Trending Topic: #FixMyLife
You’re in Richlands, Virginia—a poor, rural town near West Virginia, squeezed into the soggy cracks of the Appalachian Mountains. For some reason, you’ve wandered into a trailer park—perhaps you’re knocking on doors and sharing the Gospel. You walk up to an especially-run-down trailer. The siding—what little is left of it—is falling out, exposing rotting wood and insulation. You’re worried you’re going to break down the door when you knock on it. The whole structure seems to be sagging—and inside, you can’t help but assume the lives of its occupants are sagging as well, sliding ever closer to utter ruin and hopelessness.
The door opens to confirm your hypothesis. There’s a lady who seems to be about middle-aged—but her haggard face and graying hair suggest that she’s either older or has been through a lot. You hear two young kids yelling inside. A brief glimpse of the interior shows a man lying on a ragged couch, drooling and holding a beer bottle. There’s smashed glass all around—and the lady shows signs of bruises and cuts.
You would assume this lady has had a hard life. That she grew up in a rough home, never got off the ground, got attached to an abusive husband, and is struggling to make ends-meet. Maybe she has an addiction problem. Or is just flat-out lazy and unmotivated. Well, some of that is true—except this lady did get off the ground. Quite far, actually.
A bronze metalist at the Olympic Games in Calgary in 1988. The first African-American athlete to win a metal at the Winter Games. A legendary figure-skater—history-making, talented, beloved by fans and her country. Not only that, but graduated as a pre-med student at Stanford. She went on to medical school and became an orthopedic surgeon, beginning a practice in that miner’s town of Richlands. Her name is Debi Thomas.
But then she lost everything. She got two divorces. She lost custody of her only son. She lost her practice and is completely broke. Unemployed. Living with her alcoholic (with anger-management issues) fiancé and his two children in a bed-bug-infested trailer. Her story started trending this week, since it was featured on the Oprah Winfrey Network in a show entitled “Fix My Life” with life coach Iyanla Vanzant.
Looks can be deceiving. It’s so easy to judge someone based on outward characteristics. If you didn’t know this story and stumbled upon Debi, you would probably not have a very good impression of her. She lives in the “ghetto.” She has “problems.”
“She stinks—she’s a wreck—she needs therapy. Stay away from me. Not my problem…”
I have a problem with saying people “are not my problem.” I tend to get so easily annoyed at others. Upset at what I perceive as social awkwardness, annoying habits, or downright ungodly lifestyles. There’s a lot of people in this world that get on my nerves. That disgust me. That I just wish would leave me alone—or I would never have to meet! People on the streets of downtown who ask me for money—filthy people. People at college who always have to state their opinions—irritating people. People who interrupt, misunderstand, falsely accuse, annoy, burden, and otherwise seem to me to be an entire waste of time. People who have problems!
But I AM THE ONE WHO HAS THE PROBLEM!
I am not seeing people as Christ sees them. I’ve been so convicted of this recently. I see people as obstacles to avoid. But then I hear their story—stories of hard childhoods, abusive or nonexistent parents, a lack of funds, divorce, scandal, and false accusations. Everyone has a story! I have learned that lesson thousands of times—because I forget it so easily! I judge people—but then I hear their stories and feel bad. Oops. I misjudged them. I was too harsh. I didn’t know you went through all that! But then I go right back to seeing them—and all the rest of the mass of humanity—as just obstacles.
Christ did not see people that way—even when they were literally obstacles in His path. Mark 5 records my favorite miracle. Christ was approached by an important guy—Jairus, ruler of a synagogue. He asked Jesus to come and heal his daughter. And Jesus said yes. But on the way, some random woman—an unimportant, defiled woman—had the audacity to get in His way to touch His garment. How rude! What an obstacle! Jesus had to stop going to meet the urgent need of an important person to find out who dared to touch Him! Then He reprimanded her sharply and continued on His way, feeling so incredibly annoyed.
Oh wait. That’s not how the story goes! He asks who touched Him, and the woman comes and falls before Him, telling Him the truth. “It was me—I touched you! So sorry! I know you’re busy, but I just hoped I could, you know—”
Jesus doesn’t look annoyed. He gives a look of kindness and compassion. “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
You see, Jesus knew this woman’s story. He knew she had struggled for twelve years with an internal bleeding. She had tried to find healing—only to be made worse under all the physicians’ best treatments. Worse yet, she had spent all her money in the process! Her last hope was to try to touch the garment of the healer. And all it took was one touch—and a bit of faith!
Jesus responded the same way with everyone He came in contact with. He didn’t flinch at the leper—but touched him! He didn’t get annoyed when five thousand (plus) people interrupted His vacation—He fed them! He didn’t get repulsed by a Samaritan adulteress—He shared the Gospel with her! He didn’t accuse the man born blind of sin—He gave him sight! He didn’t pull His feet away from the harlot who washed them—He forgave her! He didn’t criticize the paralytic for his roof-destroying antics—He sent him out walking! The examples are endless!
Now, Jesus did have an advantage—He was omniscient and knew all their stories. He knew every ounce of their pain. He felt their suffering—and would die for it!
But we still don’t have an excuse. Sure, we may not know that homeless person’s story. They could be a con. They could be a lazy alcoholic. But we won’t know until we ask! Sure, we don’t know why that person is so annoying. They may just be jerks! But we won’t know until we ask! And we might be surprised at what we hear…
Everyone has a story. Even Jesus. His ignominious, “illegitimate” birth. His poor upbringing. His obscure heritage. If you had met Jesus as a carpenter in Nazareth, would you have perceived Him as just an obstacle? I fear that I probably would’ve!
But if we change our perspectives—if we see these people as souls not stress factors—then we can take up the mind of the Savior. The compassion of Christ. And that will make a difference in how we perceive the obstacles—er, rather the SOULS—we come in contact with every day.
Next time you’re at the front door of a trailer, think to yourself: this could be the home of an Olympic metalist. Better yet, this is the home of a soul for whom Christ died.