It was just another Sunday evening when I was in a room with a dozen counselors answering hundreds of calls coming in from people hurting and not knowing what else to do.
“Crisis line, this is Amanda. How may I help you?”
Starting in January 2015, I spent two nights each week that year as a “crisis intervention clinician” which is fancy speak for being a crisis response counselor.
[krahy-seez]: Latin: 1375 A.D.
- point in a story at which hostile elements are most tensely opposed to each other.
Sometimes, their crisis was deciding whether to live or die, whether to stay with him or leave and report their injuries, whether to go through with the pregnancy or not. Sometimes they were looking for a place to sleep that night or some food they wouldn’t have to steal and sell their dignity for.
Sometimes, their crisis was needing to hear someone say, “I hear you. I’m here.” And the only way they knew to hear it was to call our line.
More often than not, there were lots of crisis moments leading up to the moment they decided to give us call. There was the moment they visited the church to see if someone would notice (they didn’t) and that moment they smiled at the person on the sidewalk and that person scowled back, that moment they tried calling their brother and he didn’t pick up, the moment the all the kids at school declared them “other”. These are the moments
What I heard was that someone’s day was easily shaped by a smile, a kind word, someone taking the time to really hear them to see them.
We don’t realize how often things really are life or death.
During the winter of that year my other job as a counselor in a private practice finds me fielding the phone call every counselor dreads. I needed to go a hospital for children because a child is considering whether to choose life or death. In her eyes, death doesn’t look as bad as life does. She and I discuss a safety plan and a life worth living between conversations about her needing new chap stick and stressing about the homework she was missing. She confessed this desire to end it all was mostly about wanting her parents to see her, to love her for who she is and not who they want her to be. She was serious about taking her life, but would have traded it all to have a conversation with her dad where no one yells.
In a way, words had driven this girl to where we were. Words and the lack thereof. The hospital was there to keep her safe from herself. And words were her way out. She has to say she won’t do it. She could simply speak against death. She merely had to say she’d “follow up with her treatment plan”.
And as all the words were said, I looked up and there were butterflies painted on the ceiling tiles.
Life and death were hanging in the balance. In a children’s hospital. Under butterfly tiles.
Proverbs 18 says, “The tongue has the power of life and death” and boy is that true!
But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.
:: Matthew 12:36 ::
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.
:: James 1:19 ::
Anxiety weighs down the heart,
but a kind word cheers it up.:: Proverbs 12:25 ::Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.:: Colossians 4:6 ::Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips.:: Psalm 141:3 ::Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.:: Ephesians 4:29 ::
I think it’s no small thing that the Lord is known by the name, “The WORD of God”, that the Word says “In the beginning was the Word” and that the Word SPOKE creation into beginning when it could have gone down any kind of way He chose. He chose to create all things by using His words. He will bring all things to a glorious close by the word of his mouth. Words are significant to the God who created you and me.
We are created in the image of God and speak to those created in His image. No word is too small to matter. Whether our words are spoken on stages or in living rooms, conference rooms or college dorms…they hold weight. They are either forming us into the image of Christ or belittling His image in others or in ourselves.
Eugene Peterson once said,
“The metaphors Jesus used for the life of ministry are frequently images of the single, the small, and the quiet, which have effects far in excess of their appearance: salt, leaven, seed. Our culture publicizes the opposite emphasis: the big, the multitudinous, the noisy.”
We may believe the everyday way we spend our time, who we choose to smile at, which words we choose to say and which we don’t, are all just little insignificant things…ordinary.
It is ingrained in us that we have to do exceptional things for God—but we do not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy on the ordinary streets, among ordinary people—and this is not learned in five minutes.
:: Oswald Chambers ::
These moments or ordinary life are points of collision for souls whose ideas about life or death are being shaped in every moment. Some are approaching the tipping point with each passing day and some of those people are you reading this. When was the last time you really felt like someone heard you, really heard you? When is the last time you really listened to someone else?
Looking back on those crisis calls and that first time in a children’s hospital with a suicidal girl…and every difficult “Visitor’s Pass” clad arrival to a hospital since….there are moments of crisis that don’t just spring up on a random Tuesday. These are mountains of hurt on top of each other that were built one stone at a time. Words said or unsaid. Words heard or unheard. The good news is that we can be part of lifting the weight off by choosing our words with the precision they deserve and with taking the minutes we have to hear someone with no agenda but to hear them.
The little girl under those butterfly tiles is about to be marking two years since that day and has put in a ton of work to get where she is. Her fight isn’t over yet, but there is hope with each day that passes. She just ROCKED out her college entrance exams!
My pastor says, “Every miracle begins with a problem.” The way I see it, there are front row seats to miracles all around us if we take the time to see them and listen.