She had relapsed again. Just before Christmas, Shay had gone back to the warmth of the manholes under the bridge, selling her body for $10 in order to buy her next hit of “the rock” as she called it, or crack cocaine. This wasn’t the first time either, I’d been down this road with her four times already, each time helping her get into a detox, then a rehab program, then a job, then her own apartment. Months of sobriety, the safety of her apartment, the security of a job, would be thrown away in a moment when the traumas of her life would come flooding in. It was too much for me to comprehend; I only knew that my heart was broken. I wondered if she would survive this relapse; dark thoughts crowded in as I feared that death would be the only peace my friend would know.
For those who work in back alleys with the addicted, exploited, and vulnerable; we know that rarely is a story as simple as: “She was rescued and lived happily ever after.” In fact, I’ve never encountered that story—instead I’ve known the cycles of shame and trauma that often look like one step forward followed by two steps back. In the moments when she takes two steps back, I’ve come to cling to the truth that shame or addiction is never the end of the story.
Love is the end of the story, because love never fails. Yet in the midst of the story God is writing, when we’ve yet to see the breakthrough we know will come, we must be a people of perseverance.
“I will run the course of your commandments, for you will enlarge my heart.” -Psalm 119: 32
Early in my journey of working with exploited men and women, the Lord brought me to this verse and has become vision for my life: I want a big heart. In a movement championing justice, I began to see that many peers who were fighting alongside me were bitter, disappointed, and striving in their own humanistic zeal to bring about their version of justice. Hearts shriveled up because of their own disappointed expectations with the people they serve, the apathetic government, or their disgust with the perpetrators, etc. In the low moments, like with my friend Shay, I too was tempted to grow bitter, to feel completely defeated when I wasn’t seeing her change. Many of us will face these moments in our life, moments that call for perseverance. A perseverance that doesn’t merely dig in its heels to keep fighting, but a perseverance that surrenders to the only One who can save. In our pursuit of justice there is a tension we must walk: to take action and advocate for the oppressed, loving them through the messiness of their pain, but also surrendering their lives and future into the One who holds them in the palm of His hand.
The pressures of life, the disappointments, and the betrayals will invite us to protect ourselves—to insulate ourselves from the pain of another. We will be
tempted to grow cold and uncaring. In truth elf-preservation is second-nature and yet the gospel calls us to a compassion that causes us to enter into the suffering of another. This can only be sustained in the place of prayer and in beholding the Servant King Jesus who will not fail and who will not be discouraged until He brings forth justice (Isaiah 42). When He is our motivation, our strength and our hope, He gives grace for the journey. He provides everything we need that in the end we would be saints who have run the course set before them, who have not loved their lives unto death, and who have great big hearts—with eyes shining, who still weep over the poor and oppressed of the earth! This is our inheritance, this is our promise.
Shay survived that relapse. She survived a few more after that, too. Today she is living independently, working hard at her job and beginning to rebuild her relationship with her estranged children. She still struggles, drugs are still a strong temptation that she must work on daily. Yet in the community of people around her she is beginning to run the course God has marked for her, and she too has a heart that is rising out of the ashes, that is growing bigger and bigger every day.
Blaire has served in the non-profit sector for 9 years, lending her leadership and experience to build Christian communities in the praxis of social justice work with marginalized and vulnerable persons. She has mobilized awareness and intervention campaigns in Brazil that saw more than 500 churches across the nation participate in reaching out to 2,000 exploited persons. She has authored an Intervention Manual for Christian Communities that gives a step-by-step look at how to develop and sustain outreach to exploited persons in their community. After years of direct work with exploited women and their communities, Blair desires to see growth and transformations sustained through the Body of Christ and the beauty of families. She and her husband currently live in Brazil as missionaries. To learn more:visit: www.fraimsinternational.com