Hi-ho, hi-ho, off to work I go…. So-and-so is working the street again…. So-and-so, out of coal, is cold…. So-and-so is angry…. Drama! Drama! Drama! Just another day at the office…. Of course, she’s drunk again…. Not in school? Nothing to eat? La la…all normal….

Cynical and uncaring—not words I want to describe me, not how I want to be. I want to be full of hope, optimistic, life giving. I want to maintain that all things are possible. I want to dream her dreams. I want to stand alongside her, to be her cheerleader shouting persistently, “You can do it!” I want to reflect the precious gem that she is.

Over the past month, three former ladies-of-the-night have been absent from our beading table. “Annie” had been with us almost a whole year. She had learned most of our jewelry designs. She had a fresh, wholesome look; she seemed more like her true 19 years. Annie was getting angry less, forgiving more, giggling often. She had new dreams and was on the way to attaining them. She had even gone back to high school. Then, her grandpa died. Her family connections were fragile, but Grandpa’s presence had been a kind of constant in her life. His death sent her into a drinking depression, and back to her pimp.

“Betty” is on vacation but called in Friday, so drunk that she did not know where she was.

“Olive” has been suspended due to her serious, unacknowledged alcoholism.

And so we mourn and are reminded that a few months of love does not change a person. Healing takes time. Change has to happen deep within—it is not like a set of new clothes, a new hair color, or a new routine.

I am sad. The sadness feels heavy, like an elephant sitting on my chest. I pray for Annie, Betty, and Olive fervently, desperately. I was reminded recently to “leave the outcome to God.” He is in the people-changing business. His plans for healing and recovery, for working all things together for good, are much wiser than I can imagine. I am trying to leave it all to Him—this is His work, His and His alone.

Last Sunday, two of these women called. They asked what time our church service began and said they were coming. I confess that I had to rehearse how I would greet them.

“Where have you been? Are you crazy? Holing up in a hotel room, drinking—what were you doing? You weren’t thinking! Wake up! Get it together!” These were the things I wanted to say. It was no accident that my devotion that morning “happened” to be about hope and grace.

May the God of your hope so fill you with all joy and peace…that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound and be overflowing (bubbling over) with hope. Romans 15:13 (Amplified)

My wayward friends slipped into the back, having shown up late. They did not sit beside my husband and me. After the service, I greeted them with hugs and kisses, warmly welcoming them with no lectures about past behavior. They inhaled the dumplings, eggs, coffee, and cake we shared. Love in action was not hard.

Every woman has to choose how she wants to live her life. She needs to take responsibility for pursuing her hopes and dreams. Nevertheless, how can she know there are possibilities when she has been beaten down all her life? How can she have any hope, if those standing around her have none?

We can be there for others; we can love them, listen to them, and pray for them. We can encourage, support, cry, and laugh with them—but we cannot change them. When a woman is doing well, I often forget the depth of her pain. I cannot understand how familiar her darkness is. When she comes to work, seems to have made a decision for new life, and is faithful and consistent for a season, I forget. I forget the torture of her past: the wounds, the giant holes of insecurity, the shame, the self -condemnation, the brokenness, the functional (albeit ugly) coping mechanisms. I forget the vastness between my world and hers. I forget how much easier it is to re-enter her familiar old life. Starting anew is hard. I forget, but God does not.

Postscript: Olive is back making jewelry this week and has committed to enter a live-in alcohol-recovery program as soon as space becomes available. His work!


© 2013 Thrive.


Question to consider: How do you remain full of hope, optimistic and life giving even when you don’t see change in the lives of those to whom you minister?