Choosing to live at the recovery center over the past eight months has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Over these eight months, I've spent five days a week living in a house with six teenage addicts, alcoholics, criminals, and gang members at a drug and alcohol recovery center out in the mountains of Round Mountain, California. The boys living on the ranch are some of the most broken people I’ve ever met; every boy has their own unique heart-breaking story of death and tragedy, dysfunctional homes, families, and parents, poverty, missing or dead fathers, and histories of sexual, emotional, and physical abuse.
If you know anything about broken people, it’s that broken people hurt people- and they usually try to do so to the degree they’ve been wounded. In living with these kids, I've experienced more pain, brokenness, manipulation, darkness, deception, hatred, negativity, profanity, and endured more verbal abuse than I ever have in my life. The consistency of the darkness around me is at times completely overbearing and often emotionally and spiritually depleting. I get lied to, manipulated, and used on a daily basis. There’s days where I’m hated and nights where I've come to the end of myself trying everything I know possible to somehow ward off the spiritual onslaught of demons coming at me from within the kids, and instances where I’m cussed out, yelled at, and emotionally degraded for hours on end to the point of verbal abuse- all by kids who I’m close to and love.
Eventually, it breaks you.
Right now, after last weeks shift, that's me.
Feeling completely depleted of love.
I’ve been here before.
Yesterday wasn’t the first time I’ve been physically threatened, verbally abused, and emotional pummeled by one of the boys.
I’ve been here enough times now to know that no matter how broken I may feel, how dark the nights may get, and how hard someone may try to rip into me, shred me to pieces, and make me feel as nothing- that God’s love is always there for me and is always there waiting to encounter and refill me for the next day. Sometimes, it just takes time. I may not have very much love in my heart right now, but if I stay close to God’s presence and give my heart enough time, my love will soon be back.
Thanks to these boys, over the past year I’ve learned the truth in Jesus’ words, “Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you, and insult you…” I’ve been able to put Luke 6:27 into practice: “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreats you.” In attempting to live out that verse, I’ve learned that without God, it’s humanly impossible to love those who are hating you, especially in the moments of being hated. But with Him, it’s baffling what we can endure and what we can respond to with love. Through every dark night and hardship, there’s yet to be a single time that I haven't felt God's love there with me, waiting to fill me, and give me the strength and love needed to recover, forgive, and move onward with a heart that’s fully intact and whole.
I’ve been cussed out, betrayed, lied to, let down, and deeply hurt by the kids I felt closest to, and though the hardships and insults I've received are nothing in comparison to the physical persecution Paul (the apostle) received- emotional pain is still pain, and I still feel as if I’ve caught a glimpse of what he meant when he said, “he delights in weakness.” Because in my moments of weakness, I’ve learned that “God's grace is sufficient," and that through our weaknesses, we can experience Christ's strength and love flowing through us.
In the times where I’ve been receiving verbal abuse, I’ve felt peace. Amidst being hated, lied to, and humiliated, compassion. And in betrayal, forgiveness. Every time, it surprises me, but every time it’s there. I still look back on many of these times of pain and being hated in awe, wondering how I ever came back with love to a kid who just intentionally ripped my heart to pieces- with pleasure. The natural response when you’re hurt, is to hurt back, and the greater the pain, the greater your desire is to hurt them all the more. But in every moment of pain, God’s been there lending strength, teaching me a different way- teaching me how to love. Though, even in the midst of receiving His strength, I’ve failed. Many times. But thankfully, there’s always forgiveness. Just because God's love is there doesn’t mean I always choose to use it. It’s not easy responding to hate with love, but it’s possible- and it’s right. And that’s our choice to make. He always gives us the love we need, but it’s our job to put it to use. And if we mess up, (which I have countless times) thankfully, we can always go back and apologize to those we’ve wronged.
Though I would never wish in a million years to relive the things I’ve gone through with these boys, in the end, I’m grateful for every hardship I’ve had because of how much it's expanded my capacity to love. Without ever being in such a deep place of pain, I never would have experienced God’s strength the way I have. Without these eight months of laying my life down for these kids, I never would have known that I can love those who hate me, that I can show compassion towards those who have let me down, and that I can forgive those who have intentionally betrayed me with joy and hurt me the most. It’s easy to read the Bible and say I follow Jesus and His teachings, but actually doing it, actually laying my life down for others and completely dying to myself in giving my life to serve those who hate me, and persevering through that while choosing love along the way is actually really, really, really hard- but doing so is the greatest reward, because in order to do it, I need Him. And being close to Him is everything- my greatest reward.
I’m really grateful for the times I’ve failed and thankful for the kids and what they’ve taught me over the past eight months. Without them, I never would have known my capacity to love, nor known the depths of God’s love living within my heart. I’m thankful for these times in the dark because I know, despite how hard they may be, they're building me. I know this won’t be my last miserable week of work, or the last time I’ll be emotionally desecrated and abused, but I’m going forward regardless, in love, trusting where God is taking me and leaning on Him every step of the way as I do my best to fully live out this gospel and completely lay my life down for the One who gave His for me.
"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you do good to those who are good to you? Even sinners do that.” - Jesus
“Pure religion is this… take care of the orphan and widow.” -James 1:27
Thanks for reading. This is the first time I’ve ever really opened up publicly about my job to this degree. I don’t normally share a whole lot about what I do and what it requires. But I just wanted to share what I’ve learned and experienced lately, and also, to mainly to ask this favor: if you ever remember and think of me, would you mind sending a prayer my way? My job is anything but easy. It’s emotionally and spiritually draining and I could use (and need) all of the prayer coverage I can get. It would mean the world to me.
“What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost
all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him…” -Philippians 3:8-9