by Izzy Freeman
When I came to live at the Inn, as a recent college grad, I was ready to tackle the world. Filled with an evangelical zeal I was ready to do something BIG. I wanted to move to the poorest parts of the country and put my new social work degree to the test fighting the damaging effects of poverty on children who suffer from abuse and neglect. My dreams soared now that there wasn't a classroom ceiling to keep them down in a book.
Looking back, I wouldn't say there was something terribly wrong with my naïveté, but I am so thankful my plans were intercepted. I was challenged to choose a different path. That path would involve serving at a far less glamorous and newly established church ministry called the Hillside Inn. I would be serving as an "Innkeeper," a support to the 18-30 year olds who came to find rest, healing, and growth before going into their communities better equipped and grounded than when they came. I would be serving breakfasts weekly, checking chores, leading group discussions, and figuring out how to be a responsible adult myself. This didn't sound too hard compared to what I almost had chosen and I felt guilty for taking an easy way out of my great lofty plan.
Well, that guilt rushed away when I realized how hard it is to love people. It is exasperatingly difficult to love people when one realizes how much kindness it takes to serve people who don’t care for you or don't have the capacity to treat you in the way you feel every person should be treated; how much strength is required to find the sacred in mundane things like pulling weeds and making the bed day in and day out; how much perseverance it takes to stick with your commitments even when an easier and better paying job comes along; how much humility it takes to admit when you messed up or when you take the blame for a problem that wasn't your fault in the first place. It grated against every nerve to realize I was misunderstood, judged, or disliked. I was shocked and felt humiliated when I was met with silent rejection instead of embrace. Yet, how normal are these occurrences and feelings for so many people? I thought of parents with their young toddlers or defiant teenagers. I thought of myself and would catch when I would justify being rude to someone I deemed lesser than me. Of course, one couldn’t look past Jesus Christ who was mocked, slapped, betrayed and the rest of it. He was crucified and yet still loved his killers and he told his followers to love like he did. I certainly didn’t have anyone directly trying to do mean or spiteful things to me, but it wasn’t hard to guess who was for me and who was against me.
I was painfully humbled when I proudly did something with my given authority that was actually off-track or misinformed. Bearing the weight of responsibility not only for your own choices but for how others are affected by what you did or didn't do is an incredibly heavy load to bear. It takes bravery to face your greatest insecurities head on and to keep moving forward even when you know failure is inevitable.
It takes courage to keep hope as others defame or abandon you and the work you're committed to. Throughout the years, I could have turned away sour and sullied from having been cursed out, slandered, taken for granted, unappreciated, left behind, misunderstood, betrayed, and a disappointment to others. It used to be second nature to label those individuals who hurt me as “my enemy.” I would never have admitted that they were my enemy, because people don't really use that language anymore. But when I found myself holding the very individuals I was in a position to be serving - or teammates I was working alongside - in negative regard or trying to distance my care from them, I was naturally moving them from behind allied lines to enemy lines.
Sometimes it wouldn't take much of anything for this movement to slowly take place in my heart and mind. Then when a close friend questioned my actions, I would grow defensive and feel judged because I was the victim. Does this sound familiar? I was so used to this pattern that I couldn't see it as something unhealthy or destructive. It was hard for me to recognize this as a pattern because it is what I grew up with my entire life. I grew up with passive-aggressive parenting and when you crossed into enemy lines you were extricated and given the silent treatment. Naturally, I learned the same pattern and repeated it, unconsciously causing the deep wounds and insecurity in relationship with those closest to me. Following this train of thought, eventually unresolved dispute leads to one cutting the other out of their life. I know at least three generations of family members who have disowned a sibling, a parent, a grandparent, and so on.
I was ignorant to the fact that this pattern was my normal and that it, in fact, might be my biggest mission. I couldn't ignore this as a mission since love is the greatest commandment in the Bible. I could finally understand, at least in part, what it means to "die to yourself" because the pain of loving your enemies is so great.
After my time serving at the Inn for 3 years, I learned some tools that I can utilize to love God and others every day. Loving myself enough to forgive my mistakes, face the ugliest parts of who I am with loving kindness, and valuing rest as much as productivity is honoring the God who made me. Now I can simply be and enjoy life in a more holistic way. Simply put, I learned tangibly that loving God looks like loving others and loving myself. Both take hard work and renewing each day.
Though I am still a work in progress, I am so thankful for the work done to change my life through facing catastrophe and taking a good long hard look at my actions. The transformation and growth could not have happened on my own either. Often I resort back to the "I can do it!" individualistic mantra that shows I believe I can grow and transform all by myself. The glorious truth is that I cannot change by myself, and even if I could I wouldn't want to.
I have hope that the transformation that has occurred in me very well may transform my broken family and break the pattern of drawing enemy lines in my future family. I have faith that the work of the Inn - though imperfect and often messy - is accomplishing the same work and more in the lives of people far beyond its doors.