There is something sobering about meeting students with stories that sound fictional. Their mom’s practice witchcraft and their dad’s and uncle’s sneak into their bedrooms at night. Some live with drunks and protect their little brothers and sisters and some of them are drunks themselves; it assuages the pain. Some of them are homeless. Some of them are cutting themselves. Some contemplate suicide and others are only walking because they failed at killing themselves; add it to the list of their failures they say. Some of them are told they will amount to nothing and most of them believe it; check their criminal record, it validates what they believe about themselves. Some of them are pregnant while others are dealing with the nightmares of the day they had their abortion. Some of them are violent. They hit. They rage. They provoke. They deflate. They fall into depression. Some of them are lonely, convinced that the only person they will ever be intimate with is the girl performing for them on their computer screen.
These kids tell me their stories. They unload in a very matter-of-fact way. It’s like they don’t even have tears. Tears are for little kids. Tears are for people who care.
Tears are for people who feel.
Tears can be isolated, sectioned off, and compartmentalized into a place so deep and hidden that they will never see a sunrise. They don’t need tears. They tell me their stories like a commander explaining the details of a suicide mission. Like a biologist dissecting an animal. Like a mortician sewing up the lips of a dead body.
When I hear these stories my heart begins to race. I feel sweat beading against the back of my neck. My breathing gets heavy. My legs feel like led. I can hear about their horror story, I can listen to whatever they want to tell me. I can shoulder their burdens for a moment and cry tears for them that they cannot yet cry for themselves. I can be their friend. I can love them deeply. I can hold them tight and not let go. I can do those things.
But then they look at me. They want me to say something.
Expectant eyes. Open ears. Open mind. Open heart.
I feel the weight of the world crushing down on my lungs. A punch in the gut. Someone has knocked the air out of me.
What do I say?
I have it good. I’ve never worried about being abandoned. I’ve never worried that the electricity would be cut or that my dad would come home and hit me. I’ve never had a drunk for a mom or even a mean mom for that matter. No major deaths. No major tragedies. I have always had everything I needed. In the scope of history, as far as women go, I have had the easiest existence of any generation before me. Wealth, education, and freedom have come at no cost to me. I still call my sisters my friends and I am voluntarily spending my one week off with my parents. It is a rare day when I do not feel loved, encouraged, or supported by the many, many people in my life. My experience with the vile things of this world is limited to a daily news feed.
I have it good.
And yet here I sit. Face to face with kids, adults even, who know the dirty parts of this world. Those who have been in darkness for so long that light is merely an apparition.
And apparitions are dangerous.
False hope kills the soul.
Still they want me to listen and they need some sort of balm for their soul. Perhaps they will try what I have to give them.
They finish telling me their nightmare and I tempted to be very afraid. I have nothing to offer them. Even the name of God or the power of Jesus, which I believe in, sounds trite in the moment. I, the woman with way too many words, am without a single syllable to utter and I often feel like a failure.
Isn’t that Enough?
Lately, the issue of human trafficking has hunted me down and not left me alone.
Karissa, a recent high school graduate that I met a few months ago at a show, was the first girl I have ever met who has been through such an ordeal. She reads this blog- and she knows what I think of her. Beautiful. Strong. Healed. Called. The most enchanting personality in the world... I love the girl...I really do.... except for the dang fact that she keeps praying that God would use me to reach girls like her with hope.
In a recent conversation she told me she believed God wanted to use me to work in the lives of those who are broken. Specifically girls who have experience sexual trauma.
My response to her?
No thank you. Why me? Why can’t I just be passionate about saving the whales? Why can’t I head up a doggy adoption drive? Why can’t I just be a super-cute PTA mom? A tree hugger? Or a champion for kids with disabilities? Why not be behind the recycling movement or saving a rainforest? I love rain forests! I love monkeys! I’ll be that girl!
These of course are all important causes, but for me, working with children at Special Olympics or running a doggy adoption drive are things that I would find great joy in. For me, those things are easy. They are comfortable. They are delightful even. I love on a helpless dog and we both go away feeling better about the world. I give a child a hug and scream their name till they hit the finish line and we both walk away feeling like champions.
There is no fear in that. No heart pounding, lung crushing, emotionally stunned silence that makes me feel completely and utterly helpless to help. There is no insecurity in doing what comes naturally to us. There is no pain, no huge sacrifice required to do that which we already know and love. There is no chance of failure when we only help the people and causes that we know how to handle; that we relate with and understand.
There is no significant gap for God to come and do a miracle when we have all the answers. When we only serve God and others by doing the things that are easy, convenient, sterile and enjoyable... we cheat the world out of miracles.
I sing. I’ve always loved to sing. It’s easy. It’s fun. And, the songs that I sing bring people hope and joy. Isn’t that offering good enough? Why try and do anything else? Especially if it makes me uncomfortable and I don’t enjoy it?
Most of us settle in right there. This is what I’m good at. This is how much I will offer. This is how far I will go. Don’t ask for anything more from me or my family or my bank account or my time... we have drawn the line and done our fair share. We are saving whales and helping orphaned puppies. Isn‘t that enough?
Available? Or just sort of available?
Most people will live this way. I can’t judge the impact of their lives one way or the other. But I can say that the more I get to know Jesus the more He seems to point to a way of living that goes beyond just doing what is easy and convenient and semi-sacrificial on our part. He points to a more radical life that is more fulfilling for us and more healing for those who most need healing.
I can’t shake the feeling I get when I read about the life of Jesus. He was radical in his love for broken, destitute, dirty, un-easy people. Thank God he chose to do more than just what came easy for Him. Thank God he was radical in his love for those he encountered that had truly seen the evil, nasty part of humanity. Thank God he looked into the eyes of a man so possessed by demons that he foamed at the mouth. A woman so entangled with sleeping around that she had to go get water from the well when other women were not there to spit on her. Thank God he touched the leper who had not been physically touched in years.
I get the feeling that even Jesus grew weary. Taking breaks from people. Alone time. Naps, even. Maybe it wasn’t all that easy for him either. To bear with the difficult people. To see the evil. To always have the right words. To take on the hypocrisy in the synagogue. To stop the bleeding, raise the dead, forgive the low lives, and to cast demons out of people.
Still, He showed us what it looks like to be available to the most deeply wounded among us.
And still, I find myself asking him for a different assignment.
Orphaned puppies, Lord.
Pleeeeease, just let me be that girl that takes care of orphaned puppies.
Not girls who have been raped. Not human trafficking. Not me.
Not Dexter the homeless guy. He smells. He’s paralyzed. And this week when my sweet friend Sara called to tell me Dexter was at the gas station, and I found him, and a fluke rain storm began to thunder down, and I decided to put him in the car and carry him to the bus stop... with Annie in the car... with Dexter in his wheel chair... with my heart pounding and the people around me staring at me like I was insane or in danger... and my own conscious doubting and fearful and my hands shaking as I helped pull his legs up and into the car...
Please Lord. Please send someone else. Please not me. Please not this...
Tough Topic Tuesday
Are we, as Christians, simply available for the causes and people that are easy, clean, sterile, and convenient? Or are we available for the moments where we have no idea what to say or how to respond?
It’s in these moments, when I am afraid that I don’t have a single word to offer to this person who has walked such a different path than me, that God has space to perform miracles. And he does. I am learning that the less equipped I am, the more equipping He gets to do. As my roommate in college used to say in her sassy East Texas country accent, “God gets to show off!”
Now I just have to learn to be available. For anything.