Tag Archives: Love until it hurts

fifty-five.

While I enjoy the spontaneity and the day-to-day surprises that this job brings, there are certain things that happen here regularly enough to make me wonder if there’s not some calendar somewhere that I don’t know about that would help clue me into what’s going on.

It would just be extraordinarily helpful, for example, if I knew when certain kids were going to all of a sudden start screaming in the parking lot.  Or dining room.  Or the middle of chapel.  I’m sure there’s some sort of secret schedule that all of them are on, but I can’t quite figure it out.

Also, if I could figure out which days people were going to run out of their medications (or just decide to stop taking them), I could, in theory, be better prepared for those encounters.  I am sometimes accidentally overconfident when it comes to certain conversations; I assume that the responses to my questions will be rational, and then am caught off guard when someone tells me my dad’s just given them a job (he hadn’t) or they’re being seized by the government (they weren’t).

And then there are the people who come back to the Mission near the end of most months because they’ve spent all of their money.  One would think that I would remember this because it happens so often, but I get caught up in other things and then am genuinely surprised to see them back here.  This creates a pretty chaotic environment at the end of the month, and this month is no exception.

Currently, we have also been inundated with people who have come up from camping at the river because the police are doing what are called “sweeps”.  They go through the camps every so often, looking for people who have outstanding warrants and things like that.  Some of the people who come here are hiding from them, but most of them just don’t want to be relentlessly questioned while having their worldly possessions picked through and examined.  Can’t say I blame them.

Rarely do those last two events occur simultaneously; when they do, though, things get hectic.  Currently we’re in a season like that.  I’m being dramatic by using the word ‘season’; at the end, there will really only have been about 10 days of being filled to the brim.  Yesterday a couple, a single woman, and a family of 3 all checked in, bringing our side of the Mission nearly to capacity.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed thinking about the fact that there are several nights a week when I’m the only person overseeing all of these women and families.  Last night I sat at dinner and counted 55 different people in our section–that means 55 different life stories that I’m familiar with, 55 different plans that have to be thought out and worked through, and 55 different personalities that I have to figure out how to relate to in a helpful way.

It’s absolutely worth the exhaustion that I feel, however, when they begin to trust me enough to ask me to pray for them or they tell me the truth about something even though they’re not sure what my response will be.

I’m learning to listen both to what is being spoken out loud and to what is actually being said; it’s necessary for all relationships, not just the ones with the people I’m working with.  People can tell when they’re being genuinely cared for, as opposed to simply being dealt with or managed.

So even though there are times when it feels like I can’t even keep track of my own life, let alone the lives of friends/family members/coworkers, I’m reminded of how important it is to even just remember small things–to ask about things that they care about, even when I have no interest in the topic.  If we all listened to others as much as we want to be listened to, I think the world would work a little more efficiently.  And I think Jesus would be pleased by our efforts; after all, he created us to love…so we might as well do it, right?

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a thought.

An online Q&A forum (Quora) recently asked people outside the U.S. what things they’d heard about our country that they didn’t believe could possibly be true until they actually came and visited.

I’m just going to go ahead and quote straight from the website rather than try to paraphrase and lose some of the impact…some of the things they said were:

Poor, hungry kids.  Really hard to believe this one. I read somewhere recently that 1 in 5 kids in the US is at the risk of hunger. That’s a lot for a country that boasts to be in the first world…

The astonishing number of homeless people on the streets in San Francisco. It is presumably one of the wealthiest cities in the wealthiest state of the wealthiest country in the world.  I expected to see wealth. I didn’t expect to see poverty like this. It seems a little worse each time I visit. I have visited lots of countries, and lots of cities, but I was shocked by the severity of the situation.”

If you have a minute, look at the other responses on the site; some of the other things are actually pretty funny (like, our penchant for wearing way fewer clothes than necessary in freezing weather conditions). I’m posting this for a couple reasons.  One is because I just realized yesterday, as I was walking around my city, that there’s such a disparity here (as in a lot of cities, I’m sure) between the wealthy or even middle-class citizens and those who live below the poverty line.  There are at least a couple places where an incredibly nice house sits adjacent to one that’s broken down or condemned.

Another reason I’m posting this is because I think it’s important for us to realize that these things shouldn’t be the norm.  We should be appalled by the number of hungry kids and the amount of people there are without permanent living situations, rather than thinking that that’s just how it’s going to be.

Just two days ago, an amazing group of Jesus-followers here in Yakima handed out 5000 backpacks to families because they love our city and the people in it, and they wanted to meet a need that they saw.  You can read the story here.  They recognized that they needed to put their words into action, and they believed that it was up to them to rise up and make a difference.

Maybe right now you don’t have resources available to gather a huge group of people to hand out school supplies, but what are some small steps you can take to begin to make changes in your community?  It could be donating time to a local shelter or food bank, going through your closet and giving away some of the things you don’t wear or use anymore, or even just beginning to educate yourself more about the things already happening around you that you can partner with.

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” (Mother Theresa)


a future hope.

Last week, I walked out of my apartment to the sound of children yelling.  As I made my way down the stairs, they saw me coming and instantly ran over to where I was.  They flooded the stairway, making it nearly impossible for me to finish my descent.  All of them wanted to get as close to me as they could, and I finally had to sit down on a step so I didn’t fall the rest of the way (I’m really easy to knock over, as it turns out…poor balance and all that).

At dinner that same day, I sat across the table from Hope.  She looked up at me with her giant brown eyes and chocolate-smeared cheeks (There is always an abundance of cake.  At every meal, it seems like) and asked if I would pick her up.  She doesn’t speak very much English, so her version of asking was more of a gesture than anything else.  At 3 years old, she already knows exactly how to get what she wants.  It’s also helpful that she’s adorable.  I had carried her to dinner the night before, and she became instantly obsessed with seeing how high I could lift her into the air.  Let’s just say that my arms are going to be incredibly toned by the time she and her family move out.

And then Matthew, also 3, came hobbling over to me in the parking lot later that night, crying because his tiny toes were bleeding.  The boy walks barefoot everywhere, so I was more surprised that it hadn’t happened earlier than anything else.  I sat him in a chair and cleaned his foot carefully while he told me I was the best doctor.  I let him choose a band-aid (We only have one kind, so this was kind of a trick) and he watched me intently as I wrapped it around his injury.

If only I could do more than that.

He will get hurt again, his brave plans will be thwarted, he will fall and be disappointed.

She will want to be picked up and someone will tell her that they don’t have time to stop for her, she will face a crisis through which she’ll need to be carried and she won’t know what to do.

These children–my beautiful, crazy, extraordinary survivors–will run out of steam and energy; they will be told by the world that they won’t reach their dreams, that they won’t accomplish anything, and so they will give up.  They will stop yelling and running and instead live subdued ordinary lives.

So today I’m thankful that the responsibility doesn’t fall on my shoulders alone.

Sure, I get them for a little bit, and in that time I will do what is needed to let them know that they’re important and valuable and worth fighting for.

But they will leave.  Their families will find a place to call home, and they will be gone.  They will move on and move out, and a new group of tiny adventurers will flood the Mission.  For the ones that leave, it is crucial to remember that they are in God’s hands.  He does a way better job of caring for them than anyone else will ever be able to; His love doesn’t run out.  He has incredible plans, and while I wish that I could walk alongside each and every one of them to see what He has in store for their lives, I know that’s not going to happen.

Instead, I’ll continue to pray that they recognize that the small amount of patience and grace that I show them pales in comparison to how loved they are by their Father, and I’ll hold onto the hope that maybe I’ll get to see them again one day.

*names were changed


one year later.

As of late, it’s rare for me to write two posts in a month, let alone in a single week.  But as of yesterday, I’ve been working at the Mission for exactly a year, so I thought it might be fun (maybe not the right word, but the one I’m going to stick with) to look back at how I got where I am now.

Last year, I was a campus missionary in training, trying to figure out what in the world I was supposed to do with my life.  I knew that I wanted to be in a place where I could love people and tell them about Jesus, but I wasn’t sure which people I was supposed to love.  The obvious answer, of course, is “everyone”, but that seemed too broad…

So I prayed for a more focused answer.   Then I talked to my parents, my friends, my roommates, the girls in my Bible study, co-workers, other campus pastors, random people I met on campus, etc.  And then, I prayed some more.

After a few agonizing months of indecision, I realized that it didn’t really matter where I landed.  As long as I was following the Lord and earnestly seeking His will for my life, I was probably going to end up in a good place.  Once I realized that, things became way less stressful.

Around that same time, one of my best friends told me that there was a job opening at a Mission in my hometown.  I laughed at her, because I knew there was NO WAY I was moving back.  I was headed for bigger and better things.

But those bigger and better things kept falling by the wayside, as I was quietly reminded that it wasn’t about what I wanted at all.  The adventures that I wanted to take were, in a strange way, safer and more comfortable than going back home.

Because for me, heading home meant that I would have to fight against people’s perceptions.  I would have to prove to those who knew me that my years away had changed me, that Jesus really had done a good work in me, and that was something that I didn’t feel up to doing.  I wanted to go somewhere new where I could reinvent myself, where I wouldn’t have to deal with silent judgement and the constant questioning about whether or not I was really any different.

I was reminded, though, of 1 Timothy 1:15-17.

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners —of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

I was shown mercy so that people would see the change in me.  My life is meant to be an example, as are the lives of everyone who is following Jesus.  I was forgiven and changed so that people would look at me and realize that He really does work miracles.  I’m not saying that I’m done being changed, because really, I’m reminded daily (sometimes even hourly!) of how far I have yet to go, of how many things in me still need to be refined.

And so, I came back.  I started spending time with people who’ve found themselves in a tough spot.  And I began to realize just how much Jesus wanted me back here, wanted me to see for myself how much I have changed, wanted me to see how much being here would change me even further.

Because I’ve realized how much I am able to love these people unconditionally.   Even when things are crazy and the shelter is completely full like it has been lately, and so I feel like I can’t give everyone the time and energy they deserve from me, I love them.  Even when they ask me about something that I just spent 20 minutes explaining, or they get gum all over the sidewalks that I then have to scrape, or they for some reason find it impossible to follow even the simplest of rules, I love them.  That is definitely not something I would have been able to say a year ago.

And so, as I head into Year 2 (of many, hopefully), I’m excited for the things that God is going to keep teaching me, and I’m really excited about getting to keep hanging out with and loving on the people here.


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.