Ministry at the thin places

I’m called to the thin places, the holes, the edges.  I’m called to those moments where people are at the edges of life and don’t even know it.  They are at risk of death, due to overdose, or suicide, or both.  They’ve wandered too close to the limit.  One more step and they are gone. 

It took me a while to see this pattern.  I kept meeting people at these edges. 

I went walking in downtown Chattanooga with friends many years back at night, and saw a young man, thin, dark hair, alone at a water fountain that had been turned off for the winter.  I left my friends and walked up to this stranger and began to talk with him.  It was a month later that he admitted to me that he was going to kill himself that night.  It was the fact that I started talking to him that distracted him, that turned him away from the edge. 

I’ve had several boyfriends who drank too much, not trying to kill themselves but trying to enjoy life more, in their opinion.  I was there to keep them alive in those moments when the body starts to react badly to that abuse. 

I’ve dated two people who had attempted suicide before I met them.

My father tried to commit suicide when I was two.  My great-grandfather, his grandfather, did commit suicide.  They say that someone was “successful” at suicide, but is it really a success? 

I feel suicide and addiction and overdosing are all related.  We walk too far into territory that we don’t know, and it pulls us in with its own gravity, its own magnetism.  Before we know it, we are sucked in much further than we meant.  We didn’t know where that dark alley led to.  We didn’t know – or we thought we were strong enough to walk away.  These forces are older than us, and hungrier.  They will have what they will have and there is no arguing with them.  The only real way to survive is to never get too close. 

And that is where I come in.  I show up.  I happen to be there.  I’m called to it.  This isn’t something you can schedule.  There isn’t an app for this. 

I stand in the way, with death behind me, so they can’t see that doorway. 

This isn’t something you train for, not really. This isn’t something that people even talk about.  We don’t talk about death.  We certainly don’t talk about suicide. 

(Written 11/8/2015, updated 5/14/20)

Beggar

I think I’ve figured it out.

I should quit my job

with its low pay

and become an artist

and have five children

and have no health insurance.

I should spend everything I make

as soon as I make it,

saving nothing.

No pension plan

nothing to prepare for

the future

whether the future

is a month

or 20 years from now.

Then when anything happens,

when, not if,

I’ll go up to strangers

and beg for money.

But I won’t do it like people used to do it

standing on the street corner

like a beggar

or a prostitute,

I’ll do it the new way.

I’ll set up a “Go fund me” account

or a Kickstarter

and do it all digitally.

I’ll ask friends

and their friends

to pay for

my gallbladder operation

or my child’s new baseball uniform

or my pet’s funeral.

Meanwhile I’ll make art talking about

how awesome it is

to be free

from all the constraints

of a 9-to-5 job,

while conveniently forgetting

that my friends

in those 9 to 5 jobs

are paying for my bills.

Or maybe I have too much

 self-respect

and respect for others

to beg at all.

(Written 10/30/2015)

Illness

What are you afraid of?

What are you trying to control?

What are you holding onto,

 that you can’t let go?

Sometimes when people have an illness it is just the end result of a wrestling match that they are having. They are struggling with something in their life and they’re having a hard time releasing it.

It would help if they can slow down and listen to what their illness is trying to get them to pay attention to. There is some imbalance in their life, some incomplete business.

It reminds me of one of the mantras of AA, about fixing what you can, letting go of what you can’t fix, and knowing the difference. If you are fighting an illness, ask yourself who is in charge? Who is going to do the healing – you or God? If you are fighting it to the point that you cannot allow yourself to rest and you’re in a great deal of pain then perhaps it means that you are not trusting in God to heal you, but you think that you were going to heal you.

Healing doesn’t always mean a physical healing. Sometimes healing simply means that you’ve learned a lesson you were supposed to learn or what was supposed to happen has finally happened. One of the biggest things that holds people up is needing to know an outcome. Sometimes letting go of that need is the most powerful thing you can do.

(started 9/21/15, updated 5/14/20)