Power vs. Grace -- Reflections on helping Floyd get into detox

On Monday received a call from "Pink," one of our homeless neighbors who struggles with debilitating alcoholism that has put him on the streets for the last 10 years.  He had "reached bottom" and wanted help getting his life back.  I love calls like this one.  These are the moments we pray for and the desperate cries for help that I believe God hears and answers.

At KCB we don't have resources or capacity to help someone "dry-out," so we partner with a detox facility about 20 miles down the road.  The ride was a roller-coaster for him.  Wavering from extreme nausea at the thought of the hours of painful detox to come, to euphoria, singing along to his nick-name sake Pink Floyd playing on the radio; Pink was hopeful about the change he was seeking.

When we arrived at the facility we headed to the intake office where we were met by the three volunteer committee members who would be making the final decision on whether Pink would be allowed into their facility or not.  They sat him in a chair close to the window and emphatically opened it, letting the cold winter-evening air in. They then positioned themselves across the room, standing arms folded, clearly conducting some sort of assessment.  No words were exchanged at first, just awkward silence. Finding the cold too much to bear, Pink turned to close the window.

"Don't close that window. You stink!", said Bill* roughly.
"Excuse me?" Pink retorted, not sure that he had heard his accuser correctly.
"People who don't pay attention to their hygiene tend to have a smell about them." Bill explained, "the window helps the rest of us get some cross-ventilation."

This made Pink justifiably upset and I sat awkwardly silent.  Was this really happening?  After that awkward and unwelcoming opening, Bill led in with...

"So, what do you want?  Why are you here?"
Pink, still ruffled by the rude opening, responded with, "Well, I want to get cleaned up and then get back out there."
"Wrong answer.  That's not what we do here.  You may as well leave right now. You're wasting our time."
"Oh Pink!  What were you thinking?"  I thought to myself.  I knew he didn't really mean what he said, he just has a tough time imagining a future for himself.  He's used to thinking ahead only as far as his next drink.

When Bill's retort sets in, it makes Pink justifiably angry and he stands to drunkenly defend himself but it's already too late, the committee has deemed him a "waste of time".

As we walk back to the car for our long ride home I called Kim, our Homeless Outreach Coordinator, to share the bad news with her.

"Wait a few minutes" she said, "let me call them and see what I can do."

God has done an amazing work of restoration in Kim's own life and she can talk to former addicts in a way that I simply cannot.  So Pink and I wait.  We wait. We pray.  He yells a few curses at the house off in the distance and I silently harbor cynical thoughts about former addicts.

And then Kim calls back.  She's made a way where there was no way... they'll take him, IF he'll apologize.

"Can you do that?" I asked Pink. "Do you want to get better so bad that you will apologize even when the other guy is in the wrong?  Can you forgive him?"
"I think so." Pink humbly responded, demonstrating the depth of his desire to change.
"Let's go... God help us!" I pray as we head back into the office.

The good news is that they did take him in and he is on the way to becoming healthy.  More good news is that God answered his cry for help and provided and advocate by way of his servant, Kim, who was uniquely able to minister justice and mercy because of God's transformation in her.

Upon reflection, I've realized a few things.  I realize that I sat in silence while the powerful intake volunteer, the one who held the keys to Pink's first step, treated him with disrespect and disdain.  I was silent in the face of oppression.  Lord, help me be prepared so that the next time I witness injustice I will stand up and defend the oppressed immediately.  Then after thinking about it further, I recognized myself in Bill, the powerful intake volunteer.  Working with broken people daily has created in me a fair amount of unhealthy cynicism.  Some days I forget to have faith and hope that God can change people.  Some days I sit in the seat of judgement, dolling out mercy at my own whim and based on my past experiences with others.

So, I pray that God will be merciful with ME.  I pray that he will create in me a heart of flesh and not a heart of stone and that I will extend to others (the oppressed and the oppressors) the same mercy and grace God has shown me.

*name changed