That's me and Roscoe-T almost 20 years ago...
I started training last Friday to become a mentor at a locally run pregnancy center here in town. (They offer counseling, parenting classes, diapers and clothing, pregnancy tests, referrals, etc.)
Life is busy right now, so when they told me they planned to offer more training after the New Year, I almost took them up on it, but then it hit me that I was never going to magically 'find' the time - I was going to have to actually 'make' it.
So I dropped the kids off at school Friday morning, grabbed an iced Mexican Mocha from Mellelo's and drove (with butterflies in my stomach) to the Medford Pregnancy Center - and as I pulled into their parking lot, I immediately (and unexpectedly) started crying.
And I couldn't quit crying.
Its a hard thing to explain, but ever since Ross was little, I've known I needed to do this.
That's 20 years of not doing something that you know you're supposed to do.
That's 20 years of carrying around my past like a piece of shameful, burdensome baggage (A pregnancy a 18, welfare, being a single-mom, a physically abusive relationship, a divorce, another pregnancy on my own, kids with multiple fathers, etc., etc., etc.) when I could have been using it help someone.
Because God has a way of turning ashes into beauty.
But for 20 years, I wouldn't let Him.
So I just sat in the parking lot and cried.
And then I called Ross (my 20 year old son) because I knew he was the only person in my world that would really 'get' it.
And then I pulled myself together and went inside.
And I continued to hold it together until we came to this part of the training:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from the darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion - to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of rightesousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. Isaiah 61; 1-3
And I've been struggling with that for days now beacuse it almost feels wrong to say that "the Spirit of the Lord is on me", or to think that God would anoint a person like me, or that anyone could ever consider a person with my past to be an "oak of righteousness."
That feels almost laughable (and the fact that it feels laughable feels humiliating and the fact that it feels humiliating makes me want to run really, really far in the opposite direction.)
Karen Russell, you're a joke.
Seriously...How can you help "bind up the brokenhearted" when you're such a mess?
But God answered that for me repeatedly yesterday (because He knows me well enough to know that I never listen the first time.)
He answered me when our pastor said, "God doesn't call on the qualified - He qualifies the called."
And He answered me again when I noticed a girl (maybe in her early 20's?) crying during the sermon at our church and went to talk to her afterwards. (I was totally embarrassed to talk to her and tried to talk myself out of it repeatedly.) She told me that she was pregnant and that she was scared because she was going to have to raise the baby on her own. So I just hugged her for a really long time and told her that I had went through two pregnancies on my own and that I really wanted to take her out to lunch this week.
And he answered me again when I heard this: "The purpose of your calling will transcend the pain of your suffering."
So I may be a joke, and my past might confirm that, but I'm going to do it anyhow.
I'm going to try to be like a strong oak for those girls at the pregnancy center, because I just can't see the point in carrying all this baggage around anymore when I could be doing something beautiful with it.
And I'm not the only one.
I got an email from a past student of mine after she read this comment on my blog:
Her email said, "I read somewhere that feeling deep empathy is God's way of telling you to do something. I'm not a religious person, nor am I even sure I'm a believer,; but I live my life with an open heart and an open mind (or so I hope.) The more I thought about Nicky's comment, the more my heart inexplicably ached and the more I thought about the analogy and how it must be true."
So my past student (who is currently unemployed) offered to give up her own seat in my upcoming January workshop so that Nicky could take it instead. (Nicky, I have no way of contacting you, so I hope you see this post and that you'll email me at email@example.com so we can set things up.)
Beauty from ashes.