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Monthly Archives: March 2007

TWLOHA Title

A few months ago, I came across a non-profit organization called To Write Love On Her Arms. So, I checked it out. I saw this story that was posted on the website, a story that apparently gave the background of how it got started with the focus of helping just one person named Renee survive long enough to make it into rehab, and being there for her after she got out to continue to love her and to let her know she has worth. And, so I read it.

I was very moved. I’ve rarely been so moved in all my life. I’ve known people like Renee. And one of them was ever on my mind as I read that story. In fact, after I read the story, I sent her a message to say that I was thinking about her and that I love her.

To Write Love On Her Arms is far beyond just another cause to fight for. It is a movement dedicated to providing hope to those who struggle with depression, addiction, suicide, and cutting. The people that run it have no delusions of grandeur. They are broken people reaching out to broken people to show the healing and life-changing love of Christ.

Please take the time and read the story. All of it is true. Renee is real, and she has real struggles. You likely know someone who has similar struggles, but just aren’t aware of it. Even if you don’t, there are people in your town and at your place of work, at your church, in your classrooms, and riding next to you on the bus who have these struggles and are crying out for help, if anyone would just listen.

If you have the desire to get involved, this organization needs you. You can buy their distinct shirts, you can donate money, you can provide connections to professionals who help those who battle with these issues, you can spread the word, or you can simply pray. Contact them and they’ll let you know how you can become involved.

Here’s the story, as written by founder Jamie Tworkowski.

Pedro the Lion is loud in the speakers, and the city waits just outside our open windows. She sits and sings, legs crossed in the passenger seat, her pretty voice hiding in the volume. Music is a safe place and Pedro is her favorite. It hits me that she won’t see this skyline for several weeks, and we will be without her. I lean forward, knowing this will be written, and I ask what she’d say if her story had an audience. She smiles. “Tell them to look up. Tell them to remember the stars.”

I would rather write her a song, because songs don’t wait to resolve, and because songs mean so much to her. Stories wait for endings, but songs are brave things bold enough to sing when all they know is darkness. These words, like most words, will be written next to midnight, between hurricane and harbor, as both claim to save her.

Renee is 19. When I meet her, cocaine is fresh in her system. She hasn’t slept in 36 hours and she won’t for another 24. It is a familiar blur of coke, pot, pills and alcohol. She has agreed to meet us, to listen and to let us pray. We ask Renee to come with us, to leave this broken night. She says she’ll go to rehab tomorrow, but she isn’t ready now. It is too great a change. We pray and say goodbye and it is hard to leave without her.

She has known such great pain; haunted dreams as a child, the near-constant presence of evil ever since. She has felt the touch of awful naked men, battled depression and addiction, and attempted suicide. Her arms remember razor blades, fifty scars that speak of self-inflicted wounds. Six hours after I meet her, she is feeling trapped, two groups of “friends” offering opposite ideas. Everyone is asleep. The sun is rising. She drinks long from a bottle of liquor, takes a razor blade from the table and locks herself in the bathroom. She cuts herself, using the blade to write “FUCK UP” large across her left forearm.

The nurse at the treatment center finds the wound several hours later. The center has no detox, names her too great a risk, and does not accept her. For the next five days, she is ours to love. We become her hospital and the possibility of healing fills our living room with life. It is unspoken and there are only a few of us, but we will be her church, the body of Christ coming alive to meet her needs, to write love on her arms.

She is full of contrast, more alive and closer to death than anyone I’ve known, like a Johnny Cash song or some theatre star. She owns attitude and humor beyond her 19 years, and when she tells me her story, she is humble and quiet and kind, shaped by the pain of a hundred lifetimes. I sit privileged but breaking as she shares. Her life has been so dark yet there is some soft hope in her words, and on consecutive evenings, I watch the prettiest girls in the room tell her that she’s beautiful. I think it’s God reminding her.

I’ve never walked this road, but I decide that if we’re going to run a five-day rehab, it is going to be the coolest in the country. It is going to be rock and roll. We start with the basics; lots of fun, too much Starbucks and way too many cigarettes.

Thursday night she is in the balcony for Band Marino, Orlando’s finest. They are indie-folk-fabulous, a movement disguised as a circus. She loves them and she smiles when I point out the A&R man from Atlantic Europe, in town from London just to catch this show.

She is in good seats when the Magic beat the Sonics the next night, screaming like a lifelong fan with every Dwight Howard dunk. On the way home, we stop for more coffee and books, Blue Like Jazz and (Anne Lamott’s) Travelling Mercies.

On Saturday, the Taste of Chaos tour is in town and I’m not even sure we can get in, but doors do open and minutes after parking, we are on stage for Thrice, one of her favorite bands. She stands ten feet from the drummer, smiling constantly. It is a bright moment there in the music, as light and rain collide above the stage. It feels like healing. It is certainly hope.

Sunday night is church and many gather after the service to pray for Renee, this her last night before entering rehab. Some are strangers but all are friends tonight. The prayers move from broken to bold, all encouraging. We’re talking to God but I think as much, we’re talking to her, telling her she’s loved, saying she does not go alone. One among us knows her best. Ryan sits in the corner strumming an acoustic guitar, singing songs she’s inspired.

After church our house fills with friends, there for a few more moments before goodbye. Everyone has some gift for her, some note or hug or piece of encouragement. She pulls me aside and tells me she would like to give me something. I smile surprised, wondering what it could be. We walk through the crowded living room, to the garage and her stuff.

She hands me her last razor blade, tells me it is the one she used to cut her arm and her last lines of cocaine five nights before. She’s had it with her ever since, shares that tonight will be the hardest night and she shouldn’t have it. I hold it carefully, thank her and know instantly that this moment, this gift, will stay with me. It hits me to wonder if this great feeling is what Christ knows when we surrender our broken hearts, when we trade death for life.

As we arrive at the treatment center, she finishes: “The stars are always there but we miss them in the dirt and clouds. We miss them in the storms. Tell them to remember hope. We have hope.”

I have watched life come back to her, and it has been a privilege. When our time with her began, someone suggested shifts but that is the language of business. Love is something better. I have been challenged and changed, reminded that love is that simple answer to so many of our hardest questions. Don Miller says we’re called to hold our hands against the wounds of a broken world, to stop the bleeding. I agree so greatly.

We often ask God to show up. We pray prayers of rescue. Perhaps God would ask us to be that rescue, to be His body, to move for things that matter. He is not invisible when we come alive. I might be simple but more and more, I believe God works in love, speaks in love, is revealed in our love. I have seen that this week and honestly, it has been simple: Take a broken girl, treat her like a famous princess, give her the best seats in the house. Buy her coffee and cigarettes for the coming down, books and bathroom things for the days ahead. Tell her something true when all she’s known are lies. Tell her God loves her. Tell her about forgiveness, the possibility of freedom, tell her she was made to dance in white dresses. All these things are true.

We are only asked to love, to offer hope to the many hopeless. We don’t get to choose all the endings, but we are asked to play the rescuers. We won’t solve all mysteries and our hearts will certainly break in such a vulnerable life, but it is the best way. We were made to be lovers bold in broken places, pouring ourselves out again and again until we’re called home.

I have learned so much in one week with one brave girl. She is alive now, in the patience and safety of rehab, covered in marks of madness but choosing to believe that God makes things new, that He meant hope and healing in the stars. She would ask you to remember.

Stop the bleeding. Rescue is possible. Love is the movement.

To Write Love On Her Arms

At a Q & A session at Columbia University, Evangelical apologist Ravi Zacharias was asked a question regarding the state of the (Evangelical) church in America. As part of his answer, he said the following, and I think it’s very worthy of reflection:

The problem with America today is not America; it’s the church. We have become very shallow as Christians. Very shallow. We have become masters at engineering feelings without much thought. There is very little thinking that goes on in church. We repeat things, parrot things. We have not thought our faith through. We have not listened to others and what their questions are. Our answers are very shallow. In trying to become seeker-friendly, we have become message-unfriendly. We have no real depth to what we’re trying to teach and speak. Life has got its jagged edges against us, and we are giving simplistic answers. Somewhere, we fell into the trap of believing that music is everything, forgetting it is only one thing and that teaching and ideas are important. And an expenditure of words without an income of ideas will lead to conceptual bankruptcy. And we are so conceptually bankrupt on this; we cannot really explain these things. And, until the church wakes up to what her message is and thinks deeply about these things, we will slip deeper and deeper into parroting phrases that have very little difference in our lifestyles.

Andersonville Sunset

Peace. Calm. Stability. Safety. Assurance.

These are things my family desperately seeks right now. And this song speaks to this yearning upon every listen.


“Where the Trees Stand Still”
by Bebo Norman

Everyone it seems
Is looking for the grass that’s greener here
And through my window pane
The scenery flies by and disappears
So tell to me the secret
That won’t let the memories fade away
Until I am home again….where the trees stand still

Yesterday it seems
I traveled in a younger man’s clothes
Living out this dream
And wandering through fields of touch and go
Moving on forever
Watching the distance fade away
But now I just want to land…where the trees stand still

All this time
On this line
Here then I am gone

Tonight I want a life
Where the faces are the same most every day
Tonight I want a wife
To sit with me and watch our children play
All the world between us
Watching the years fade away
And when the laughing’s done…we’ll watch the trees stand still
Everyday…where the trees stand still
We will make a home…where the trees stand still

Casting Stones

One Scripture verse that I tend to associate with “big stuff” is 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” I mean, that’s usually the way it’s presented. Especially in my years of being involved with student ministry, I’ve heard it a lot, and normally having to do with parents who fight, or divorce, or abuse, or death of a loved one…you know, “big stuff.”

Recently, in a talk with the student minister at my old church, that verse came up. And he made the point that we tend to cast them off and then reel them back in, like when fishing. I thought that was pretty clever, and it’s stuck with me. Yet, I went back and read the verse again, this time careful to understand the context. I had recently heard someone say that sometimes taking a verse in context will change what it’s really saying, or the depth of it, or whatever. My personal example would be in 2 Samuel 12:7 where it says, “Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!'” It’s something I personally want to hear said about me. But, in that moment, it was the last thing David wanted to hear.

So, I went and reread chapter 5. And, I was amazed at what I found. When Peter said to cast all anxiety on Him, he was talking about something very small. He was talking to both elders and the young people of the church, encouraging them to be humble and gracious towards each other, invoking Proverbs 3:34 which says, “God opposes the proud.” So, as I understand it, Peter was basically telling them to stop fussing and bickering, instead acting in humility toward one another. Then, he says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Peter was telling them, “If it gets too much, cast it aside and give it up to God and let Him deal with it.” Incredible.

So, I thought about how many times I had heard this verse in relation to “big stuff” and how it was really given as an instruction for dealing with the everyday silliness that goes on among people who might disagree or cause one another grief. (See also: Parish Council Meetings, Deacons’ Meetings, discussion among parents and their children, etc.) And, all of a sudden, that verse became even more of an encouragement to me. I mean, if I can trust that He’ll care about the little stuff, then I can definitely trust Him with the big stuff. As Christ Himself says in Luke’s gospel, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much” (16:10). Not that I didn’t know this to begin with, as I certainly did. It’s just that, sometimes, it needs reinforcement.

You who are weary, striven, worn thin, or busily writing blogs—be of good courage. Cast all your cares…worries, anxieties, uncertainties, quarrels, fears, moments of little faith…upon Him.

roses.jpg

This is over my head but underneath my feet
‘Cause by tomorrow morning I’ll have this thing beat
And everything will be back to the way that it was
I wish that it was just that easy
–Lifehouse, “Somewhere In Between”

Some years ago, my friend Sonja told me of an experience she and one of her friends once had with a Ouija board. From what I recall, the experience went like this:

They played around with it one night and got freaked out. (Duh…ever seen The Exorcist? But, I digress…) That night, they threw it in the trash can and thought nothing of it. Until the next day…(cue dramatic music)

It was not in the trash can the next morning. Instead, it was on the kitchen table. Sonja’s friend tried tearing it up. It was back the next day. It was even set on fire and burned to ashes. As the story goes, it was back again the next morning, fully intact without so much as a burn mark.

Now, I’m not here to debate the truth of this story. Instead, I just wanted to say that the same thing can sometimes happen with the way we feel toward someone. No matter how much we want the feelings to die, no matter what we try in an effort to rid ourselves of them, they linger without any sign of letting up. For reasons beyond our grasp, we must bear them and suffer their continued presence.

It’s like having a guest over because his company is welcomed and very enjoyable. You have fun for a while, but his being there eventually becomes undesirable. Maybe there’s a difference of opinion that you just can’t bear anymore. Maybe he insults your cooking (or selection of ramen noodle flavors if you’re a college student).

And, so you begin to drop hints that it’s time for him to go. Hints like “I think I’m going to turn in for the night in about a half hour,” or “well, I’ve had fun tonight, but I need to study for a while,” or “I mean, really…if you don’t leave, I’m calling the cops.” Yet, try as you may, there he sits, drinking your soda and getting his Cheeto-stained fingers on your remote. He’s clearly very comfortable and not going anywhere.

And so it can be sometimes with romantic attraction. What was once a welcomed thing becomes unwanted. Not only unwanted by the object of your affection, but unwanted even by yourself.

And so it is with me right now. I still feel some amount of attraction toward a friend; though, I desperately wish it were not so. And I think that it’s coming between our friendship. In fact, I’m pretty sure it is. Which is horrible, because I really need her friendship right now. A major part of my life is upside-down and I’m frequently unsure of how it will turn out. The last thing I need is to have a close friend standing off from me simply because she thinks that I don’t want to or that I simply won’t move on, because that’s not the truth. I don’t know for sure, but it’s like she can’t get past my apparent feelings long enough to trust that I’m totally uninterested, that I’m just waiting for these feelings to die. (Perhaps I’m misreading the situation, in which case, forgive me for rambling and unjustly accusing. But, it sure feels like that’s what’s going on.)

Back in high school, when I was browsing through quotation compilations in search of the perfect senior quote for my senior annual, I came across a curious remark by Goethe that, in spite of the fact that it really made no sense to me, has stuck with me ever since: “If I love you, what business is it of yours?” I now get it. (Though, the sentiment here is much stronger than the feelings I’m dealing with.)

I’m just glad that I know someone who knows exactly what I’m going through and that he’s there with prayer, support, trust, encouragement, and even the occasional “Yeah, I know exactly what you mean! It’s awful…I couldn’t figure it out, either.” I don’t know how I’d stay sane if not for him.

Pondering

From my journal entry dated March 7, 2007:

After being prompted by something I saw in a friend’s Bible, I read Isaiah 40 this evening. I reread vv. 27-31 over and over again, narrowing my selection with each pass. I finally rested on the last bit of v. 28: “his (the Lord’s) understanding no one can fathom.”

As I stared at that verse, I came to realize this is a huge problem I have. Too many thoughts to write about them now. Yet, even as my own words spoken to someone else come back to haunt me, I need to be less focused on my desire to understand and more focused on the need to act in spite of the lack of understanding when it does not easily come. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Prov. 3:5). Perhaps my insistence on understanding what is going on is my effort to find something other than God to lean on?