You Belong Here.

7b37a8709d1fdacd845ef86aafd65cf3Within a week, I have had three teens on my caseload, in one way or another, contemplate or make attempts at harming themselves or even ending their lives.

The story they tell themselves is that, somehow, their friends or family would be better off without them. This is the furthest from the truth, and yet many convince themselves that coping with life and all it’s challenges is just too much. Not to mention the implications of adding depression, trauma, anxiety, or other mental health challenges.

I encouraged one young man with this: it is time to change his narrative of himself. Due to a history of trauma, he did not get to this place all by himself. He certainly is not alone, no matter how isolated he may feel in this moment. Sometimes we need to change the narrative of what we are telling ourselves and what we perceive others are telling us.

This morning, Ez and I were watching “The Book of Life”. It is an artistic and colorful film with both lighthearted and heavy themes. When the hero feels he has lost everything, including the woman he loves, he is pictured in the middle of an empty arena with his guitar singing a rendition of “Creep” by Radiohead.

Instinctively, I began singing along: “I’m a creep. I’m a weirdo. What am I doing here? I don’t belong here.”

Ezra interrupts and says, “What?! You DO belong here…and I belong here.” I stopped singing and we exchanged hugs, tickles and giggles with words affirming one another’s belonging.

I love the simple wisdom that comes from the mouths of children. They often don’t realize the power of their observations and words.

Friends,
You DO belong here.
I belong here.
We belong.

Reach out to someone today and remind them:

YOU BELONG HERE.

An R-Rated Lament

Hey Wordress. It’s been a while. Four months, to be exact. How is it that we meet more frequently at the crux of uncertainty and loss? Can we not dialogue when everything is peachy and life smells like roses? Or must we only dance when life smells more of fresh sweat, blood, and dirty tears. Is that not what fertilizer is? The dung from livestock to feed the new grass the livestock feed on? Perhaps I am destined to meet my wordy friend at the crossroads of when things are in question, obscure, and less certain.

We made it through another year with a rocky finish and surprising beginning. I typically try not to dance around metaphors and share more candidly, but, for now, I will keep things more vague.

I am appreciative of the reality of life never seeming to make sense to anyone at any particular age. If, in fact, it does make sense, you never hear someone say it reaches a point of being easy. I guess life would not be life without all the fertilizer. Grass is really never greener on the other side. We never arrive this side of forever. But we do have a choice to lift our heads and face the Maker of all the wonder. We may not find our answers to the most painful and delicate questions in stars, in words or human life form, but in the One who holds all those things. – The One, I am told, makes all things new. When, I cry, when? When will all things be new? Tomorrow? The day after that or the one after? How long do we toil with the darkness of humanity and question?

Grace. Grace and Hope are here. In the present, while we wait for the New. For the New we may never see in our lifetime, but there is always Grace. And there is always Hope. And, there are moments we find Faith and encounter Love. Although, those two can be deceptive and interment. Like a good wine, they, too, can wreak havoc on your soul.

“Young lovers”, the psalmist writes, “do not awaken love, before she is ready.” But when, I ask. When will love be ready? Who gets to decide this? The One I trusted with my life and love, allowed it to be taken from me. So how do I trust? How do I trust I will ever be ready to love again? And if I am, how do I let go and trust it will not be taken again?

My soul waits, but rather impatiently. I did not ask for this, I say. But care not, it seems, this Maker of all things. My soul waits.

And so I lift my cup to all that is good and hope that love lightens my door again. Today I choose to be the victor over the victim of my circumstances, and dare to live again. With Grace, I will chase after Hope, Faith and Love with tenacity in all of their tumultuous fervor. I will strive to not get too lost in all of their bewilderment. I will strive to listen for guidance on where to step, to proceed or step back. I will search for light to illuminate the steps, but, God, help my mind not to over analyze and fuck it all up.

And so, Life, we meet again.

Finding My Tribe

feet

Tonight I took a huge step into scary, yet familiar territory. It feels extremely vulnerable and awkward. It has been a long time since I have actively sought after community in this way. I suppose, after six months of living in a new city, I am trying to reach out and find a safe place to walk with others on their faith journey while diving into deep conversations surrounding grief, loss, codepency, boundaries and mending the soul. Stepping into this place of vulnerably feels nearly as scary as those who dared to find and step into the passage to The Upside Down to find their lost loved one in Stranger Things – only a little less science fiction and a little more horrifying.

Being human takes work – a lot of work. Acknowledging brokenness and a need for wholehearted living is part of the battle, while reaching out for a community to walk through the healing journey with takes an extra amount of guts. I am not trying to pat myself on the back as much as recognize how difficult it is to take another swing at life when it seems as though your team has turned against you and you have already struck out.

Tonight I sat uncomfortably in a pew listening to Ben talk about this gathering called Refuge at Imago Dei Community, and I wanted to dart.I knew exactly where the exit doors were just in case. If it were not for my girlfriend holding my arm, there is a good chance I would have walked out. I love the cultivation of community so much. At least the idea of community is something I am familiar with. Perhaps I have become more accustomed to people coming and going – as if my circle of relationships was more like a terminal than a village or tribe. I have been a part of the beginning and ending of community, and the exciting blossoming and death of relationships. I am good, for now, and the idea of something new scares the shit out of me, to be completely honest.

This last year I took a risk by moving away from my home town for a new job, and a fresh start. One of my clients phrased it well when she described her longing for her “tribe” to gather in her home and doing life together. This was while creating her family vision. I remember thinking how much I loved her use of the word, and the historical and beautiful depiction it holds.

There have been seasons in my life where I have felt a sense of belonging to a community, a tribe; and others where I have felt disconnected and alone. After each season, some shorter than others, would come and pass, I have become more reluctant to engage. Engaging in community requires the letting down of one’s guard – becoming vulnerable. Being vulnerable allows others to see all of you in your glory and not-so glorious state – you failings and shortcomings. Becoming vulnerable can feel as intimidating as holding a magnifying glass over your weaknesses, for others to see. Finding a new tribe can feel similar, which is most likely why I have been so reluctant.

But tonight, I believe, is different. Having walked through so much crud than ever before, I am willing to take another chance at the bat of finding my place in a community – post divorce and raw as ever. Is it possible I have found the workings of what could become a part of the making of my tribe? Can I find a place of safety to work through such places of pain and loss with a group of others? Is it worth the risk? With a pounding heart and sweaty palms, I say “yes” to the hope of new relationships and the possibility of finding my tribe. Yes to cultivating community when it would be so much easier in the moment to find a rhythm of work and life without the mess. Perhaps it is the mess which makes our lives more colorful and the struggle which makes us more creative. Maybe the more open and vulnerable we become the more of a safe place we create for others who are also impacted by the pains of life.

Tonight I stepped into a messy group of people reaching out with one hand and the other guarding my heart. Could there be life here? Could this be my tribe? Is it possible to find community once again? I will never know unless I try. Tonight I took a risk to find my tribe, and I am so terrifyingly glad I did.

The World Goes On

 

 

I, like many, struggle with learning natural lessons from being human. Every time I am reminded of my limitations or fail at meeting my own or others expectations, it is a relatively painful lesson worth learning. I have chosen to elaborate on a poem from Mary Oliver. Her writing, among others, has been such a source of strength and encouragement to me these last few months.

“WILD GEESE”
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

So much energy is devoted to being good. Whether one is religious or just striving to be a decent person, no one wants their actions to be scrutinized and wants to be thought of as “good.” There is so much freedom in this poem to take the pressure off of perfectionists and people pleasers, like myself. It is not saying that one should not strive to do good to others, but simply to say one should not need to “walk on your knees” throughout life. For me, I have strived very hard to please others and make it my responsibility to make and keep them happy. When unsuccessful, I would strive harder or think there must be something wrong with me which makes the other person not pleased. I have gone so far as being abandoned by the ones I have walked on my knees for. As one who has suffered much grief and loss, I find hope and great inspiration by the phrase, “the world goes on”. It does friends. It really does. Life goes on. The earth continues spinning, and love is still what makes it go around. I take a deep breath and exhale as I write this essay, imagining a spring hike after a long, cold and dark winter. The flowers will bloom again. The birds will sing and the sun will shine to usher in warmth and healing.

I have sat with individuals and families who have been distraught after having their children taken into custody of the state. While the circumstances presented rightful cause, the devastation of a parent doing the best they can with the tools they have been given – coupled with the defeat that their best is not good enough –can  be debilitating. The pain and fear can be paralyzing. I have been blessed with the opportunity to sit in grief with such individuals, helped assess the rubble, provide a hand-up and walk them through the steps of self-sufficiency and eventual reunification. Not every family is capable of staying the course. Empathy is necessary in such situations and there is little room for judgment, when one is already so harsh on themselves.

I have been amazed at the human capacity to be resilient. Resilience is such an incredible attribute which, I believe, means so much more than getting back on the horse. Sometimes human resiliency is recognizing no matter how many times you get on the horse, riding the horse is not what you were cut out for in the first place. Sometimes resiliency is not just the tenacity of not giving up, but the ability to recognize when it is time to do something completely different. It is okay to not ride the horse if riding the horse is not your thing. Skip, jump, dance or ride the bus – but one way or another, we will get there. Perhaps resiliency is more about acknowledging our limitations, facing resistance and choosing to live life in the fullest whether we choose to get back on or take a different approach altogether.

My son, who just turned six, used to have meltdowns over the littlest things. When children react with so much emotion on the outside, I am reminded of how often I feel the same way on the inside. Sometimes getting older and becoming more “mature” is simply learning how to conceal real feelings and express them in a more socially acceptable way. But what I would give to have a full on tantrum sometimes. The author’s words remind me of the importance of sitting with my child in his struggle and inquiring of his concerns. Other times it is important to model the value of trying again. Regardless of the outcome – whether he becomes a star soccer player or gets is shoes on the right feet every time – perhaps the most important learning experience is understanding that he is not going to get it right every time, and that is absolutely okay.

This morning, we had breakfast at Slappy Cakes in SE Portland. Each table comes with its own griddle and the customers get to make their own pancakes and pay ten times as much as making pancakes at home. Sometimes the experience is worth the price. We experimented making all sorts of crazy shapes and images. None of our cakes came out perfect, and I have learned to be completely alright with that. As we were leaving, I could not help but notice the family seated right next to us who were just beginning to make their own pancakes. Each of their pancakes was a perfect circle and all I could think about was messing it up for them. I was already bothered by the micromanagement parenting of their child and the fact that everything about their outward image, hair, and clothing were perfect. To me, it was perfectly annoying. Remembering a scene in “Away We Go” – with John Krasinski (Burt) and Maggie Gyllenhaal (LN)– when Burt took LN’s toddler for a spin in a stroller around the house to prove a point about LN’s ridiculous parenting standards. While walking past this family’s table, I wanted to squirt batter all over their griddle and put their kid in a stroller and run around the restaurant in absolute fun-filled chaos. I wanted to mess up their hair and shout “You do not have to be perfect to be loved or liked! It is okay to make mistakes! The sun still shines! The world goes on!” Of course, I did not act outwardly upon my impulse, but so much desired to express that life is so much more fulfilling when perfection is not the primary goal.

Some folks naturally live out the poetic expression of the Wild Geese, as Oliver depicts. Others of us have experienced painful events and come to a place of brokenness, only to come to a place of freedom. Freedom from lonely, isolating, and inhibiting boundaries and unrealistic expectations is necessary to a more fulfilling life. Freedom from striving to be what we are not. We do not have to walk throughout life on our knees, my friends. We do not need to grovel for being human. Acknowledge and repent for sins done to others, indeed. But we do not have to stay there.

In Daring Greatly, author Brene Brown beautifully describes the difference between living in shame and feeling guilty. Shame says we are a shameful person while feeling guilty is a passing emotion which can motivate us to make things right. Shame keeps us in one place feeling like dung, while guilt can motivate us to move forward.

One of my favorite songs is “ I Have Made Mistakes” by The Oh Hellos. There is a line which resonates with me each time I hear it: “I have made mistakes, but I have learned from them.” The chorus continues, “The sun it does not cause us to grow, it is the rain that will strengthen our soul, it will make you whole.”

Human resiliency is about empathy and an acceptance of imperfection. It is recognizing the world still “goes on”, and the need to love ourselves and the space we find ourselves in. While life is unpredictable, the struggle is impossible to avoid. Living according to our own expectations or others is unfulfilling and can dampen hopes and dreams. I am convinced that living free and breathing deeply during trials is closer to the journey towards goodness than striving for perfection and walking on our knees.

 

Works Cited

Oliver, Mary. “Wild Geese.” Dream Work. Berkeley: Black Oak, 1993. N. pag. Print.

Away We Go – Trailer. Dir. Sam Mendes. Perf. John Krasinski, Maggie Gyylanhaal. 2009. Film.

Brown, Brené. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York, NY: Gotham, 2012. Print.

The Oh Hellos. Through the Deep, Dark Valley. 2012. CD.

 

This Beautiful Mess

As I survey the wreckage of unpacking, items not being where they belong, and piles of dirty laundry already forming in my new place, I think to myself how much of a slob my new housemate must think I must be. I remember a time in my life where things were more simple. I had fewer belongings, less responsibilities and more time to keep my stuff together. This townhouse is slightly larger than the apartment I moved from, and yet not everything has found its place as of yet. While I sit in my anxiety wondering when this place will be rid of boxes, beds will be made, laundry caught up and things where they “belong”, a small voice whispers “you’re enough”. The extra “clutter” reminds me of another person in my life. One who has been with me through life’s darkest moments. In the very moment of feeling overwhelmed I am gently reminded of this child who has my heart. My son whom I am honored to care for. I will take this beautiful mess.

A Love Warrior Stays in the Arena

I recently read this post by Glennon Doyle: “Marriage, Divorce, and Redemption”. She is a great author and speaker. I love most everything I read from her blog posts. The following is something I recently wrote in response to one of her recent posts. It hit really close to home for me, and I am not completely sure I agreed with her post. I wrote this as if I were writing to her in response, even if my words never reach her eyes. This is an effort for me to be more vulnerable and contribute to a larger conversation on love, relationships and divorce.

Dear Glennon,

I love most everything I read of yours. I so appreciate the transparency and grace you extend to your readers no matter where they are in life.

A few months ago, while walking through a painful divorce, I wrote “Love Not Wasted“. When I read this quote from your recent post about the Love Warrior and marriage, It took me back to that place I was struggling to understand what the hell was happening in my life.

A few days ago, I was reading the introduction to Rising Strong, by Brene Brown. She referenced the quote from Roosevelt which she elaborated on in her book, Daring Greatly.

daring greatlyThis book and her Ted talks were powerful tools for me two years ago when stuff initially hit the fan in my marriage. In our case, nobody cheated, physically. When I was reading the introduction to Rising Strong, the image of being in the arena triggered me and I had a complete emotional meltdown. I know that it is difficult in our society to picture a man having the capacity of expressing vulnerable emotions, but I am not much for stereotypes. I am not afraid to admit my ability to have a good ol’ ugly cry.  The meltdown was triggered by an image of a dark arena and I was in the arena flat on my face. I had been mentally and emotionally beaten down to physical exhaustion in my marriage. In my marriage, I felt I was never “enough”.

Please don’t get me wrong, these last several months of healing have helped me discover a confidence I have never experienced. One which says, “I am a damn good father” and “I was a damn good husband.” Human? Yes. Full of flaws? No doubt. But I can confidently say I laid my life down for my spouse, sacrificed greatly, and was loyal to a fault.

flat on my faceBack to the image. I was laying flat on my face in an empty arena and everything happened in slow motion. Brene took me to the place of slowing down and feeling what I felt in that moment. In this dark, cold arena, where I had been beaten down, I finally mustered the strength to look up to see where my partner was. No one was there. I was left alone to fight this battle and do the work on my own. No closure. No validation. No effort. No words.

I recently read your post about Love Warriors who choose to stay in a marriage and those who leave. I tried really hard to understand what you are saying. I have become painfully aware that sometimes divorce is the best thing. While there is no benefit to self inflicted shame or insult to injury, I have come to believe it is important to do the work and stay in the arena as much as possible. Fight or flight, shaming, black and white, projecting and silence treatments are not character traits of a Love Warrior. A Love Warrior does the work of figuring out where those responses come from and are willing to take the path of healing and even reconciliation, when at all possible. I am honestly struggling to consider someone refusing counseling, and coldly turning their back with no explanation or conversation a “warrior”. Your writing suggests otherwise.

I struggle when individuals who refuse to do the work will click and share articles like the one you wrote as a public validation of their actions. As though they should be applauded for leaving their loving spouse in their tracks. Doing the work is what makes someone a warrior. You did the work and you are a warrior. Your sister did the work and discovered leaving was the best thing for her. But I imagine you both did the work and did not just walk away. Unless you have been the one being left with immense rejection and no reasoning whatsoever, it is impossible to speak directly to someone in my situation.

I think you and I can agree that each person who can muster the strength each morning to get up and face another day is a warrior. But walking away from someone, leaving them in the dust and showing blatant inconsideration and disrespect for another human being, is not being a “Love Warrior”, in my personal opinion or experience.

Obviously, I am writing this as one broken human who is still walking through the process of healing. Yours and your sister’s experiences are your experiences and nobody can change those stories of what either of you have had to walk through. I am cautious, however, when I read writings from people who can take their personal experience and project it onto others as though that is their reality too. Every marriage and divorce is different and I feel there is a danger on putting one blanket over every situation as if everyone is a warrior, even when they do give up. Does love cover a multitude of sins? Yes! Is grace for everyone? Yes! Are we all simply doing the best we can? Yes!

My concern is when someone like you, who is very influential, utilizes their platform to say everyone is in the right, you might be helping some of your readers to gloss over the real work that needs to be done by permitting them to leave without doing the work or giving the other person the benefit of an explanation or closure. I know that relationships are not about who is right or wrong and each of us are doing the best we can. My fear in reading the entirety of your post is I feel it was missing a key component of encouraging each person to own their own stuff and do the work necessary so as not to destroy another person or relationship.

In the last few months I have learned I am more than a casualty. I deserve to be fought for, just like I was willing to and did fight for my spouse and our union. I attended counseling. Alone. I worked towards reconciliation. Alone. I was left in the arena to fight…ALONE. With all due respect, a Love Warrior does not do that to another person. You become a warrior when you are willing to stick it out and do the work. If leaving is the best option, you still have work to do, but you do not treat another person the way I was treated and left to heal alone.

Perhaps I missed your entire reasoning for writing what you wrote and would be willing to continue this conversation. As I mentioned earlier, I appreciate most of what you write and trust my response to your article will not be received as anything but an opportunity to look at another side of the coin. Your story is your story. It is not my place or intent to change your belief based on your experience. But I do not believe it is beneficial to overgeneralize and categorize everyone as a Love Warrior when some people just leave and give up without showing decency to another human being. I would be happy to hear your thoughts.

Sincerely,

Jonathan Hankins

 

Why I HATE Meth

methpipeThis is a much different post than much of what I have written. I usually like to unearth stories and personal reflections on hope within the mire. This post is slightly different, but I believe such tangents are sometimes necessary to bring attention to an issue and create a pause to reflect on how to respond to something which seems either too big to do anything about, or too far removed from me to care.

This morning I received a message from my girlfriend about her brother, Alex. Yesterday he had discovered a “friend” of his had broken down his door and stolen ALL of his valuable belongings. He is a mechanic and much of what was stolen were tools he needs for his trade. His sister created a fundraiser to help him replenish what he needs to move forward: https://www.gofundme.com/garupu3g.

Being stolen from is a very vulnerable and devaluing space to be in. Such feeling of being violated is very difficult to reconcile with. Apparently his “friend” had gotten into Meth. Another reason for me to despise this horrible horrible drug, and why my heart is broken by anyone who experiences the pains of being robbed in one form or another by this drug from hell.

Methamphetamine does more damage than solely the health of the user. It destroys individuals and dreams. It steals from friends. It corrupts community. It violates. It rips families apart.

When I was a youth pastor several years ago, a local initiative took place in our community to educate the youth about the downfalls of meth. The purpose behind the initiative was to challenge youth to not even try it once. The campaign utilized graphic horrifying images to “scare” youth out of any desire they might have to ever try it. Most of the images were of individuals who have used methamphetamine and displayed a series of photos from before meth to after. You have most likely seen such a poster hanging in a local community or government building. You know the image of the 30 year old woman who looks 65?

Even though I lived in a community which is plagued with this awful drug, I was working in a “bubble” with youth and families who were not directly impacted by meth, so I was in the category of folks who chose not to pay much attention to the signs or dangers of meth because I was not directly effected by it nor knew anyone who was.

Three years ago, my former wife and purchased a foreclosed home in a struggling, but hopeful neighborhood. We were aware of the crimes and some of the dangers associated with such a neighborhood battling the oppression of poverty, yet naive to exactly what we were walking into with the purchase and refurbishing of our home. After spending countless hours crammed into just a few weeks, we managed to remodel the entire inside of the house before moving in. I learned a lot in a few short weeks about sanding and staining wood floors, tiling a bathroom and laying linoleum flooring tiles. Our little family was happy and hopeful for our new home and it’s prospects.

I still have yet to experience the welcome and warm feeling we received from most of our neighbors. Our block had it’s own community watch. Families spent their time on their front porches or lawns. On one side of our little house was a family with two children, one was exactly our sons age. They were immediate friends. On the fourth of July, we sat on lawn chairs with our new neighbors in the middle of the street to watch our town’s fireworks. A few houses down the street was an adult foster home for men with mental disabilities. Many of them would daily ride their bikes throughout our neighborhood to and from work, shopping or just for a leisurely stroll. Preceding the move in, our soon-to-be neighbors would stop by daily to check on the remodel progress and give us status updates on the security of our home. We were flooded with praise and encouragement from folks who were elated to see a young hopeful family, like us, move in to their community all smiles.

These warm welcomes were also accompanied with some challenges. In the days following the final purchase and the beginning of the remodel, we discovered a power cord draped over our fence from another neighbor’s backyard through an open door in our back room plugged into our outlet. This house had been vacant for quite a while, so I could understand someone in a state of economic hardship taking their liberties with a vacant space. It was the same feeling I felt when we first looked at the house and noticed some of this particular’s neighbors random belongings alongside their camp trailer overlapping our property line and literally leaning against the side of what would be our new home. Regardless of the noise coming from inside this neighbor’s house, and the amount of traffic coming and going throughout the day, they would not open the door.

At one point I remember asking one of their “friends” (customers) on their way into the house if they knew who I could talk to and expressed my concern about the power cord. I told them I would be happy to give them 24 hours to find another source of power before politely asking them to unplug their chord. This request was responded to with a cackle. I never met whoever it was who lived in this house. Regardless, I allowed the 24 hours before unplugging the cord and neatly winding it up and placing it on the fence. The next day, when I arrived to do more work on the house, I discovered the same cord plugged into the same outlet. Frustrated, I unplugged the cord again, tossed it over the fence and locked the door, making certain this old door could not simply be pushed back open. Obviously, replacing this door with a deadbolt was on the top of the list before moving in. The next day I discovered a broken window in what would be our utility room with, you guessed it, the power cord pushed through the broken pain and plugged into our outlet. These people were relentless. What had we gotten ourselves into?

Fortunately, we had an entire block of neighbors who were fed up with this kind of behavior that they had our back. Collectively, we would watch and report such activity. After boarding up the window, I contacted the police who came by and investigated the situation. Unfortunately, little was done. Activity next door decreased and police would routinely drive by to check on the activity next door. The new city police station was literally two blocks away, what more could go wrong? We felt stuck with this decision since the purchase had concluded, discouraged but hopeful, we moved forward. Remodeling continued and traffic next door decreased. We moved in with caution and had hopes that our presence and comradery with the other hopeful neighbors would help cultivate change on the scary neighbors next door. It felt a little like being on set of “The Burbs”. Sometimes passion and a love for a community can cause us to put on hopeful blinders.

Shortly after moving in, we noticed some positive changes happening next door. The more we would report suspicious activity, the less activity we saw. Our neighbors were also excited and we honestly felt we were making a positive difference in this little corner of the world.A couple weeks after living in our new little home, however, our health began to fail. I experienced severe headaches with nosebleeds, my tow-year-old son developed mouth sores, and all three of us were experiencing respiratory difficulties and dry mouth. After moving out and running some tests, we discovered our home had toxins higher our our state’s determination of contamination. Test results showed significant traces of methamphetamine. We discovered that while we were distracted by the strange and disruptive activity next door, our health was being attacked by remaining residue from prior activity which occurred within the very walls we were living. We had no idea that our new home was a former clandestine meth lab.

meth houseWords cannot express the devastation which we experienced. I believe that most, if not every, story has a silver lining. Within a few short months, our story gained national media attention and what was a very desperate, lonely and painful situation became a national conversation and awareness thanks to a “little” petition I started on Change.org. In addition to a short trip to NYC to meet Anderson Cooper, we managed to get most of our losses compensated and we were later invited to participate on writing and pushing a bill through our state legislation process in efforts to prevent the sale of such homes to future homeowners, like ourselves. My friend posted on my facebook an image from Breaking Bad with my face cropped over the face of Walter White’s. He included the caption: “Jonathan Hankins – I always knew that meth would make you famous!” He knows I understand and appreciate his humor, but meth, in my opinion, is no laughing matter when we consider the amount of wreckage it has caused.

This is one small story of how meth attempted to steal, kill and destroy my little family and one square block in one struggling community.

A year later I began working with families who were working towards reunification with their children whom the state determined unsafe. While abuse and unsafe living circumstances were often reasons for children being removed from my clients’ homes, I soon learned how many of their stories had been violated by meth’s nasty fingers. Little did I know that my story of loss and redemption from being drastically impacted by this drug, which I never had a desire to even try myself, would impact families who had also been negatively impacted by the effects of methamphetamine. While learning these family’s stories and assisting them with transportation to and from appointments and accessing housing and other helpful resources, I would drive my clients by what became a hole in  a ground. While staring at this ugly empty space in the middle of a residential block, I would share my family’s horrifying experiences with former users so they could see another side of the drugs destruction. I wanted them to develop an even deep understanding of the impact of meth on a community and not just the individual user and their family.

For the last few years I have seen the effects of methamphetamine and watched how it rips families apart and specifically children from  the loving care of their parents who are incapable of parenting because of their addiction.

Hence, another reason I hate this terrible drug. It steals people’s souls, it tears families apart, it violates innocent bystanders and corrupts a community. Sometimes there is not much one can do before getting mad enough to say something significant enough to cultivate change. While I am not convinced stricter drug trafficking laws will do much to solve this epidemic, I am confident in the resilience and power of ordinary people who collectively say “enough is enough”. I, for one, believe it is time to talk about this issue along with the effects of poverty and abuse  within struggling communities in our nation. Looking away or sweeping the problem under the rug is not the way to address issues of these magnitude. I looked away, and look what it got me. Our community’s law enforcement and real estate professionals swept it under the rug and we became a national spectacle. A community looked away and it cost us our home and nearly our lives.

Over a year after our own meth “experience”, we ran into one of the neighbors from the block. With tears in her eyes and a frog in her throat, she expressed sincere gratitude for shedding light on this issue. She was a recovering methamphetamine addict. She and her family had apparently called repeatedly, to no avail, to report suspicious activity from our neighbors and former residents of the house we loved and lost. She expressed that the block is peaceful now and the meth-heads next door had scattered. There are times in life I have learned that when you turn the lights on, the cockroaches scatter. Periodically I will go out of my way to drive down that street and try to process all that took place. The empty lot serves as a reminder of the damaging effects of methamphetamine.

While I have written this mostly for my own recollection and therapeutic release of psychological tension, or in other words “venting”, I sincerely hope it might resonate with a reader who is also pissed off by by the wreckage which is left by drug abuse and methamphetamine, in particular.

Over the last few years I have been contacted by homeowners across the nation inquiring about our experience and have been able to offer hope and assurance. I was fortunate to see a law pass in our own state to prevent the same thing from happening to future home buyers. Now I am asking you to consider what you can do to help turn the light on to issues in your own community. Perhaps all you can do is find ways to help those whose lives have been tainted by it in one form or another. One simple thing I invite you to do today is consider helping my friend Alex replenish what he has lost.On an even larger scale, I encourage you to learn what you can about ways you can turn the lights on in your town and community.