Between worship and the sermon, a scruffy-bearded man stood and asked if he could say something. We never know quite what will happen on Sunday mornings at Joe’s, but we are prepared to let anyone share who wants to. Sometimes what comes out is a testimony. Other times a question. At times heckling. On more than one occasion a most surprising message from the Lord. So Tom handed him the mic.
Joey (the man’s name) started by saying that he wasn’t quite sure what all he should say, and he hesitated. He then decided that what he really wanted to say was “Thank you . . . Thank you for this place. Thank you for being who you are. Thank you for welcoming me. I just want to say thank you for this place.”
Joey had only been to Joe’s a few times–well, actually every day for the last few days. He continued, “I have done some bad things . . . ruined my life . . . ruined my marriage of 17 years . . . lost relationship with my family . . . but somehow, being here has caused me to have the courage to try to restore relationship with my family. I don’t know if I can, but I have hope now . . .”
Joey paused, as though not sure what else to say. Then he said, “I am 45 years old and had never had hot chocolate before I came here. The first day I came in, I got a hot chocolate. I absolutely love it! Y’all put that whipped cream all over the top and the drizzly chocolate syrup . . . It is amazing. See! (And he pulled out his “Joe’s frequent drinker card) I’ve had six hot chocolates! One every day since I’ve been here!!!”
That was all that Joey wanted to tell us that morning. Just “Thank you,” and that he loved our hot chocolate. Since then, Joey has been at Joe’s every day. We’ve had many conversations about his life, about the world, about Jesus. Joey has been struggling terribly with depression over the condition of his life, but we’ve been glad that we’ve been able to provide a “safe place” for Joey to spend his time.
Valentine’s Sunday, as is tradition now at Joe’s for Valentine’s Day, we all drew a candy heart out of the offering bag, and then listened for the Holy Spirit to speak God’s love to us through the words on the little candy. (I know it seems a silly ritual, but every year God has been faithful to bless many of us through this simple time of meditation.)
After the service, I asked Joey what his heart said. He held it up and showed me the word “Awesome.” I asked him what he thought that God was trying to say to him. His response was, “The Son of God is awesome.” I gently suggested to Joey that perhaps God was meaning something else. Perhaps God was trying to tell him that He thinks Joey is awesome.
Joey’s stared at me, his eyes widening and filling with tears. He said, “I am in darkness. I’ve been in darkness my whole life. That can’t be what God is saying.” On previous occasions Joey had told me about his own son, about how much he loves and misses him, how proud he is of his son. I reminded Joey of his own feelings toward his son, even though his son is not perfect, has made mistakes and has failed in some miserable ways–and I shared with him that this is how God feels about him. God loves him. He is proud of Joey, proud that Joey is his son.
Silently, tears began to stream down Joey’s face. He did not respond to me. I patted his shoulder and I asked him to think about what I had said, to see if God might not reveal to him how much He really loves Joey.
That was last week. This past Sunday, Joey was rather belligerent at church. He kept interrupting other conversations. He was disrespectful during communion. He monopolized my time, and then he said some personally insulting things to me. The usual grace that I feel towards those in our Valleybrook community felt pretty shallow. I did not have patience for him and even felt frustrated and irritated with him. Later in the afternoon, I knew my feelings had not been right, and I felt guilty about not loving him better and committed in my heart to choose LOVE the next time I saw him.
Sunday evening, we received a call from our volunteer working at Joe’s. She had just called 911. Joey overdosed on Aspirin and Nyquil.
He is now in intensive care and struggling for life. Condemnation is an overwhelming, overpowering emotion. Jesus said that the devil’s job description is to steal, kill and destroy. Through devastating hopelessness, he is seeking to do just that to Joey.
But Jesus came that Joey might have life, and that he would have it abundantly!! Would you please pray with us that Joey’s life will be spared and that somehow, by God’s amazing grace, Joey will find HOPE for an abundant new life in Him?
(Joey’s name has been changed to protect his identity.)