We received a letter today from M.C., a Ladle guest who went to prison a few months ago. Before that, while he was in the downtown jail, we corresponded with him regularly and visited him once. As with so many of our Ladle guests, we got to know him well over time. He is a complex man, a mixture of high intelligence and energy, creativity, addictive tendencies, mental health struggles, concern for the vulnerable, and genuine desire for God.
He wrote to tell us that he has been released from prison early, and is working on his housing and employment. He also described to us the story of his conversion to Christ and his testimony of God’s presence in his life. At the end of the letter, he shared with us what the Ladle meant to him when he was homeless:
“When I could not look anyone in the eye…I was welcome at the Ladle Fellowship. Two winters ago when it rained on and off for 2+ weeks, you guys were there with warm soup and a blanket. When I felt like a failure and I wasn’t doing all I could to help myself…you served me anyway. Then you did a series on ‘Epic Failures of the Bible,’ and I laughed for the first time in a while, and I figured I would give it another try.”
That’s exactly what the Ladle is all about: being there for people even if they’re at their lowest point, even if they’re treating themselves poorly, even if they believe they’re too far gone for grace. We are driven by the gospel, and the gospel of Jesus is exactly for people like M.C. Thank God for that.
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!