As a military wife stationed in Germany, I was a part of a women’s bible study that decided one week to clean the house of a woman in our group who was afraid of losing her infant son to Child Protective Services. Her baby was failing to thrive and, at four months, weighed barely ten pounds. She was far away from family, alone in a foreign country with her young husband, a small colony of untrained semi-feral kittens, and a dog that kept eating the cat litter. Despite our efforts, we could see the fear in her eyes. Words of encouragement weren’t going to be enough, it was time for action. Everything needed to be washed and sanitized before the visitation with CPS, and a few of us quickly signed up to help.
It took such courage for that woman to let us into her house. Over the years, I’ve known many women that were too ashamed of their space to have company. To them, their home was a reflection of themselves: a three dimensional resume of their success or failure as a homemaker. As this young mother held her son, his inability to gain weight was a constant reminder to her of her failure as a mother. Allowing us into her home was an exercise in humility.
I knew the women from bible study only through our weekly discussions. We were a ragtag group of displaced women that shared in common a love for the Word of God. The instant we crossed the threshold into that young mother’s home, we saw the character and strength of each other in a new way. One woman mentored this young mother through strategies of a functional kitchen while the rest of us grabbed cleaning supplies and jumped in. We picked up things that were cringeworthy without cringing. We knew someone’s life was at stake, and whether she felt worth fighting for could be communicated in a glance or gesture. She was worth fighting for.
Standing in the midst of that house in chaos felt like a reflection on the chaos of my soul over the past few years. After being very active in our church, I had hit a season of exhaustion and burnout. I hunkered down and tried to regroup in isolation, but somehow it hadn’t worked. It’s hard to heal in a vacuum. I knew I needed help, but it was the kind of nebulous help that is hard to ask for. Most of the time I wasn’t even sure I knew what I needed. In an act of desperation, I slowly began to give up control over knowing, and began to let Jesus deep-clean the deepest rooms of my soul. I began to realize that he was fighting for me, and that he never stopped, never looked away, never threw up his hands in disgust when I failed again or forgot the reality of my truest identity as his child. I am loved. I am worth fighting for.
We all come with baggage. We all have hidden closets—physical, spiritual and emotional—that we wouldn’t want someone to walk into and start cleaning. It takes courage to ask for help, and it takes courage to step into each other’s lives. More importantly, it takes faith to believe that Jesus has already stepped into ours.
Living life in relationship with others always seems to have a bit of chaos about it: the stepping into a project without the whole picture, signing up to do your part joyfully to the best of your ability. So often we want the big picture before we jump, and as a general rule most of us like to have a plan with few detours. It takes courage to face the chaos and jump in.
One of my favorite verses is Isaiah 61:1-4, which Jesus read in the synagogue at the beginning of his ministry:
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, God has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of prisons to those who are bound, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn in Zion, to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit, that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord that God may be glorified. They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, and the devastations of many generations.”—Isaiah 61: 1-4 Luke 4:18,19
About four months ago, I was asked to be the Executive Director for the Desens House, a long term residency program for women overcoming addiction. In many ways this is the project I’ve been waiting for my whole life. It’s stepping into intentional hope, relentless optimism, and faith everyday as we come up with ways to remind each woman that she is worth fighting for. The road isn’t easy. Sometimes I think people mistake my passion and optimism for naive idealism. It’s not. I know this is a tough gig. But I also know that our God can enflesh dry bones and bring the dead back to life. Our God is a God of the miraculous. I see the Desens House operating in the space between verse 1-4 of Isaiah 61, coming alongside and empowering generations of women to build back the “ancient ruins of their lives and families.” In many ways it feels like standing on the precipice of the impossible and yet, that’s where faith happens.
I am humbled by a Jesus that makes all things new. A Jesus with his hands in the mess of our every day lives calling us all into resurrection. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life—the roadmap for redemption.
For more information about the Desens House, see Dean’s contact information below.