Entering into the darkness….

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We spend a lot of our lives thriving for “success.”  We brag about successful children. Successful husbands. Successful businesses. But what is success really?

Many Americans have sold out to the idea of “success” as looking a certain way on the outside, regardless of how it looks on the inside. Monetary and superficial standards dictate where someone or something falls on our “success continuum.”

Successful=========================Unsuccessful                pretty, rich, follows social rules            unattractive, poor, outsider

We gravitate toward the successful and try to emulate them for many reasons. To make ourselves look better by association. To gain something. To feel acceptable.

What if we were drawn less to the powerful and more to the powerless? Isn’t that what Jesus did?

We like to watch shows that depict darkness- don’t all the Disney movies have some sort of dark side? What about CSI? Batman? Very few forms of entertainment lack a good/evil theme. And we pay to see it. But then we look at Scripture and realize that God calls us to live in a way that shines a light in the REAL darkness and what do we do? Flip on the TV, grab a bag of chips, and watch another episode of Criminal Minds.

I challenge you with this idea……you will find more “success” in the seemingly “unsuccessful” than anywhere in the Fortune 500s or the beautiful people on Wall Street.

But first we have to define “success” in a true and authentic way.  I believe that where we have gone wrong is to think that “success” is ever really achieved. In the world of ministry where seemingly spiritual people enter into the lives of people who have been broken by drugs and domestic violence, we count them a success when we can parade them around cleaned up, oh-so-spiritual and what appears to be a life void of problems. That is not success- that is a lie. Life is messy and every day brings challenges and temptations. I know it does for me and for the mom who has years of prostitution, drugs, and domestic violence.

If we judge people as acceptable when they “get it all together” we give them no room to fall. As a result, they prop themselves up to please us and not themselves or they lie to us so that the image we have of them is not shattered and they have to face FAILURE. I have seen many churches parade around their new Christian as some kind of poster child of spiritual perfection- like a before and after that leaves no room for failure.  At times, the church has prostituted people the way pimps do on the streets.

The reason I know? I struggle with it. I want to believe if I offer and addict or a stripper or a foster child a beautiful home, a family, and a stable life that they will fall down in gratitude and realize what they had been missing all their lives. Unfortunately that does not happen. Why? Because change is slow and difficult.

So what do I think the answer is?

I have learned to cherish the small wins. The daily victories.

In the past 3 days, two people who were both in my life for different reasons went back to a way of life that is familiar- drug use, abuse, and all that comes with that lifestyle. Am I discouraged? No. Am I hopeful?Yes. Is it well with my soul? Absolutely. Why? Because I know that a person’s choices are not a reflection of how “good” I was at loving that person. I know people go back to what they know until they are ready. And I definitely know that a childhood full of egregious abuse causes a person to struggle to cope with life’s challenges.

In the last three days,  I have also met with women who are being reunited with their children after really hard work, dedication, and grit when it all seemed impossible. They live day to day knowing that life is fragile and temptati
on is real. I know to embrace them during their victories and embrace them during their struggles.  I cannot have a barometer of “success” and “failure” because all of us face daily doses of both…..at least if we are honest with ourselves and others.

DSC_1317To say I am proud of the overcomers is an understatement. To say I deeply love the ones who have fallen is more than the truth.

Love does.

Beauty in the Brokenness

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I have learned more in the past month than I have my whole life. I thought I understood and embodied words like “overcomer,” “brave,” “courageous,” and “survivor.” I am pretty sure I had no idea what they meant until I sat across from women who told me their stories. Stories of unimaginable abuse, rejection, abandonment and being taken extreme advantage of when they were little girls.  Finally tonight I let the tears flow that have been accumulating for weeks.

I worked for DCF in foster care/adoptions for 4 years, worked as a Guardian Ad Litem for years, and adopted a child who lived 9 years in foster care. As a result of these experiences, I had very little compassion for birth mothers and the pain they brought on their children. I have always been very indignant, angry, and relentless in my resentment toward the damage that parents can inflict on helpless children.

As I sat today and listened to stories of moms struggling to get sober and learning to live clean, I have seen the bravest of women. For most of them it is all they know. All they have ever seen in life. Given drugs by their own moms, their bodies sold to support their mothers’ addictions, and raising themselves and their siblings while mom is passed out on the couch. I understand drugs are a choice. I don’t think anyone struggles to believe that…..but before today I never really heard about how many of them got there and when I did it was overwhelming.

I am not sure what to do with that. Right now, I just sit, completely broken. I am sad, feeling guilty that I never felt compassion before today, and asking myself how the church is reaching these women. Where have we been? Most of us have probably been just like me- arrogant, self-righteous, and unwilling to look them in the eye. Why? Because we might actually feel compassion if we actually SEE them. And then we might have to do something. And most of us don’t want to do anything. Let’s be honest…..entering into someone else’s struggle is exhausting and inconvenient. So we don’t SEE them. We just judge them. It is easier.

I bought the new Natalie Grant album that came out yesterday, knowing nothing about it. When I sat down to write I started listening to it and the first song is “Be One.” Here are the lyrics:

We don’t feel ready, we don’t feel steady
Question what we really have to give

Stay where it’s safer, claim faith but waiver
Is this how we’re really meant to live

We pray but never move
We say but never do

Chorus
It’s time to get our hands dirty
oh oh, oh oh
Be love – there’s a whole lot of hurting
oh oh, oh oh
Calling all hearts, Calling all hands
Calling all feet to take a stand
Why sit around and wait for a miracle to come
When we can be one, When we can be one , When we can be one

A little somethin’ might feel like nothin’
But in His hands it’s all we’ll ever need

To speak life to the broken
Watch the blind eyes open
It’s who He’s calling you and me to be

We can be the change – be the hope
We can be the arms that don’t let go
We can be a light in the dark
We are we are where it starts

Chorus

We can be the light in the dark
We can be the arms that don’t let go

WOW. I have to ask the question…..do we “speak life to the broken?” Are we the change and the hope that God has called us to be? Are we light in this dark world? Or do we just use our light as a flashlight to illuminate our own path and let the rest of the world figure it out for themselves?

We are a very self-consumed country. It is time to rise up and enter the hurt and the pain with people. This is not my idea- God came up with it. But most of us want to be comfortable, safe, and “happy.” Meanwhile, women are all around us, desperate for truth, love, and just someone to listen.

We feel often like we have nothing to offer. I get that. I was talking to my friend Carol not long ago. I told her I felt like I had nothing to offer because I have lived differently…..no drugs, abuse, etc. And she told me, “God will use you because you are willing to learn.” Isn’t that all it takes? A willingness? Saying YES to God?

Isaiah 61:1 says, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.”

Is this us? I pray it will be, church.