The street on which she came to us, to ask for help. [The person pictured from the back is not the same person as is in the story.]
She came to us like a wild animal. For months I had watched her, hiding in the shadows, always staying far enough away to not be reached.
Then, one day, she showed up at our Thursday morning Bible study. She asked for help.
I want to go to rehab, she said. I am ready for help.
We learned she had never, of her own volition, gone to rehab before. Once, many years ago, before her father passed away, he and her mother had checked her into a rehab facility, one of the same ones we would visit with her in the months to come. When her daddy checked her in all those years ago, she had checked herself out after three days; as she told us, she was not ready.
Now she was ready, or so it seemed. And so began an multi-month process of finding an inpatient rehab facility that would take her. We thought it would be easy:
She was homeless, for crying out loud, a near-ten-year crack addict!
She wanted to leave the addiction, once and for all. She wanted a new life. She was determined and dedicated. She never wavered in her desire to get help, and we were the means of help. But rehab after rehab rejected her.
And then suddenly, our dream of finding a place that would take her, was realized. Though we could not find an inpatient treatment facility that would take her -- she slipped through the cracks because she had been able to stay sober on her own for 30 days, and she was not suicidal. Because she had remained clean and did not want to harm herself, she was not a candidate for inpatient treatment. But all was not lost, for through the process of trying to find an inpatient treatment facility, we met a woman who championed her and found a place that would take her!
Our formerly homeless friend finally arrived at this place we had dreamed of and prayed for, for her. It was her own apartment, with a roommate, and she would be surrounded by many others also trying to get on their feet. They would all live in community, work jobs to pay for room and board, and have extra days each week to look for another job, as well. The people there truly cared for her!
Elissa and I were in heaven knowing our dear friend was safe -- at last.
But then, she left her new home. She left for good reason -- to go retrieve her backpack filled with a book and a few clothes, the only stuff she had in the world. Elissa had put together this backpack for our friend -- her husband Brian gave up his own old backpack, and Elissa provided some of her own old clothes for our friend.
Elissa and I found out our friend had left her new apartment because our friend called to update me. She wanted to keep me in the loop. It was Friday. On the phone, Elissa and I set up a plan to visit her in her new home on Monday. Our friend let onto me that it was a challenge, this new environment, but she also promised to give it a chance, and we told her that, if for some reason it was not ultimately the best fit for her, we would work to find a new place.
The day we knew our friend was sleeping in a warm bed in her own apartment was the most elated I have felt in over a year of doing this work. Elissa said she slept better than she had in weeks that night.
You see, when I first started hanging out with people who are homeless last year,
I believed that the ultimate goal of working with them would be getting people out of homelessness. My idea of "success" was in taking someone like our friend, who had a near-ten-year addiction that left her on the streets and see them "rehabilitated" -- living on their own, working, healing.
When helping those that are homeless, it has been our philosophy to wait to help until someone is ready. We don't force someone into something. They must ask for help. We are present consistently in friendship, being in community with our homeless friends, waiting for them to ask us for whatever they might need.
This woman had asked.
She had come to us. She had been ready.
But after merely one night in her new home, she had left, never to go back. Months of love poured out, many car rides across the city to different rehab facilities, paperwork filled out by her side, waiting as though in a doctor's office, arriving before sunrise to pick her up to take her to our next location. And in the end -- success! It seemed to work! She was safe in her own place.
Or so we thought.
But then, after only one night, she had left. What were we to do? What were all of the hours for? What was the end of all the love and care given? Where was our happy story? Where was her life -- restored, healing, whole?
We soon learned she was sleeping outside again, by a creek. We haven't heard from her in over ten days now.
So what was the point of it all? If she didn't get out of homelessness, if she uses crack again, what was it all for? Was it worth it?
It was. Yes. It was worth it.
But not for the reasons I used to think.
This isn't a "success story" in the way I used to define success.
So what was it all about?
It was about this woman. As Elissa always reminds me, it was worth every second because she matters. Her life matters. She is a beautiful person, made in the image of the God we love, and she loves him too. God has held her when she couldn't hold herself. As she told us, it is God who has been with her when she's slept outside, dying to leave her addiction, but not ready or strong enough.
She matters no matter the outcome. Every minute we spent with her, the hours we have spent praying for her, not one is wasted. Not one is lost.
As we took her to the last rehab facility, the one that would end up placing her in her own apartment, she told us, "I want to be around you because you believe in me. I don't want to be around the people I used to be around. You all believe in me."
Through the hours and days spent with her, success is being redefined for me.
The end goal of this work is being redefined. It is truly not in the outcome, or the happy ending to the story; it is in the minutes, every moment, spent with another human being, trying to help them the best we can. Because they matter. All of them matter. And that includes you, too.
We all matter.
And this is Love.