I didn’t know.
When we opened the door almost a year ago with the simple word “yes,” when we opened our arms to an infant tossed and tumbled by the storm of tragedy, when we brought home his brother too (little more than an infant himself) and made them a part of home, we didn’t know what we were getting into.
We knew we didn’t know. We felt God’s hand on our shoulders, His voice soft in our ears…surrender to my will and we said that “yes” without condition or direction, knowing only that we did not, could not know and that somehow, God asks us to find peace in that place. In His wisdom He knows and all that we can do is be still, listen, let him grow us in the protected garden of the now– where the future comes one day at a time and shows itself no further than that, a chain of nows that He waters in the shelter of submission. There are some “yeses” that lay the heart bare and open, that break apart the hard, protective shell of costal bone and lay it wide to the slings and arrows of the world and this year has been open-heart surgery, open soul surgery.
What I didn’t know, is how life can break a person so that their heart is hard, the walls have thickened and grown cold and inside there is no room for the kind of love you need to raise a child. What I didn’t know is that addiction is a cold, hard thing…a killer that rages within and stamps life out, one love at a time. A thief of will and judgement that breaks into your life to take everything of value and leave you empty, always wanting. What I didn’t know is how you can love such a person so intensely, want so badly to see them succeed and fall so easily into the habit of saving them from the natural consequences of their actions over and over again. How easily a person can contribute to the downward spiral, simply by trying to ease the blow at the bottom of the fall.
I have found myself in places I could never have pictured myself in before…locked in a room full of addicts court-ordered to come and share their stories, waiting for the outflow of heartbreak to be finished so I can take her home, this meeting being a rung in the ladder she must climb. Here in this office, shabby and worn, is more heartache than my mind can possibly wrap around. More heartbreak, but no tears…they speak these bare, hard stories out flat and frank, unsoftened by emotion, untouched by tears. I have come to the conclusion that tears are the solvent that breaks down the hard crust of apathy, that they are absent here speaks more than the words that are falling down around me. They are talking to each other in loud voices, comparing stories of prison time and discussing the favorable conditions of the jails here in this state. My friend, she does not belong here. Not yet. But then, too, any of us could belong right here, given a few months of bad choices and bad circumstances.
Or, perhaps, given the compassion to be here as a healing voice to catch and defuse the harsh words and hurt that fly through the air of this room, this life. Me, I only sit here thinking about how wrong this could go…with the doors locked for the meeting and the gang tattoos and the fractured minds and I am weak, thinking only of myself and not the love of God that needs so much to be spoken here. I look at my hands, fiddle with my purse. I search for Bible verses stored in my mind but they read through my head without waking my heart. I tell myself this is not my calling. I tell myself this over and over, Jonah-like, grasping at any excuse to stay mute and safe in my imaginary world where these people do not exist, where they know how to heal themselves and Jesus doesn’t need to be spoken loud enough to break through closed ears and emptied hearts.
It occurs to me: I am the only one waiting there for someone. All of the others? Have no one. I hear one woman say, in a voice raked over by years of smoking things I’ve never even heard of, that she’s alone now, entirely alone. She’s used up everyone she ever knew, used them empty and then, too, I see it on her face…the empty, so that even as these words are spoken her eyes are dry. The hurt lives somewhere else, in a place apart from her. I think perhaps it lives instead in the eyes of those used up, who have had to let her go. I know this personally, how someone else’s tears can fall from your own eyes. There are no words for the fear, pity, rage, and sadness that collide in my heart sitting there, faced with the knowing that this story, in which I am just a chapter…a transient, supporting character…is only one of so many others and each one is equally broken, equally incomprehensible. My own, too, except for Jesus. Sometimes the weight of all the suffering, knowing it is there…the weight of it presses down on my chest and makes it hard to breathe. To draw in the air of all this brokenness and sorrow, and to do it again and again…perhaps it’s that very weight that drives people to pick up the bottle, the needle, the pills.
Where is Jesus in this room of suffering? I’d like the answer to be simple, to say that if only they each knew Him, the suffering would immediately end. But I have lived enough life to know that sometimes even those of us who know Him suffer, even those who love Him sometimes bleed out of hope and out of touch. Where we are heading is one thing, how we are living is sometimes quite another. I have seen enough to know that sometimes all of us, like lonely addicts, we use Him without giving back…no, without giving up…our control, our will, our desire, or idols, our addictions to anything and everything other than Him. We do our best to empty ourselves of Him, our souls seem to run dry. And our tears fall from His eyes.