The Courage to Show Up

I shared a few Sundays ago about a miraculous encounter I had with a teenage girl, I shall call K, who is in the foster care system. Entirely designed by God’s wild imagination, we spent an evening getting to know one another through sharing a meal and shopping together. I had no idea what the future was going to hold for our relationship or if K would want to get together again, but I was hopeful. I was also encouraged: God was moving, God was using me to show his love to her. I was also anxious. My background is in counseling and I had red flags flying like crazy as I listened to her heartbreaking story told with a flippant detachment. I was not naive. I could sense the anger and distrust boiling just beneath her friendly exterior. Despite our magical introduction, I was not fooled into thinking anything about this relationship was going to be safe or easy. It pretty much sounded exactly like the kind of thing God would call me into. God was inviting me (for the millionth time) into obedience and trust.

Almost two months later, I am continuing to pursue a relationship with K and she is still wanting to get together with me. But it has been difficult. I’m not sure if it’s because she is more comfortable with me or if she is testing me but her vocabulary has changed since that first evening we met. She has also begun to speak quite loudly. We were sitting at a crowded Noodles for lunch (note to self: do not take her to lunch over the lunch hour) and she’s quite suddenly ranting about LGBT issues, race issues, and (why not?) religious issues in the way that only an angry, hormonal teenager can. As she ranted, I realized my shoulders were up to my ears, body tense, eyes darting like a crazy person, waiting for someone to come up and ask her (us) to quiet down or to please just stop saying those ridiculous, inappropriate things. I was so out of my comfort zone it was laughable…except for the fact it wasn’t. Just when I was ready to respond she started dropping the f-bomb like a you-know-what. And again with the loud talking and I’m sitting there wondering why I am there and just what God has gotten me into and how in the world I am supposed to offer anything to this broken, hurt, angry kid.

She initiated getting together again yesterday. Most of me did not want to get together, but I continue to remember (remember, remember) how we met and how I believe our meeting was a divine setup and how I know in my heart God is teaching me something big (albeit uncomfortable and a teeny bit scary) through her. I am bummed to report pretty much the same loud, profanity-laden scenario happened at Panera.(The one time I’m grateful most everyone is plugged into their laptops/iphones with earbuds. Thank you modern technology!) I knew then that I was going to have to say something but I just didn’t know what. Which led me to the realization that I know God is calling me to love her but I just don’t know how. As I wrestled with all of this, feeling a bit hopeless and weary, I heard an answer like a sigh in my heart: Just show up.

In life’s hard times, showing up is often the bravest thing we can do, and the only thing we can do. Showing up with an open, vulnerable heart is even braver. (Sometimes I think it’s just plain crazy, but I’m pretty sure God’s into crazy just as much as he’s into brave.) I truly don’t know what else to do right now for this broken girl other than show up and be me. The me that will have to address the profanity, the me that will continue to tear up when she callously shares her stories, the me that asks her over and over again about college applications, the me that will remind her, even at the risk of ridicule, that God loves her, sees her, delights in her. Isn’t that what so many of us are really longing for? Someone to show up and be with just us and to remind us of who we really are. And in this seemingly simple act letting another human being know I see you, I care, I am here for you, even when it gets messy and hard…showing up can be a powerful, beautiful gift.

Last night I prayed the Lenten prayer our family and church community are praying together, these words were especially meaningful: “Remind me of the opportunities you gave me to join in your work in the world and people around me, I praise you for these opportunities whether I experienced them as fruitful or not.” I was mostly (okay, entirely) relieved when I dropped K off after our meeting. I did not see our time as fruitful. I did not enjoy our time together. I was thrown off by new things she shared and deeply saddened by some of the decisions she’s making. I was pretty sure I had offered very little to her that day as I sat across from her, wincing inside at every little thing, and the counselor in me internally waving red warning flags like a mad woman. I realized in praying that prayer that what J does not have, has maybe never had, is someone who shows up. Not her mother. Not her father. She has lived a life full of the message that she is not worth showing up for. Which translates into the most cunning of lies: she is not worthy of being loved.  Today I praise God for the opportunity to show up in K’s life, whether I experience our meetings as fruitful or not. For now, showing up is enough. Showing up is everything.