Real Voices on Tuesday’s, Chapter 1
I meet with eleven people on Tuesday nights, whom I have come to embrace as some of my best spiritual friends. This is an account of our lives and how we are relating to Jesus as we connect with him while reading the Gospel of John. I have taken some liberty with the dialogue. The truth is that the dialogue in our meetings is better than I can re-create with my imagination. Our desire is that this exercise with the Gospel of John draws all of us into a deeper and more fulfilling relationship with Jesus Christ.
Tuesday Night – Meeting at Maywood
Tuesday is usually my day off. My routine is to take my autistic grandson to his school in Overland Park, Kansas. After that, it is “leg day” in the weight room at the church. Calling our weight room, “primitive,” is a compliment. There is no heat in the winter and no air conditioning in the summer. We have crammed a small fitness center into three very narrow rooms in the basement of the church. Our garage-sale weights are scattered within the narrow and poorly lit confines of these rooms. However, at my age I am happy to get to work out either alone or with the few friendly “gym rats” who exercise at the church.
Tuesday is the perfect “leg day.” I can work my legs, go to lunch with my wife and take a nap. That is the plan for Tuesdays and I am pretty happy when it actually takes place. This Tuesday, the customary day off was broken by an early evening community meeting. As I sat through the meeting, I thought to myself, “Why didn’t they just email all of this material instead of having a meeting?” As the meeting droned on and on, I started worrying somewhat angrily that I wasn’t going to make it to our Tuesday night Bible study on time. Mercifully, the meeting ended and I was able to get to Maywood a few minutes before seven. Most of my spiritual friends were already on the front steps of the church, talking with each other and waiting for me. I opened my office and turned on the heat in a nearby room where the thermostat was located. By the time the heat was running, the entire group was present.
My office was painted a light mustard yellow two years ago. I shared the office with Josh Monk, who tragically died from brain cancer in 2015. Josh decorated the office and we have left it just as he wanted it to look. On the walls hang some inspirational sayings and paintings by his brother, John, and Whispering Danny. These two men may be the best known and respected tattoo artists in the entire Kansas City area. Not long before Josh died, one of his friend’s, Joe Calhoon, presented him with an autographed and framed Stan Musial uniform. Josh was a St. Louis Cardinal’s fan and Musial was one of their most famous players of all time. Musial’s uniform was one of Josh’s prized possessions.
The spiritual friends sit, somewhat cramped, in a circle in front of an old counter that had been turned into a desk. Some balance coffee on their laps and others have Quick Trip drinks and chips. Joking and chatting among the members is expected and certainly practiced.
To my right is Ricky. He is a fifty-eight year old man with a full head of gray hair, a gray goatee, and a red Kansas City Chief’s ball cap. If you looked under Ricky’s right pant leg, you would see a prosthetic limb attached at the knee. Johnny is seated to the right of Ricky. He and his friend, Mike share an apartment in Northeast Kansas City. Mike and Johnny have partied together in the drug world, and now are trying to serve Jesus as friends and accountability partners. Johnny is in his late forties and Mike is in his early fifties. Johnny is a carpenter and Mike describes himself as a flooring mechanic.
Mike is seated to the left of Lena. Lena is a fifty-something grandmother. Her hands reveal a life of hard work. She has a fun and honest personality. She is a favorite among the children she serves on Wednesday nights, giving them pictures that she colors with pencils. Beside Mike is Miranda, one of the rare women who works as a electrician in the low-voltage field. Miranda, who wears her hair short, looks mid-20s but is actually 35, is a little shy and has a very disarming smile.
Katie sits beside Miranda. Katie works as a security guard on Independence Avenue in Northeast Kansas City. Everyone who is familiar with Kansas City knows that she has a tough job in one of the most crime ridden portions of the city. I have known Katie longer than anyone in the group, because she and her mother provided loving care to one of our favorite members who suffered from debilitating arthritis.
Roxanne is the newest member of our spiritual friends group. She is the youngest in the group and is the only member who has the distinction of leading the Independence police on a car chase that ended at the border of Kansas. Roxanne has a cute and self-effacing smile.
Peter is squeezed in the circle and seated by the filing cabinets at the rear of the room. Peter served in the Army and was injured prior to being deployed to Afghanistan. He often wears fatigues, is a career cook, knows the AA program very well, and currently works making upscale rifle stocks. He is in his forties and is a new grandfather of a beautiful baby girl.
Mike C. and Vivian round out the group. Mike C. is a construction worker who is currently working in one of the most affluent areas of the metro area. The pictures he shows the group reveals great skill and artistry in his work. Vivian is in her mid-thirties. She is a professional who works for the county. Vivian is a tall, slender lady with straight, shoulder-length brown hair. She has a very gentle spirit. When she speaks or prays, her words are well received by the group.
I found my seat in a folding chair between Lena and Ricky. Everyone was laughing and catching up on each others week. I interrupted the talk and said, “Let’s get started.” The group quieted down with only a couple finishing up what seemed to be interesting stories. Turning to Mike on my left, I pointed to an empty five gallon bucket in the corner that I’d brought in. I said, “Mike, to start our meeting would you please take that bucket and go to the closet in the hall? When you get there, please fill the bucket with all the darkness it will hold and get rid of it.”
“Sure Bob,” Mike said with a comical smile. “I’ll get right on it.”
I said, “Thanks Mike. We’re going to sit right here and see how much of the darkness you can take out of the room. Why don’t you take ten minutes and see how much you can accomplish?”
The whole group started laughing and Roxanne said, “Yeah, Mike. Let’s see what you can do? Go for it!” Roxanne was in her third week of recovery and currently lived at a women’s treatment center.
Mike remained seated with a silly grin on his face, so I said to him after the laughter died down, “If you don’t want to haul out the darkness with the bucket, why don’t you go turn on the light?”
Mike said, “That’s more like it.” Pushing back his chair, he got to his feet, went to the closet, opened the door and flipped the switch that was connected to a bare bulb in the ceiling. A light went on in the room.
I said, “Thanks Mike for playing along with my goofy object lesson. Now, let’s turn to the Gospel of John and see what Jesus had to say about all of this. Vivian, please read the first four verses of John for us?”
Vivian was wearing her customary blue windbreaker with a logo that identified her place of employment. She put her coffee cup on the floor and picked up her Bible. She looked down and began reading the verses, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
I scanned the group and said, “Thanks Vivian. Now, somebody tell me what is Jesus’ solution to the darkness?”
Lena had arrived from work, just as the meeting had begun. She had worked long hours in a warehouse and, in addition, was having difficulties at work. She was still wearing her work clothes and appeared to be very tired. Even though she was tired, she wasn’t content to just sit and listen. She said with a bit of weariness in her voice, “Bob, you just showed us. Jesus conquers the darkness by turning on the light.”
I put down my coffee cup, rested my elbows on my knees, looked casually at the group and said, “That’s right. When Jesus shines his light, the darkness has to go.” I looked at Miranda and said, “Miranda, we know this is true, but I want to ask you this. How do people usually try to get rid of the darkness in your world?”
Like the others, Miranda had worked hard all day and had come to the meeting straight from work. She was tired and not ready for a question, so she took a sip of water from a plastic bottle she was holding and didn’t say anything for a beat or two.
Katie, who was Miranda’s friend, said, “My job is to take care of the darkness with my uniform and sometimes even with my weapon.”
Mike broke in, looking directly at Katie, and asked with his award winning smile, “So, how’s that working Katie? Are you keeping the darkness out of Northeast?”
Katie snorted and replied, “You know the answer to that. I have about as much success as you would have had getting rid of the darkness back there, five gallons at a time.”
I was enjoying the dialogue of the group and I didn’t want to end the discussion, so I said: “Have you ever thought about how society tries to get rid of the darkness? Do you think they are trying to use one form or another of a bucket?”
Johnny’s face lit up with a bit of understanding that had just dawned on him and he said, “When they locked me up, they may have thought they were taking the darkness out of the world, but they never took the darkness out of me.”
“I know that’s right,” exclaimed Mike C. who was seated by Vivian. He looked at Johnny and others in the group and quickly said with strong emotion, “I’ve been in some sort of institution since I was eleven and the darkness has never left me. Jesus has helped me some, but the truth is I’m still a mess.”
The entire group was buzzing with side conversations about the failure of institutions to get the darkness out of the world. Miranda spoke up, seeming to come alive from her tiredness. She said with a renewed brightness in her eyes, “It just hit me. We all know that we have big troubles in our country. That’s all we’ve heard about this election year. It just occurred to me that what the Republicans and Democrats are fighting over is which party has the best bucket to use to get rid of the darkness of our world. Neither one has an answer, because we just saw that the only way to beat the darkness is with the light.”
A few more comments were made and then the room got quiet. Miranda spurred some thoughts that were rumbling in my mind. Once again, looking at the members of the group I said, “I’d like to spend some time with the idea Miranda suggested to us. We could use several examples, but let’s talk about the war on drugs. Do you think it has solved the problem of the darkness of the drug culture?”
The entire group shook their heads “no.” Mike C. spoke what seemed to be the consensus of the group. He said, “Part of the time I spent in prison was for drug violations. I did my prison time and they sent me to the “honor center.” Let me tell you there is no honor in that place. Men were smoking crack in my room every night. Right? How’s that for getting the darkness out? I relapsed, went to prison, returned to the honor center. Three times. You hear that? Three times! Right? When I met with the Parole Board, I begged them to send me somewhere else. Where’d they send me? Right? Back to the honor center.”
“Looks to me like the bucket’s broken,” said Ricky. Ricky began talking about a restraining chair. He said, “They put me in the restraining chair three times.”
I had never heard of a restraining chair. I didn’t ask anyone to elaborate what it was, but I assume it is a way for an unruly prisoner to be kept seated in a chair. I imagined handcuffs and a chair that was bolted to the floor. What surprised me was that several of my spiritual friends had all experienced the restraining chair at one time or another.
Mike C. told us of a time when he was in jail in Detroit. He said, “They had me in the chair. There was this bodybuilder kind of guard who looked like he was on steroids. He had a neck as big as my leg and massive arms. I kept on talking and he’d had enough of me. He called to the other guards and asked if they wanted to play football. They said ‘yes.’ I didn’t know what this ‘football’ stuff was, but this bodybuilder guard came in and put something like a football helmet on my head. The rest of the night, as the guards were making the rounds, one would come by me and hit me with something like a club in the back of the head. No sleep. Right? Lots of pain. Right? All night long. Right? And nobody knew about it. Right?”
I have stopped being shocked when hearing jail and prison stories. However, I thought a comment was in order. I quoted one of my favorite spiritual leaders and I said, “You know Rufus Moseley said that if you try to beat the devil with the devil’s tools, then you have to become a worse devil than the devil.”
Roxanne lit up with her pert smile and said drawing out her first word, “Soooo, that means the bucket doesn’t work.”
“You’re right,” I said. “Did you know that there were less than 400,000 people in prison when I graduated from seminary in the early 1970s? Now, there are over two and a half million people in prison. You’re right, Roxanne. The bucket is not getting rid of the darkness.”
Katie looked pained by the discussion. She wasn’t a police officer, but she trained alongside of the Kansas City police. She raised her hand, just like she was back in school. I said, “Katie, what are you thinking?”
The customary smile had left Katie’s face. She paused, collecting her thoughts, and said, “I don’t know exactly what to say, but do you all know what people in law enforcement have to put up with.” Her words picked up speed just as the tension in the room increased. She said, “I deal with crazies, and people who are always trying to get over on the system, and sometimes just plain evil people. My job is to protect all of the people who go to the business where I work. It’s just hard.” Katie’s words trailed off as she tried to assimilate the previous conversations with the reality of her job.
Equally thoughtful was Vivian. In her very quiet manner, she said, “I know what you mean, Katie. When I was in grade school, there was a boy who got tied to a chair and was beaten by his step-father – not just once, but over and over. That man was evil and he needed to be stopped. Sometimes evil people just need to be stopped. Period!”
Miranda entered the conversation and said, “Bob, I remember something you said a few months ago. You quoted President Lyndon Johnson and said that anybody can sit on the sidelines and talk about what is wrong. What’s really hard is to come up with a solution. Do you remember saying that?”
I hung my head a bit and admitted, “I remember saying that and I’m sorry for getting a little unbalanced in what I’ve been saying. I just get worked up at a system that is supposed to be designed to help people, but it ends up hurting them.”
Mike gave the group one of his famous grins and said, “When are we going to get back to talking about the light? Didn’t we already decide that Jesus’ light is the only way out of darkness, or did I just walk across the hall just to work off some of the Mexican food Johnny and I just ate before we got here?”
Roxanne had a rare serious expression on her face. Her eyebrows drew together and she said, “If you’re talking ‘church’ talk, I’ll tell you something. If we’re going to be the light, we can’t be like most of the church people I’ve met in my life. I’m only here because of Johnny and Mike. They told me that this group was different.” She looked at the group and her face returned to the hint of a playful smile and said, “You’d all better be, or I’m outta here.”
Vivian was normally a very quiet member of the group and only spoke when called on. For the second time in the meeting she interjected a comment and said, “I’ve been in church most of my life. I’m a church girl, but I’ve got to agree with Roxanne. This year, my dad received a Christmas card from a prominent Christian leader. The man looked perfect in his expensive suit and red tie. His wife was dressed in a perfect church-appropriate dress. Their kids and even the dog were perfect. Perfect smiles, perfect hair, perfect clothes – even the Christmas tree, the fireplace and the house was perfect. The first thing I thought was that none of us in this group would ever be in that the picture. The minute I saw the card I felt like a loser.”
Mike C. lit up, once again. He seemed to be enjoying venting some of his negative experiences. He said, “Here’s a bullet point. A few year I was in Atlanta and attended a wedding. I had on my best khaki pants and a button up shirt. Right. You know what? They all looked down on me, because I didn’t have on a tie. How’s that for acceptance?”
“I know exactly what you feel,” said Katie, losing some of the fire of her earlier talk. “It seems that whenever big-time church leaders make the news, they are telling people like us that we are wrong and that they wish we weren’t part of their neat, clean world.”
Peter had remained quiet during the entire discussion. Peter sat up straight and began talking about his spiritual friends in the room. He said, “The reason why I am in this group is because you are different. Well, really, you’re a lot like me, but you’re still different.” He kept on talking, putting together words, expressions and phrases that were attempts to convey his thoughts. He said, “Between the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous and this group, I am getting it together. I need both. I need the structure of the Big Book and daily AA meetings. I need the acceptance that I get in here. God is using both to shine light in my darkness and it is making a difference.”
Ricky had been silent during much of the group. He spoke with his gravelly voice and said, “Sounds like it is easier to talk about the problems than it is to come up with a solution. I think Peter’s on to something. How can we help each other experience Jesus better?”
Group members began shooting answers around the room like popcorn going off in the microwave. Johnny, a personal friend of Josh Monk, used one of Josh’s favorite sayings. He said, “Josh said it best, ‘Don’t talk about it, be about it.'”
Katie, happier now that the group was talking about solutions, said. “I think we need to impress on people that they don’t have to get “fixed” before they come to Jesus. Just have them come to Jesus and he will do the rest of the work.”
Johnny jumped back in the conversation. He said, “We’ve got to watch how we talk. You can’t use the F-bomb and have people want to know the Jesus we know.”
I said, “One of my friends who has been known to use the F-bomb in every sentence told me, ‘I’ve got to stop using the F-word. After all, I cant’ say this such a F’ing great church to my friends.”
The whole group laughed at this statement, relaxing from the tension of some of the previous exchanges among the group.
Miranda mentioned one of the senior adult ladies at the church who had welcomed her. She said, “After my childhood experiences in church, I wasn’t ever going back to church. This was my last chance I was giving church. I came with Katie and this lady really welcomed me. She and Katie are the reason why I’m here.”
Ricky was unconsciously taking his artificial leg on and off under his trousers and massaging his leg. He joined the conversation again and said, “Humility is very important. If we come off knowing it all, we will turn people off. Jesus came for the weak and the underdog. If we act superior, they will know it in an instant.”
I knew that Ricky often visited homeless camps. He had been homeless for a period of time, while living in Texas. One of my favorite expressions is that evangelism is best described as one beggar telling another beggar where the bread is. I was often humbled by Ricky and others in my group. They truly seemed to have much more grace and a willingness to deal with people than me.
While I was thinking about Ricky and his work with homeless men and addicts, Mike C. spoke up. He was leaned back in his chair beside Vivian, still wearing the coveralls that he had worked in throughout the day. He said in his customary direct fashion, “Meek isn’t weak. Right?”
One of the best things about guys like Mike C. and the other men in my group and in our church is that they are not weak. They are real men, who happen to be doing their best (most of the time) to follow Jesus. There is a poster in my office from a festival that is held annually. Josh Monk’s picture is on it with the heading. “Josh Monk, born again to preach hard. Saved but not soft.” Mike had just summed up one major aspect of Josh’s impact with us when he reminded us that being meek does not imply weakness.
I pulled out my cell phone and glanced at the time. I said to the group, “Thanks for all of your thoughts tonight. The next big section in the Gospel of John is the end of the chapter when people begin to follow Jesus. I’d like to talk with one of you this week and learn how you became a follower of Jesus. This will fit in nicely with the structure of John’s Gospel.”
We ended the meeting and several of the group went to the front steps to visit with members of a Narcotic Anonymous meeting that was held upstairs in the church.
Following Jesus, Another Tuesday. Chapter 2
Fun at Cricket
Mike met me in the hall twenty minutes before our meeting and said, “I need to get into the kitchen. I made chicken and dumplings and need to heat it up.” I sent him off and got ready for the meeting in a new location, the church library. The main attraction in our library is a commercial coffee pot. Every time the doors of the church are open seven or eight pots of Folgers coffee are brewed in the machine. To the right of the coffee pot is a fifty year-old wooded table with wooden straight-backed chairs around it.
When I finally slowed down and sat down at the far end of the table, most of the spiritual friends were eating Mike’s chicken and dumplings out of Styrofoam’s bowls. They liked it enough that Mike gave a couple of the members the recipe for his creation. I was a bit distracted with something, but caught the tail end of Mike’s story. He had been at the Cricket phone store in Liberty earlier in the day. The store apparently had a promotion with a hula hoop and candy. If you were able to make three revolutions of the hula hoop, you received candy. Apparently, Mike took over hula hoop duties and started inviting patrons to try out the hula hoop. An old man using a walker came in and tried, failed and still received his box of candy. Somebody asked Mike, “Do you work here?”
He said, “No, I’m just out having some fun today.”
The store manager asked, “Are you coming back tomorrow?” My understanding was that the manager would have been pleased if Mike would have agreed on a return trip the next day.
Mike just said, “No. I’m just having fun today.”
I thought to myself about what a collection of interesting people I had seated around my table. I had read in my morning prayer time that day Jesus’ words in John 15. Jesus said, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (John 15.11). No doubt, Mike was filled with the gift of Jesus’ joy. He traded thirty years of addiction for full life with Jesus Christ. Even the folks at the Cricket store got a taste of Mike’s crazy fun.
What is a witness?
I began the meeting by explaining that the word “witness” is a key theme in the Gospel of John. I said, “A witness tells what he or she knows.”
Johnny, Mike’s roommate and good friend immediately jumped into the conversation. He said, “I got a call from the District Attorney today. They want me to be a witness.” Last summer, Johnny was driving down Independence Avenue in the Northeast section of Kansas City. He saw a man severely beating another man, stopped his car and prevented the man from potentially killing the man who was helpless on the ground.
When Johnny told me this story earlier in the year, we both agreed that God had him at the right place and in the right time. Johnny is no stranger to fights and he has often been on the wrong side of the law. On this occasion, he was certainly right the man for the job.
Johnny was seated at the other end of the table between Roxanne and Ricky. He told us, “I broke up the fight, along with some other people on the Avenue. Now, I’m going to tell what I know.”
I said, “That is what a witness does.”
Peter was seated next to me on my right. He said, “I was working at a Pizza Hut several years ago. It was Halloween and two kids, fourteen and fifteen, came in a shot the place up. There was a huge church youth group in there at the time and it’s unbelievable that no one got hurt. The boys stole an empty cash register that didn’t work and ended up getting multiple attempted murder charges in the process. I was a witness to that and I did what Johnny said. I told what I knew.”
What are you looking for?
I said to the group, “We’re going to get to the theme of being a witness in a few minutes. But first, did you know that Jesus first words in the Gospel of John are, ‘What are you looking for?'” I discovered that profound truth while reading the Good News Translation of John 1.38 and marveled that Jesus asked such a searching question. I looked around the group and said, “If Jesus were to walk in here tonight and ask us what we are looking for, what would you say?”
Peter very quietly and almost unnoticed by the group said, “Serenity.”
There was a fair amount of chatter before Roxanne started speaking. Roxanne has recently completed treatment and is recovering from several years of addiction. She has a very winsome smile. She smiled before she spoke, but underneath the smile was a level of sadness. She said, “If Jesus asked me what I wanted, I would say I need help with my feelings. How do I have so many painful feelings and how can I cope with what I am feeling?” Roxanne continued speaking and the group was intent on understanding her. Some of us attempted to provide helpful advice, but I had the sense that it would have been better if we had just listened more. I wished that I hadn’t jumped in with some information from a book I had read.
Mike continued the group conversation with a level of sincere intensity. Mike had his award-winning smile plastered on his face this night. A week ago, that smile had been replaced by shame, despair and a fair amount of self-loathing. He gave us the short version of his experience. He said, “I thought I just had to have this chick. God told me to leave her alone many times. I didn’t listen to God and ended up with eighteen stitches in my hand. What was really bad is that I lost my feeling for God. I realized then that I didn’t need the chick. I needed God. I was miles away from God and desperately wanted to experience closeness to him again.”
During Mike’s very difficult week his spiritual friends surrounded him with needed support. Mike discovered Psalm 51, the prayer that King David prayed after his sin with Bathsheba. God did with Mike what he promises to do with all who confess their sins. He restored to him the joy of his salvation (Psalm 51.12).
Ricky had been quiet for much of the evening. He encouraged Mike and said, “God puts us through these situations.” Ricky was well acquainted with circumstances of pain and difficulty. He lost his leg and a quarter of a million dollars in a drug deal gone bad. Even more painful was that he lost his son to a heroin overdose. God has a way of revealing to Ricky his love through the number 13. A few times each week, Ricky sends me a text about how God has given him another “13.” It is God’s way of telling Ricky that he is looking after him.
Mike wasn’t quite finished with his story. He said, “I spent thirty years doing dope. I stored all of my feelings, all the wrong in my life, all of my hurts, all of the bad stuff I ever did, all of it in a closet inside of me. Johnny invited me to this church. At first it felt awkward. I didn’t know anybody and I didn’t know how things worked.”
Mike had the entire group listening and nodding signs of agreement with how it feels the first time you come to a church. He said, “First, somebody said ‘hi,’ then someone gave me a high-five, next I got a hug. Then the closet opened up. All of my feelings came pouring out. I don’t always know what to do with my feelings, but it is sure better than getting loaded.”
I have been in the ministry since 1968 and I am a so-called religious professional. However, I never fail to be amazed at the wisdom and honesty that is present in people. Roxanne and Mike gave to our group the gift of their transparency and openness, along with some pretty decent wisdom.
I wanted to make sure we didn’t leave anyone out, so I said once again, “If Jesus came in here tonight and asked you what you are looking for, what would you say?”
Mike was not finished. He smiled and said, “More. I want more.”
Johnny shot Mike a smile and said, “Greedy.”
Johnny’s comment was met with laughter in the group. Mike is a fun guy who can tease and receive teasing easily.
Ricky, who was one day away from having a bad cold, had been unusually quiet during the meeting quietly said, “Peace.”
Roxanne and Lena started listing some things they would ask from Jesus. They said, “Knowledge, peace and strength.”
Later I thought about Mike’s “more” answer. I once heard a man say that he wanted everything Jesus died on the cross for him to have. I can agree with Mike, “more” is a good request from the Lord.
Jesus asked his followers, “What are you looking for?”
I wonder if they were baffled by his question and didn’t know quite how to answer. Nevertheless, they said to him, “Teacher, where are you staying?”
Jesus gave them a response that is another central theme of John’s Gospel. He said to them, “Come and see” (John 1.35-39).
After I gave the group this explanation, I said, “A witness tells what he or she knows. Our witness is an invitation for people to “come and see” for themselves whether Jesus is who we say he is or not. That’s why I asked you to come tonight and tell the group what you know about Jesus from experience. Who wants to be first?”
Johnny was exceptionally fun and bright this night. He began his story and said, “God has always been with me. When he took my daughter, I cursed him. He didn’t curse me. Instead, he sent me rainbows. When I’d see a rainbow, I’d thank my guardian angel.”
I was considering what I knew about Johnny and thought, “Yeah, you’ve worked your guardian angel over time.”
Johnny continued his story and said, “I almost lost my life two times. One time, I ran my arm through a plate glass window at a motel. I knew I was really hurt when I saw blood spurting out of my arm. I took off my belt and made a tourniquet. I yelled at the girl I was with to take me to the hospital. When I got there, I was banging on the door for someone to let me in. A woman came to the hospital door and was going to turn me away. I guess I was at the wrong door. I took my shirt off of my arm and showed it to her. She just fainted right on the spot. I ended up at K. U. Med where they did micro-surgery on my arm. God was really with me, because I could have died or at least have lost my arm.”
Johnny has pictures on his cell phone of what his arm looked like before surgery. I didn’t want him to begin showing those pictures to the group and especially to me since I have a weak stomach.
Johnny ended his story of how he knows Jesus by experience. He said, “Jesus has been after me all my life. God’s purpose for my life is not to be a drug addict. I’ve been to the “boat” and lost every time. God’s purpose for me is to help other people come and see what Jesus is like.”
Roxanne turned to her left and looked Johnny in the eye. She said, “Johnny, you’ve been doing this for me like no one else has ever done in my life.”
“I was seven years sober,” began Peter in his melodic voice. “I joined the Army and was the old man at forty years-old. People told me I couldn’t make it, but I proved them wrong. I became a squad leader and was getting ready to be deployed to Afghanistan. Instead, I was run over by a forklift. I stayed in the Army and was assigned to the burial detail. I had forty-six funerals in eight months.”
It is my feeling that Peter has both survivor’s guilt and PTSD. I am a “quack” psychologist, but I may be right on this point. Peter has clearly been traumatized by burying men with whom he served. He is a great man with a very sensitive heart.
While I was thinking, Peter was talking. He said, “Since so many funerals took place in church or a chapel, church wore me out. One day, I was totally exhausted with all of the death and sadness. I told God, ‘I’m done with you.’ I began drinking and nearly died.”
There were several murmurs of support for Peter at this point of his story. For his part Peter was engaged and actually light-hearted as he hit the high point of the story. He said, “I couldn’t understand why God let me go through all of this. One day, I was at the VA Hospital so they could examine my knee. A young man sat down beside me and began talking in a manic sort of way. He told me that he was going crazy, that he was going to tell me everything, and then go kill himself. My story was so similar to his that his spirits lifted and I was assured that he wasn’t going to kill himself.”
Peter took a breath in his story as the whole group listen intently. He said, “It dawned on me right there. I got on my knees right in the hallway at the VA and said to God, ‘Now, I get it!'”
“So, you understood why you went through all of your stuff, right then and there?” This was said by Mike, who had turned to his left and was looking at Peter with a heartening look.
Johnny was cheering Peter’s story. He said, “Making peace with God is the key to getting sober.”
To my immediate left, Lena spoke and said, “Lot’s of people get sober when they find peace with some problem they’ve been having with God.”
The group was clearly energized and I was sitting on the sidelines watching the interchanges of encouragement and information. It was either Johnny or Mike who turned to the ever quiet but very insightful Vivian. Looking straight ahead, a little straight faced, she said, “How absolutely crappy my life would have been without Jesus in it. My childhood was horrible, with the exception of my grandma. Grandma wanted me to know Jesus and had me reading Bible stories when I was five. This is what I personally know about Jesus. God is with me and I am content and full of peace.”
Johnny, Mike and Roxanne turned their gaze on Miranda. “Miranda told us she had something to say,” they said.
“No I don’t,” replied Miranda with a face nearly as red as her uniform polo shirt. The group seemed to enjoy teasing the shy Miranda.
With some fun coaxing from the group, Miranda finally said, “OK. I am a very quiet person and I don’t like to speak about my feelings, but here goes. A few years ago I had a break up. It was a very abusive relationship. To top it all off, my dad got really sick. I tried to drink my pain away and ended up getting two DUIs in three weeks. This went on for way too long. I started getting better, you know, going to those wonderful SATOP and all that. My friend, Katie, took me to Louise Douglas’ funeral and I began coming to Maywood the next Sunday. This was the first time for me to go to church in years. I kept on coming with Katie.”
As Miranda was speaking, I thought about Louise Douglas. Louise was a quiet, powerful praying woman, whose body was ravaged by rheumatoid arthritis. I wondered if Miranda was not one more of the answers to Louise’s persistent prayers.
What Miranda said next interrupted my thoughts. She said, “One year later, my mom attempted suicide. That night, mom spoke with Katie and the situation sounded really bad. We tried to call back and didn’t get an answer. Later, we got a call that mom had shot herself. We drove all the way to Maryville and the thought, ‘This is the day the Lord has made,’ kept running through my mind. I had God’s peace all the way through.”
I remembered Miranda’s comment from an earlier meeting of our group in the fall. We were all attempting to take a daily prayer walk with Jesus, so we could have some “alone time” with him. Miranda told the group that her mother, who survived a gun shot wound to the chest, was taking a daily walk with the Lord, even when it rained.
“Does God give you any extra?” shot out Roxanne, after Miranda had finished telling her story. Roxanne had been a cheerleader and looked like the girl who would be the “flier” in a cheer routine. She also has the personality of a cheerleader. She is full of life, all smiles and energy. At the same time, I sense there is some sadness that is hidden beneath her engaging smile. She has been on her own since she was sixteen and has accumulated several suspended offenses.
When she was locked up in the county system, an African American woman started her reading the Bible. She told Roxanne, “I’m gonna make you a sista today.”
Roxanne told the group, “On that day I read in the Bible, ‘Free from all.'” Before I actually got free, I went through hell. I found myself bawling on the concrete floor of my cell. Somewhere in my pain, I felt something like a hand lifting my head up and cradling me in loving strong hands. Sure enough, before the night had ended, I was released from jail. I was actually free.”
Lena, who seemed to have a very good connection with Roxanne, said, “That was God meeting with you.”
“Here’s the trouble,” said Roxanne. “Ever since then, I can really feel other people’s feelings. Sometimes it is so strong that I don’t know what to do with it. I hurt so much with other people and I don’t know what to do with it. I’ve always been the strong one, but now I often feel like breaking down. I don’t know how to work through this.”
Miranda turned to Roxanne, who was seated to her right. She quietly said with a very understanding smile, “You can’t take everybody’s problem.”
Lena radiated the kind of empathy that comes from experience and said very quietly, “I went through it too. You’re going to make it.”
I was still thinking of Louise Douglas and I said, “Roxanne, you remember our talk about Louise Douglas? She felt deeply, too. In fact, she felt so profoundly that she had times of depression. What she learned to do was to bring the issue to Jesus.”
I told the group that we are to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6.2). Attempting to encourage Roxanne and looking directly at her, I said, “Don’t run away from feeling deeply. It may be a gift from God both to you and to other people. The Bible tells us something else. It says to cast all of our cares on God, because he cares for us (1 Peter 5.7). Once you have brought a burden into your heart, then turn it over to God in prayer. God has given you this gift and I pray that you use it fully.”
I had spoken more during the meeting than needed. Lena must have known that I was going to talk too long and she slipped me a piece of yellow notepaper. The note told of going to the doctor when she was 30. The doctor diagnosed her with an urinary tract infection and told her to come back if she didn’t get better. It didn’t get better, things turned very bad for Lena. She wrote, “When I came back to the clinic, I fainted. The doctor discovered that I was losing blood, lots of it. He rushed me to surgery and I was told that I died on the table, but was revived.”
Lena was convinced that God was with her. She wrote, “I know that Jesus and my guardian angel were there because I wasn’t meant to go to heaven yet. God still has a purpose for me. I forgave the first doctor who misdiagnosed me. I have an ability to be empathetic and forgive people. It’s a gift from our Lord and Jesus Christ.”