She wrote in capital letters for emphasis, pen digging deeply into her paper, bleeding ink. She didn’t know it but her cracked and wrangled heart was oozing with the ink. I could read beyond the fiercely scrawled words etched in parchment and see to the deep ravine of pain and torment in her soul.
“There’s nothing wrong with the way I cope with my pain,” Her tone was challenging as she sized me up.
I knew she wanted to fight and everything in me wanted to fight back, because drowning her deep, deep pain in beer, cigarettes, and cutting was only hurting her more. I didn’t respond but asked the class again, “What are some healthy ways to cope with our pain?”
She was the first to respond. “Draw vicious pictures.” She was so set on picking a fight, getting me to cross her. She knows better than anyone else that her ways of coping are unhealthy and destructive and she wants to be distracted from accepting that by fighting over it. I know this and I ignore the word vicious.
“Drawing pictures is a great idea!” I respond instead.
“When I feel hurt and upset, I write,” Another girl pipes in.
“Yes! Yes! Drawing a picture or writing can be a great way to find release from the strong emotions we feel inside – without hurting ourselves or someone else.” I affirm their answers and she rolls her eyes.
“That’s not what I said,” She mutters. “You know, I’ve gone to therapy for years?” “No,” I answer slowly, “No, I didn’t know that.” “Yeah. I ask them questions and they ask me questions back and I’m always telling them ‘That’s not what we’re talking about. This is what we’re talking about.’ and they tell me that they’re trying to answer my question, but they’re not and we just go in circles with it. They are so dumb.” I feel her anger. Her words are laced with bitterness that makes my toes curl.
“I’m sorry,” I reply. “It can be so frustrating to feel misunderstood.”
She looks at me strangely, “Yeah.” That’s all she says but I can tell something spiritual just happened in our conversation. It’s what happens to me when I talk to someone who listens and doesn’t hand me a formula to solve my problems. It’s heart connection; linking at the deepest, most vulnerable level.
In her book Scent of Water: Grace for Every Kind of Broken, Naomi Zacharias says, “There are people all over the world who are needy, and they don’t need to be reminded that they are needy. They need to be reminded that they matter. Nobody said that better than Christ.”
I don’t know all of her story yet, but I know her mom despises her and cuts her down at almost every turn. The way she talks, answers a question, responds to any level of authority communicates that she has never felt believed in. She’s said it herself before, “I can’t do anything right.” and she laughs when you try to contradict her. She’s been homeless before, she lived in a bush for a couple of months. She’s watched fire swallow up her house and all her belongings. She goes out in the middle of the night and runs for a couple of hours. “No one can get in my way or bug me,” she explains.
“I’m a tough girl,” She says it proudly, with a hard edge to her voice. All I do is look into her eyes and it’s like we both know as our eyes meet that she’s broken mush inside with a tough, crusted-over exterior.
Naomi Zacharias also said, “Rather than the difference in our stories, what is overwhelmingly apparent are the things that are the same and the things that would certainly be the same if our past experiences were exchanged.”
She doesn’t realize it yet, but we’re far more similar than we are different…at heart. The wanting to matter, the desire to have someone believe in us, the deep need for purpose, the craving for love and affirmation. Oh yes, the lives we live are worlds apart in many ways, but when the walls crumble and our hearts are stripped naked, we are very much the same.
We are humans. We are women.
She won’t let me give her a hug. I know it’s because if I do, she’ll probably melt. I wonder when she was last hugged sincerely, from someone who wanted nothing out of her, from someone who wanted to acknowledge her as a person.
It all makes me mad sometimes. The walls that hinder healing, the pain that keeps relationship at arm’s length, the pride that halts the path of wholeness. I have to keep reminding myself that we’re all the same. I wonder if she knows how much she’s taught me? She thinks I am the older, married, God-person that had a perfect life and has it all together, and how do I tell her that her beautiful, redeemable mess brings me to Jesus?
I feel so inadequate when I face her every week. I tremble with fear and insecurity because I can’t fix her problems and there aren’t easy answers, and really, I don’t know that much more than her about the reasons for life and pain and heartache.
One of the other girls tells me that she loves it when we pray. “It feels quiet,” She says. And last week, when there was so much turmoil in our classroom and I sat there empty with no words, when I prayed for the Holy Spirit to come and fill the room, when I asked that Jesus would touch every girl in a real and living way, an overwhelming sense of His presence came over me and I know it came over every girl there. It was as though they were dumbfounded, struck with awe. There was such stillness and calm.
I feel inadequate because I am. We’re all the same that way.
That’s why He came. That’s why He comes.