Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A God who is able

There is a reluctance, if I'm honest, to allow myself to dream for them; but don't earnest, shut-eyed prayers always lead to open-eyed dreaming? I have not found another way.

It was my turn to run the call and the seasoned paramedics snickered as we bumped along Cascade Road and arrived at our patient. He was a "frequent flier" as they call patients who too often find themselves hitching a ride to the Grady ER in the back of our ambulances. He had called 911 himself. He was high on cocaine and despite the paramedics eye rolls, he was telling us in his most serious tone that he was ready for this to be his last hit. He wanted to quit.

She shifted in her seat and looked me in the eyes, saying she was ready for a new life. She was tired of depending on her body to keep a roof over her family's head; her family that consists of children and their children. Her daughters scoffed in the seats behind us, two babies sitting on their laps. The next strip club we passed, one called out "Oh look! They're hiring! Hey mom, have you changed your mind yet?" They didn't believe her. Why should I?

Bundled up in a blanket she made with all of her spare time, she tells me about how she will live by the ocean with her sister and spend her days freelance writing. When her disability checks start coming in, life will be so different. She has been living in shelters for years now, but month after month shares visions of where she would like to be in just a few more weeks. Seeing her sit on the same bed week after week sends a tinge of pain as I realize her dreams are not coming true as quickly as she would like.

His voice was muffled as we sat separated by a wall of smudged plexiglass. I leaned hard into the phone receiver and willed my ears to make something of his hushed mumblings. Though I missed bits and pieces, his message was clear : he was falsely accused. Another man should be wearing this orange jumpsuit, not him. Isn't that what everyone says when courts are threatening to remove them from society to pay penance for a wrongful act?
I wasn't sure.

Her children are proof that she has not been attentive to their needs in a way that a mother must in order for little bodies to grow and thrive. The neighbors throw a hand in the air saying it is a tragedy that she was physically able to give birth to life. The nurse who examines the weak bodies sighs with anger and says she would love to give their mother a piece of her mind. The neglect is undeniable; no excuses of ignorance seem justified. She doesn't have much to say for herself.

The evidence is laid out before him and onlookers are quick to remind "once a street boy, always a street boy." He cannot be trusted and anyone who (ever) believed otherwise was just being foolish. He admits, finally, to the destruction he has caused and promises he won't let them down again. He begs forgiveness, it is granted, and the scene repeats itself just days later. His birth family has disowned him and his foster family is encouraged by others to do the same, being told that they have given it their best shot. Isn't there a time when it's appropriate to accept defeat? To throw in the towel?

These are just a few examples, but I think we run into these people every day. Hopefully more than running into them, we seek them out. Sometimes it hurts to dream for people when not many others are. When "wisdom" tells us they don't deserve our dreams, dreaming on says that we see them (or are straining to see them) as Jesus does. They need this. We need this.

We believe with the cracked out man because he needs someone to believe with him that even this can be overcome and we happen to know a God who can do big things like that without batting an eye.

We believe with the friend whose children called her bluff from the backseat because she needs someone to believe with her and we happen to know a God who can do big things like that without batting an eye.

We believe with the lady who dreams of a beautiful, less-dependent life outside of a women's shelter because she needs someone to believe with her and we happen to know a God who can do big things without batting an eye.

We believe with the huge man in orange whom I barely know-- not that he is innocent, who really cares?--but that this is not the end of his story, because he needs someone to believe with him and we happen to know a God who can do big things like that without batting an eye.

We believe with the woman who has truly sucked as a mother, but it doesn't have to be that way forever, because she needs someone to believe with her and we happen to know a God who can do big things like that without batting an eye.

We believe with the weary foster mom as she struggles through uncharted territory, as only few are brave enough to walk this path by choice, because she needs someone to believe with her and we happen to know a God who can do big things without batting an eye.

We don't have to believe with them because it is a safe bet or because the odds are in their favor or because they've proved themselves trustworthy or because they really seem to "want it". We can do all of that without Jesus--it is not so bold to walk a tightrope that is lying on the ground.

We can believe with them because of all that they are not. All that we are not. All that HE is is certainly enough for us to enter into their dreams.

Y'all. It's supposed to be us sitting beside the cracked out man as his body seeks to ruin him if he does not go back to the substance it has come to depend on. We are the ones who are Holy Spirit empowered to believe with someone who has only known one way of life that things can be different--that God is able. Is this not our own story of redemption?

When we're not all that impressed with what God can do, it shows.

It shows when I join the "encouragers" who pat her on the back and say she gave it her best shot, time to send him back to the streets because he has had about 7 trillion chances. It shows when I stare too long at the statistics on men who are released from prison actually staying out and living productive lives in society and throw some distinguishing water on the fiery dream that wishes things to be different, at least for him. It shows when I deceitfully nod my head and pat her on the back as she dreams of a different life, but cannot help but glare hopelessly at the seemingly permanent impression her body has made in the third bed on the second row of the shelter. It shows when I succumb to what I do not know about this man, accepting what has already been decided about him based on how many times a week he shares this same desire, only to be picked up again and dropped off at the ER for a repeat of the week before. It shows when the first time I hear she has gone back to what she knew, my frustration overcomes me and I deem her as a "lost cause" until she truly wants to change. It shows when I join them in anger (that seems so so warranted when innocent children are involved) and bash her further into the ground instead of seeing the tiny seedling of hope that might just sprout if nourished.

It can be a lonely place, the place that sits before Jesus and first believes He is able and then waits to see just how able He is. Sometimes the crowd is heavy in the beginning and usually it dwindles, maybe to the point of standing alone before Jesus, petitioning Him on behalf of someone that everyone else has given up on. They will disappoint. And if you're like me, you will disappoint yourself even more frequently than they disappoint you. But this is a blessed place. I want to find myself here more often. I want Him to increase my faith in Him so I can stand with them with complete and utter confidence that my God is the one who can move the ginormous mountain in front of them. They need us whose eyes have looked on Him, tasted His goodness, and been transformed into His likeness to believe with them that He is able. If we can't believe it, how can they?

"Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen." --Ephesians 3:20-21

Monday, January 21, 2013


They come in and out of the room and ask question after question and I repeat, for what seems like the 3 trillionth time, what little I know of his last six months and twenty three days on earth. I unload the broken pieces I know of his story and we work together to fill in the gaps. I catch myself saying words like "usually" when describing his habits and then realize I have only known him for two days--what do I know of his usually? I remind the doctors and nurses and nutritionists who probe me again and again that we are still nearly strangers.

He cries incessantly in the crowded waiting room and women look at me with eyes that will me to please, for everyone's remaining sanity, find a way to make the baby in my arms be quiet. Though our skin tells that I didn't birth him, they look to me as if I am the only one in the room with the ability to calm him. As he squirms and writhes in discomfort, I want to tell them that they are welcome to give it their best shot, because he doesn't yet know me from any of them.

I hold his abrupt entry into my life against him at times, sometimes wanting to cry back at him during especially public or drawn out meltdowns that "this isn't too fun for me either, kid." I get so frustrated with 10 little pounds of pure innocence when I want to get more than 45 minutes of sleep at a time. I question if this is really where I'm "called" to be if I have such a crappy attitude about it a good bit of the time. And then I go to the dark place of imagining Katie Davis, not only being super excited at the chance to love a sick baby all throughout the night, but also sharing her faith with the nurses and doctors and other patients in the ward (instead of the negative attitude and complaints of their negligence). Comparison kills.

All this to say, I am learning lately that there is nowhere I can go where I will need His grace any less. I seek out those places, in search of the "perfect fit" or "my calling" thinking that because of the way He made me, I certainly ought to need Him less there. Why haven't I landed in that place yet? I sigh and think "Man. I really thought I would be pretty good at loving sick kids. Guess I was wrong again.... Back to the drawing board."

Sometimes I just get tired of needing Him so damn much. Good Lord, can we not take off the training wheels yet?! I am familiar with this... I signed up for this! Why can't I fly solo here yet? Is it ever coming?! If not, am I in the wrong place? Why am I not more joyful in this moment? Why isn't this natural and beautiful and lovely and effortless and "like breathing" yet?

Because I am believing a lie.

I think I first heard it from Oprah when I was in High school and had more interest in what she said than what Jesus says. I even wrote it on one of my binders, I think. "Your true passion should feel like breathing; it's that natural." I think I've been looking for this dreamy place all along and to be honest, I have come up short every time--usually settling for the closest thing I can find and being annoyed that I can't just be naturally good (and independent) at anything.

I am coming to see there is no such place. Sure there is a place where my precise strengths and passions can combine to maximize the glory He receives as I live out life here on earth. These places exist for all of us, I know they do. We were not created each with different gifts and cares and loves to operate outside of the Body, to the benefit of the world (or ourselves, of course).

But where I've been so deceived is my thinking that these places will be natural and lovely and beautiful and effortless and maybe even easy. I believe Oprah a little too much and then get angry with myself when I am face to face with the seemingly ugly fact that nothing "good" I do will ever feel as effortless as breathing. Nothing "good" in me will ever be anything but that which He has done. Like Paul, "I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out." I just can't.

Guilt floods in about how I am failing Him by sucking so bad at loving people -- the people I have chosen to love, based on where I felt His nudges. The truth is I want to depend more on my strengths than on His grace. It feels safer there.

I promise that I love my life and the places He has me (((not even joking, this sentence was interrupted by the dreadful sound of projectile vomit being shot through the mesh walls of Isaac's pack n' play bed.... His only bed, now covered in vomit at the early hour of 11:36pm))). Haha, but really I do. There is a lot of hard (cue teeny tiny boy being waken from sleep vomiting the 7 different medicines he had to take tonight plus 2 whole bottles of Pediasure through both nose and mouth--did I mention he's malnourished and really really needs that food his body keeps rejecting? And those meds he can't keep down are supposed to be the ones fighting off all of the stuff that has been attacking his body for the past 7 months?), so I don't love it in the blissful skipping through fields way -- but I love it in the "holy crap. How in the world do I have the honor of being a part of the story God is writing for this boy He loves?" way.

All I'm saying is I don't think I have to turn in my resignation letter just because I literally have to pray the words "Jesus, help me not to hate this baby when he wakes me up in 30 minutes. And then again 45 later. And then again." as I lay my head on the pillow at night. I need that. He knows it better than anyone.

You don't have to question your entire marriage when you have to pray the words "God, please give me the grace to not punch this guy in the face tonight." We don't have to quit our jobs and search for something better just because we literally can't get through an hour without crying out "Lord, help me not to spit in my boss's face when he critiques my work for the 50th time today."

I'm famously bad at making up examples (which you know if we've ever had a conversation), but you get my point. Needing grace--being absolutely desperate for Him, having nothing of our own going for us is a beautiful place to be. It doesn't mean we are in the wrong place--it might just mean we're exactly where He wants us. I need to write that on my arm. It's good to need Him this much. It assaults my flesh in the best way.

"But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." --2 Corinthians 12:9