It is with caution in regard to “rumors of my demise” (think Mark Twain, Abe Vigoda, and not least Johnny Schizo), I want very much to remember my friend and colleague, Special Agent Alcoholica. I have heard the rumors of his demise more than once, but a couple of months ago, I heard them from some reasonably reliable sources. And in that time, he has not resurfaced alive to counteract them.
I don’t like associating him too closely with alcohol, but I cannot imagine remembering him without reference to it. In some regards, SA Alcoholica was the worst-case-scenario. He was an unrepentant, alcoholic, homeless man living in alleys around the downtown area of Lubbock for years. I only knew of one time that he was not drunk or searching for a drink over the years, but he was my friend and a fellow missionary. I miss him.
He is still on my routine prayer list. I reach the point in my prayer where his name comes up, and I continue to pray for him as if he were still alive. I ache in my soul to change that. And I hope that God will still express himself through this prophet, even postmortem. In fact, especially postmortem. But I find it hard to accept that he is “gone”.
I really cannot talk about SA Alcoholica without mention of his companion. And in fact, they were inseperable. My prayer is always for them both. They have been on this prayer list for years! A constant fixture in my mind and in my heart.
I sense that my rambling here is not doing justice to the remembrance. I want to share my heart, mourn the loss, and make a point with this post. In fact, I want to make a couple of points. And to do that, I can only tell a rambling story:
The first time I met SA Alcoholica and his lady, he introduced himself as “Cancer”. His face was so weather beaten, I thought he was probably 50 or 60 years old. His physical frame seemed strong, but his skin looked old and his hair was a matted mess. Same for both, actually. I was shocked to learn they were in their 30’s!
They both had tender hearts. They neither one were bashful about consuming any and all charity you might afford them, nor bashful about turning that charity into a bottle of booze! They were hardcore alcoholics of the first order, and paid the price for it by living on the very bottom rung among homeless people. More often than not, they slept in the open elements, frequently squatting on a nasty mattress next to dumpsters. And where ever they squatted, it did not take long for empty bottles to accumulate. They may have been sweet people, but they were also the poster children for the When Helping Hurts cause!
Over the years, I spent probably a half dozen nights with them. I joined the stink of their “spot” on a few occasions and hosted them in the Carpenter’s Church on a few cold winter nights (before I got kicked out). In fact, one of the more eventful episodes I recall was the night SA Alcoholica went into an alcoholic coma in the men’s room at the Carpenter’s Church when Mrs. Agent X and I were hosting homeless people there.
You see, the rule was that you were welcome to come in if you were not drunk. The word was put out on the streets earlier that day, and the weather reports warned of a nasty, winter storm coming. SA Alcoholica and his lady got the message, alright, and so they complied. They sobered up all day long so as to be eligible to enter for shelter that night! And that took a real measure of discipline! But, as those who work in the field of sobriety/recovery know, some alcoholics are soooooooo dependent on the booze that to quit cold-turkey can actually kill them. And when I followed SA Alcoholica into the men’s room to check on him in the middle of the night, I found him in a seizure on the floor and called Mrs. Agent X (a Registered Nurse btw) to assist. We called EMS then, and the Alcoholica’s spent the next two weeks in the hospital.
That was perhaps the first time I heard rumors of SA Alcoholica’s demise.
Calling EMS, and thus sparing his life, seemed to have endeared the Alcoholica’s to Mr. & Mrs. Agent X, and us to them – especially me. And since they were the poster children for homeless abuse of charity (If you give a bum $5, they just use it on booze or drugs), as you can imagine, they became the topic of many discussions between my family and friends. They were the premier test case – if such a thing really exists. And yes, pretty much every dime ever given them was used on booze.
SA Alcoholica and his lady were sweet people, but they had no qualms holding the hand out for alms!
If I thought I was going to turn these people into sober, responsible, independent, tax-paying contributors to society, then I was deluded. Any attempt at such would make me as manipulative as a con man, while almost certainly dooming me to failure. And yet, the Alcoholica’s were beloved by God! And I sensed that I was left with merely loving them “where they were at”.
Let me hasten to add: This did not mean I was in favor of their alcoholism! I wanted nothing less than for these sweet people to find their way out of this addiction, but I recognized that I was powerless against it.
Despite all the despair of alcoholism, or somehow maybe through it, I shared precious moments with this couple. I think back to the worship we shared late into the night in alleys and empty lots engaged in singing, prayer, preaching, and counting our blessings! These people were eager to share this love of God with anyone who would stop by.
I remember one night sleeping on a bed roll about 5 feet away. Somewhere in the night, SA Alcoholica’s lady woke up to a coughing fit. He tried to comfort her with soothing words and encouragement. I awoke and quietly eavesdropped as these two lovers took comfort in each other. Eventually, the cough subsided as SA Alcoholica told his lady of his dreams about one day building her a cabin in the woods. He would put a picture window overlooking the lake with the mountains in the sunset. He would construct a spiral staircase to the loft above.
I lay there visualizing it with them as they entered this imaginary heaven. And I realized, they took shelter in each other’s love. How many of us have homes and sobriety, but can’t manage even a fraction of that???
I decided to love them in that dreadful condition and share God’s love with them too. My prayer for them, even now, is that God will express himself through them so that they bear his image. In their weakness, God is strong – no? And so I joined them in the alleys and streets, I walked a mile in their shoes with them, AND offered worship with them to God!
Here is where I could literally tell a dozen stories. But I will save them for another time.