Holding Dignity



I have to tell you this story about “Ray,” who thought he didn’t deserve help.

I used to work at a nonprofit charity for the homeless and I met Ray when he finally got housing and landed a new job. But he needed a new tool belt.

My friend heard about his situation and bought a tool belt for Ray. A fifteen-pocket leather carpenter pouch, one of the nicest ones you could buy. Ray was beside himself.

A few weeks later, somebody asked Ray how he liked the tool belt.
“I haven’t used it,” he said. “I’m not sure that I can. I don’t deserve a thing like that.”

He thought he would ruin it with himself. “The things I’ve done,” he said, “pretty much disqualify me. I feel guilty.”

Ray had told us his story before: addictions, abuse, abandonment. He never had a chance, a lap behind from the start, stuck in systemic structures beyond him. He felt he deserved his fate. But Ray learned to believe a better story about himself. He didn’t need to be good enough for the gift; the gift was good enough for him. The things he had done and the things that happened to him didn’t disqualify him from what was good. Maybe Ray really was the kind of guy who didn’t deserve it. But that was the point. It was a gift. We need that sort of grace, a grace that invites us into a better story than the one we were given.

It’s true one act of kindness doesn’t dismantle a whole system. It doesn’t automatically mean we succeed. But a reminder of our dignity is the very least we need. Even as systems around us shrink us down, it never means we are small: only that we were always too big for all we were given.

I think of all the ways
our past selves
were never shown a chance
still hold us back
our bodies brutalized in headlines
our minds made hatred internalized
we believed tall tales about us
that told the whole story without us.

But all that does not see you
says nothing about you
only that they lack vision
and you are already made in an irrevocable Image.

To become someone new
often means returning to ourselves—
souls dignified, made divine,
forged in inherent worth.

And even souls inside bodies that are broke
hold a dignity that no one can revoke.
In you, I see the face of God.

— J.S.


– Partially adapted from my book The Voices We Carry

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