Roseanne sits with me at Tim Hortons and begins to tell me her story. Her fear and discomfort surround us – I can feel it. She doesn’t know where to begin because there is just so much…so much pain and disappointment and loneliness. And she’s tired – heart-tired and head-tired and body-tired. And as I listen to Roseanne and watch the tears run down her face and her lip quiver, I realize she is letting me see her. And though she wants to get up and leave she sits there – raw and exposed – and shares anyway. And in that moment I let this truth wash over me: it is my honour to listen to her and my responsibility to create a safe place for her to share.
You sit beside Roseanne at church and pass her in the hallway coming from the shelter. You see her on stage talking about the Southridge Jam Company, and you will sometimes find her in the café with her women’s group. Sometimes you won’t even notice her, and sometimes you will. You will notice the ache in her eyes and the joy on her face and the hope in her voice.
She is part of our family, she is part of the Southridge heartbeat, and she is why we are all here… I once heard someone say : it would be a shame to walk through life believing that people are the sum total of what you see and I think it’s true…
Roseanne’s story is absolutely a story about addiction and recovery and falling and getting back up. It is a story about unhealthy love and long, difficult days fighting her urge to numb the pain.
But is also a story about courage and forgiveness and peace and finding a home in our community.
Her story starts out like an old movie: four brothers, her and her sister, and mom and dad in small town Fonthill. She has a whole bunch of nice childhood memories – playing and laughing and after-school routines and life. Mom and dad drink socially. The siblings join in when they’re older. Alcohol is enjoyed at family functions as a way to laugh and connect with each other.
She is close to her mother and exceptionally close to a couple of her brothers, but especially Frank. Frank understands her and looks out for her and she feels deeply loved by him. Frank is her safe place. Frank sees her.
And then one day, years later, things have changed.
The drinking feels more like numbing than it does connecting. Mom asks her to move out and doesn’t tell her why. She is deeply hurt because she feels mom chose her brother over her. Mom says horrible things to her that cut deep and make her feel like a burden. It confuses her and she doesn’t yet know that moms are called to love and protect their children, so she feels it must be her fault.
Frank gets sick in his early thirties and Rosanne watches him die a painful death. She feels herself retreat and self-protect and alcohol gives her the reprieve she needs from the ache and sadness she feels over his death.
She is alone now but she works and lives and drinks to relax and make the pain go away. She pays her bills and sees her friends every week. The months and years go by, she drinks more and more, and isn’t staying on top of her bills anymore. She wants to go home and be with her mother but her mother won’t allow it and won’t tell her why and that triggers a flood of pain. She starts to drink excessively with each new trigger. She misses being cared for and seen. She misses Frank. She is emotionally treading water and feels like she doesn’t belong anywhere.
Just before Christmas, several years ago, she gets evicted and finds herself at Southridge shelter because she has nowhere else to go.
Rosanne feels invisible, lonely, and lost; she tells me that when you don’t feel like you belong anywhere, nothing else feels ok. She cries when explains how she can’t truly rest because she doesn’t have a home, a safe place…a place where she matters.
Like Rosanne, some of us weren’t shown healthy, selfless, safe love. Some of us were taught manipulative, needy, unhealthy love. Some of us were made to feel like a burden. And so we carry the burden we are and walk through life ill-equipped and often don’t even know it, so we repeat the mistakes. And we take that unhealthy love into every relationship we enter – at home, at work, at school, at church. We don’t intend to hurt anyone, but we do; we hurt our sister and our mother and our friend and ourselves.
And while Rosanne’s story is completely unique to her, so many of us will ache with her because we know what it feels like to feel lonely, to feel invisible, to feel lost, and to numb the pain in any number of ways. Maybe, like Rosanne, it is alcohol. Or perhaps it’s spending money or filling the calendar or being emotionally closed off to people.
And unless and until someone loves us enough teach us a better way, we don’t know what we don’t know.
We are all called to love Rosanne unconditionally and expectantly. The kind of love that says “I love you just the way you are. Nothing ever changes that. Not a bad day, not a relapse, not even when you shut down. AND, I love you enough to show you what healthy love looks like and to call you to more. And I know Rosanne still struggles to see how worthy she is because when I watch her good friend, Vicky, tell her it is a privilege to know and love her, and Rosanne sobs.
And while I don’t think church communities have done a very good job of this unconditional love, you- are-good-enough-to-be-here thing, if you listen to Rosanne you will hear her say our community has gotten so much better at it; you will hear her call the people in this community her home. You will hear her say she feels loved and accepted. You will hear her talk about a bunch of people trying really hard to love each other. Yes, often fumbling through it and hurting each other….but also getting it right.
Because if it is true that Rosanne is completely loved and accepted in her insecurities and shame and brokenness…then so am I, so are you. How can it be true for her but not for you and me? It is true for all of us and that truth redefines what healthy love is, because it must.
Rosanne is our proof. She is our living, breathing reminder that we need to keep trying to love well, even when it is difficult and tiring. She is our reminder of how we need to be curious about each other. And she is our reminder to keep finding the courage it takes to allow ourselves to be seen.
Because we need each other, and that’s ok.
And yes, we are told we shouldn’t need others to affirm us or build us up; we are told we ought to find our self-worth in our creator, our god, not in each other. But what if our creator is speaking through people? What if He or She or It is using us to show each other we are loved and beautiful and enough exactly as we are?
There is a Norah Jones song lyric that says:
If I could replace
The things you gave me
If I could see my face
Without the tragedy
Then I wouldn’t need you
No, I wouldn’t need you
To love me
Those words bring tears to my eyes because isn’t it true sometimes that unless we are told and shown our “beautiful”, our “worthy”, our “more”…we often fail to see it? I can’t always see my face without my wounds and mistakes and failures. I see my broken marriage and my dysfunctional relationship with my brother and the hurt I’ve caused. Rosanne sees her mother’s rejection and her addiction and her relapse and her loneliness.
Sometimes I need to see me the way you see me. Sometimes I can’t see the wholeness you see. Sometimes I can’t even see the beautiful person God created me to be, so I need your eyes to catch a glimpse of myself, a glimpse into the worthiness and beauty you see. Maybe for years; maybe for just a moment.
And isn’t that true for all of us sometimes?
We all have moments and days and even years of more dark than light.
I have to wonder why so often our personal encounters with the divine, with our God, our Creator, come through our relationships with each other. And even as I type I am thinking about Jesus. I have struggled with my faith all my life; some days, I have more questions than answers…but I know what my heart craves. All throughout the bible there are stories of this guy who saw beauty and hope and strength and wholeness in those who couldn’t see it for themselves. If there was ever a guy that could see a face without past mistakes written all over it, it was Jesus. He knew of the brokenness, of course he did, he called it out for exactly what it was. AND, it had no bearing on the beauty he saw or the way He loved.
I cannot think of a more beautiful way to love Rosanne than to turn her face towards the mirror and say: let me tell you what I see…
~ I see fierce courage and the willingness to fall and get up again and again no matter how humiliating it is.
~ I see the beautiful way you forgive others, even when you struggle to forgive yourself for your mistakes.
~ I see you showing up in your community, again and again, investing in other people even when some days you don’t have much left to give.
~ I see the relational hurt you may never get past and I need you to know: it doesn’t change anything. I still love you.
~I see your tender heart, a heart you’re willing to show others even when the fear of being seen is almost paralyzing.
And isn’t that what healthy community is about : seeing hope and beauty and wholeness in each other when we fail to see it in ourselves?
When I look at Rosanne I see a sensitive, hurting, beautiful soul who wants to feel whole and healthy and like she matters. I see someone who is learning that love doesn’t keep you from feeling pain, but it means you aren’t alone in it.
And I will tell her what I see for as long as it takes for her to catch a glimpse of herself, to feel how deeply she matters and how she is as much a part of our heart-family as I am, and as you are. And her friends at Celebrate Recovery will tell her too as she walks into her second year of sobriety. And so will Vicky. And perhaps you will too.
There is no prerequisite to belong here, you just do. There is no prerequisite to be loved, you just are.
It just is.
And even when you don’t feel it or see it, it is still true: you belong here and you are wildly loved. Nothing changes that.
Rosanne’s story was written by her friend Cate Moore. This story is a great representation of the heartbeat of our community, that everyone belongs and that everyone is loved, just as we are. The truth is, sometimes we all feel like Rosanne in this story: that we want to hide or that we’re overlooked or that we’re just too broken to fit in. But at the same time, like Cate, who wrote this story, we all have the responsibility to see others who might want to hide, or feel overlooked, or think they’re just too broken to fit in. All of us are Rosanne, but all of us are also Cate.
We all belong.
We all are loved.
It just is.