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It’s not hard to write stories about the infectious grace of God. Sometimes, they just roll off the tongue (or the keyboard) as quickly as the words can be formed. It’s not hard to share stories with you about grand moments of redemption and epiphany—when all the circumstances of our ministry seem to click together for an instant and the Kingdom appears in an unexpected place. Those moments begin becoming stories to tell and retell even while the last sounds of laughter and joy echo off the walls. It’s not hard to update you on the ministry of folks like Bruce and Ben (who officially comes on staff at Third Chance Ministries today!) or Tracy and Laura. As I write those stories, it feels like I get to introduce you to some of my dearest friends and tell you why they are spectacular and I am so incredibly blessed to be among them and serving alongside them.
Those moments when it seems that success sours and a beloved sister or brother who has struggled and fought with addiction relapses and takes up their chains again don’t flow easily from a pen. When a dear one dies—whether from cancer or a tragic accident—it’s not easy to find words to lift up over them as we grieve and mourn our loss and wonder aloud with the Church how long Jesus will tarry. It’s hard to tell about those moments when promise and potential melt away like morning fog to leave only loss, poverty, and failure on the ground before us where moments ago we were so confident we would soon see the pillars of the Kingdom of God standing resolutely. In short, we’re still learning how to hold out hope when it feels that the darkness presses in tighter with each shaky breath.
It takes a far greater storyteller than me to tell the hard stories in a way that still speaks powerfully of God’s great mercy and providence in our lives. Over nearly four years of being an intentional Christian community of mission and hospitality, Grace and Main Fellowship has been cut to the quick time and again by the hard edges of the circumstance in which we have invested ourselves. Living where Grace and Main has chosen to live means actively participating in sad stories that do not always resolve to anybody’s satisfaction—for every story of the grace triumphant, we can tell several stories of redemption delayed or aborted. Building relationships like we do means returning again to the shaky hesitation of vulnerability, self-disclosure, and the practice of hospitality, always knowing that the price of these essential elements may very well be pain and suffering. When a brother chooses a life of homelessness and addiction over hospitality and sobriety, it is no easier to watch him suffer simply because he chose it—not when you’ve shared your table and your life with him.
Simply put, not all of the stories are “good” stories, but all the stories need to be told. The good and the bad? The easy and the challenging? The hopeful and the despairing? They’re all wrapped up together in doing ministry in hard places. Neither living in community nor the Kingdom of God is solely about the good times and the inspiring moments. No, sometimes it’s about those moments sharp as a razor and hard as a stone that teach you to depend even more on those to whom you have committed and to the God whom you stumble after in the dark.
But, here’s the Gospel that hides in those dark places:
It shall not always be this way.
Love has won the battle at the cross and death is on the run.
Addiction cannot hold God’s beloved children forever
and even sin itself will one day be forced to release its captives.
Fear will be brought to an end
and suffering will be unwritten.
Our God is Love and is working a wonder over this broken world.
There are stories that are hard to tell,
but there remains a single shard of hope in even the darkest of stories–
God’s not done telling them.