Embrace People, Not Labels

We live in a world that is often drawn to the more tragic/exciting/dramatic stories that exist. Many people receive their “5 minutes of fame,” and that often leads to one chapter labeling their life story. As I have been listening to the stories of the families we have been visiting, my heart has been flying all over the place with thoughts and feelings that evoke new emotions everyday.
I am beginning to wonder if any of these parents, kids, or nurses have a fear that they will only be known or remembered for the season of tragedy, uncertainty, or ongoing struggle they experience. Will they ever be seen for their dreams, passions, or the chapters that truly bind their entire story together? Will they ever truly be heard beyond a 6 minute video? Is their identity only found in the attention they receive from their situation?
Maybe this is why people fear becoming projects, so they shy away from admitting when they need help or support. We live in a world full of labels. People who made one mistake that maybe led them to jail receive “ex-convicts” as a label for the rest of their lives. Many who come out as depressed, alcoholic, or may have a condition, are often treated differently by their communities, feeling lost in just one aspect of themselves that seems to dictate who they are.
After interviewing the families with children awaiting a transplant, in recovery, or who even lost their baby, I have been feeling this aching that more of their stories need to be told. I don’t want these 6 minute videos to be the only time people hear their voices, I long to lock arms with them and say, “I am with you. I want to know you.”
I view people as letters from God to the world. Whether or not they believe in God, have made mistakes, or have done horrific things, God made them and put them here for a reason. Some people may lose sight of their true purpose, but we have the ability to remind each other of who we are. Everyone has a story, and that may sound cliche, but it is a deep truth we often forget as we share random gossip on the internet or between friends. We judge, label, and yell at each other, often with passive aggressive tendencies.
I once met a drunk, high homeless women on the corner of a street in Seattle. She was yelling in different voices, calling herself names and reliving what seemed to nightmares over and over and over again. Many people were avoiding her and laughing at how crazy she appeared. To be honest, she kind of scared me as I was standing at that crosswalk, but God grabbed me and turned me around asking me to touch her shoulder and look her in the eyes.
“Hi, what is your name?”
With an almost empty beer can and the smell of it escaping her breath, she slurred, “My name is Anne.”
I pressed into the Holy Spirit in this moment, wondering how I could get past the drunkenness and how high she appeared to be. I heard, Ask her about her favorite birthday.
“Anne, do you remember your favorite birthday?”
Tears welled up in her eyes as she spoke, her voice growing soft as she leaned into the memory, “Oh yes, my Papa woke me up early on birthday when I was little, before anyone else got up, and we ate breakfast together. I sat on his lap. I felt special.”
For a moment I saw a little girl trapped in a body of scars, bruises, and alcohol, riddled with replaying memories of abuse. Within seconds though, her eyes grew dark and her voice got deep as she yelled the words her father yelled at her once she got older. Anne replayed in such vivid emotion the moment a man she thought loved her held a gun to her head. Tears began to run as she went deeper into the memory. I laid my hand on her shoulder once again and prayed aloud.
We repeated this routine for at least 20 minutes: I would ask her a question about the joys she seemed to have tucked away in a box, she would remember them and smile, quickly she would relapse into one of her real-life nightmares, and I would pray out loud for her as people avoided us on the street corner.
Finally, she calmed down enough to pull pieces of tattered paper out of her backpack that had scribbled Psalms written on them. Anne explained that she wrote down parts of the Bible to remind her of God. We read them out loud together, my friend Jessika now joining me. The alcohol, drugs, and homeless labels fell as this woman was seen as a person who craved to be loved, not someone avoided, abused, and abandoned. I wanted to help her, find a way for her to get off the streets. I desperately craved for her to experience the love of Jesus in a life-changing way. Anne didn’t want to fully accept Jesus and find a way off the streets though, but that did not stop me from holding on to the promise that God saw her. She was not fully abandoned.
You see, not everyone wants to be healed or get off the streets. Maybe it is the belief that they don’t deserve it that holds them back, or maybe they are simply scared of the risk of failing or having to be vulnerable. I hate that we live in a world that has been scarred by the fear that our stories have purpose and potential. The Enemy has led many to see their lives as worthless and damaged, but we can be the open door to healing that people need. Some may reject your love, but I desire for everyone to see the value of looking someone in the eye, asking them an uprooting, life-giving question.
My pastor recently said, the first step to discipling is asking this question: “How are you doing?”
It is so easy to get wrapped up in labels, media, and the damaged parts of people, but what if we chose to go deeper? One of the beauties of life is this: loving people in simple, tangible ways leads to a more than simple life. While our fear of being seen may exist within us, a deeper need to be seen for who we are aches in our inmost being. My hope is that I can become someone who loves in a way that makes people feel safe, loved, and protected.
I believe that loving in simple yet extravagant ways leads to a story filled with chapters of adventure, joy, and grace. The stories and blogs that we read centered around trending topics changing by the hour are not a legacy, but you can be. Become a listener, a voice for the hurting, and someone who engages with a crisis in your every day life. You have the ability to speak life-giving words to a hurting world. Embrace people, not labels.

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