Just got connected with Jamie who started something called “To Write
Love On Her Arms”. I am pretty stoked on this whole thing. I read the
story and was blown away. Jamie is going to come hang in Grand Rapids
with us in the fall for a little bit and be at some events with us. You
will definitely be hearing more about this new ministry.
This whole thing started with a story that he posted on the
Internet. Then word spread, some T-shirts were made and now thousands
of people are hearing about it and writing in for help, advice, and to
know more about Jesus. Here is the story that started it all. Hope you
TO WRITE LOVE ON HER ARMS.
by jamie tworkowski
Lion is loud in the speakers, and the city waits just outside our open
windows. She sits and sings, legs crossed in the passenger seat, her
pretty voice hiding in the volume. Music is a safe place and Pedro is
her favorite. It hits me that she won’t see this skyline for several
weeks, and we will be without her. I lean forward, knowing this will be
written, and I ask what she’d say if her story had an audience. She
smiles. “Tell them to look up. Tell them to remember the stars.”
would rather write her a song, because songs don’t wait to resolve, and
because songs mean so much to her. Stories wait for endings, but songs
are brave things bold enough to sing when all they know is darkness.
These words, like most words, will be written next to midnight, between
hurricane and harbor, as both claim to save her.
Renee is 19.
When I meet her, cocaine is fresh in her system. She hasn’t slept in 36
hours and she won’t for another 24. It is a familiar blur of coke, pot,
pills and alcohol. She has agreed to meet us, to listen and to let us
pray. We ask Renee to come with us, to leave this broken night. She
says she’ll go to rehab tomorrow, but she isn’t ready now. It is too
great a change. We pray and say goodbye and it is hard to leave without
She has known such great pain; haunted dreams as a child,
the near-constant presence of evil ever since. She has felt the touch
of awful naked men, battled depression and addiction, and attempted
suicide. Her arms remember razor blades, fifty scars that speak of
self-inflicted wounds. Six hours after I meet her, she is feeling
trapped, two groups of “friends” offering opposite ideas. Everyone is
asleep. The sun is rising. She drinks long from a bottle of liquor,
takes a razor blade from the table and locks herself in the bathroom.
She cuts herself, using the blade to write “FUCK UP” large across her
The nurse at the treatment center finds the wound
several hours later. The center has no detox, names her too great a
risk, and does not accept her. For the next five days, she is ours to
love. We become her hospital and the possibility of healing fills our
living room with life. It is unspoken and there are only a few of us,
but we will be her church, the body of Christ coming alive to meet her
needs, to write love on her arms.
She is full of contrast,
more alive and closer to death than anyone I’ve known, like a Johnny
Cash song or some theatre star. She owns attitude and humor beyond her
19 years, and when she tells me her story, she is humble and quiet and
kind, shaped by the pain of a hundred lifetimes. I sit privileged but
breaking as she shares. Her life has been so dark yet there is some
soft hope in her words, and on consecutive evenings, I watch the
prettiest girls in the room tell her that she’s beautiful. I think it’s
God reminding her.
I’ve never walked this road, but I decide
that if we’re going to run a five-day rehab, it is going to be the
coolest in the country. It is going to be rock and roll. We start with
the basics; lots of fun, too much Starbucks and way too many
Thursday night she is in the balcony for Band
Marino, Orlando’s finest. They are indie-folk-fabulous, a movement
disguised as a circus. She loves them and she smiles when I point out
the A&R man from Atlantic Europe, in town from London just to catch
She is in good seats when the Magic beat the Sonics
the next night, screaming like a lifelong fan with every Dwight Howard
dunk. On the way home, we stop for more coffee and books, Blue Like
Jazz and (Anne Lamott’s) Travelling Mercies.
On Saturday, the
Taste of Chaos tour is in town and I’m not even sure we can get in, but
doors do open and minutes after parking, we are on stage for Thrice,
one of her favorite bands. She stands ten feet from the drummer,
smiling constantly. It is a bright moment there in the music, as light
and rain collide above the stage. It feels like healing. It is
Sunday night is church and many gather after the
service to pray for Renee, this her last night before entering rehab.
Some are strangers but all are friends tonight. The prayers move from
broken to bold, all encouraging. We’re talking to God but I think as
much, we’re talking to her, telling her she’s loved, saying she does
not go alone. One among us knows her best. Ryan sits in the corner
strumming an acoustic guitar, singing songs she’s inspired.
church our house fills with friends, there for a few more moments
before goodbye. Everyone has some gift for her, some note or hug or
piece of encouragement. She pulls me aside and tells me she would like
to give me something. I smile surprised, wondering what it could be. We
walk through the crowded living room, to the garage and her stuff.
hands me her last razor blade, tells me it is the one she used to cut
her arm and her last lines of cocaine five nights before. She’s had it
with her ever since, shares that tonight will be the hardest night and
she shouldn’t have it. I hold it carefully, thank her and know
instantly that this moment, this gift, will stay with me. It hits me to
wonder if this great feeling is what Christ knows when we surrender our
broken hearts, when we trade death for life.
As we arrive at
the treatment center, she finishes: “The stars are always there but we
miss them in the dirt and clouds. We miss them in the storms. Tell them
to remember hope. We have hope.”
I have watched life come back
to her, and it has been a privilege. When our time with her began,
someone suggested shifts but that is the language of business. Love is
something better. I have been challenged and changed, reminded that
love is that simple answer to so many of our hardest questions. Don
Miller says we’re called to hold our hands against the wounds of a
broken world, to stop the bleeding. I agree so greatly.
often ask God to show up. We pray prayers of rescue. Perhaps God would
ask us to be that rescue, to be His body, to move for things that
matter. He is not invisible when we come alive. I might be simple but
more and more, I believe God works in love, speaks in love, is revealed
in our love. I have seen that this week and honestly, it has been
simple: Take a broken girl, treat her like a famous princess, give her
the best seats in the house. Buy her coffee and cigarettes for the
coming down, books and bathroom things for the days ahead. Tell her
something true when all she’s known are lies. Tell her God loves her.
Tell her about forgiveness, the possibility of freedom, tell her she
was made to dance in white dresses. All these things are true.
are only asked to love, to offer hope to the many hopeless. We don’t
get to choose all the endings, but we are asked to play the rescuers.
We won’t solve all mysteries and our hearts will certainly break in
such a vulnerable life, but it is the best way. We were made to be
lovers bold in broken places, pouring ourselves out again and again
until we’re called home.
I have learned so much in one week
with one brave girl. She is alive now, in the patience and safety of
rehab, covered in marks of madness but choosing to believe that God
makes things new, that He meant hope and healing in the stars. She
would ask you to remember.
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