Christian Prostitute.

The occasional ding, ding of a heart monitor. Halls mostly quiet. Patients waiting behind drawn curtains — dozing off. Nurses, doctors, the social worker (me), we are upright but mostly sleepwalking. A rather demanding case has been completed, I quickly grab free clipboard and head for the next challenge, room 32. Knock knock I say as I slip behind the curtain into dimmed room. Slight frame shivers under the white blanket.

Working in the trenches changes people. It has changed me. I once lived in an Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories world — identifying all persons as either good or bad. Things done right or done wrong. Christian or sinner. As a kid, I heard it everywhere. The message simple. People who choose rightly and act accordingly belong to the kingdom of God. People who make wrong choices and act wrong belong to the Darkness. Kind of a Yankees — Red Sox rivalry, never to be blurred, each with its own uniform and identifying ways. It’s understandable why adults tell children these things. The hope is to prevent the child from doing something that will harm them. Still, the overall message is a lie.

From the vantage of a congested urban emergency room for about 20 years as a psychiatric social worker, hours of interviews with people, teeth black from meth, bodies covered in abscesses from heroin use, faces broken and deformed from domestic violence, infected by prostitution, my view has been close up. An hour or so of taking history, huddled on cot and head down, the tears and shame of it all, I end the interview by asking, “How have you managed to survive?” and many times I’ve heard the same answer, through tears… “I never would have made it without Jesus.”

We have this idea that when we say ‘yes’ to Jesus, there is a certain something about us that is different from what I just described above. I know Jesus stabilizes our lives. That’s the hope we all have, isn’t it? Why, then, after I gave my life to Jesus, do I still have a temper? Why do I still use foul language when I’m stressed out, even though I try hard not to? Why do I say unkind things to my children though I’ve taught my kids that Christians don’t want to be unkind?

God HAS changed me over the years. Cleared out much of what kept me stuck. At the same time, I’m not being kicked and hit and torn at. I’m not being raped. I’m not being lied to. I’ve had resources. I have strong friends, many for over 30 and 40 years. Friends who love and support me. I have a safe and loving husband. I have a job, and food and shelter.

God describes how we can tell if a person is a Christian or not “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35. Love is different from addiction-free. Love and a cycle of hell sometimes coexist. If the church today were to write a list of Christian identifiers, the list would most likely look like this: “By this everyone will know you are Christ’s disciples, if you are strong, do well financially, dress well, are emotionally healthy, have a stable group of friends, are not addicted to meth, not shooting heroine, not living on the streets, not living with an abuser, etc..” Love and disaster in this life are not mutually exclusive. Love and human weakness.  The best of us and the worst.  Who we want to be and who we really are.

The God I’ve come to know while sitting alongside emaciated human shivering under thin white blanket on hospital cot is a God who does not abandon when we are too weak to get out from under the hell we’ve found ourselves in. God reaches into our darkness and holds onto us. In reality, not one of us fully escapes this sordid life till we step to the other side. The wretch we distance ourselves from has been made in God’s Image, very well could be my brother in Christ, my very own sister. Our mansions in Glory just might be parked side by side. Eternal neighbors with the hooker I turn my face from when light turns red on my way to work, good girl that I am, bad girl that she is. Sisters.

A fantasy, really, of us and them. The Bible teaches of the saved and the lost. Still, scripture reminds us that we as humans must not be the ones to determine who is lost and who’s saved. The sad reality is that if Jesus held hand and walked broken little prostitute into church this Sunday, I’m certain we wouldn’t recognize Jesus, and wouldn’t accept his company. I’m guessing your church would do as poorly as mine. No room in the inn. What would we do with her language? Her habits? With her reality? With his lack of discernment? We’d have difficulty making sense of her life. We’d question His love for her. Because Christians are liars. Our problem is not that we don’t believe that God cares for broken humans. The problem is our refusal to come to terms with our broken human self. We lie to ourselves about ourselves. We quick turn away from who we really are, causing us to quick turn away from anyone whose wounds are showing. Ultimately causing us to hide from Jesus. “Adam, where are you?” The question bounces off the emptiness of our lonely existence, God still searching for our hiding selves.

”Oh, it can’t be that bad!” “Praise God in all things” and on we blather, using God’s Word to shut each-other up from speaking truth about our real and messy lives. So much evil in denial. God Himself is the most solid model of seeing all, telling all, and loving, even-though. Scripture is full of stories — stories of what really happened. God’s people were often up to no good, he corrected them and yet continued to own them as His, His own broken kids, even when they were despicable.

There has been a lot of talk recently about churches and why women in domestically violent situations are less safe at church. It’s true. And the reason, Christians have fine tuned pretending. Telling a woman who is being beat at home ‘…all things work together for good’, ‘men are wild at heart, honey’ — yes, words spoken to battered women — words that kept her in a dangerous situation far too long.

When my patient’s arrive for therapy, they need help. They are willing to own what is. Every person who sees real change has a single thing in common. They are done pretending. There is a willingness to lay it out there, even despite the consequences. Because they want wholeness more than face saving. They want to get well more than to avoid pain. They also realize on an intuitive level that face-saving does harm, and so they pursue honesty.

Jesus Powerful Cross leaned hard on the wall between God and us and broke that wall down. The Cross tore the curtain from top to bottom, the wall that separated us from the Presence of God…. drawing us closer, still closer to himself. Not the pretend part of us. But all of us. Even the disgusting parts of us.

I think the sin of the church in our century is the sin of pretension (deceit).

Lying to ourselves about who we have been and who we really are. Minimizing our stories. Holding up the wall between us and them by pretending about us. The people hurting and wounded will never be accepted until I replace pretension with a good hard look at my own compost pile of a life, I embrace my actual story, I see the way God’s grace has met me in my pain. When I do, I am filled with love for others like me, with messes like mine, and there is acceptance.

Street Sheep. Jesus precious kids.

Baby girl born to house of drugs, molestation and rape since age 4, a runaway at 10 who became a prostitute for the safety of the thing, now trapped. desperately needs me to see her not as despicable but as made in Holy God’s Image.

Woman deformed from years of domestic abuse, I’ve seen her again, and again, every fresh visit to the ER, I work hard to provide her a hiding place, she always returns for more of the same, and is broken again, and much worse than the time before. Silent and tears, and shame. She repeats in a whisper “Jesus, Jesus, ….” She is my sister. Walking through this life alongside each other. Both needing Jesus to save us from ourselves. Both hopelessly stupid. Both clinging.

Man with abscesses from heroin. All the warnings in the world and he’s at it again, and worse off than ever. The PTSD war horror that he tries to manage in ways he knows how, and finally the needle is the only thing that stops the pain, and it will kill him. He always asks for prayer, tears streaming. My own brother. Together we strive to survive, letting Jesus hold us.

I can see them, the masses. The despicable. The broken down by life. The ones I distance myself from. Unbathed. Teeth mostly gone. Faces hardened by life. Bodies stiff from life under the bridge. Oh when the saints go marching in…. The lady who pulls eyebrows out and most of her hair – since the rape, forever pulling. The man stuttering his answers, face red from shame. The child covered in blood, still alive, saw it all. The young boy had never used a drug, talked into it at some festival, word salad and parts of words is all he can manage, and the rocking. His heartbroken parents with no answers. The confused Grandma who lives alone with her cats in a trailer. The dirty woman who just can’t get clean – life in the shelter, safer than home… I see them all together – moving forward, full of muted love for a Jesus who knew it all, never left, and refused to let go – they move together forward…. Oh when they march around the throne, when they march around the throne, I want to be in that number, when they march around the throne. 

 

Oh When The Saints Go Marching In: Black Spiritual

Thanks to Ian Espinosa for image.

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Almost Like We Matter To Each Other

Church campout marks a summer that has come, will soon be gone.  Only a few weeks and school will start again.  Here I am, sitting on the edge of summertime, at the edge of wild, sitting out of doors in blue collapsable chair at Howard Miller Steelhead Park.  River passes by on one side, can’t be heard for the breeze that messes up the leaves above my head, grand mountains on the other.  The wind, it hints at cooler days coming.  And still no leaves have fallen.  The kids whiz past me on scooters, bikes and feet.  The couples pass by, a dog on leash, lazy like, they walk about, talking to each other.  Some stop here and say a hello.  Almost like we matter to each other.  As if we do. 

And then I stop the writing for she arrives.  The girl on the edge, the wild one.  The one whose internal stimuli keeps her lips forever moving, with no words.  The searching eyes.  The difficulty tracking a conversation for the ever-conversing voices in her head.  I matter to her, I know I do, though she keeps me at bay, holds me at a distance, paranoia yanking her about to the ones who care for her most.  She asks if she can join us early next morning for the hike.  I don’t know if she will make it, it’s 10 miles round trip, an entire day of mountain-goat work.  In morning we will see.

Sun comes up just now, camp mostly quiet, she arrives, pink cheeked and tentative.  I want her to come along and still I think it’s too much.  So do her voices.  She backs out at last minute.

All day long I hike, me and my 8 year old Butterfly.  Friends along too.  All day long I climb higher and higher.  Legs and lungs they work to move us along ridges, beside fields of flowers, tree tops and shifting stones.  All day long, searching for bathroom among the hiding places.  All day catching a glimpse of the sanity a mountain-top brings.

A hike to heaven and back, that’s what we do.  End of day picked up by adored husband and lanky son of boredom.  Down an hour of washboard road, we stop along the way to buy some ice cream for little miss who managed the 10 miles of all day.  Back at camp, sticky peaches are my pick-me-up, and a hot shower to wash the layers of dirt off tired body.

It’s Sunday Morning.  I’m in the park block-house freshening up again, the community place of washing.  The place that smells of soap and mud.  Caring friend comes in, too, looking rather tired.  She sees me, needs just a minute to talk.  Shares how the wild one we both love screamed terrifying into the night.  Voices, forever the voices.  Tired eyes tell of the many who gather in the night to pray as she struggled on.  Said they had almost come to find me in the night. 

I am sad.  I hate the struggles of mental illness.  Mind that convinces the tormented one that those who love her are not safe.  Convinces mind that medicine is not safe.  That doctors and therapists are not safe.  Nothing we can do now.  We say a prayer and off to outdoor church service. 

Pastor is real.  During service shares his struggles with depression.  At one point in the sermon he asks all those who have experienced depression to raise their hands.  A few raise their brave and vulnerable hands.  Me too.  While we sit listening to a sermon on mental health, just beyond the crowd sits a mentally ill girl, tent collapsed with all her belongings inside the tent.  Caring friend comes and finds me again, tells me wild one is frozen in place, sitting criss-cross applesauce staring at tent full to the brim with no poles, caved in upon her things.  I slip away with caring one, hoping to help. 

Talking does nothing but make her lips move with no sound to match.  When I tell her I can’t hear her, she shouts that she loves us and needs her space.  I tell her “No rush, we don’t have to check out till afternoon, will help in any way I can, if you want me to help.”

There she sits, all through the sermon on mental illness.  Still like death in front of downed tent.  There my heart sits, beside her, but far across the expanse.  After the sermon I find a friend who hurt for wild one, too.  Sometimes we say “lets pray” with the thought that it’s not really doing anything.  Our prayer beside handsome mountain, our prayer along wide river – the river we can’t hear for the noisy trees above us, we pray our prayer anyway – because God has good hearing.  And as our prayer comes to a close, from a distance we see caring heart as she makes her way across the grass.  She gets closer, we see the tears on her tired cheeks. She tells us what God did for wild one.  He sent a small red headed boy, a boy much like the boys wild one once taught in Sunday School in days when her mind was well, to ask if he could help.  And she let him. Together they set up the tent, emptied it out, packed up her things, packed up the tent, and she was righted enough to make her way back home again.

Here I am, sitting on the edge of summertime, at the edge of wild, sitting out of doors in blue collapsable chair at Howard Miller Steelhead Park.  River passes by on one side, can’t be heard for the breeze that messes up the leaves above my head, grand mountains on the other.  The wind, it hints at cooler days coming.  And still no leaves have fallen.  The kids whiz past me on scooters, bikes and feet.  The couples pass by, a dog on leash, lazy like, they walk about, talking to each other.  Some stop here and say a hello.  Almost like we matter to each other.  As if we do.