In The Midst!

I am writing this to encourage those of us who have a loved one struggling in the midst of a storm, and there's nothing we can do or say to stop them from being swept under...

I am writing this because when we're in the midst of the storm, it's hard to find hope and know the end of the story. All we often see or get caught in is the tragedy of NOW.

I am writing this to encourage us not to give in or get caught in the NOW, but rather, to keep moving on the path by continuing to love, forgive, and show compassion to those in need. 

I am writing this to encourage us to keep on planting seeds. We don't know when or if these seeds will sprout, how big the tree will become, or how many birds of the air will come and find rest in her branches.  
  • This story I'm about to tell has been adapted from a sermon I delivered at The Bridge last week (see below). I am not using his real name...
Sam is African; from Ghana, I believe. I don’t know all the ins and outs of his story. I don't know how or why he came to Chicago, but I do know he has a few children, a wife and was a pastor. 

I didn’t meet that Sam! I met Sam in the midst of a vicious storm. I met a Sam who’d lost it all; his wife, his children, his home, his mission, and his money! On top of that, the Sam I met was horribly addicted to alcohol. The Sam I met was barely staying alive on the streets of Uptown! 

A few years ago, in an act of desperation, in Chicago’s extreme weather, Sam starting coming around to Cornerstone Community Outreach seeking help. He needed food. He needed clothes. He needed dry socks. He needed shelter. He needed warmth. He needed rest. Frigid temperatures, a blizzard or a heat wave meant his life was constantly in danger!

Winter after winter, Sam would round the corner and shuffle down the block, often staggering under the influence. He was quiet, fragile, barely audible, and nearly always sheepishly smiling. He seemed to be wasting away in front of us, his hands were puffed up due to frostbite, and his feet looked awful. We frequently had to call an ambulance for him, because we’d find him passed out or sitting on the street, unable to move in a hypothermic state. We cared about Sam, and the reality that he was withering away before us, made us very concerned. 

Time after time, we spoke to Sam, tried to turn him around and get him to stop drinking. We helped him get into detox many times, only for him to return to the streets, pick up the bottle, and repeat the same cycle, often a little harsher and scarier than the time before! We were praying for him, but he was dying before our eyes, and we felt utterly helpless. We felt the burden of repeatedly failing in all our efforts! 

Then, a couple winter’s ago, if you looked at Sam’s frostbitten body and the way he moved, most people would have predicted he wouldn't be alive today. I remember him somehow making it to Clifton one day, his body so thin, his hands were horrifyingly puffed up, and he collapsed on the sidewalk, unable to get up. He had hypothermia! Even though he shook uncontrollably, he looked lifeless! We called 911, and the paramedics came and transported him away. He was off to have another brief stint in a hospital, he went into detox once again - and with all we'd seen and experienced, it was hard to see a bright future!

Not long after that episode, after being coached or forced into detox for the umpteenth time, he’d finally had enough, took it a step further and went into treatment (again). 

Yet, this time, he stayed! 

And we didn't see him for a while...

When Sam walks into CCO these days, he comes in with a big smile to pick up his mail - that's all. He’s hard to recognize. He looks like a new man. He’s healthy. He's housed! He’s sober! He’s wearing clothes that fit and are weather-appropriate. He's wearing socks. He’s put on weight. His hands show damage, but they’re healing and thinner. He’s content, quietly confident, and humble. He has more energy. He looks like someone who knows how blessed he is to still be alive. He’s thankful! 

I wrote this to say; it may look over, BUT it ain’t over! 

The seeds we plant, the efforts we make, the tough decisions we enforce, the compassion and forgiveness we offer don’t just vanish - they work into the dough like yeast, making a subtle, yet vital, impact. We may not see it, (like I’ve been blessed to see with Sam), but when we actively choose to truly love our most fragile and difficult neighbors, we can be confident in knowing that God’s Spirit is moving in mysterious wonderment, bringing change and hope in the midst of life’s most treacherous storms!  

A brief summary of why I wrote this: There's a ministry on the West-side of Chicago called Mission: USA; every Tuesday night they have a Church service called The BRIDGE. Their services are open to everybody, but especially those who find it hard to gel in their local congregations! Or to put into cruder terms; a lot of these men and women are ex-offenders, homeless and low-income folk who have felt ostracized and rejected by many churches, so their mission is to be a bridge between prison, the streets, and the Church. The Bridge helps these wonderful men and women find churches that will welcome them with open arms..... 
And isn't this exactly what the Gospel and the "Kingdom of God" are all about? 

Every Tuesday night, The Bridge has a host team from a Church, who greet the guests and provide a meal. The guests anonymously submit questions about their "walk of faith", and staff from The Bridge pick out a relevant question. Meanwhile, they have invited 3 pastors from 3 different churches to come and give a 10-minute sermon each about this specific question or topic. In my humble opinion, this is a great concept and ministry, whose staff is very loving, compassionate and supportive to the "least of these".

This was adapted from a sermon I preached on 10/23/18, in response to this question; "Helping My Kids"
I have a grown son who has all kinds of struggles. He wants me to bail him out of all sorts of trouble, but he won’t listen to me tell him how to get his life right. Now I’m trying to work my recovery, and I’m nearly falling off trying to help him. It’s not like I can tell him to go away and do for himself, but I’m not helping either of us right now. 


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