache than any kid should, but she was still a kid. She lived more in her seventeen years than most people do in seventy, but she was still a kid.
I need to remember her that way.
Besides, she’d kick my butt if she thought that I didn’t.
“Well they just don’t know any better.”
“Their parents don’t care.”
“It’s no wonder they act like that when they come from that background.”
“Their mom is never around, so what else do you expect?”
If Jesus’ disciples were around today, these are the kinds of things I would have expected them to mutter when the kids rushed to meet him, when Jesus then chastised them for their attitudes towards the kids.
These are the sad comments I hear way, way too often from church leaders today. Lay people and ministers who don’t know how to handle kids that are “too much” and who, more often than not, are poor. Leaders who don’t realize the power of the words coming out of their mouths, who don’t think that the kids can hear, that the message it sends to other adults isn’t damaging, that don’t realize that repeating the words out loud causes the words to sink into their hearts and minds and color how they interact with and love those kids. Leaders who seemingly want to help and to minister to kids, but don’t see that these attitudes are shaming kids instead of loving them.
I know that kids who grow up in poverty are more likely to be mal-/under-nourished, have lower literacy rates, lower test scores, more behavioral issues, lack the guidance needed, aren’t always given medications they need, and have to grow up faster than they should – none of which is their fault. And none of that may be true for some kids.
I grew up poor, with my parents relying on public assistance and unemployment at times, using beat-up cars that we just hoped and prayed didn’t fall apart when one of us sneezed; I came home from school to an empty house, and got into trouble with my teachers because my family couldn’t afford the gym shoes I needed in sixth grade. I also happen to be a genius who tests well, who never had a behavioral issue, and who, if I’d heard you make those comments about poor kids, would have been too ashamed to ever show up at church again.
Those of us who minister primarily to kids from rough settings have really big jobs in front of us. Ministering to middle-class white kids in suburbia is not the same as ministering to other kids. Having ministered in a variety of settings, what I know more than anything else is that ministry (especially youth ministry, which is not at all my comfort zone) is always adapting to the kids, leaders, and setting. What works in the UP doesn’t always work in Iowa. What works for one 8-year-old Mexican-American girl may be all wrong for the next one.
But their need for love isn’t any different than the needs of anyone else. It just looks different sometimes. It means that feeding them isn’t just a gimmick to get them to come to the program, it’s sometimes filling in gaps in their nutrition. It’s not only buying the materials for VBS, but adapting them so that the kids understand them. It might mean that your ministry is executed by holding a screaming, crying preschooler until he is calm because otherwise, he is alone and afraid and doesn’t know how else to tell you that what he needs is to be held.
And for the love of God, if they don’t know any better, teach them! Stop writing off unacceptable behavior just because it seems like they aren’t going to listen! When kids are disrespectful of others/rules/property, correct them. When kids aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing, get them back on task. Of course there is the need for grace and adjustments for developmental stage. It can seem stupidly impossible, but part of our ministry is helping them develop the abilities and traits that will help them be healthy, helpful members of our church and society.
Love them enough to teach them. Respect them enough to not insult their homes, parents, or education. If Jesus isn’t shaming them for being poor, we shouldn’t either.