Please Know...

As I come to know the men and women of Kensington, specifically the homeless and addicted, their stories become increasingly sensitive and personal. Their collective story is what I am trying to share with you as my way of breaking the stereotypical beliefs that exist in regard to these fine people. Names are rarely their actual names and wherever I can do so, I might use the opposite pronoun (his/her, etc.) just to help increase their privacy.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Sad Options

With unkempt hair and a layer of street dirt on her face, arms, legs, and feet, she danced in front of me in a way that would make any dad cringe.  This was not a dance of sensuality but of trying to remain verticle while under the influence of her medicine.  She was holding my cell phone as she searched the public records and called local hospitals hoping to find a missing friend from this community.

After five days of no one seeing our mutual friend (now eight days as of this writing), the young lady dancing in front of me was suddenly worried.  The possibilities for where she may be are painful and hopeful.  Too many people are found dead from their drug habits in abandoned houses where no one sees them overdosing and in plain sight where no one bothers to check on them as they lay there hour after hour.

As a missing woman, the possibilities and fears take on additional worry of her having been attacked.  I've heard countless women say that this fear is why they don't sleep well at night in addition to the typical unpleasantries of trying to sleep homeless.

My dancing friend and I agreed that given the possibilities, we were hopeful that she was locked up and safe.  At least, in jail, she would be away from harm on the streets and in a forced detox.

What sad options to choose from....

I asked two of the more senior members of this community about contacting her family to tell them that we've not seen their sister/daughter in several days.  Their answer was insightful and painful:

"We have caused so much pain in the lives of our families that most of them don't want to hear from us.  To contact her family would only cause unwanted worry.  We recommend not contacting them."

Reader of this blog: What would you do?  Would you risk it and reach out to her family?  If you are a family member of an addicted person on the street, even if you feel that the bridge has been burned, would you want someone who is concerned for their whereabouts to reach out to you with their concern?

After some time of searching, my dancing friend excused herself saying that she had to get ready for work.  Maybe half an hour later, I saw a clean, well groomed and elegantly dressed woman walking down the sidewalk under the bridge.  She was out of place for her surroundings.  I quickly realized that this was the same young lady who had been using my phone and that her "work" was an upcoming parade of "dates" for the rest of the night.

I'm thankful to this young lady, the two senior members I spoke with and the many other men and women who reside under this bridge for allowing me into their lives.  I hope and pray that I'm able to show them that they are cared for and loved by God regardless of what's happening in their lives.

https://www.gofundme.com/ChrisBattin

Saturday, August 26, 2017

I Need My Medicine



Welcome to my Blog Series.  If you have recently seen the above banner and wondered what this website is, thank you for your curiosity.  I have directed that web address to this particular entry in my blog series about the true stories of addiction and homelessness in Kensington, a section of Philadelphia.  

There are many misconceptions regarding these issues.  This blog series is meant to help clarify the real issues for those of us who have never walked in those shoes.  These stories are real with all names and occasionally gender of the people in the stories being changed to preserve privacy.

Again, welcome and thank you for visiting.  I hope you find these stories helpful.


I Need My Medicine.

"How are you?" is a typical and a rather sterile question that everyone asks everyone else when we first see each other each day.  It's come to mean not much of anything.  Do we really care how the other person is?

I'm guilty of it just as much as anyone else.  When I was first getting to know the men and women of the community under a bridge in Kensington, I would say "Hi, (first name), how are you today?"   The most typical answer that I receive has been along the lines of "Not well.  I'm sick.  I need my medicine."  And here's where my lack of understanding due to never being an addicted person myself shined bright like a spotlight on a foggy night...

I would look at each person and ask them what type of cold they had, chest, head, allergies?  Out of the politeness that I've discovered in almost every person in this community, they would respond with,  "No. I'm dope sick and need my medicine."  I still didn't really understand what they meant until just a couple days ago when a member of this community explained through word and example exactly what was meant by this phrase.

I sat down on the sidewalk with one person who was feeling dope sick.  He told me that it had been far too long since his last heroin injection.  Dope sickness can manifest itself differently in different people.  His dope sickness was something like allergy becoming flu.  In the few minutes we sat together, I observed his symptoms going from mild to severe allergy to a headache and nausea.  He apologized in advance for the possible accident he may have in his pants.  "I'll be better as soon as I get my medicine."

He excused himself from our conversation to get his medicine.  I saw him again not even half an hour later and he was completely healed.  All symptoms were gone!  

"All I needed was my medicine." 

I finally got it... At least to a small degree, I finally understand the desperate need of a person trapped in addiction to continue to "need their medicine" to keep from becoming increasingly outrageously physically sick.

What's missing from the above description?

Nowhere did I mention getting high from their drug use.  I sat down with another person on the opposite sidewalk from the above discussion as he prepared four or five packets of heroin for one injection.  As he was doing so with the skill of any R.N. preparing a shot for a patient in a hospital, this man looked at me and said, "Chris, I've built ups such an immunity that I don't get high any more.  I continue to do this to keep from getting sick."  

"I need my medicine."

For some but not all of the lady members of this community, their source of income for their medicine is their body.  One woman told me that to keep from getting sick, she will stand on a street corner or walk around on Kensington Avenue for hours as dope sickness settles in until some 'man' makes an offer.  

"One was an important lawyer who picked me up in his Cadillac, took me to a center city hotel, tied me to the bed, had his way with me, got dressed, untied me and left the room.  I had to use some of the money he gave me for public transit just to get back here to buy my medicine."  

With tears running down my own cheeks just as much as her tears running down her cheeks, I asked: "Why do you do this?"

"I need my medicine."

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Clean by the Love of God

I think this is going to be a short blog. We'll see.

I spent several hours under the railroad bridge today but the highlight of the day came at the very end after having been given a stack of magazine styled Bibles by Ed Lewis the national director of CE National the parent Ministry of Urban Hope.

I distributed the magazines to people who I knew would be interested and or expressed interest in the moment.  A couple of people said that they would not be interested in looking at it and I respected their openness and we had good conversations in spite of their lack of interest in what I had to share.

Two or three people received it joyfully and set it aside.

There was one young man in his mid-twenties who gladly accepted it and opened it and started to read it and continued to read it during the rest of my time under the railroad bridge with these 30 or 40 people who are gathered there on this rainy night.

What an incredible Joy it is to be part of a church like Urban Hope that believes in putting Jesus Christ first and is not at all afraid to provide reading materials to human beings who are too often considered forgotten and not worthy and smelly and distasteful and what other inappropriate description society has tossed at them.

This is God's intent for church. Let us never forget it. If you are reading this and your "church" has pushed to one side the image and message of the Victorious and Resurrected Christ you should reconsider your mission and put into place people who will guide you back into being a church as God intended.

I thank God for this young man who was actively reading so much so that he did not even hear me say goodbye when I said goodbye to him as I was leaving two hours ago. What an incredible Joy it is to be part of this community of struggling human beings who want nothing more than to be cleaned by the love of God.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

It's Not All Smoke and Needles.

I've been thinking recently about how most of my blogs discuss the sad side of homeless addiction.  Don't get me wrong...  It is horribly sad that human beings live this way.  Tonight, I want to make sure that you know that, even within the pain and suffering of homeless addiction, there are many moments of total normalcy and beautiful blessing.

For example...

As I write this, there are two 13 day old kittens being lovingly mothered by a man who lives within his addictions and still finds time, energy and interest to assure that these animal infants receive the needed nutrition that their adolescent Mom chose not to give.  He permitted me to take this picture which I have cropped WAY down to show just the basics of his use of a clean heroin syringe (otherwise used to provide insulin to a diabetic patient) being used to provide nutrition to one of the two kittens.

This is just one of many examples of how the ordinary exists within these communities of homeless addiction.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Prodigal Daughter

There might be a few people who read these blogs who are wondering who I am...

I won't bore you with some long drawn out story but here are a few snippets of my life...   

I was adopted into my family.  

I am the oldest of two adopted into my family.  I have a wonderful sister who lives in Chambersburg Pa.

My Dad was a pastor, specifically an Episcopal priest.  Mom was an English teacher who specialized in private tutoring.

I grew up in and love the church and was taught from very early on about God's love and message of Salvation.

After graduation from high school, I became very active in leading the youth ministry at the Church my Dad served.

I've been learning to play the guitar for a few years now.

OK...  That's enough for now...  Let me get on with my blog...

On Tuesday evening, I was spending time with this amazing community of homeless and addicted friends under the railroad bridge when a new-to-me young couple strolled into the conversation.  The young man is someone I've seen on the streets for a few months but the young lady is someone I'd not seen before this night.  She caught my attention because she was obviously pregnant, seemingly new to the streets, and smoking crack cocaine.  Did I mention that she was obviously pregnant?!?!?!

The wheels of disgust began turning in my head and heart as I watched this hideous behavior unfold in front of me.  I felt sick to my stomach as I watched this otherwise "cute as a button" young lady cause potential damage to her unborn child.  I wanted to scream at her but knew to do so would destroy any hope of guiding her and the others I've sought to serve under this bridge.

Letting the moment unfold on its own, I prayed for guidance in what to do and say if anything.  Self-doubt that I'd know what to say began to slip into my thinking.  "What do I have in common with a pregnant very young woman who smokes crack during her pregnancy?"  "How can I have any kind of common life experience from which to gain entrance into her life story?"  (The boyfriend had wandered away.)

Chris:    "Hi. I don't believe we've met. I'm Chris.  Would you like some water?"

Nicola:  "Hi, Chris.  Thank you.  I'm Nicola."

Chris:    "It's nice to meet you, Nicola."  I attend Urban Hope Church at 210 East Tioga."

Nicola:  "I love church.  I am adopted.  I'm the oldest of several adopted children in my family. My Dad is a pastor.  After high school, I helped lead my youth group.  I played guitar there too."

"Good heavens, Nicola!  We're practically related!" I explained our common backgrounds and conversation flowed easily from that point on albeit on the lite side of what I really wanted to discuss.

Two evenings later, I saw Nicola and her boyfriend again.  We talked about her plan for putting her unborn child up for adoption, my concern about her use of crack and her plan for completely stopping that practice "by Sunday."

And then Nicola said something that helped me to appreciate the depth of her buried Christian maturity.  (Summary): "In about an hour, I will be meeting with my mother at a local restaurant.  I just told her today that I'm pregnant.  I will cry as I tell her how sorry I am for messing up so badly.  I will seek her forgiveness and do all I can to help her understand how truly repentant I am for all I have done.  I know my Savior forgives me.  Chris, today, I am the prodigal daughter!"

Nicola and I briefly prayed together.  Her boy friend had quietly slipped out of the conversation.

If Nicola's prodigal daughter story goes as did the Biblical story of the Prodigal Son, I might not see Nicola again because she will have moved home to a loving Mom and (pastor) Dad and off the streets of Kensington.

For privacy reasons, Nicola's real name has been changed for this blog.  Our LORD knows her and her situation even better than does she.  Please hold her and her family up in prayer during this time in their lives.

UPDATE: This blog has a second chapter, so to speak. I invite you to click here for it.


Monday, August 14, 2017

I Love You in the Name of Jesus

Those words popped out of my mouth a few days ago as I returned the hug initiated by a woman in her mid-twenties who had just washed her blackened flip-flopped feet in my van following a night of providing services to "men" who hired her for their own pathetic reasons.  Those words have never been strung together by me in my life.  I'm not sure who was more shocked, her or me.

During that time of foot washing where I poured water over her feet and ankles while she did the washing, I was sure to explain to her that I was doing so because I care about her and, more importantly, Jesus loves her.

I asked her how she got to this point of being homeless and addicted and relying on "dates" to provide her with a basic income.  She willingly shared with me as I was pouring water over her ankles and feet that she had been in the early stages of working toward a medical degree specializing in plastic surgery when "legal problems" hit her life.

If you're reading this and that last sentence bothers you just a little bit...  please sponsor this young woman out of her homeless, addicted and "date" funded life.  Pray for her and provide for her! God knows her name.  I know where she lives.

Personal Pause in this Blog...

This is the first blog that I will have posted to Facebook where some of my Facebook friends ARE the homeless and addicted people of Kensington (some of whom are unhappily relying on "dates" for financial survival).  As you have shared your lives with me... As you have slept in my van...  As I have sat with you while you inject or as you have hidden your drugs from me as I have approached you, I want you to know what an incredible privilege it is to have your trust.  These blogs are my attempt to help other readers know that you are a fine person who is made in the image of God and worthy of dignity, honor, respect, and love.

Back to My Blog...

As I do each time that I visit these fine people under the bridge, I bring two cases of bottled water on ice.  At the request of the young lady mentioned above, I've started bringing fruit.

There's a slight tension in me as I hand the bottles of water to my friends.  Within a few minutes, I will be sitting on the sidewalk with some of these men and women who will be preparing their next hit of heroin by sticking their syringe through the opening into the bottle that I have just given them and using the bottle cap to mix the water and the drug to create the injection that may kill them right in front of my eyes.  (I do carry Narcan.)

Is it wrong of me to provide water?

Expanding this conversation: Is it wrong of me to allow a woman to use the side window of my van as a mirror to catch her reflection so she can apply her makeup in preparation for her evening of "dates?"

The answer is easy and the answer is NO!  The injections and the date nights would happen if I was not there.

No one under that bridge wants to be there.  Virtually every man and woman wants to be clean.  By being there, I willingly come alongside you, my blog reader who lives under that bridge to love you in the Name of Jesus and to encourage you and to walk with you as you make your way to clean.




Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Sisters

(The names below have been changed to protect privacy.)

In my college years, within my inner circle of friends that included both men and women, there was a young woman whose Christian Faith was rock solid spiritually and intellectually.  That's unique in this world.  Most of us are one or the other.

This woman had two sisters and one brother.  All of them were and are solid in their Christian Faith.  As the years have passed since college, we were not in each other's actual presence very much, hardly at all.  Thanks to Facebook, we were up on what was happening in each other's lives.  When my friend was diagnosed with cancer about a year and a half ago, I read stories from her of how her siblings were coming to visit to care for her as well as her daughter and husband in any way they possibly could.  

When the word "hospice" became part of those stories, the evidence of siblings coming alongside their baby sister grew exponentially right up to the day she moved to heaven two weeks ago.



Ironic...

Two weeks ago, I met a new cluster of homeless and addicted people under a bridge.  They include men, women and at least one as of yet to be born child.  

Prior to being introduced to this group of human beings, I had seen one person inject heroin into themselves.  In these two weeks, I've lost count.  I sit with them while they inject and watch a mostly coherent person become barely coherent and falling over all in the name of getting that needed high.

Such is the case with Julie who I've seen under this bridge for these two weeks, skinny as a rail, polite and welcoming.  Last night, I visited this group of men and women with leftovers from the family dinner at Urban Hope.  This included chicken salad sandwiches, prepackaged diced pears in their natural juice and bags of chips.  Julie was there as always and next to her there was a woman I'd not seen before.  After distributing the food, I introduced myself to the newcomer.  Julie said, "Chris, this is my baby sister Jennifer."  

As I said, "Hi, Jennifer.  It's nice to meet you." a ripple of pain ran through my heart as I watched her finish her injection into the back of her hand with Julie's help.  I had handed Jennifer a fruit cup prior to the injection being prepared and she had been truly thankful.  As this potentially, instantly deadly injection began to take effect, I watched Jennifer's level of coherance drop to a minimal level.  Julie herself was fading from her own injection but managed to assist her baby sister with direct pressure to the needle wound in the back of her hand.

Jennifer's level of coherence was so low at first that I chose to stay close in case Narcan was needed.  Eventually, Jennifer was in that zone where she was trying to do things and not having any luck with anything.  Opening and consuming those pears was too much for her even though she was very hungry and showing interest.  

I opened the pears for her and realized that even holding the spoon was too much.  She wanted to eat.  That was obvious.  I began to feed her the pears.  It was also obvious that she was doing all she could to receive food, something she'd not had in some unknown-to-me period of time.  

As I fed her, I asked her if she understood why I was doing this.  She didn't.  I said, "I care about you because Jesus loves you."

She paused in her eating and leaned in toward me and looked into my eyes...  "Jesus loves me?"

"Yes. Jesus loves you just as you are."



Sisters...

One set of Christ filled sisters assisted and served their baby sister in any way possible as cancer was battled and eventually claimed her.

Another set of sisters...  Julie assisted and served her baby sister Jennifer in a procedure that could have instantly killed her.  

Sisters...

Monday, August 7, 2017

They're not just a project, they become friends.

Earlier today, I came across this article 
by  / 
(If you're not familiar with Joni's story, 
PLEASE click on her name for a brief video of her telling her story.  
It will add meaning to the following blog.)




I do what wise Christian friends once did with me. 
Back in the early ’70s when I was starting to take seriously 
Christ’s lordship in my life, 
my friends didn’t merely tell me biblical truth: 
Here, believe this. Rejoice in your trial. It’ll do you a world of good.” 
Instead, 
they hooked up their spiritual veins to mine, 
pumping compassion into my wounded soul. 
Com means “with” and passion means “Christ’s suffering.” 
They literally were Christ-with-me-in-suffering. 
I wasn’t their spiritual project; I was their friend.

Hold that bold thought for a moment and go to the following video (the link in the next sentence) from Urban Hope and listen for a nearly identical statement by Ed Lewis, the CEO of CE National, the parent ministry of Urban Hope.  

At the 3:42 point, Ed says "They're not just a project, they become friends."

In this new ministry that God involved me in, if I had to reduce these human beings to the role of a project to work with or a client to serve, I don't know that I'd be willing to sit on the sidewalk under a bridge while clients around me smoke crack or projects inject heroin.  I don't think I'd be willing to cross an exit ramp off of I-95 by foot with my cooler in tow so as to find a project in a hidden area under another bridge.  I wouldn't be able to walk "The Tracks" to see where my "clients" live.  I'd be too frightened to pray with my project on a sidewalk next to those same tracks.  I would never treat my client to dinner, start a clothing exchange, wash their laundry or allow them to sleep in my car for hours on end when they've not slept in days due to fear of the streets.

But for a friend, I would gladly provide fresh clothes, bowl, soap, water and towels for a homeless and addicted and wasted prostitute just off of her night of providing services to "men" so that she can wash her blackened flip-flopped feet before she walks to the abandoned house that she calls home.  For a friend, I would gladly hold for safe keeping a welding helmet while this man works on getting life put back together.  For a friend, I would post fliers, talk to police and homeless folks, store managers and guards to find them when they are missing and in so doing discovering how much they are cared for by these people.  For a friend, I would tell them I love them in the Name of Jesus.  For a friend, I would beg them not to die from the two C Cs of heroin unknowingly mixed with elephant tranquilizer and self injected into an available vein.  For a friend, I would not notice their stench of body odor but would offer them a bottle of water or eat ice cream.

Am I being unprofessional?  Some might say so.

Am I being biblical?  I say so. John 15:13 tells me this:


There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

As Christians, 
we are called to represent Christ.  
The broken people of this world need friends 
who will love them simply because they exist.  
It doesn't matter if they broke themselves or 
circumstances around them broke them.  
Broken is broken at this point.  
Cause is irrelevant.  
Be a Friend in the Name of Christ!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Adding an Ingredient to the Recipe...

Just when I was starting to grasp the devastation in a person's life who is dealing with homelessness and addiction, our LORD has added another devastating ingredient to the nightmare for me to learn about.  That added ingredient is prostitution.  For the past week or so and especially in the last 48 hours, I've begun to see the inside story of being a woman who is homeless and addicted and funding her addiction through prostitution.  What follows is a beginner's essay on what I've discovered...

Last night, I was under a bridge giving away waters and chatting with any man or woman who wanted to talk.  There were about forty people gathered, some smoking crack, others injecting heroin, another sweeping the open areas between mattresses and one playing with the resident (pregnant) cat.  Some were playing cards and others were sitting around just talking the way anyone gathered in a small group of friends would do.

And then there were the younger women...  not all of them mind you but enough that I noticed.  Clothing and jewelry were a notch fancier than they had been in my earlier visit and purses were larger.  Some were catching one last smoke of crack or injection of heroin before they left for their first customer.  Each one, someone's daughter or sister or aunt or mother...

One of these women - although to be fair, I'm not sure she is prostituting her self - selected several pieces of clothing from my supply and asked if I could hold them until this morning.  When I arrived at this community about an hour before church at Urban Hope today, to give these clothes to this young lady who was considering going to church with me, one of her girlfriends was just coming back from her night "at work."  She was exhausted and wasted on drugs and/or alcohol.

To protect her anonymity, I've changed this young lady's name.  I had not seen her the night before and she introduced herself as the first letter of her name (which, by the way, is also changed).

Hi.  I'm R.
At that exact moment, one of the ladies who I did know from previous visits said, 
Chris, this is Rachel.
Looking a bit annoyed, Rachel caved in to being called by her actual name.
I said,
Hi, Rachel. I'm Chris but you can call me "C."
Both ladies laughed.

Later in the day, I visited this under-bridge community again.  Rachel picked out a few clothes.  I tried to be sure that the collection that she had to choose from was not too hot, not too Amish, but "just right." :)  During that selection process, Rachel and I chatted about life.  

As I do with everyone, I try to make it clear that I'm doing these things for each person because I care and, more importantly, Jesus Loves them.  In Rachel's case, this understanding of Jesus' love for her was better understood following eight years of Catholic School Education.  She shared with me her love of science and her professional goal of earning an advanced medical degree all of which was ended by legal problems that have her now on the street, homeless, without family, addicted to a substance that may kill her instantly the next time she sticks a needle in her arm, thigh, cheek, hand or any body part that has an available vein and "working" as a prostitute to support this potentially deadly addiction.  Rachel loves fruit, especially strawberries, and never gets any.  She carries a box cutter for self-protection in case any "men" try to get away with more than what is in her required job description. Rachel is twenty-five years old.  Rachel is her Mom and Dad's daughter.

I was with a prostitute tonight.

I was with a prostitute tonight and it was a lot like visiting friends in the servant's courtiers of Downton Abbey.

Actually, I was with several prostitutes tonight and it was a lot like visiting friends in the servant's courtiers of Downton Abbey.

Allow me to explain...

Here I was, as part of my reaching out to the homeless and addicted men and women of Kensington, under a bridge with a sidewalk loaded with mattresses that these people call home.  It was early evening and many but not all of the young ladies of the community were preparing themselves in dress and makeup for their income producing hours that lay ahead.  

There was one, someone's daughter in her mid-twenties, who shared with me that another who had just walked past us had saved her life with a dose of Narcan and a round of CPR not long ago.  I sat on one mattress that was neatly made up as a dignified bed as if expecting company while this young lady shared with me some of her personal stories.  (These blogs are becoming a challenge to write in that I know I  must maintain anonymity while being accurate in my "story" telling.)

As she shared some of her life story, she was having a terrible time staying awake.  I suggested that she lay back and just close her eyes for the night.  The fact that some unknown guy was already asleep on that same mattress was, for all intents and purposes, irrelevant.  "I can't." she stated...  I need four to five hundred dollars a day to support my drug habit."  She wobbled back and forth on the side of that sidewalk-bound mattress as she contemplated waking up enough to throw on some makeup and a dress and go allow herself to be bought for an hour (a few times over) by some "man" who doesn't give one iota about her as being the child of God that she is...  "If you're going to be with us Chris, you've got to get used to this." she encouraged.  Rather than debate the point, I decided to quietly get up from where I was sitting on the neighboring mattress in hopes that she would fade away into the night for some much-needed sleep.

Here's why I felt like I was visiting friends in the servant's courtiers of Downton Abbey.  When someone hires a prostitute, in and of itself and setting aside the issues of morality for a moment, there is some degree of neatness, tidiness, cleanness, attractiveness, attributes that would entice the customer to buy the product or service.  This is the upstairs areas of the Abbey. Seeing the "servant's courtiers" aspect of this was to see the women in their home environment, living and sleeping and eating under a railroad bridge, tending to discretely disguised or hidden wounds, injecting heroin to give them the boost they need to perform their sex acts while simultaneously deadening their emotions to the sadness and disgust that they feel for themselves as they perform those acts on men who don't give a rip about them as human beings.

Other aspects of the Servant's Courtiers...

I stepped over to a group of older men.  One promised that he and his wife would be joining me for worship at Urban Hope.  Others in this cluster of men expressed thankfulness that I had delivered water and sorrow that they missed the dinner provided by Urban Hope right outside the large bank building at the corner of Kensington and Allegheny Avenues. 

Further up the line of mattresses that line this sidewalk, just north of the "No Shooting up under the bridge." sign, four women were preparing their syringes for their next round of heroin.  Two didn't want to talk to me while two were open to conversation.  I encouraged them to visit Urban Hope...

Oh dear...  This story never really ends... It's 11:30 pm and I'll be back there in about nine hours...  I better get some sleep.


Saturday, August 5, 2017

Tell Your Heart to Beat Again

Tell Your Heart to Beat Again
Since becoming involved with the homeless and addicted men and women of Kensington, I've seen two people, one man and one woman cry in utter unparalleled agony of their situation. 

The first time I witnessed this, it was a man about 40 years old.  He was sitting on a box at the corner of Aramingo and York.  He was sobbing uncontrollably.  His whole body was heaving not in the physical sickness of his addiction but with the emotional and spiritual trauma in his soul.  I asked him what was wrong and he looked at me and said this:

"My Mother came and visited me here on the street yesterday.
She balled me out for wasting my life in my addiction."

I spoke with him briefly but words seemed to run off him like water off a duck's back.  He was inconsolable in that moment.  I didn't see him for maybe a week until there he was, at the same corner asking drivers for change.  He brightened up when he saw me and said that he'd found a job and was starting in about three days.  He just needed to be on the street until his first paycheck.  About a month later, I was sitting in my car in a Rite Aid parking lot on the north end of Aramingo Avenue when this man, with a smile on his face, was riding a bicycle, seemingly to or from his work place.  I've not seen him since and simply pray that life is working out and that he is allowing his heart to beat again.

On June 17th, I toured "The Tracks" with several people from Urban Hope.  At the end of that tour, I witnessed something in real time that my protected life had never seen before.  About a hundred feet from me, I saw a young woman injecting herself with heroin.  My heart hurt for her as I thought that she is someone's daughter.

In the minutes that followed, this young woman had come close to our group and I spoke with her about how much my heart hurt in watching her do that.  She became very embarrassed, apologized and said that she hates doing this and wants to stop but can't.  Before our time was done that day, she, a man she was with and I prayed together for her healing that she claimed to want.

I didn't see her for about a month until she resurfaced last week under a railroad bridge in the community that I've recently written about.  Again, she emphatically stated to me that she wants out of this lifestyle.  She asked me if she could borrow my cell phone to call her dad.  She sat in the back seat of my van where she had some degree of privacy from the other members of her community.  The agony in her soul, just like the man weeks earlier, poured out in her tears that flowed down her cheeks.  At one point, she was screaming at her dad, not in anger at him but with anger at herself.  

After that call, we developed a plan for her to go to detox.  That plan did not work out as I had hoped.  In a follow-up conversation with this young woman two days ago, she continued to emphasize her desire to get cleaned up from her drugs and have a better life.

It has now been about five days since she spoke to her father on my phone.  I've had the privilege of texting and talking with him as well.  It is obvious that this man loves his daughter.  He prays for God's protection and healing in her life just as I did with her weeks earlier.  

The love of a mother for her son lost in addiction...  
The love of a father for his daughter lost in addiction...

The former found healing.
The latter is still searching
and so close to finding.

As I type this, it is Saturday morning.  I will be under that railroad bridge visiting with this community of men, women and at least one fetal child in a few hours.  I pray, and I ask you to pray, that I will find this young lady.  If I do, we will talk for a bit and I will give her a sheet of paper with the following lyrics.  Her new future, like the thousands of other human beings trapped in addiction, is one small decision and one giant dose of God enhanced determination away from reality.  

Tell Your Heart to Beat Again

You're shattered
Like you've never been before
The life you knew
In a thousand pieces on the floor
And words fall short in times like these
When this world drives you to your knees
You think you're never gonna get back
To the you that used to be

Tell your heart to beat again
Close your eyes and breathe it in
Let the shadows fall away
Step into the light of grace
Yesterday's a closing door
You don't live there anymore
Say goodbye to where you've been
And tell your heart to beat again

Beginning
Just let that word wash over you
It's alright now
Love's healing hands have pulled you through
So get back up, take step one
Leave the darkness, feel the sun
'Cause your story's far from over
And your journey's just begun

Tell your heart to beat again
Close your eyes and breathe it in
Let the shadows fall away
Step into the light of grace
Yesterday's a closing door
You don't live there anymore
Say goodbye to where you've been
And tell your heart to beat again

Let every heartbreak
And every scar
Be a picture that reminds you
Who has carried you this far
'Cause love sees farther than you ever could
In this moment heaven's working
Everything for your good

Tell your heart to beat again
Close your eyes and breathe it in
Let the shadows fall away
Step into the light of grace
Yesterday's a closing door
You don't live there anymore
Say goodbye to where you've been
And tell your heart to beat again
Your heart to beat again
Beat again

Oh, so tell your heart to beat again...

Written by Matthew West, Bernie Herms, Randy Phillips • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group, Capitol Christian Music Group

Thursday, August 3, 2017

A Story With No Ending

As I pulled up to the curb under the railroad bridge on Emerald Street, near Lehigh Ave., I was greeted with the words "Hello pastor." Whenever I hear that I try to clarify that I'm very active at Urban Hope but I'm not one of the pastors.  I arrived with two cases of water on ice ready for distribution to the residents of this underbridge curbside community of addicted and homeless men, women and at least one fetal child. I told the first person I saw that I had cold water for everyone. As much as possible, I try to shake hands or bump fists with everyone I greet. I ask their name and my mind retains far less of this important information than I wish it would.

Men and women come up to me briskly at first as I try to acknowledge those I know I've already met.  As I look down the wide sidewalk, I see a line of old mattresses.   Some are empty except for the old sheets and blankets laying on them jumbled in a similar fashion to my own at my house in the suburbs. On one mattress, their resident housecat grooms itself and seems to be completely unaware that its home will never be listed on any top ten places to live list. 

Other mattresses have people on them, one asleep in a contorted fetal position. I watched to see if she was breathing before focusing elsewhere. On another mattress, a heterosexual couple was getting to know each other.  Another mattress was hosting a man possibly in his latter stages of life. On yet another, a man was tending to his waisted lady friend as she seemed to be closing in on vomiting.

There is a low partition on the north end of the sidewalk under this bridge and it is there that people, out of respect for the "No shooting up under the bridge." sign that people shoot up.  It is there that I met two women who have been a couple for three years and one man whose role is a mystery to me.  The more petite of the two ladies of this couple was sitting on a milk crate and holding a blue paper towel on the back of her hand as a direct pressure bandage following her self-injection of heroin just a moment before I visited them.  The uncapped needle and its attached syringe were sitting in her lap as she greeted me with a politeness that caught me off guard.  The four of us chatted about life in New Jersey (of which I know nothing) and an upcoming shopping trip that the other woman was about to take with her mother and child later in the day.

As the conversation was coming to a natural close, I said my goodbyes and left.  I treated myself to dinner at Applebees where I wrote the first three paragraphs of this blog.  (I stopped at the word "vomiting" so that I could enjoy my bacon cheese burger and fries!)

Just prior to going to the recovery meeting at Urban Hope, I visited this community again with my remaining case of water.  A man was sweeping the sidewalk between the mattresses and all portions of exposed sidewalk under the bridge.  As much as I could figure out, his payment for services rendered was that he could keep any and all "rocks" of crack cocaine that he happened to find on the ground.  

I had an in depth conversation with the person who I've mentioned anonymously a couple days ago who is sick of their homeless-addicted life.  I had hoped to lead them to detox and recovery today but this person, while very close to doing so, was not quite ready.  Keep praying!

In both of these visits today, I found it disturbing the number of very nice cars that would pull up to the curb.  A well-dressed man would ask if a particular woman was there.  Every time, they were told no and then they would drive away.  Hhmm... What's going on there?  To clarify the issue, at one point, my recovery candidate was having a discussion with a woman who was getting herself all "gussied up" to use my grandfather's terminology, so that she could make some much-needed money tonight.

Also in both visits today, there was one woman who was passed out in a chair the entire time.  I went and checked on her to be sure that she was alive.  She was.

How do I conclude a blog such as this?  I can't.  There is no conclusion.  As I type this on my computer in the suburbs, this community of men, women and one soon to be born child are gathered under that bridge.  Some are injecting heroin as you read.  Other's are smoking crack as you read.  At least one is with or searching for her next "customer" for the night as you read.


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Claiming Recovery

In the following very real story I am doing everything possible to maintain total anonymity of the person involved. For that reason I am avoiding the he-she pronoun. The end result for those of you who believe in perfect English is that some of the sentences are a tiny bit awkward. Bear with me and try to read the story.

It is an incredible privilege to come alongside a human being who has been made in the image of God and who has come to the realization that their life is broken and in need of repair. Such was my privilege earlier today under a bridge in Kensington as I looked into the eyes of this human being and as I heard this human being's voice as they expressed how sick they are of being sick.

This person explained to me how a prescription for Percocet over a year ago led to an addiction to heroin and how they are now thoroughly disgusted with their own life.

This person asked if they could borrow my cell phone to call their father to tell their dad of the agony that they felt in their soul.  This fine person who is made in the image of God sat in my car in the air conditioning and spoke to their dad. At times it was a shouting match. At times it was tears rolling down cheeks and a nose running in my car and probably in some house I will never see as Dad tried to grasp the agony in the soul of their child on the other end of the phone.

When this person finally hung up the phone I asked if they wanted to go to recovery right now. They said "no because tomorrow is my 27th birthday and I don't want to be going through withdrawal on my birthday." And so we will wait 48 hours and go to recovery on Thursday and begin a new life.

I asked this fine and intelligent person how they were going to get through these next 48 hours. Will you be doing any drugs? I asked. They explained that they would stretch the drugs as far as they possibly could so as not to go into withdrawal prior to getting to the hospital. I looked into this person's eyes and I said well between now and then please do not die. They looked at me and they said they would be okay. This person should know because this person has been living on the streets for about 1 year doing exactly this day in and day out.

Please do pray that all of the pieces come together and that this fine human being made in the image of God will hold to their conviction to reclaim the life that they know they can have in the absence of drugs.