Tag Archives: compassion

faithfulness.

The admission I’m about to make is not for the purpose of trying to gain either your affirmation or your sympathy (really).  It is just something that needs to be written because I think I can often come across as overly confident when I’m talking/writing about what I do at the Mission.

And so, I think it needs to be noted that there are times when I don’t think I’m very good at my job.  For those of you reading for the first time, I should probably explain that I work at a homeless shelter.  Because I work long hours, and because I have the unique privilege of living on-site, I spend a lot of time here.  And because not all of the women who come in have people in their lives to give them solid Godly advice, they often use me as a sounding board for their problems and ideas.

The thing is, though, that a lot of the things that they face on a day-to-day basis are things I have yet to encounter.

For example, I’ve never been married.  I’ve never had a boyfriend who cheats on me or spends all of my money on his drug habit.  I get along–for the most part–with my parents, and I know that I’d always have a place to go back to if things didn’t work out the way I thought they would.

I haven’t ever known what it is like to be hungry because there is just no food to be had and I have nearly always had a bed to sleep in (the exception is on mission trips, where sleeping on cement floors is an adventure).

Because of that, I have to try harder to understand how people at the Mission think.  It’s not easy for me to always recognize the instinct that most of them have in them that causes them to be a little unsure, a little brusque, not always willing to automatically let me into what they’re thinking because they’re afraid of being looked over or looked past again.

I have this sometimes overwhelming desire to try to fix everyone and everything, even though I know there’s no way I can.  I’ve mentioned that before, but I think it’s worth writing again because, despite the fact that I know better, it is still easy for me to get swept up in the unrealistic notion of measuring success in terms of results.

When I can’t immediately find the right words to say to someone, or when I get so tired of having the same conversations with the same people over and over, frustration takes over.  The results aren’t what I want, and so I feel like I’m failing.  Hence my earlier admission of often feeling like I’m not very good at my job.

And so, I’ve had to remind myself that I need to shift my thinking.  I want to share this with you because I think it’s a reminder that we all need:  If we are following the Lord and desiring to do things His way, then success cannot be measured by standards that we make up ourselves.  Neither can it be measured by standards set before us by other people.

For at least two straight years, one of my favorite people in the world beat it into my head that true success has to be measured by faithfulness.  She’s a wise woman, that one.

Success measured by faithfulness is such a freeing concept, when you think about it.  To be faithful means to press ahead in what God has called you to, even when you want to give up day after day after day.  It means sitting and listening even when you know you aren’t going to have a solution to whatever problem is being presented, and trusting that the Holy Spirit will let you know what, if anything, needs to be said.  It means that, if you’re earnestly desiring to serve Christ and to show his love and grace to the people around you, the concept of “being good” at something takes on an entirely new and different meaning.

Is being faithful easy?  No.  Definitely not.  But it is absolutely worth it.

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note to self.

There are weeks that never seem to end, that make it glaringly evident that we live in a broken world.

As you may have guessed, I am currently in one of those weeks.

Today I sat across from a woman who had her son taken away from her just two days ago.  She couldn’t stop crying long enough to get out even one complete sentence.

Hours earlier, I had floundered in my attempts to comfort a woman fleeing an intense domestic violence situation.  Her young son sat in their car, not fully understanding what was happening and too afraid to come into my office.

Yesterday, a woman with a serious mental illness called over and over, just wanting to be listened to and understood.

Last night, a college student showed up around 11.  Last month her 5-month-old daughter went to be with Jesus, and her husband decided he couldn’t stand to be around her anymore because it reminded him too much of what they had lost.

And in the midst of all of this, agencies from around town kept calling to ask if we had any room for the women in their offices who were stranded, desperate, and without hope.

I had no idea what to do in any of these situations.

They were, for the most part, all scenarios that I’ve seen before and so one would think that it would have been at least a little bit easier this time.  Like, maybe this time I would have words to say to alleviate some of the anguish they were feeling.

But no.  I fumbled around awkwardly, trying to think of something to say, coming up only with silence and the idea to hand over a box of Kleenex.

There is no hidden message here, just the reminder for myself that there are times in life where it seems as though there is no limit to the heartache that people can feel.  And in those times it feels like all I can do is trust that things will get better for them, somehow.  If I internalize all of this pain, I will be unable to help anyone.  Just as these women need to give their hurt and feelings of betrayal over to the Lord, I too need to surrender these feelings of inadequacy and helplessness.


redefined.

There is a woman who cycles through the Mission regularly because she just can’t seem to figure out how to change the way she is living.  She is small in stature and sometimes seems as though she is going to break if someone looks at her the wrong way, but she is a fighter.  The problem is, she doesn’t yet know it.  Instead, she has let her mental illness and her alcoholism consume her.  She wanders into our office every few months to let us know she’s still alive.  She always has some new story about her abusive boyfriend(s) and how this time is going to be the time that she turns her life around.  There is always a raw desperation in her voice when she tells us to be proud of her, to accept her for who she is because she’s really trying this time.

Another woman was brought to us by a guy who found her passed out in an alley.  She stayed with us for about a week and then disappeared.  Two days later she was back telling me that, after 6 years of being clean and sober, she found herself in a motel room with two strange men and a drug that she couldn’t find the strength to say no to anymore.  My heart broke as she described the men’s attempts to get something in return for what they had given her.

And then there is the woman who called periodically over the course of a couple weeks to see if we had openings.  When she called the first time, she told me that she would be bringing her two oldest children.  Her youngest two had been taken away from her by the state.  She showed up, days later, alone.  Her caseworker had stepped in and advised temporary removal of her older children.  This woman came in shell-shocked, not knowing how she had let it happen.

On a regular basis, I have conversations with women who are addicts, domestic violence victims, single mothers, or mentally ill.  Often, as with the women I wrote about above, they fall into more than one of those categories.

What I want them (and you) to know, what I’m still trying to figure out how to convey, is that despite what they have been told–through words, actions, or even sideways glances–those categories don’t define them.

These women spend their lives struggling for one reason or another.  It is as though no one has ever told them that they are allowed to ask for help, that they don’t have to be chained to their past.  Many of them were born into families already struggling financially or emotionally or mentally, and so that life is the only one that they know.

I think that it is sometimes a little too easy for us to label people–we look at them and think that, because of the situation they’re in, they must lack willpower, or that they’re weak or lazy or a host of other things.

But by assuming that about others without taking the time to find out what the underlying issue is, we open the door for other people to assume those same things about us.

If we continue to allow this cycle to dictate our lives, and theirs, what are we gaining?  Not addressing the issue at hand means that we let ourselves stay broken and hurt and ashamed.

Psalm 146:7 says that the LORD sets prisoners free…and lifts up those who are bowed down.

We are invited to be set free from all of the guilt, shame, and condemnation that we have been living with for far too long.  That invitation is for everyone.  Every single person that you come into contact with is loved by Jesus.  He longs for the chance to show them that they don’t need to be bowed down anymore, that they can lift their heads high, knowing that he loves and accepts them.

And we have a choice.  We can keep categorizing people, looking at them with contempt and wondering why they never seem to change.  Or we can give them another chance; we can attempt to love them with that same love even if it’s the hardest thing in the world, knowing that Jesus does that for us.  He scoops us up, brushes us off, and points us in the right direction.  Over and over and over.

My challenge for you is to let yourself be redefined.  And then pray that Jesus would show you how to redefine the way you look at and love the people around you.



just listen.

Some of you may remember from an earlier post that a woman once threatened to call the President and tell him about me.  I have yet to hear from him, but she has been back here several times since then, including this morning.

At around 10, my office phone rang.  I answered with my best professional voice, and the guy on the other end said, “Jessica?  I need to see you for a minute over in the Hub.”

This was concerning for several reasons.  One, I rarely get called to the Hub (Basically the main entryway.  Everyone has to pass through there to get to anything else) on Sundays.  Two, he didn’t tell me why I was needed, which usually means it’s kind of an emergency.

For some reason, it is generally the case that the amount of information I’m given is inversely proportional (I’m using that term for the sole purpose of making my father, a math teacher, proud) to the seriousness of any given situation.  I get all the details when someone just needs a bathroom unlocked, but if there was a person waving a machete around, I’d probably just get a “hey, come here” call.

Hence, my alarm.

I hesitantly made my way over, having no idea what I was about to walk into.  I was directed to the front entryway, where a woman (The woman previously mentioned.) had seized control of an entire picnic table and was yelling and swearing at anyone who went near her.  At this point in time, I felt as though every single person in the area stopped what they were doing to turn and look at me.  Like they wanted to know what I was going to do about the unfolding drama.

What I wanted to do was turn around and go back to my office.  That didn’t seem like the best idea, however, so I decided to take a more direct approach.  I have found that, when about to enter into a confrontation, it is best to appear as though I’ve stumbled upon it by accident.  So I walked past her.

After a couple steps, I turned around as though I had finally realized who I had just walked by, and feigned surprise that she was there.  “Oh, hey!  Haven’t seen you in awhile, how are you doing?”

She bought it.  She was so taken aback, in fact, that she stopped ranting momentarily.  Just long enough for us to lose our audience (praise the Lord).  Now I was stuck, and I had no idea how to even begin to respond to her now rapidly cycling moods.  One minute she was weeping, mourning the loss of a child and her “only love”, and the next she was laughing to herself and twisting her mouth into a kind of smile.  It was obvious that she was on drugs, and she just seemed so so broken.

I knew I couldn’t just leave, but I had no idea what to say.  So I didn’t say anything.

Mother Teresa once said, “Before you speak, it is necessary for you to listen, for God speaks in the silence of the heart.”

And that’s what I did.  I stood there and listened to her.  I listened to her tell me that she didn’t want me to kick her off the property, that she knew she had messed up, that she had nothing left, that all she had wanted was to be loved.  She talked herself into a frenzy, and then just as quickly talked herself out of it;  the whole time I just stood there, silently praying for her, asking Jesus to speak clarity to this girl who had been forced to grow up way too quickly.

After a little bit, she was quiet.  She just looked at me like, why are you still here listening to me?  And in that one look, I realized that she had somehow been convinced that she was not worth someone else’s time.  She had bought into the lie that nobody loved her, that nobody cared enough about her to listen or even just look her in the eye.

I learned something invaluable today:  I can’t fix everyone.  There are no magic words that I can say to keep people from hurting.  Sometimes the most essential thing is just to show people that they are worthy of being listened to, that what they have to say is important.


come home.

“I’m looking for my daughter.

Have you seen her?

If she shows up, can you give her this number?

Can you tell her we miss her?

We don’t know what to do or how to find her.

If you see her, please tell her we just want her home.

I have at least one conversation like that a month.  It doesn’t ever get easier to tell people that I can’t help them, that I don’t know where their daughter or sister or wife is.

And I have yet to see the end results of any of these calls.  The women they’re looking for don’t usually show up, so I wonder for awhile where they are, and then I stop thinking about them.  Until the next phone call.  Then I am flooded with the memories of all the past conversations I’ve had with desperate people anxiously searching.

My heart aches for these people.  I have no idea what it’s like to have someone that I love just disappear.  Thinking about it evokes a kind of grief that is open-ended.  There isn’t a date or a time that these families can hold onto in anticipation.  It’s simply living day by day with the slowly dimming hope that they will once again be reunited.

I can’t help but wonder what the ones who are lost feel like.  Do they know they are being looked for?  Do they care?  What must have made them leave in the first place?  It’s hard for me to understand what makes someone just walk away from the ones who love them and care about them.

But…I’m realizing more each day that I have been that person, and at any moment I could become that person again.  Time and time again I have turned my back on the One who loves me because I’ve fallen for the lie that there is something better.  The little voice in my head–the one that says I can do it on my own–is very persuasive.

And even though I’ve been there, done that, I don’t ever seem to learn.  I can’t seem to remember that Jesus will take me back no matter what.  I let my pride get in the way, and so I wander aimlessly for far too long before I allow myself to finally slink back to the only consistently safe place I know.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells the story of his relationship with us, but he makes it subtle and calls it The Parable of the Lost Son.  It’s a fairly well known bit of Scripture, but I’ll break it down nonetheless.  This guy (that’s Jesus) has two sons.  One of them (you guessed it, this is us) cashes in his inheritance early, leaves his family behind, and proceeds to squander his newly acquired wealth.  He ends up living with pigs, eating what they eat, and basically hating his life.  After what probably feels like forever, he realizes he’s made a terrible decision and he returns home to his dad.

When his dad sees him coming, he rejects him, tells him to go back to the field where he came from, and…nope, that’s not what happens at all, but I bet I confused you for a second.

Rather, the father is filled with compassion for his long lost son, and he runs out to meet him.  He greets him with open arms and throws a huge celebration in his honor.

I have read that story so many times that I have cheapened its meaning.  When I stop and think about it, though, I am overwhelmed by the implications.  Jesus is telling us that no one is beyond redemption.

There is nothing we can do or say that will keep him from loving us, from running after us with reckless abandon.  Regardless of how many times we run away, he still searches.  He wants his kids home, and he’ll do anything to bring us back.


drowning.

Do you ever wonder what regret looks like?

Is it like water, pouring down, flooding every place that was supposed to be safe and protected?

Or is it like oil, sticky and thick, settling where it lands and leaving an impossible mess?

Maybe it’s less tangible than either of those things. Sometimes I don’t even know it’s coming until it smacks me in the face. People here (and probably everywhere, really) live by it, though, holding onto what they should have could have would have been or done.

“I should have stopped using before it got this bad, before it alienated me from the people I love.”

“I could have tried harder to have a better relationship with my son/daughter.”

“I would have left him before now if I had known what he would do to me, to our child.”

Here at the Mission, I am surrounded by people who face these thoughts constantly. And there are a hundred scenarios that I left out because regret can’t be categorized.  It is messy and unbiased, spilling out on anyone it can reach.

This is a universal way of thinking. Our society defines people by their past actions, by what they’ve done (or haven’t done, for that matter). It leaves no room for error. We are harsh and quick in our judgement, not giving second chances unless we have solid evidence that it’ll be worth it.

I am troubled by this. Fortunately (really, really fortunately), the Bible has something to say about this whole business:

Romans 8:1-2 says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

That emphasis was added, by me, to make a point. This verse isn’t saying Jesus holds onto our sins like we do, reminding us of them when we’re at a fragile point.  No, when we give Jesus a chance to change us, he does. He walks-or maybe he runs!-straight into our life with his foot-washing towel and he wipes away all of the soggy broken mess that we have made, that we are.

When he’s done cleaning up that mess, he stays!  Because he knows we’re going to mess up again, and he accepts us anyway.  The choice is up to us, though, whether or not we’re going to let those messes of regret define us, or if we’re instead going to take the blank slate he gives us and draw a new reality, one in which he is in charge.

And I think the thing I have been learning the most lately is that, just like regret is unprejudiced…so much more so is Jesus. He knows our history and he accepts us anyway.  He knows why each of us is in the situation that we currently find ourselves in, and he just waits patiently for us to turn around and ask him for help.

So what the heck are we waiting for??



bittersweet.

Last year I spent a lot of time praying that God would show me how to better empathize with people, and now I often regret that request!  Not really…but there are most certainly times when I wonder what the heck I was thinking.  Never before have I been able to fully comprehend the phrase “emotional roller coaster”.  One minute I am celebrating a new job with a family, and the next I’m trying to figure out what to say to the girl who just can’t seem to get her life together.

Then there are moments that are bittersweet. Last night a family moved into their new duplex, which was a Praise God moment for sure! But at the same time, I was so sad to see them go. In the short time that they were here, I grew so attached to their 5 little kids that I often found myself just waiting in my office for them to show up after school so that I could ask them about their day.

This cycle goes on, though. Sometime soon, another family will show up with kids who steal my heart by drawing me pictures and reminding me of the joy that can be found in the smallest things. And regardless of how long they’re here, or what their situation is, or how crazy they make me feel, I will try to love them like Jesus does. Because that’s the most important thing.

On a different note, some of you may know that one project that I’ve been working on is a little something I like to call 125. The more official name is kid’s chapel, but I prefer the simplicity that the number brings. Plus it’s the room number. Plus James 1:25 is a rockin’ verse…feel free to look it up!

Anyway, it is up and running as of October 6th, and it is going fantastically despite a lack of consistent volunteers. The kids love it (in fact, many of them show up 20 minutes before it starts and then tell their parents they never want to move out of the Mission…), they get to hear about what God wants to do in their lives, and those of us who are privileged enough to teach get to learn a lot, too! For example, before this week, I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell you that Naaman was the guy who got healed from leprosy by dipping himself in some scummy water.

One of the most interesting things about 125 is that most of the kids coming have no preconceived notions about what it should be like. We could give them dinosaur coloring sheets and they’d pretty much be set for life. Which, admittedly, is tempting when I haven’t had very much time to plan for whatever reason. I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know that I haven’t given into that temptation, and I don’t plan to! The fact that this is a new experience for them also means we get to tell them Bible stories for the first time, and that…they don’t always know what constitutes appropriate classroom behavior.  This often results in chaos.  Fun, frustrating chaos.  So if you’re coming up short on things to pray for, shoot up some prayers for these kids and all of us who get to work with them!