On a recent night, I dreamed of crack–one rock, lying on the floor on a black leather book, possibly a Bible.As I prepared for the day, I understood what that rock would offer. A promise of bliss; no matter the downsides.  It was a reminder, that beyond the harshness of the day there was a source of pleasure, a buzz to make stress and strain disappear.I left the house, going about my day. All day long the crack anchored me with a promise of release. Now and then I would lift my eyes up from what was in front of me and be comforted by the sight of it lying there in the house.I worried about our dog Nessa. At 8 pounds, the damage would be enormous if she somehow ingested it; she had the run of the house and it was there, on the book, on the floor.The dream was clear and intense; thankfully, it ended before I used the crack!

Days later, I recall it with great clarity, recall the longing and the hunger for the high.The previous day, in real life, I had knocked on a drug dealer’s door, looking for Carol,* a pregnant young lady with a crack addiction. She’s trying to stay clean while we connect her with an adoption agency. She came out with 5 rocks of crack in her hand, looked at me in desperation and said, “I just need some relief!”  I expect that event triggered the dream.Dreams are often bizarre, churning up odd bits from our brain. I was tempted to write this one off as another crazy dream, but it seemed significant, like Jesus had sent it to me. He gave me a taste of an addiction more powerful, compulsive, and destructive than anything I have known.  A chance to experience being a crack addict without having to be one. We are around those who depend on crack to cope—they are called crackheads. Did Jesus want me to feel that compulsion so that my compassion for them might increase?

Think of the word empathy. Its Greek root literally means to “feel into” another person. Here among the most broken, I need to “feel into” their lives if I want to love them.It is easy to judge people, especially transient motel-dwellers and crackheads. Many don’t work, nor do they contribute much to society; they make disastrous choices in places where most of us of routinely make good choices.  Judging their choices, behavior, look and even smell comes naturally.But now this: We cannot judge another person and fully love them at the same time. If those two attitudes share space in our heart, one will pummel the other, chasing it bleeding into the night. Either judgment or love will win.

Following Jesus is a call to fully love others; judgment must flee.  Judgment flees fastest when we “feel into” someone’s life, empathizing with them.Jesus is teaching me empathy through the heart-wrenching stories of our friends here. I am thinking of a man who as a boy was placed in a “Christian” foster home where he was tied up and sexually abused for two years. “Feeling into” his story helps me look past his alcoholism, homelessness and bad choices. Would I have done any better had that happened to me?In the dream, Jesus took me to another level of empathy, letting me taste the depths of an addiction. We all have addictive yearnings–longing for a glass of wine, food, sex, approval. This crack-hunger transcended that, a raw and compulsive desire for something powerful enough to destroy me.

Feeling that gives me a new love and compassion for those trapped in addiction.Later that day, I again found Carol and herded her a couple of blocks to where Diane waited with a Christian adoption counsellor. She was a walking temper tantrum – screaming, throwing things into the street, crying hysterically, multiple actions inviting judgment. Yet I felt only compassion for her, the wreckage of her life and the grip of crack.  I loved her without judgment and did the best I could to help. People, including the most broken, need to take responsibility for their lives. But from up close, hearing their stories, looking into their eyes, dreaming myself of being a crackhead, this is a card I play less frequently and more quietly. I seek first to listen, to understand, to love.Only Jesus can change any of us; but our “feeling into” others with  compassionate love often sets the table for Jesus’ work. On a recent night, I dreamed I was a crack addict and thank Jesus for that.