The advocacy work has settled into a steady rhythm of clients abruptly realizing you can’t keep living life a certain way without something happening to change it.
Robert Louis Stevenson wrote that “Everybody sooner or later sits down to a banquet of consequences”. I have observed the varying outcomes of someone sitting down at that banquet table time after time. There is fear and denial but also relief. The one who fares the best is the person who has a good support team around them, people who love you in spite of your present misfortune. I have observed the miracle of personal transformation as spoken of in the Scriptures.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2.
Also: Romans 5:1-5 NIV “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
Most clients I have worked with are required to attend classes by social services or the courts. They come in a variety of moods, but most often they take their cue from me. If I am smiling and respectful and act receptive without judgment then they are very forthcoming and over time a bond is formed, one that I hold in high regard. I have sat down singly with hundreds of people and most have a faith in God that provides us with common ground and an eventual foundation on which to build. It isn’t always spoken of in an outward way, faith that is. It is just allowed to be – in its quiet, comforting way. We don’t have to force anything to happen, we allow it to happen naturally from person to person. There is no rush. In fact, I help them to understand the value of time passing in their situation and that circumstances will play out on their own without stressing over what they can or cannot do. Just deal with the doors that are open today. The rest are closed for now. One hour per week, I have discovered is the right amount. There is enough time in between to allow the support they are receiving to sink in and start to give them courage. They know that we will be meeting again and they will have a safe place to talk. Confidentiality in that relationship is sacred as it helps people feel safe and validated.
In the beginning, I have found that it is important that if they are interested they read a daily devotional to keep them focused on something positive. As time goes by they begin to see that those words and the scriptures used are actually God-directed toward them. What a miracle that is to experience! It is always new for me every time it happens. This is the moment as they receive the sweet living water that they become aware of God – God is in their life and everything is changing. All things are becoming new. As God’s love pours into their hearts, their minds are renewed daily and they can rejoice in their suffering; and their suffering produces endurance; endurance produces character; and character produces hope. And, yes, hope never disappoints.
During one class the young man spoke about reading the Bible in jail and that it had made a lasting connection with him. He had left a trail of laying-waste behind him nearly all his very young life and still his wife loved him and wanted to save their marriage and raise their child together. They had had meth in their lives at one point and they decided to quit so they could enjoy their new baby coming. Friends who were part of that old life came to their home daily continuing to urge them to use again. One recovering addict told me that once you have become addicted to meth your body craves it 24 hours a day everyday. It is only your healthy support system and personal resolve that keeps you clean.
After the baby was born, under pressure they resumed until “the banquet” and then they both had to make different choices because of the punitive requirements being placed on them regarding their child. She was a good “mother” and a very strong individual to do the right thing for her child, if not for herself, so her choices were obvious to her. But frustrated, even though he too loved his family, he couldn’t control the mounting negative consequences of past mistakes and now it could mean prison time. In many cases, I would only get a few classes with those who were dealing with extreme circumstances like this before they would start moving through the justice system. Most were young men who had endured a difficult childhood where drugs, alcohol and abuse were involved. Their parents had failed to love them because their own lives were so out of control. These young men hadn’t found anyone they could believe in or who believed in them. For them, inspiring hope and trust is very important. It’s really the only solution that is lasting.
1 Peter 3:15 NIV
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” To me, this means your hopeful presence, non-judgmental body language and silence – not necessarily testimonial words. Then when they are around those who hate them and persecute them and see them as just another low-life with no good outcome, they will remember the difference and like a seed it will grow in them. Remember what Jesus said about seeds:
Matthew 13:3-9 NIV
“A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
The quality of the seed we plant and the attitude in which we plant is very important. We never know when we are with people who are of good soil because they may not appear to be at first impression. We may judge them to have wasted lives because we don’t truly know them and the unfulfilled desires of their heart and the ways in which people they trusted let them down. The response they will make to their banquet of consequences could transform their lives with the right support. I have been blessed many times by what I have seen as people come alive because they are loved by a total stranger just for who they really are inside.
Many times those with whom I have had a long-term relationship have gotten back in contact with me. They would talk about what they had been through and how it had transformed their lives and put them on a totally different path.
Jesus spoke about a special banquet in Luke 14:7-12 NIV:
7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.”
Imagine your community all seated at the banquet together respecting and supporting each other as equals, each to accept the responsibility of past mistakes regardless of what they are.
And we conclude with the rest of the reference, Luke 14:13-15 NIV:
13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”