Six Years. The Opioid Crisis Is Real

It’s been six years, yesterday. Six years since I wrote this piece. It’s an anniversary I’d rather not have, but those choices aren’t always ours. I can’t believe it’s been six.

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I’ll Do Anything, God

My “anything” prayer happened in a credit union lobby, viewing security tapes. The image on the tape was shady, in more ways than one. He wore a hoodie pulled low over his brow, not surprising, since having anyone see his face would have been detrimental to his purpose. The tape was grainy, at best. Still, I could identify the vehicle, and its driver.

 Explaining this all to the security woman at the credit union felt like an out-of-body experience. Surely, this was not my pretty, suburban Jesus life. Yes, I said. I do know who the young man in the tape is using my debit card. Yes, I do know he’s a drug addict and what he’ll do with the money. Yes, I know if I don’t press charges you won’t return the money. No, I still don’t want to press charges.

Her look called both my sanity and my intelligence into question. I just shrugged my shoulders. “I’m a pastor. It’s an occupational hazard. I can’t really explain.”

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I didn’t pray “anything” intentionally. It happened to me the day Casey happened to me, and I might well have told God I had other, more pressing business had I any notion of the rough road ahead. Fortunately, God does not give us those notions. He knows my heart that would probably have embraced the fear and the comfort rather than the strange boy in my back hallway.

So I never offered God everything. But by the time he asked it of me, I could do nothing else. God knows, sometimes, that’s the way we work.

No Turning Back When You Tell God “Anything”

Fortunately for Casey, that shock of overgrown cocoa-colored bangs and those huge brown eyes beneath the ever-present hoodie endeared him to people before they knew him. At least they did to me, a sucker for shy smiles and already well aware of my daughter’s penchant for collecting what we could euphemistically term “the least of these.”

 He had nowhere to go, could he maybe sleep in the basement? OK. I guessed that would be fine. For a while.

Two days later, his mom came knocking on the side door, letting us know the reason he had nowhere to go–she had a restraining order on him, because he had stolen from her, again. The same day one of our mutual friends informed us of his past in detail, containing more interactions with law enforcement than Snoop Dogg. “He’s a loser. He’ll never change. You’re out of your mind if you let him in your house. He’ll take you for everything you have.”

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And he tried. I’d never been called to a bank to review security videos, never had someone steal my debit card and use it to buy gas for ten of his closest friends. Never had police bang on my door at random hours. Never sat at the hospital bed of someone who felt so little hope for life he’d OD on heroin, again.

 He progressed to grand theft auto while we were on vacation. Not the video game. The rage I felt when the gift cards I’d saved points for to give our kids for Christmas turned up missing the week before—from my underwear drawer, which feels relentlessly violating—mixed with the sorrow and desolation of knowing that by this time, I loved this kid.

OK, he was no kid; he was 23. But only chronologically.

When Jesus told me to love the least of these, he wasn’t being rhetorical. He didn’t mean sending money to African orphans to satisfy my conscience or buying a pair of shoes so a needy child could have one, too. Yes, those are good things. I do those things. But until Casey, I didn’t understand that real love takes risks, gets personal, gets hideously, nakely messy. Real love looks a messed up kid in the eye and says, “I’m with you for the long haul. What do we have to do?”And sometimes the crapshot you take with love comes up bust. There is no guarantee.

Every time I thought I had had enough and was ready to turn this kid in and wash my hands, I asked God if I could. Well, I kind of begged him. There were some pretty bad days. And every single time, he said, “No. I am not done with Casey. So neither are you. Anything? Really?”

Holy Spirit Leverage

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 As part of our “I’m not turning you in so now I have some power over you” strategy, we “sentenced” Casey to community service at our church. He met people. They loved him, no holds barred. He came to a few services. He went forward to the altar, trying to start over and get out of the iron-bar-less prison he knew he was still in. He got better; he got worse; he got better. I felt the Spirit moving me to go back downstairs to him one night at 2am, long after I had gone to bed but not to sleep.

“Casey, what’s keeping you from turning your life over to God?”

“I’m afraid I’ll have to give up the fun I’m having.”

“Really? So, this homeless, jail time, drugs gig is fun? How’s that working out for you?”

He shook his head sheepishly. “Yeah. Not so good.”

 He told us no one in twenty-three years had made him feel so loved. Like the security woman, he shook his head at us and said he could not understand why.

 But eventually, he got it. He got that love beyond all human ability comes from Jesus alone. A tiny bit of comprehension seeped in that, maybe, possibly, it wasn’t too late for someone like him. A God who would die for any sin on the books just because he loved us would love him, too. The Recovery Bible got a used look to it.

Eventually, I got it, too. I got that compassion means so much more than a thoughtful email, and mercy is the greatest inexplicable gift someone might get from me. I wrote my senior seminary thesis on grace. But I don’t think I knew it at all until I knew Casey. I know now how amazing grace is not just when its received but when its given. I’ve hugged Jesus in the form of a messed-up, love-bewildered kid. And I’ll never see Him the same.

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Not a Fairytale

You know those stories with bittersweet endings that you hate but know are really more true than the happily ever after ones? This is that kind of story. Casey didn’t make it in this life. He tried hard. He went though recovery and was on the road. But there were too many years of pain and bad choices, and one last time on heroin, after being clean for a while, was the last. I had to find out through Facebook, not the number one choice for devastating your heart.

Sitting looking at the waves of Lake Michigan roll in that week, I cried for the man he might have been and the life that could have been his. But I also cried because I knew, absolutely knew, that at that moment, Casey was looking at Jesus through eyes free of fog. He had no pain, no past, no chains of addiction or scars of abuse. He had no tears of hopelessness or self-hatred. He was free. And I’d never been so happy for someone in my life. Or sad. 

“Anything” prayers may take you no farther than your own back hallway. But they’ll take you much farther than that, once dangerous love sets in.

 

According to our surgeon general’s remarks when I heard him speak this spring, “This is a medical addiction issue, not a moral failure. The only way we’re going to create better opportunities for those we love is by sharing our stories and eliminating the stigma. None of us can do it alone.” Amen. The heroin epidemic is real, and it’s deadly. Someone dies every 12.5 minutes of an opioid overdose. The start of it for someone could be in your own medicine cabinet right now. Please check out some facts and know what you need to know. Don’t lose someone you love.

One Shade of Love (But Four Imposters)

I know, I know. Everyone else has already jumped into this party. I’m a tad late. And no one wants to read anymore about Fifty Shades of anything. (Although, in fact, I’m not late. I was early, a few months ago with this previous post. This is merely a follow up to me being ahead of the game. Truth.)
But we must, because this thing is not going away. I want so badly to say it’s just a movie and three terribly written books. I want to believe it will fade quickly. I want not to offend my friends by telling them they are wrong to consume and advocate for “Hey whatever you prefer as long as its not hurting anyone” media.
But I can’t. I’m a mom, and a pastor, and in neither capacity can I afford a don’t rock the boat stance on this one. Because I don’t believe it’s going to be a one night stand of a movie with our culture or our young women. I believe it’s a barometer of what’s already there and a bar setter for what we believe about relationships.
I have to at least tell the young people I love that that bar is at a level they can’t live with. Literally. And that they can totally change it if they choose. So here, young women I know and any I don’t who give me the honor of reading this, are the things I want you to know as the amazing women you are.
To my daughters (literal and otherwise),

1. You are not responsible for making another person happy. 


This is true in any relationship, not just a romantic one. If a parent, child, friend, or partner pins all his or her happiness on your actions, that’s not adoration. It’s manipulation.

You may feel adored. It feels beautiful, and powerful, to believe you alone can make him smile, and only you can fulfill his dreams. But think about that. Do you really want someone who cannot find it in himself to be happy and fulfilled without relying on you? Would you want to be a person who could not find joy apart from a specific relationship? How limiting is that?
Is there nothing in the entire rest of his life? If not, that’s kind of scary. Maybe there’s a reason for that. It sounds quite romantic for a man to tell you you’re the sole reason for his existence. But really? Maybe you don’t want to be that. It’s a lot of pressure.
And, more importantly, what happens when he’s not happy anymore? Because anyone who has no sense of who he is outside of you has no capacity to be happy, long term. Eventually, there will be chinks. Cracks where dissatisfaction leaks through. Big, gaping holes where you were supposed to make his dreams come true and you failed. And then what?
Don’t mistake those feelings of power for feelings of love. A real relationship is never about power. It’s about mutual, loving care.

2. You cannot rescue anyone. 


For this Fifty Shades thing, millions of women are excusing what in any other context would be rape and torture because, in the end, the guy is “redeemed.” It really is a love story, see, because he turns out great in the end. Never mind the means taken to get there.

So, it’s OK for a woman to submit to any sort of violation of her dignity, physically and emotionally, if it all turns out well in the end. Not only OK, it’s a good idea. Go for it. You won’t be sorry.
Except not.
Hear one woman’s story on this topic, one woman who was nearly killed by the man she would redeem: “I never once thought of myself as a battered wife. Instead, I was a very strong woman in love with a deeply troubled man, and I was the only person on Earth who could help (him) face his demons.”
That’s the fantasy. Young women buy into it every day. Usually young women who themselves feel powerless, unremarkable, even unloved. The needy but otherwise awesome boy chooses them, and they will rescue him.
I’m a mom. I’ve read the stories. They are horror stories, every one of them, to a mother. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the stories in the news. Girl gets new boyfriend. Girl spends all her time with him. Girl drops all other contact in order to keep the boy she plans to “save.” Girl goes missing. You know the end.
Young women, it’s a lie that you can save someone from himself. Only God can do that. You’re not God. You are not even close to the pay grade. A romantic relationship is a terrible arena for helping someone who needs counseling. It is never OK to submit your dignity and well being for any reason. No one who asks that of you short term has your long term good in mind.
Being a friend to someone in pain? Pointing a person to help? Supporting a troubled soul? Yes—those are things worth spending your time on. But not in a relationship that hurts you. Not in a way that makes you the only one who can help. Leave the salvation to Jesus. He’s good at it; we’re not.

3. You are not responsible for the actions of any man. 


Period. That goes from the way you dress to the plans you make for your future to any words you speak. You are responsible for your actions, he for his. In a documentary on domestic abuse, I recently heard one woman, who declined to press charges on her boyfriend for punching her against the wall. Her reason for his behavior? “I just kept running my mouth. I shouldn’t have done that.”

Her mouth didn’t force his fist to hit it. The laws of physics argue against that.
Young women, you are brought up to believe this bullcrap. And yes, that’s what Im calling it. There are not fancy words for it. If a man chooses assault, abuse, or any other behavior, he chose it. You did not entice it. You did not bring it on. You did not ask for it. 

Can I get you to believe one thing today? That’s it. Please believe that. You make your choices, and I know some of them are lousy ones. I know, because some of mine are. But you don’t make choices for anyone else. Good grief, your own are enough of a load to bear. Don’t take on someone else’s, too.

4. You are not meant to be the center of anyone’s world. 


See #1 above. When God created human beings, indeed he did say that it was not good for man to be alone. He created woman to be his partner, his equal worker in this thing called life. But there is a difference between being a partner and being an idol.

The first step in any relationship that is headed for abuse is for the abuser to tell her he loves everything about her. She is the most important thing in his world. If she ever left he would be destroyed. He’ll make a million Facebook posts about how perfect you are. How could anyone that adoring be bad?
It can be bad because it’s setting you up to feel responsible for his welfare. And women, we eat this up. We like to feel responsible. We love to feel that able to heal and nurture and make someone whole. We love to be told we are the center of someone’s universe. It makes us feel like, maybe, we are valid human beings ourselves. If another person feels that way about me, could I deserve to be loved after all? So this must be love.
Fact—if a man is telling you this, you are not the center of his universe. He is. There is no room for anyone else in his universe who is not willing to be controlled and used to make him feel better. He’s making you responsible for his life, because he knows that will make you stay.
You are not responsible. Step out of the center and off the pedestal, no matter how heady a feeling it is to be put there. The fact that someone put you there should be a hint right away. Never agree to go where you didn’t put yourself.
I said at the beginning of this post you could totally change things, didn’t I? So don’t leave on a note of discouragement.
Young women, you are the ones targeted by this nonsense you are told is empowering. But I know a secret. I know it, because I gave birth to three girls I have watched grow into truly powerful women. I know you are smarter and stronger than that. I know you can see through the bullcrap. And I know you can end it.
“In the United States, women ages 16 to 24 are three times as likely to be domestic violence victims as women of other ages, and over 500 women and girls this age are killed every year by abusive partners, boyfriends, and husbands in the United States.”
Your population is the one most affected. So you are the ones who can stop it.
If you’ve read any recent posts on this blog, you know I’ve been running a series on identity. It would have continued today, but I thought this was more important. Yet, it is also part of the same topic. The truth is, if you, young women, know who you are, you are not going to fall into the lies about who you should be. You will not accept the role of being responsible for someone else’s dysfunction. You will stand up and tell other young women to truth and help them out of this cycle. But you have to know.
In order for you not to be enticed by the power, the pedestal, the attention disguised as love, you have to know without doubt that you are already loved. You are already powerful. You are already chosen and destined and accepted. You are already enough. If that goes deep into your soul? You will recognize the false love when you see it.
So today, I’ll leave you with this. It may seem like an easy out, to quote Scripture and just say “that’s all folks.” Sometimes, it is. But this time, I believe it says all it needs to. More than I could. Will you allow these verses to sit in your soul? To bury deeply into whatever scars you have? To not let go of you until they have wrestled through whatever lies you have believed about what you need to do to be good enough or accepted and loved? That’s all I want for you, my daughters.

O Lord, you have examined my heart

and know everything about me.

You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.


You know what I am going to say

even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!


I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!

If I go up to heaven, you are there;

if I go down to the grave, you are there.

If I ride the wings of the morning,

if I dwell by the farthest oceans,

even there your hand will guide me,

and your strength will support me.


I could ask the darkness to hide me

and the light around me to become night—

but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.

To you the night shines as bright as day.
Darkness and light are the same to you.


You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.

Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!

Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,

as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.


You saw me before I was born.

Every day of my life was recorded in your book.

Every moment was laid out

before a single day had passed.


How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.

They cannot be numbered!

I can’t even count them;
they outnumber the grains of sand!