This book is about identity and purpose. Loved and sent are answers to:
"Who am I?" "Why do I matter?"
They come with loads of biblical and theological weight. To keep them from becoming heady and esoteric, I had to tell stories. Early in the process, I made the decision to tell personal stories. This was a difficult choice. Some stories were hard to write. My German and Midwestern heritage is modest. You're not supposed to talk about yourself. A friend gave me the courage to remain candid:
"How can you share the importance of these words unless you share them personally?"
So I tell stories:
Bob the Farmer, who nearly broke my hand with his sausage-like fingers.
Lady Kay, the British Yooper and prophetess.
George, my friend cursed with ALS.
A recurring "character" is my little brother Brandon. I was initially reluctant to share the stories of our brotherhood. I've known and mentored Brandon since he was nine. He's part of our family. But I'm sensitive about the "white savior" narrative. If anything, Brandon has influenced me more than I have him.
Here's one of the stories from the book.
Loved and Sent
The images on the TV screen felt like a knee to my gut. Mobs of young black men filled the streets. A reporter on the corner dashed to cover at the pop of gunshots. Then the camera shifted to a cop car ablaze. Hooded figures darted into the shadows. An aerial shot revealed a small business engulfed in flames just miles from my home on the south side of St. Louis.
On August 9, 2014, 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot by a white police officer, Darren Wilson, in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown was unarmed. There were witnesses who claimed Wilson shot him while his hands were up. It ignited a firestorm. Race, history, politics, and socioeconomics were the kindling. Michael Brown’s death was the spark. “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” was the rally cry. We called the event by the name of the community set ablaze—Ferguson. But it was about our whole city. St. Louis was on fire. And all of America was watching.
Now it was November. The grand jury determined that Officer Wilson would not be indicted for Brown’s death. This sparked more riots. Helicopters zoomed over our house. My kids were tucked in bed. School was canceled the next day. As I watched TV, I saw the image of a building near my house. Graffiti sprayed on the brick wall threatened, “If we burn, you burn. F the police!”
Where’s Brandon? I had texted him, but no response. The young black men on the television looked like Brandon. Same skin color, age, and clothes. A 22-year-old black male, Brandon would have blended into the crowd in Ferguson. I prayed that he wasn’t in the streets.
Brandon has called me “brother” since he was nine years old. My wife, Bobbi, and I were 22-year-old newlyweds. We met Brandon and his two siblings through a North St. Louis church. We quickly connected. It began with tutoring and trips to the zoo, but over the years we became family. Before Bobbi and I had children, these kids gave us a taste of parental responsibility.
Brandon and I are an odd pairing. I grew up rural. Brandon never knew life outside the city limits. I grew up in the Northwoods of Michigan. Brandon grew up on the notorious North Side of St. Louis. My family was stable. His dad was in jail. My skin is white. His is black.
The first time we took Brandon to our modest apartment, he opened the pantry door and froze. I worried that something was wrong. The shelves were stocked with cans of corn and boxes of mac and cheese. He finally spoke. “Oh my God, you got food!”
So we ate food. Lots of it. That day, his nine-year-old stomach devoured mac and cheese, carrots, biscuits, frozen pizza, and a bowl of ice cream. He was filled with joy and wonder as he explored our little apartment. He asked about everything.
“What’s this?” “A picture of my family.” “That your momma and daddy?” “Yeah. And my brother and sister.” “You only got two?” “Yeah.” “What’s this?” “Oh, that’s the deer I shot in high school.”
Brandon froze. He took a step back from me. “Oh my God, you shot a gun?” “Yeah.” “You killed a deer?!” “Yeah.” It took me 10 minutes to assure him that hunting was legal and safe, and no humans were injured in the harvesting of the deer.
I was just as curious about Brandon’s life, a world so different from my own. My quest for identity and meaning took on a new perspective when I entered Brandon’s experience. For me, there was always opportunity. I had choices. I had freedom to make something of myself. But I had never encountered someone whose destiny was, in many respects, all but predetermined.
What chance did a nine-year-old black kid from the north side have? Cycles of poverty, crime, and absent fathers inflicted a generational curse. Can’t he just get out? I once thought. But it wasn’t that easy. Economics, race, and twisted social structures all collide to trap a child in a system nearly impossible to escape. By November 2014, Brandon had outlived many of his peers. The nine-year-old boy was a 22-year-old man. I texted, “Where you at?” Finally a response came. “I’m OK. At home.” I sighed. Maybe I could sleep tonight.