The day had started hours before, but the story truly starts at this point.
I was standing in the State Capitol building of the state of Missouri in Jefferson City, with a representative calling my name, an introduction of my presence on the Senate floor. A sign of kindness and pleasantries from the state legislators for my presence, along with several other advocates that day.
I looked at my shoes, a nude color to offset the short, hot-pink dress. I felt a little unsure and wildly in contrast to the muted black and blue suits that surrounded me, but was eager to talk about the things I was passionate about with people who were positioned to make a difference. I was excited to talk about child abuse (yes, you read that right), the least sexy of topics, and the distinct need for better resources as a means to uplift the community as a whole.
Before I could lift my head, we were asked by the Speaker to bow our heads in prayer.
I waited. I waited for the non-denominational speech to ensure. For the message of recognition of all gods to begin.
It didn’t happen.
Instead, clearly through the microphone speakers came the prayer for guidance to make good decisions, the guidance to lead with good leadership, and the guidance to meet the needs of the people, not from secular divinity, but from a non-secular Christian God.
Even as a believer I was shocked, because I believe in the separation of church and state.
From there we went on to say the Pledge of Allegiance.
And then after that came a lot of political procedural formalities that only a political nerd could really love. Albeit I love it, so I’ll take the nerd status, but it is unimportant to this post.
Fast forward to about an hour and a half later, as I stood in the office of one of our state Senators.
The conversation ensued as normal. Casual kindnesses and introductions, until we finally got to the purpose of the meeting. That is when I get to drop the ever-so distinct words – ‘child abuse’ and, ‘opioid crisis.’
The secretary was quick to state that they think we needed harsher punishment for child abusers.
The Senator was quick to follow with their belief that child abusers simply needed a longer rope.
My face has this annoying and untrained habit of saying what my brain is thinking before my mouth says it, or before I can change my expression.
The representative asked, ‘well you must agree?’
In that moment all my brain could think was this:
‘With all due respect sir, no, I do not agree. Sir, before we acquire more rope, maybe we give them the hands that we pray with. Sir, we just walked off the floor where the members and representatives of the state together prayed for guidance and wisdom for how to help these people. And before we have even started that conversation following that prayer, you would like to acquire more ropes for their hanging. Candidly sir, there is little separation of church and state here in Missouri, and if there is not going to be a separation of church and state, which I am not criticizing, then we need to take the role of God in our state proceedings seriously. We cannot pray before we rule, and then turn around and hand our citizens the rope to hang themselves with. We cannot be leaders of the state who fail to lead and meet the needs of the people, and simultaneously blame them for their suffering. We cannot pray for guidance, then fail to recognize their need and hurt, fail to try to extend them our praying hands, and then condemn them without any culpability. I know you are a busy man, but I would like to talk to you about cooperative solutions, and how we can use those praying hands to help. I can do that, because I know these people. I work with them daily. I can offer a solution before we hand them the rope.’
The truth is, my filter is often as weak as my facial control.
Honestly, I was kind-of shocked too.
But here is the thing…I believe wholeheartedly what came out of my own mouth. I believe that the majority of child abusers are sick, victims of abuse themselves, and worthy of investment. I believe very few of them are truly sadistic.
I believe this from two years of family meetings I participated in where I watched as struggling mothers spoke plainly about their battles against the drugs and their confusion in succeeding, and their sincere love for their kids. I believe this from every father who wanted to teach their children to be strong, but themselves had no idea how to ‘be’ anything themselves. I believe this, not because I am foolish, and not because I am hopeful, but because I am empathetic in everything that I do. And when it comes to law and policy-making, empathetic collateral is a superpower.
So this is the story I tell, before I give you the rest of the anecdotal stories from my time as a non-frontline social-work partner. The two years that I will tell you about that precede this story, where I (actually) let my personal beliefs loose on a legislator, will tell you more about the growth process that led to this moment, and the sympathetic position I take on some of the hardest-to-love and most fragmented parts of our society.
This is only the middle of the story. The end of it for me is (God-willing) far, far away. The beginning of this chapter is far less graceful. That part of the story involves a decent amount of financial debt, an attempt at cow-petting that (actually) could have gotten me shot, and a brief rendezvous the words “you people.”
Stick around, the blog is about to get really good.