"Now that I have seen, I am responsible. Faith without deeds is dead."
I sit with her as she tells me about how she became homeless and now has nowhere to go. She sleeps in abandoned buildings every night, finding shelter wherever she can, and I know this woman is unsafe as she lays her head down to sleep each night. I wonder if I'll get to see her again, get to hear more of her story, get to be encouraged again by this woman's faith even in the midst of her loss.
We're sitting in a circle; we call it "women's circle," but really it is a type of peace circle where each woman shares her perspective when the "talking piece" is handed to her. When the talking piece is handed to one of the women, she begins to cry, explaining that she has been homeless for the past five days and is at the lowest point of her life right now. Her faith pours forth from her speech as she says to us, "I will not let my circumstances define me." She has a resolved faith that "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God" (Romans 8:28).
Flash back to three days ago.
I sit with her... her and five other women. I am leading devotions, and suddenly she changes the subject. "How can you rape me and then expect me to be your girlfriend? No! I hate you, but I don't hate you because I don't have time to hate you because I am a happy person." Another woman tries to calm her down, stating the fact that 1 in 3 women are sexually abused. She goes around the room, "That's 1...2...you. 1...2...me. You are not alone. It was me too." Another woman begins to cry. My heart is heavy, burdened by the weight of the pain that these women hold. "I will never love again. The risk is too great," one of the women speaks. And my heart breaks in two because this world is broken and women like these are torn apart by the pain of it.
Fast forward to later the same day.
I am sitting at a table, somehow doing art therapy with three women. I don't do art, let alone art therapy, but I was asked to do a craft with the women so I decide to do something with purpose. I found some small frames in the supply closet, so I bring these to the women and tell them to draw a picture on each side of the cardboard that the frame holds. One side is to portray where the women feel they are at in their lives right now, the other side to portray where they want to be. One of the women colored the entire backside of her piece of cardboard black. I asked her what it meant, but didn't need to have much explained to me when I realized she had written, "A very unhappy place" above the black background. Another woman didn't draw anything, and when I asked her about this, she simply said, "It's nothing. My life is nothing right now."
Father, how do I hold the pain of these women? I cannot help them, cannot take away their pain, cannot even hold it for myself without breaking.
"Do you want to go with me to get a diet coke?" she asked me, and I immediately said yes. Anything for an adventure through this neighborhood, the sixth most dangerous in the city of Chicago. Okay, obviously this little white girl had some hesitation about walking through "the hood" with this woman, but I went. As we walked the few long blocks to the little corner store, through the group of large guys who jeered at us, side-stepping all of the trash strewn across the sidewalk and grass around us, she talked. She did not stop talking until we set foot into the store, and even then it was only to find her diet coke. She told me her story - how she became homeless and how she is where she is right now. I barely spoke a word. A few nods, a few "mhmm"s and "yeah?"s were all she needed as affirmation to continue telling her story. I was enthralled, captivated, and broken all at once.
Flash forward one more time.
I am currently sitting in my apartment, looking outside my window as the sun begins to set. It penetrates the clouds in a golden stream of light that I am sure is a piece of Heaven. I often wonder how I got here, how in the world this country girl from small-town Pennsylvania ended up in inner-city Chicago doing urban ministry to women in the sixth most dangerous, most violent neighborhood in the city. I can hardly believe that the girl who just three years ago was scared to walk a block down the street to go to the bank, is the same girl who just a couple weeks ago walked through the hood with a woman she had only just met two months before. I can hardly believe that this girl who wanted to leave the city the moment she stepped foot into it now, three years later, cannot imagine leaving it.
A piece of my heart has been planted here and I cannot just uproot it. I have seen, and I cannot turn away. I have seen the immeasurable brokenness and felt a small part of the immense pain that these women carry, and I cannot just tear myself away from it. To truly care for someone, to see them with the eyes of Jesus and to love them with the same love that He loves, is incredibly eye-opening but also incredibly painful. It hurts to care. It hurts to carry pain that was never meant to be yours, was never never meant to be theirs.
Flashback, this time to over 2,000 years ago.
"Carrying His own cross, He went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). There they crucified Him..." (John 19:17-18).
"'He Himself bore our sins' in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; 'by His wounds you have been healed" (1 Peter 2:24).
"But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5).
That is exactly what Jesus has done for each one of us. He loves us with a love that, because of our sin, often incredibly pains Him. He carries our immense pain, pain that was never meant to be His. He desires to take us upon Himself, and this means all of us; He wants all of our pain, all of our burdens, all of our brokenness. "By His wounds we are healed." We cannot heal ourselves, let alone another. We cannot even carry our own pain, let alone the pain that someone else carries... But we have a great high priest who empathizes with us (Hebrews 4:15), who has carried our pain and tells us again to cast all of our anxiety on Him (1 Peter 5:7).
Bring healing, Father. Pour Your healing touch on this city and claim these women as Your own. Draw them near to Your heart and use the loss and pain and tragedy of their lives to draw them even nearer to You. Show me how to love them with Your love... and hold me as You break my heart for what breaks Yours. May I never give up when it gets too hard, when the pain is too much to bear and caring for others means experiencing more brokenness and pain than I want to. Remind me that Your wounds are a result of greater pain than I will ever know, and it is by these wounds of Yours that we are healed.
So be it.