Wednesday the jail called: Could I give a newly-released prisoner a ride to Danville; to a friend willing to take him in? So, I agreed. If struggling people can reconnect with family or friends, that’s their best chance to rebuild their lives.
Arriving at the jail, I met Jacob, we’ll call him. Jacob was 6’ 3”, 240 pounds. He said, “Thank you, sir, for helping me.”
I replied, “We’re supposed to help each other. I’m glad to do it.”
As we drove, Jacob said he was arrested for meth. His service truck impounded – along with all his clothes and wallet. Everything he owned. Jacob was living in his work truck. He was one of the working homeless.
Then my truck miraculously became a confessional booth, and Jacob’s story poured out: A rough childhood; dropping out of school; a failed marriage; odd jobs then addiction to meth and other tragedies.
I said, “Getting clean is hard, but it can be done. You can find a good job. And, once sober, all your money won’t go to drugs. You can have a good life. I know God wants you to have that.”
Jacob replied, “I get all my drugs for free.”
I said, “What?!”
“My friend deals drugs. Whenever people don’t pay him, he calls me. I go see them and get them to pay. In return, I get free drugs. When I called from jail, he said that he’d let me stay with him. That’s where we’re heading now.”
I wasn’t helping someone get home. I was helping someone get deeper into hell.
As we passed McDonald’s, Jacob said, “Sir, could I get something to eat?” I said, “Sure.” In minutes, Jacob inhaled 2,000 calories.
He waved to a person in the parking lot – “Hi, Miss Pat.” – and said, “Pat’s my second mother. After Mom died, she took me in.”
“Can you stay with her?”
“No, she won’t have anything to do with me anymore.”
That’s what happens when you’ve done things that can’t be forgiven.
Driving on, I asked if any social service agencies could help. “I’ve been to them all so much that they won’t help me anymore.” How about churches? “No, they mostly want to save me; not help me.” How about if I drive you to the shelter in Lafayette? “No, I won’t stay there. Besides, I know bad people in Lafayette. I’ll just end up with them. I might as well do that here in my hometown.”
By then we’d arrived. Jacob’s friend was staying in a rundown motel in a rough part of town. It didn’t look like a place to make a fresh start. It looked like a dead end.
Knowing it was probably futile, I nonetheless said, “Jacob, here’s all the money I have: $80. That’ll help you get a new driver’s license. You’ll need that to get a job. I hope you’ll do that. Also, there’s enough here for you to get supper tonight – and maybe get another place to stay besides here with your friend. No disrespect to him or you: But I don’t think he’s really your friend.”
Jacob said, “I know. But he’s all I got. Thank you, sir, for the money. That’ll help. Don’t you want me to pray so I can get saved before you give me this? Most pastors want me to get saved before they give me anything.”
I said, “Jacob, you already have a Savior. You always have and you always will. I don’t want you to pray. I’m going to pray, asking God to bless you with a sober, safe, happy life. I know God wants that for you because God loves you.”
Jacob smiled and said, “I know God loves me. Thank you. Most people I meet try to hustle me. It’s nice to be treated like a human being. God bless you.”
I drove away as Jacob knocked on his friend’s door. I felt total despair. I said aloud, “Lord, help this man. Keep him safe. Help him change. Help him find a way out of death and into life.”
Driving back, I thought about Jacob – and Jesus. Jesus healed and blessed people, but Jesus didn’t force them to change before helping them. He asked many to follow him. Many did. Many didn’t.
But Jesus didn’t stop because he wasn’t “succeeding.” He knew – as we are invited to know – that no one is beyond redemption. Not addicts or criminals. Not our friends who shun God and religion. Not loved ones whose choices cause pain. We may not see any light in their darkness, but God does. Because where the limits of our love end, God’s unending love begins. All Jesus did – and all Jesus asks us to do – is to love God and love our neighbor – and let them know God loves them, too. Our job isn’t to drag them into church so we feel good. Our job is to take church to them – to take God’s love to them – and leave the rest in God’s hands.
An encouraging word to a struggling friend, a kindness shared with a stranger, giving generously to charity, praying for those for whom no one prays: These “small” kindnesses are the seeds of the Kingdom. They’re the ways God transforms sickness into health and crucifixions into resurrections – so that life and love prevail.
We can’t control how people respond to that grace. That’s not our business. That’s between God and them. What is our business is to be the church; to share love with others; and to trust God to do the rest. That’s enough. Always has been. Always will be. Because God is good. God’s steadfast love endures forever. Believe that promise; trust that grace; and share that love.