Looking for Purpose

B.B. is a new face at the Ladle. I first noticed him with suspicion, since I frequently saw him hanging around a woman whom I know to be particularly susceptible to manipulation and abuse. Soon, however, he approached me on behalf of that woman and shared his concerns about her safety on the streets. He wondered if there was anything we could do for her, or if he could somehow help. Many abusers claim to have noble, “protective” motives, but he was clearly not playing that game. He was genuinely worried about her. Since then he has helped remind this woman to take her diabetes medication every day, a feat which I’ve been struggling to accomplish for months.

Eventually he shared his own story with us.

He lived his whole life in Illinois. He had a desk job and saved for retirement. He had a wife and a daughter who is going to grad school soon. Then…somehow he got entangled in a financial scam which wiped out his $150K of saved retirement money and stressed his marriage to the point of divorce. Burdened with defeat, depression, and a feeling of meaninglessness, he gave up. This year he became homeless for the first time in his life at age 53, and moved to San Diego for the weather. He doesn’t drink or do drugs and has no mental health issues. He could easily blend in at my workplace, church, or family gathering. He’s just a man who hit the point of despair, with no safety net to catch him, and he hasn’t yet re-emerged.

Today, B.B. came by the church to tell me about another vulnerable woman on the streets whose safety is worrying him. He is trying to keep an eye on her as well as the other woman with diabetes. I wonder if he’s looking for a sense of purpose in all this.

Like all of us, B.B. needs his defeated imagination reawakened by the gospel of Christ, the miracle of resurrection, the reality of eternal life. He needs to know his value in God’s sight. He needs to reckon with his brokenness and confess it. He needs to be reassured by the mercy of God.

The man needs Jesus. And some friends!

On the Brink

One of our guests–I’ll call him D.W.–has been attending our Wednesday night Bible study and dinner for years. He’s been on and off the streets since he was 18, and is middle-aged now. While fleeing his abusive father at age 8, he, his mother, and sister got into a devastating car accident. His mother died in the hospital a day later. He was put into foster care and lost contact with his siblings and extended family. After suffering physical and sexual abuse from his foster parents and siblings, he finally decided he’d had enough. He left San Diego, moved to Arizona, and ended up homeless and drug addicted. He started stealing to feed his drug habit, and that landed him in prison.

After prison, he came back to San Diego, worked some odd jobs, and tried to stay sober. Haunted by his past, with no family or support system, and with an incomplete education, he eventually ended up homeless again. He’s been surviving outside ever since, sometimes winning and often losing the battle with depression and drugs.

When you meet D.W. for the first time, you wouldn’t guess all that about him. On a good day you might not even realize he’s homeless, aside from the big backpack. He has a humble demeanor, kind eyes, and good manners. You can tell he tries earnestly to do the right thing, to help others, to stay sober when he can.

A few weeks ago, D.W. stopped by the church midday on a Friday, dropped off a note, and walked away. As soon as I read it, I ran outside to chase him down, but he had already rounded the corner–and I wasn’t sure which one. The note said that he couldn’t do it anymore, that he planned to intentionally overdose on heroin (not his drug of choice) and go “lights out” that night, but that he wanted to say goodbye and to thank us for all we had done. After tracking him down and eventually finding him an hour later, he was shaking with tears, and he refused to talk to me. I tried to approach him but he told me to get away and took off down the sidewalk.

For the next two weeks, I was calling hospitals daily and eventually tried calling the morgue, but nobody had him. That was both distressing and relieving. Then, weeks later…he came by the church on a weekday once again.

He wanted to tell us that instead of finding heroin that night, he had gone to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. He apologized for scaring me, and told me that he knew God loved him and was taking care of him. Now he is back at the our Bible study every Wednesday night, with his humble, grateful, sober demeanor still intact.

We know that he and so many like him are still living lives on the brink of despair. But when you see God save someone’s life right before your eyes like that, there is reason to hope.