Her words are textured, evocative, even memorable. She leans across the table, creating an intimate conversation space. Diane had dragged her here, convincing her to fight her mental funk by being around people. Her face dark, her voice low and husky, she refers to “the dark and dirty places,” her words reverberating between us. She knows the dark and dirty places for she lives there, among brokenness far beyond my experience. I have watched her, descending into a pit of mental illness and physical pain, her mind and body wracked with agony. I have prayed over her for healing but also against what seems like a demon horde that descends in those moments. Surely a dark and dirty place. I have held her when she howled over damage she has done to herself, the pit of addiction she inhabits in weaker moments. I have seen her go to the door of the crack-dealer, watched her bum money for food but use it for crack. Dark and dirty places indeed.

At times, she sells her body to pay for this—the crack, yes, but then also the food that crack money was supposed to buy. One night I saw her, standing outside her motel, leaning against the brick, advertising her wares. At her age, it is not about sex, just using her body to make money, accepting some man, taking his money, and walking away to buy a fix. How can she do anything but hate herself in those moments, hate her life in this dark and dirty place?If anyone knows the dark and dirty places, she does. Yet, when in a good place, she is delightful and funny, self-deprecating and stubborn all at once. Even in the darkness, she jokes and laughs, aware of the odd complexity of her world. She is one of our favorites here, loved by our whole team.Back to the room, back to the conversation space, back to her words about dark and dirty places, words describing her world. What she fully said was this: “Jesus, he went to the dark and dirty places.”

The words thundered, gripping me with their truth. Jesus went there, to the darkest and dirtiest places, came to show light, came to love and rescue those who dwell there, people like my friend. What Jesus did then, He still does now. She knows Jesus and sees him there, with her in her dark and dirty corners.I am almost ashamed to admit it, but one of the great surprises of coming to this world, coming to the dark and dirty places, is how much of Jesus I see here. I should have known better. If Jesus went to those places while physically on earth, wouldn’t it make sense He would do the same now? I have seen and felt his presence time and again as I have been with her, seen and felt it in a deeper way than I ever have in my life. Here where life is most desperate, His love most present, most deep. Not just with her, but also countless others.I pray for Jesus to heal her. We see small signs but at this moment, her life is defined by desperately hard things.

Still, I see His presence with her, loving her with eternal love. I am awestruck to be in Jesus’ presence, here in the dark and dirty places.I have come to understand something since coming here, something I didn’t understand before. Some part of a deeper experience of Jesus can only be found among the most broken. I don’t know how to explain it nor even describe it, but I believe it to be true. Jesus loves us all and is present everywhere, yet somehow, he seems brighter and more real in these dark and dirty places, alive in a way I have not experienced before. Almost like he has reserved a special part of Himself for these who most desperately need Him.An image comes to mind of Jesus, carrying this extra bucket of grace and mercy, a special bucket to be used in the dark and dirty places. He pours it out over the poor, refills it and then pours it again and again. I see Him everywhere in these dark and dirty corners, bucket of grace in hand, looking to lavish it on the most broken. Part of the beauty of being here is that some of the grace poured out on our friends splashes over onto those of us who show up here.

The power of Jesus’ grace in their lives also becomes His powerful grace in ours.  And we too are changed, finding Jesus in a deeper way and place, ruining us for things more ordinary.I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at all this. After all, Jesus did say, “blessed are the poor.” After all, the poor mostly live in dark and dirty places.