Por Vida, For Life.
A moniker that has graced the walls of barrios for decades. From tattoos to T-shirts, Por Vida is something that we have learned to use as a symbol of our affection, of our undying loyalty and carnalismo for one another. A love and loyalty for your old lady, Chano y Chula P/V, a love for your neighborhood, Cuca P/V, a love for your cliqua, Crazy Train Locas P/V, the list can go on and on. But what really is the meaning behind this phrase, this epithet of sorts? Por Vida, For life Ese, what does this really mean?
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines loyalty as "a loyal feeling : a feeling of strong support for someone or something; unswerving in allegiance; faithful in allegiance."
Por Vida, an unswerving, faithful allegiance to someone or something. Supporting someone when they are unable to support themselves. Believing in them when they have lost their way. Having a faithful allegiance to someone when everything around them has proven otherwise. Trusting them when everyone else has given up. Remembering them when they have been forgotten by all. A love that transcends time and place, a loyalty that transcends all wrong done to an individual. " Love never fails." (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
I have spent my life fighting for the underdog. I have always wanted to believe the good in man. To believe that though a man be without status or monetary riches, he is rich in loyalty and respect. For so long I had the Robin Hood mentality, fight for the poor and underrepresented, and fight against the wealthy mainstream. And yet, as I have grown older I have come to understand the stark reality of life. That even within the neighborhoods, the barrios, the gente, the poor, the underrepresented, the forgotten, the down and out, even amongst the outcasts, loyalty is fleeting. Loyalty is not a case that most men want to plead. Rather we look to fill our flesh, to puff up our ego, and to meet the needs of self, rather than others. Por Vida we say and yet at the convenience of others we have been easily forgotten or perhaps misunderstood. I can count those loyal few on one hand, calling them by name, vividly seeing their faces as we speak of this moniker, for life Ese. They are the very few who have been willing to stand with us when all else have abandoned ship. Those few who we are not ashamed to call out to when we are pressed in on all sides, crushed but not ruined. Those few individuals whose love goes far beyond the outward appearance, but have an undying, unwavering love for you. A love that hopes, a love that trusts, a love that is willing to bear your burden, a love that is willing to see the good, a love that is long suffering and patient, a love that is willing to hold fast in the midst of a tumultuous storm. "A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." (Proverbs 18:24) Friends, loyal friends, individuals who are worth their weight in gold, are few and far between. Very few will ever be blessed with the ability to encounter such rare individuals. Those individuals of whom you can write their name down and etch "P/V" next to it because they are for life, loyal to the end, never wanting anything from you, but willing to give everything for you.
If we are truthful with ourselves most of us can say with 100% surety that such an individual is rare. And if we have had the blessing of knowing such an individual we crave their presence in our lives. Their very presence calms the storm within, they make you feel invincible and free, their very words spark a fire inside of you and you walk away knowing that you were in the presence of greatness.
What is it about these types of individuals that can breathe life into your heart?
It is the presence of love. You know that they love you without strings attached. You know that they love you and are interested in you as an individual. The real you. The very person you are in the darkness of the hour when no one else is around. The presence of love, agape, a selfless love, dispels the presence of fear in an instance. Where light exists, darkness must flee. Where faith exists, doubting must run. Where life exists, death must bow.
1 Corinthians 13, the famous love chapter. How often it is used to model the sentimental love of flawed individuals and relationships. And yet, what 1 Corinthians 13 was originally intended for was to communicate the perfect love of Christ in the life of the flawed individual, sinful man. The very name of Christ can so easily be replaced within these verses and still hold completely true:
Christ suffers long and is kind;
Christ does not envy;
Christ does not parade itself,
Christ is not puffed up;
Christ does not behave rudely,
Christ does not seek His own,
Christ is not provoked,
Christ thinks no evil;
Christ does not rejoice in iniquity,
Christ rejoices in the truth;
Christ bears all things,
Christ believes all things,
Christ hopes all things,
Christ endures all things.
Christ never fails.
The very reason why man is so drawn to the loyal few, those that are down For Life, is because they are a reflection of perfect love. A love that was willing to suffer many things (Luke 9:22), a love that suffered rejection, heartache, loneliness, physical abuse, marring, and crucifixion. Not only to allow us life, but also to demonstrate His perfect love for us through the only begotten Son of the Father, Jesus Christ. "But God demonstrated His own love for us, while we were yet sinners He died for us." (Romans 5:8) The crucifixion of Christ was never a mandate, it was a choice. Just as Christ chose to suffer and die that we might have eternal life, so you must choose where your loyalties lie. Whether they be with man or with God, it is a conscious choice every man must make. "Greater love hath no man than this that he would lay down his very life for his friend." (John 15:13)
She tapped my husband on the shoulder and quietly said, "Tell your wife I was broken today." The woman's words ring in my head like a song. I have been replaying those words repeatedly in my head, for several days. What a bold statement. One that required no thought, simply a reaction. A reaction to one who had just been stripped, in a matter of an hour.
Behind the walls of Century Regional Detention Center, the largest women's jail in the United States, lies a wealth of misery. Women broken by this world. Women who are cheats, liars, master manipulators, lost and unwilling to be found. And yet, in this hell, amongst the filth, lies small pockets of women whose names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life. Women who have truly been washed by the blood of Christ and who will one day, with pure hearts, will sup together at the Wedding Feast of God. Behind these unforgiving walls are women who find themselves in the midst of their own personal Hell by divine order. Women who have essentially found themselves in this place in order that they might come to a saving knowledge of Christ. Women who, by divine appointment, needed to be taken to their lowest, to be broken in order that Christ might lift them up.
"Tell your wife I was broken today," the woman said, as a result of learning about the woman with the issue of blood for 12 years in Mark 5, the paralytic who had been let down through the roof in Mark 2, and the shame and guilt the Prophet Ezra faced because of the very sins of his people, including both the religious and political leaders at that time, in Ezra 9. So ashamed Ezra said, "I fell on my knees and stretched out my hands to the Lord my God; and I said, O my God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift up my face to You, my God, for our iniquities have risen above our heads and our guilt has grown even to the heavens." (Ezra 9:5-6)
Brokenness is necessary in the life of any man or woman who desires to know God in a most intimate way. It is necessary in the life of any man or woman that desires to be used of God in such a way that men would look at the life of a Believer such as this and marvel, saying "That could only be by the hand of the Living God."
A term that is virtually unknown in this day an age. A word that is despised and rejected by the masses. A word that denotes weakness and loss in the mind of the common man. A word that very few are willing to embrace because of the heaviness that comes with it. It is a state in which a common man finds Himself before a Holy God in a helpless state of affairs. A state in which the pride of life has been stripped from him only to find himself naked and unveiled before the Lord. Brokenness is a lonely state. It is one in which the loneliness and heaviness of having a deep and intimate relationship with the Lord will be revealed. And even in a dim light, this lonely state of existence will almost be too much to bear. We find this very state in the Garden of Gethsemane when Christ sweat drops of blood from the anguish and brokenness He was experiencing, "And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt." (Matthew 26:39) Brokenness is necessary for any man that desires for God to do the impossible in and through His life. Brokenness can only be present in the absence of pride. It can only manifest itself in the presence of a Holy God. Brokenness cannot exist apart from the working of the Holy Spirit. It can only occur in the heart of a man that, even for a small instance, realizes his state in the presence of the Almighty.
Oh, how we need to be broken! "How often we bewail and bemoan the sad fact of broken lives, but find later that only broken things are used by the Lord and that only after we are broken are we our very best for God." (Broken Things, M.R. Dehaan)
God has been speaking brokenness into my life as of late. At every turn I find myself being given the same message. I need to be broken before the Lord if I desire to move mountains. I am not sure what this means. But He has been speaking so clearly. He desires to take a praying man or woman and take them into the depths of brokenness in order to reveal Himself, to reveal His very heart. It causes me to wonder why it is that God, very God, the Living God whom I serve is so broken. Not in a sense of weakness or loss, but why it is He mourns to such a degree. The answer is simple.
The sin of man and the love of God.
The overwhelming love of our Creator causes an overwhelming brokenness over the Creation. Deep love cannot exist without deep sorrow and brokenness when the relationship has been marred by sin. True brokenness is not a state of being that manifests itself through emotion, rather it is an ongoing state in which man is taken to the brink of sorrow over the sin of man and is yet brought back to life when He finds Himself in the presence of the overwhelming love of God. Was it not that Christ had to be broken, almost beyond repair, in order to save sinful man? What then is it that is calling us to brokenness?
"Tell your wife I was broken today," the woman said. The words ring so clearly in my head, much like lyrics to a well known song. Quite a bold statement for a woman who lives behind concrete walls, only able to breathe recycled air, who day in and day out witnesses the severe consequences of sin in the life of fallen man. Quite a statement from one that you would have assumed had already been broken for some time due to her state of affairs. Quite a statement. I wonder if I will ever be able to make the same, in order that I might know God in a most intimate way. He has made it very clear, I must know Him in His suffering, as this is the very place where I will begin to understand the depth of His overwhelming love.
"I come, God, I come
I return to the Lord
The one who's broken
The one who's torn me apart
You struck down to bind me up
You say You do it all in love
That I might know You in Your suffering"
Broken beyond repair
Fearful and alone
You spend every waking moment doing,
That you may not be done away with
You deaden the pain of silence by increasing the noise
They say that silence is deafening
How very true this is
It exposes the pain of life,
The fear, the loneliness, the guilt, and the shame
Fall asleep to voices of unknown individuals who you’ve never met
And yet you find comfort in their very voices because they numb the pain
You’re not alone they say
And yet you feel completely lost amidst the crowds,
Friends and acquaintances,
Long lost lovers and companions gone awry,
Why is it then, that the pain of loneliness does not subside?
You want more and yet you’ll settle for less
Strangely, misery has become your comfort
Unsettling anxiousness your closest friend
You’ve learned to survive amongst the chaos
And Chaos is where you will continue to live
There’s more to life she says
You peer in and see there is validity to her words
And yet you find more comfort outside of the more to life
Because you have learned to find comfort in the pain
You can be made alive
And not just breathe
You can be set free
And not just bleed
You can find peace amidst the battle
And not just survive
You’ve been given the choice she says
And yet, my heart bleeds with anguish for your very life
You have chosen chaos,
The wider road,
Death over life.
“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)
Burn the ships! We're not going back! Leaving an eternal mark on this world, one calle at a time.