Monday, April 9, 2012

Words spoken.

Brandon is a cool kid. He's polite and when he was much younger, loved to come hang out at the house and jump on the trampoline with Graham. He would swing by just about every day, have a snack, play Wii, and hang out with me in the kitchen while I cooked dinner. Sometimes, he'd stay and tell us his dreams of playing pro basketball around the dinner table. And he actually listened when I told him broccoli would make him taller and ate every bite.

Sometimes, he'd ask for a ride after dinner because it was dark and his granny didn't want him walking home alone. Outside his front door, waiting for him, his cat would almost always be pacing. Brandon would pick him up, scratch his head, and wave goodnight.

Over the years of living in West Dallas, we saw a little less of Brandon. He was certainly around but spent more time playing basketball than hanging out with younger friends. We'd see him riding his bike, always balancing a basketball on his hip. He was really good, too. I guess he kept eating his broccoli because he grew like crazy and everyone was sure he'd be playing college ball one day.

Then, last Fall, on the way to the court at a park near his house, Brandon pulled a .22 out of his pocket and shot another kid seven times.

Of all the kids we've known over the years, he was certainly one of the last we'd ever suspect of being violent like that - not even a little bit. Aside from getting a little hostile on the court, and fouling an opponent in the final moments of a game, I never saw a side of him that might lead where it did.

Brandon's victim lived and made a full recovery, then his granny moved him back to Louisiana where she believed he'd be safer. Brandon was sent to prison - looks like he won't be playing college ball after all.

Mercy Street's Associate Executive Director drove south to visit him a couple of weeks ago and the information he came back with was heartbreaking and frustrating and echoed countless documentaries and news expose's on bullying.

The only conclusion authorities could make as to why Brandon shot his peer was that the kid constantly, unrelentingly, sometimes visciously scored on him until one afternoon, he snapped.

"Man, you got no game."

"Your hair so nappy".

"Those shoes look like wookies".

"You suck".

"You're ugly".

"You got nothin."

"You're broke."

"Your house is ghetto".

"Your momma's a whore".

Brandon was wrong. He wasn't justified in pulling the trigger and is now in prison because the judge didn't think so either. The kids asked about Brandon the other night and we were desperately trying to impress upon them the power their words have.

So, when I ran into my friend, Louisa, at a track meet days later, and she started telling me about a bible study she'd just heard on Proverbs 18:21, I knew the Lord was trying to drive home something that's been rattling around in my heart for a long time. He's kinda pushy that way.

Proverbs 18:21 says "The tongue has the power of life and death..."

It doesn't say the power of hurt feelings or warm fuzzies - it says life and death. God don't play.

So, my problem and consequently the trait I may have passed onto my children is this; they come from a long line of sarcasm. And by long line, I mean me. It's actually a combination of sarcasm and trying to be sincerely funny which works for me about 72% of the time. The other 28% usually falls flat, hurts feelings, and gets me kicked out of book clubs. And, yes, I just did math.

Louisa was encouraging me that, with ears tuned to listen, I would learn to hear myself and others speak either death or life into situations, circumstances, or people. Day 1, I listened, really listened, to every word and the volume of death spoken was staggering. I heard my own kids squawking at one another just like Brandon's friend.

"You suck at basketball".

"You FAILED your math test? Hahahahahaha"!

"I can do that better than you."

"I'm smarter, faster, etc., etc., etc. than you'll ever be".

And then, I heard my own words speaking death into situation upon situation with small comments of cynicism, hopelessness, and bitterness. However small, they stung my ears and I had to make several phone calls to friends asking forgiveness. Of course I called right during dinner when they'd be distracted and quick to forgive but that's not important right now.

So, we're working on words over at the Hill house and it's not an easy task, mostly because my children are stubborn little punks. SEE, THERE I GO AGAIN! Life, Melissa, life. Lord, help me. Seriously, though, just like leaving backpacks and shoes in the middle of the kitchen floor, old habits are hard to break especially when our ears and hearts have become dull to adolescent banter and cut-downs. Because we are our kids' most influential presence, I'm seeing how my own words, even in the great name of all things funny, fail to speak life and instead speak slow death.

And we're praying for Brandon and the other young man. That these boys so full of potential and future and hope, would know the One who seeks and saves and restores the years the locusts have eaten. Christ's words are life-giving, redeeming, and pierce the darkest cells - both the cinder ones in South Texas, and the felt one's in Louisiana.


ABK Couture said...

Well done, friend. You have taught me something today and given me some things to think about. xoxo.

Jill said...

I have not commented in a while, but still I read your words in the middle of Florida and pray for you and Mercy Street. The scripture we have had posted on our cabinet door in the middle of our kitchen where we ALL can see it and be reminded...agreed with your post! I Peter 3:8Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless—that's your job, to bless. You'll be a blessing and also get a blessing.

Kim said...

My heart breaks for your kids...not just the ones you have carried in your body but those you carry in your heart. My students come from the same kind of neighborhoods as yours. We've lost too many to violence. Lost them to death, to drugs, to prison, to a future dimmed and not what it should have been.

Becca said...

Oh that is so sad - I will keep Brandon in our prayers. We think of y'all and pray for you often. I miss your posts, and we hope to maybe take a road trip out to TX sometime soon so maybe we can stop by and see y'all!

Missy at Its Almost Naptime said...

Dude man. You keep lyin low for a month and then you pop up and WHAMMO.

Sigh. I'm sorry y'all are in such a patch of crap.

Did I tell you we are moving out of the Forest?

Cynthia said...

Ohmygosh... it was like a celebrity sighting today at Wisteria :) Loved meeting you and appreciate your perspective and posts. Have a great weekend.

Mrs. Troop said...

Very sobering. We've been working on our words here, too. Studying James. Memorizing about the power of the tongue. I hear my kids and think, "I taught them to criticize like that." "I taught them to be ugly like that." It's heartbreaking. But I'm so glad we REALIZE this and are asking the Lord to change our hearts - the source of our words. Thanks for the reality check!

Sara said...

That is such a sad story. Thank you for the reminder about the power of our words. said...

If put in an unrelenting environment it will produce full on PTSD. Get a kid that is ADD or some learning disability that doesn't get discovered. Then the kid is in situations where he can't "flee" from the authority figure, teacher, coach etc... The verbal abuse keeps coming, one day he snaps, he goes psycho because years of attempting to "flight" haven't worked and the "fight" response suppressed for a decade or two finally manifests itself. "Private Pyle" in "Full Metal Jacket" is not far off. I have to go take my adderall now.

Anonymous said...

Very true about words being powerful. A daily watchout for us all. The ending is important as well. That is, with our God there is always hope - in any situation. He can and does use all for His great glory. So, although Brandon's dream may have been his own; God does have still greater dreams for us...and the way He accomplishes His plans can amaze. In addition to watching our words; I would pray that we are able to grasp the hope of His always greater dreams for us in the midst of our own failures. For Brandon, this is my prayer. Dale

Gabby said...

Yesterday, I got this sick feeling in my stomach when I spoke some pretty stinky words to my children who were in my mind very deserving of them. However, I am trying so hard to break a habit of saying exactly what I think, and instead say what God would have me think BEFORE saying anything at all.
Ah, what a hard thing. The hardest. My tongue, it needs training more than my kids.

Melissa Mac said...

This entry has STRUCK me down. God really spoke to me through your words and Brandon's story. I even read it to my kids. We have been asking each other throughout our interactions if those were "words that give life or death?". My kids GET IT. And it has been so impacting in our family. Thank you for sharing your heart and I'm so thankful to have it brought to my attention to examine MY HEART before I react, respond, etc to the kids and others. LOVE IT!

Dana @ Cooking At Cafe D said...

I just followed a link over from Shannan at Flower Patch Farm Girl.

Now, I'm your newest follower.

I, too, have the *gift* of sarcasm. And, while i don't want to squelch humor I would like to temper dry wit in our family. Oh, who am I kidding? In me.

Thanks for the scripture.