Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Freedom of a Life Undictated

I thought I knew what this post was going to be about. The story was pretty well laid out. This morning I would go to the Lisa's house and with the help of our maintenance man we would help her pack up the last of her things and get her on the road to Florida.  The plan was simple. But, as is the case with stories, you can predict an ending but you can't guarantee that it will turn out exactly as planned.

You see, Lisa's story is a little more complicated than just a move.  For almost the last two years I have been visiting Lisa. A transplant to Philadelphia from Jersey, we had things we could relate about and in time I have become, in her words, Lisa's "go-to girl".  I did what I could. After all that seems to be my job where ever I go.   I had college volunteers clean out the basement after flooding ruined most of the items her and her boyfriend were storing there.  I would visit, drink tea, and just talk.  We worked with her to get the couple rides so that they could come to church. And when the block they were living on rapidly deteriorated and their landlord decided not to renew their lease, I gathered a crew helped them move into their new home.

The past few months we have shared rides to a store in Germantown that will accept her food stamps and has good deals.  Our time together has strengthened our relationship and in time, Lisa shared with me some of her burdens.  There was the insecurity that so many families face of not being able to make ends meet and there was the sorrow that comes with having lost both parents after having cared for them.  Then, there was the struggle of caring for her boyfriend who suffers from a degenerative condition of the back, started by a mysterious bacterial infection in the spine and which has brought the couple through thickness the last few years.  Although not easy by any means, these issues were ones that simply required a companion. They were the burdens made lighter by having someone to share feelings with and to simply have a compassion ear to hear and shoulder to lean on.  In time, I was able to provide a space of reason, to ask constructive questions and quiet Lisa's anxieties enough to let her think things through.

Yet, in the last few months a new, deeper burden surfaced. At first, Lisa would just mention it in passing. Then it became something that I could gauge by Lisa's mood when she got in my car or her voice on the phone.  She was being abused.  Not physically, but psychologically.  It started when her boyfriend stopped taking certain medications, but then it turned into a regular occurence with or without meds.  Lisa began to need more time outside of the house and the entire situation came to a head one night when she frantically called me.

I gave her numbers for shelters, explaining that what she was experiencing was indeed domestic abuse.  I told her that she deserved better and made all the recommendations in my power- call the hotline, get out of the house, go and stay with your family.  She didn't want to have to rely on anyone else, to have to ask for help, so she spun her wheels for a week. Finally it got to be too much.  She called me and told me that she had finally called her uncle in Florida and upon explaining the situation, he told her she needed to come to his house.  So, we began planning. I researched routes there, including places to stop along the way. We put in a change of address form and went shopping for all the necessities that she would need for the trip and that would keep the household set when she left.  With all the arrangements set, she decided that Wednesday, June 6th would be the day.  He boyfriend had a doctor's appointment so he would be out all morning, giving us ample time to pack and get her on the road before he returned, finally fulfilling what had been an empty threat up until then that she would leave.  By noon she would be on the road set to drive until her first stop in North Carolina. I had the entire story mapped out in my head.

This morning came and went... The story did not go according to plan.

I got a call just after 9AM that medical transport had just picked up her boyfriend. "He knows something's up" Lisa said over the phone, "He just kept asking if I was going to be there when he got back."

As our maintenance man, Leslie, and I drove to the house, I got another call. "He had them bring him back home." the voice said quietly, the fright and confusion coming right through the phone. As I hung up, I turned to Leslie and said, "This is going to be a wild ride." And it was.

I'll spare you the details, but after much "discussion" between all parties- Lisa and her boyfriend & Lisa and myself- she came to the conclusion that she could make it work. After all, he was saying he would change.  I looked her in the eyes said, "Do you really believe that, Lisa?"

With tears in her eyes, she nodded. "Is this what you really want?" Again, she nodded.

If there is one thing I've learned in this ministry, it is that you can't make anyone do what they aren't ready to do.  If there's a second thing I learned today/this week, it is that you can't write a story before it takes place. Even now, I can't completely describe the emotions I feel: disappointment, sadness, helplessness, fear, detachment, and cynicism.  I understand where they all come from, but that doesn't make me want embrace them at all.  I would rather be feeling triumph, justice, and peace.  No such luck- that isn't the story that was written today.

Lisa said she'll give it a week and then reevaluate the situation. As I left her, there was a lingering hesitation; she asked me multiple times when exactly it was that I leaving the center, as if she saw that as her only window to escape.  Over and over, I asked her if she was sure she wanted to stay. I can't imagine that she is.

There is no telling what story lies ahead for Lisa or for any of us.  Even thinking about my own life story, there is a certain unknown quality. More and more I am finding that in order to soar, in order to be free, I need to let go of whatever I thought my story was going to be.  That letting go allows me to be in the moment.

It is a rare occasion that we can be free of all assumptions and presumptions, all goals and foresight. No doubt, these things guide our paths and I don't know where I would be without them, but at the point at which they dictate your life, eliminating true discernment and grace, that is the point where they are more harm than good. When perceived security and staying in the comfort of what we've always known- even if we deserve better- takes control we are trapped, unable to be ourselves, captive to the world around us.  To be open to all God is offering us, we need to let God (with our experiences & hearts) dictate the next steps.  And to ultimately be free in our ongoing story, we need to move beyond what we tell ourselves to simply be OK and really, honestly ask ourselves and God- what is it that you really want?


  1. "you can't make anyone do what they aren't ready to do" this really struck me, since it's probably the most consistent tidbit I have also learned in ministry. And it really makes me think of my own relationship to God - who loves me and wants the very best, and who never makes me do what I don't choose to do. Whew. It's a lot to consider.
    And it makes me wonder where else in my life I can stretch and grow, and most of all, be receptive to what is true, good and beautiful, where I have til now walked away...

    1. It's true, Christine, and a tough lesson that is only learned by repetition... plus the work of growth is never done.

      We can only do so much and only do it in our own time, which when we're lucky turns out to be God's time too. Amen to walking this walk and digging ever-deeper.