The sealed door broke way to a stench of alcohol and rotting food. Weeks of laundry barely hid the minefield of beer cans that barricaded the pathway from the door to the bed. A days old lump lay motionless on the mattress, breathing just enough to signal life.
Love is Patient
It wasn’t the first time, nor last that a neighbor would call with concern about our Micah friend’s well being. She often drank in hopes of never awaking from a self-medicated slumber. Time and again, we’d respond. We’d clean up, pick up and involve the right professionals. She’d re-engage. The drinking would cease. She’d decide to succeed. And something would happen for the cycle to start all over.
Each time, the upswing would last longer than the one before. It was only in those times we had a chance of re-directing, solving and moving her forward. When she was on the street, cycles were so frequent that our time frame was sometimes only days before she’d disappear again. It took a solid two years before the income, the housing and necessary supports converged into stability. It was only then that the intervals between her downward spiraling would expand to weeks and months.
Love is Kind
I remember the day she wandered into my office. It was late in the day and there was much to be done before quitting time. Freshly soaked by the rain and lugging all of her earthly belongings in a backpack bigger than she was, her presence alone threatened to distract from what I then perceived as “more important things.” My first thought was that of disappointment in my failure to lock the door much sooner. But I snapped back to my purpose, upon hearing her simple request.
“I just wanted to know if you could help me with a sleeping bag,” she asked.
Months prior, she had come to the area to participate in a program that had shut down. There was nothing where she came from to go back to, and there was no one here to take her in. She quickly found herself crashing at a random stranger’s home. But what started as an act of charity, became abusive. She broke free one afternoon while he slept and had been wandering the streets ever since.
I found myself unable to accept what could happen to a 50-plus woman, alone and outside all night, sleeping bag or not. And I jumped on the phone to identify a more suitable solution.
Throughout the two-hour ordeal, I spoke with shelter after shelter. There were not enough beds; they didn’t take out-of-towners; she wasn’t currently taking her mental health medication. In the background, I continued to ignore her plea, “You are being very kind. But if I could just get a sleeping bag, I will be on my way.”
“No, no,” I kept saying. “There has to be an alternative.”
Finally, a return call from a domestic violence shelter came through. I nearly danced to the waiting area to tell her I had found a bed for the night. But where I had expected to find my afternoon project, I found an empty chair.
It does not envy, it does not boast
I would later learn that her great disappearing act had more to do with her own expectation that nothing worked out in her favor. In fact, this would be the first of many experiences I would have with that general homeless mindset–“systems don’t work;” “no one wants to help me;” and “I’m not worth your time!”
This particular woman knew how desperately I had wanted to help her, but she had years experience in trying to help herself, to no avail. She could not accept the idea that anyone else might have a solution she hadn’t tried or struck out. She had failed so much that she believed people conspired to sabotage her success. And even if help was to be found, she certainly didn’t think she deserved it.
It is not proud; It does not dishonor others; it is not self-seeking
It was months before I encountered this woman again. And even then, I happened to do so through a young lady whose family dropped in to help with a Christmas dinner. I recognized the joy in her heart as she asked which local motel would be best if she wanted to house our mutual friend for the night. Still stirring from my previous encounter, my heart doubted the success of her well-intended gesture.
The teen’s father would later tell me how his daughter spent the next day driving around, helping our woman to find a safe campsite.
It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
I would come to spend my own share of days with this woman, as her journey continued to cross paths with mine. I sat in her hospital room for many hours; I convinced her to go to the doctor when she was sure that she knew more; I hauled her to appointments that she didn’t want to attend; and I convinced more people to re-enroll her in more services than I care to remember.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Years later, while on bed rest with my son, I would find myself sorting through another of her dilemmas. Just weeks prior she had been walking home from Micah when a vehicle collided into her at an intersection. With a fractured skull and other complications she learned that the officer had assumed her at fault based on history of intoxication. She melted with the thought of one more strike against her.
A few phone calls later, a medical record in tow and volunteer attorney on her end, the charges were dropped.
Love never fails.
The phone rang one afternoon
“Did you call me?” said the voice on the other end.
“Yes, but that was several weeks ago,” I replied, remembering my concern after her latest spiral.
We chatted for a few minutes of how she was feeling, her upcoming doctors visits and her frame of mind, then closed out the conversation.
But just as my finger brushed the end call button, I heard her say one more thing.
“Love you,” the words echoed over the speaker.
“Love you?” I pondered for just a moment.
I had maintained my faith in this woman; I had hope when no one else did; But love was not one that I had considered.
“I love you, too,” I thought.