Lessons from the Sidewalk {The Courage to Love}

Love is Powerful

 

“But now faith, hope, and love remain; these three virtues must characterize our lives. The greatest of these is love.”  1 Corinthians 13: 13 (The Voice)

This year I spent three months completing an internship working with individuals struggling with addiction and homelessness.  For one of my classes I had to write a paper about my experiences.  Below is a small excerpt from that paper.

During my short time with the staff of the agency I came away changed.  I learned a lifetime of things through their tireless efforts to eradicate homelessness.  First, love really does conquer all things and second we are all God’s image bearers – even those who struggle with addictions and find their shelter under a bridge.

My hope is that one day we can all find the courage to love.

Faith, Hope and Love

We find ourselves in a quiet corner of the office, which is difficult because of the shared work-space.  She is a Housing Stability Worker.  We are alone enough that she feels comfortable removing the facade. He is one of her most challenging clients. 

The numerous suicide threats and slurred unintelligible phone calls are beginning to take their toll.  We talk for a while about what working with someone struggling with addiction truly means. 

We talk of death and how she no longer thinks about the possibility of it, but the inevitability of it.  There is only so much a body can handle before succumbing to the ultimate breakdown. She tells me how she never turns the knob on his apartment door without wondering if today will be the day she will find him unresponsive on the kitchen floor. 

I ask her how she keeps doing it and she smiles at me and says that it is because he is a great guy who also happens to be broken in a million ways.  She tells me he has a beautiful heart and cares completely and deeply.  She tells me that keeping hope alive for herself is important to show him that hope exists. 

“We teach what we most need to learn — and sometimes give what we most need to receive.” Gabor Mate 

I see now how hope informs faith.  Without hope there is no faith in the beauty of humanity, no trust in the strength of spirit.  Where there is neither hope  nor faith there is not love — love of the human experience; the triumphs and the tragedies are essential to meeting people where they are at. 

I am beginning to see what an honour it is to work in Social Work.  During my time with the agency honour came in sitting on a concrete sidewalk in the cold of winter in order to hear the pain-filled mumble of someone experiencing homelessness and addiction.  

Honour was daring yourself to give someone who calls themselves by Shame the new name of Worth. 

Honour was tucking your pants into rubber boots and wading onto a needle strewn floor with a pair of barbecue tongs and a biohazard bin because the mess was too overwhelming and the urge to use too strong for someone. 

If you are willing to look you find strength in every person — you do not have to be fixed to be courageous.”  

I write those words in my field journal after a conversation with a crystal methamphetamine addict.  While his body jerked erratically we talked about his goals.  He told me about how a year ago he was living under a bridge.  How he had frostbite on almost all of his fingers because he was trying to find the perfect vein in minus forty degrees and you cannot do that with gloves on.  

He talked about how much he appreciated the fact he had a warm bed and a place of his own; something he had not known in over ten years.  He spoke hope when he dreamed with me about not being a slave to his addiction anymore. 

I think my interaction with this gentlemen has brought me closer to understanding how courage can only be born out of the challenging of circumstances. It helped me understand that respect and dignity are not a form of enablement.  They are, instead, a foundation to freedom. 

I feel stretched to the point of being uncomfortable; however, instead trying to bury my experiences, I am allowing myself to take the time to grow into a new understanding of what love looks like.  

This will be a life-long journey — it will be something I wrestle with daily.  Being mindful and having the courage to love will take energy and intentionality and will, at times, leave me feeling empty and exhausted.  

I will take the exhaustion if the alternative is one of narrow mindedness and stigma. 

“I am beginning to see things through a different set of eyes — seeing things now that I wouldn’t have looked for before.” 

 

I really appreciate you taking the time to read these words and truly hope you hear my heart.  I would love to hear from you about your own courageous acts of love.  Please be kind.  We all have unique circumstances and experiences.  


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