The stories we tell with numbers, the stories we tell with our lives.

Psalm 40, 1-3 (The Message)

I waited and waited and waited for God.
    At last he looked; finally he listened.
He lifted me out of the ditch,
    pulled me from deep mud.
He stood me up on a solid rock
    to make sure I wouldn’t slip.
He taught me how to sing the latest God-song,
    a praise-song to our God.

If you haven’t seen the short film “Bono and Eugene Peterson: The Psalms” released by Fuller studios, watch first, then keep reading.

As I watched, I felt like both Bono and Eugene put words to tension I’ve been living this week. Both men talk about their lives, their experiences, and their understanding of the Psalms. Bono looks to the Psalms as a call to honesty, to real, raw, human emotion. He says, “the only way we can approach God is if we’re honest.” Commenting on his translation of the Psalms, Peterson adds, “It’s not smooth. It’s not nice. It’s not pretty. But it’s honest, and I think we’re all trying to be honest.”

Both of these men could easily be defined by numbers: records and copies sold, concerts and lectures given, songs and books written, number of people reached. But neither of them talked about those numbers because those numbers do not tell the whole story.

There are stories we tell with numbers; there are stories we tell with our lives.

The stories we tell with our numbers are easy to tell. They are concrete. They are black and white. There is no room for question. But, they rarely tell the whole story. The stories we tell with our lives are much messier, trickier to tell. It’s difficult to express both complaint and joy, both sorrow and elation, both confusion and clarity – raw emotion.

These stories require time, patience, an open mind, a sensitive heart, and a listening ear. But it’s always worth it.

Three (3).

This past week there was a landslide in the Guatemala City garbage dump. Journalists reported that three guajeros (workers who separate recyclables out of the trash) died, but a short walk in the surrounding communities tells a different story. My husband saw ten (10) caskets with his own eyes; I sat in a wake for the brother of a dear friend and saw signs for two (2) other wakes posted in the same community. And that is just one of the many informal communities around the city garbage dump. Our dear, seventeen (17) year old friend  who lives a few streets over told me, “my neighbor lost her mother and is left alone to care for her three (3) younger siblings. My whole community is a funeral.”

Hundreds (100’s) of people are waiting outside of the entrance of the garbage dump. For what? In the words of Psalm 40, for bodies of their loved ones to be pulled out of the pit, out of the mud and to be set upon a solid rock so that they can mourn.

Three (3) deaths. I’m not sure what story this number tells, but it mocks the pain of the people living in mourning communities.

There are stories we tell with numbers; there are stories we tell with our lives.

Seven (7), Four-hundred and Fifty-two (452)

Over the past two years since I stopped working with Young Life in Guatemala, I’ve watched as Young Life ministry moved out of Zone 3 – out of the communities surrounding the city garbage dump. I’ve listened to dear friends share their hurt over this move. I’ve silently wept with teenagers who wondered if Young Life left their communities because they are poor, because they are violent, because there is a lot of trash – because they did not deserve something so good.

Over the past year, I’ve seen each one of my brave Guatemalan friends – friends who were born and raised in the communities in which they ministered – leave Young Life staff for different reasons. All four brave, Guatemalan servants who were a part of starting Young Life in their communities are no longer on YL staff in Guatemala.

Yet, in a recent call to prayer, Young Life International posted that in 2015, there were seven (7) national staff in Guatemala and four-hundred and fifty-two (452) kids reached through Young Life ministry.

Seven (7). Four-hundred and fifty-two (452). I’m not sure what story these numbers tell, or how seven national staff were hired in the past month since my last Guatemalan friend left staff, but the numbers mock the pain of teenagers who wonder why the ministry left their communities.

There are stories we tell with numbers; there are stories we tell with our lives.

One (1) morning

I woke up this morning overcome by deep sorrow, by unanswerable questions, wondering where I find hope the midst of these numbers and stories. I need to remember that the stories we tell with our lives are bigger than the stories we tell with our numbers.

This week, I heard stories of relational ministry happening in the morgues, in the crowds waiting outside the garbage dump, with the mourners in the funerals. My brave friends are living real, raw, gospel lives in the middle of pain and suffering. They don’t need a specific name and they definitely don’t need numbers to tell their stories.

The stories they are telling with their lives are much more beautiful.

 

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