Category Archives: sorrow

Druggie, let me be your servant

homeless woman 3Unexpected visitors are not such a strange thing for me.  It is a part of what I do.

I got a call that there was a woman downstairs, upset and crying.  Again, not an unusual scenario for me.  I was preparing for noonday Eucharist and was delayed from going straight down.  The call came again, “Could I come down quick?”  I headed down thinking I could handle this quickly.  Frankly, most of the crying I encounter is for effect in order to achieve a scam.  Scams are not hard to spot and, while I try to be courteous, I dispatch scams fairly quickly.

Tom and Karen were distributing food in the entry way and told me she was outside.  I walked out and found the women sitting on the bench by the door holding hands with one of the older, African American clients of our pantry and commodity programs.  The young women was sobbing and the older woman was gently consoling her.  A desperate older woman consoling an even more desperate younger woman, one black, one white.  I immediately knew this was a scene of human compassion and grace—no scam here.  “We were just praying,” the older woman said to me almost apologetically, me all dressed as the official holy person.  “Please,” I replied, “keep praying, it is a good thing.”  The younger woman looked at me and asked if I was a priest.  “Can we talk?” she asked.

Because of construction, I have few places to offer for private conversation.  I suggested the bench was about as private as I had right then.  The older woman excused herself and I sat beside the woman as she continued to sob.

She is a tiny person, 100 or so pounds, maybe 5 feet tall.  She has long, brownish/auburny/grayish hair all tied in a knot on her head.  Her skin is weathered and her arms are splotched with scars and sores.  I think I see some injection scarring.  She is a bit grimy and has the gaunt look of homelessness.  Her eyes are red from crying.  I am not sure how old she is, though I later find out she recently turned 42—I had guessed older before she told me.

I am going to miss Eucharist.

“I am from Dayton, Ohio, and I came here to get clean . . .”

A long story unfolded.  Spoiler alert—by her own admission she destroyed her life and lost everything important to her by making poor choices, choices she knows to be bad but she cannot help making them.

“I am so humiliated . . . I am not like this . . . I was raised in a house.  We had bathrooms and beds and everything . . . I know what is right . . .  but I just cannot do right . . . I have to panhandle on the streets; it is awful and I am so embarrassed . . . If I died, nobody would even care . . . I am so alone . . . I just want my momma to come hold me and make it better . . .  But I am not suicidal; I am too chicken for that.   If I could just go to sleep and not wake up, I would be okay with that.  There would just be nothingness where I once was . . .”

Part 1:  She became addicted to alcohol around 13 or 14.  She was the oldest of three, the only daughter, and she could never get it right.  She moved around a lot and had trouble making friends.  Way too early, she disappeared into her own oblivion of alcohol and later drugs.  She managed for awhile and even stayed clean throughout two pregnancies.  Her husband was abusive and violent to her and her two sons.  She escaped him and went back to live close to her parents in Dayton.  Initially, she had a good job, stayed away from drugs and alcohol, and was doing good raising her two sons.  About ten years ago she unexpectedly lost her job.  She went from $30/hour to $8/hour and life became desperate.  In Ohio, heroin is the epidemic drug and has been for years.  Struggling and overwhelmed by the impossibility of raising two sons and surviving on $8/hour, she fell deeply into the heroin abyss.  Repeated attempts to clean up failed.  She came to Kansas City in February because she heard there was a good program here.  Initially she was successful, but eventually fell in with the local demon—methamphetamine aka “crystal meth.”  Two months ago she left treatment, became homeless, and the descent into this new abyss became unrelenting.  Her youngest son turned 19 last week and she had nothing to offer him.  Her backpack stolen at some homeless camp, she lost everything including her phone.  She could not call her “baby boy” on his birthday.  This was an awakening for her.

Part 2: She is a military BRAT.  She was born at Landstuhl Hospital at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany.  For all her life, she moved every three years.  She formed no lasting relationships and moved when she was a senior in high school, losing whatever connections she had from her high school days.  Her family “landed” in Dayton, Ohio only because it was the last place her father was stationed and her parents liked it there.  She had no connections or friends there.  She expressed to me a sense of desperate loneliness that followed her all her life.   Growing up military left her with no support system or life-long friendships.  She felt terribly alone all the time.

Part 3:  She asked me for nothing.  At one point, she mentioned she was hungry.  One of our volunteers happened by and I asked him to bring one of the Pantry “homeless bags” out to me.  He brought one right out.  I recalled seeing a “self-heating” stew box in these packs and was curious.  I inventoried the contents of the food bag for her.  “No” to nuts, “no” to hot-dogs, “yes” to the M&Ms, “yes” to a piece of bread.  I showed her the stew box.  She was curious too.  “How does it heat itself?” she asked.  As she continued to tell me her story, I prepared the self-heating potato and bbq meat stew for her.  I won’t spoil the magic of the “self-heating” stew, but she gobbled down a hot, steaming stew occasionally reporting how good it was.  I did miss the Eucharist in the church, but I think we shared a holy meal at the entry way of the church.

Part 4:  Mostly I was just a listener today.  She was processing out-loud and had things she needed to say and hear herself say.  I just helped her focus on what she was saying.  I encouraged her to know that the future was yet to be written and now, because she had crashed into her own wall of despair, she had an opportunity to write the future in a different way.  We considered the good choices she needs to make to move forward in a better way.  I assured her she was not alone in this.  God, incarnated by the community of St.Paul’s, was with her as she journeyed forward.  I gave her my card and said I would be her friend and supporter during this effort to turn her life.  We defined a plan of next steps and she struck out planning to enter the detox facility a few blocks from the church or at Truman.  She seemed resolute and ready.  She wants to go home and make things work with her boys.  She knows she must be clean, sober, and steady if she wants to return and be accepted.  I pray she is up to the hard work ahead of her.   I pray we can be servant to her along the way.

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Filed under children, drugs, episcopal, God's love, Military brat, sorrow

Wind my clock

angel in despair

It is bleak mourning,

gloomy despair.

Is it real or a terrible, awful nightmare?

Is it the valley of the shadow death

into which we thoughtlessly stumble, guns drawn;

killing innocence,

killing black, killing blue,

killing me, killing you?

Alton, dead.

Philando, dead.

Patrick, dead.

Brent, dead.

Michael K, dead.

Michael S, dead.

Lorne, dead

. . . dead . . . dead . . . dead . . . dead . . . dead . . . dead . . . dead . . .

Racism?  Yes.

Prejudice?  Yes.

Privilege?  Yes.

Injustice?  Yes.

Anger?  Yes.

Mistrust?  Yes.

Revenge?  Yes.

. . . dead . . . dead . . . dead . . . dead . . . dead . . . dead . . . dead . . .

I am hopeless,

worn with sorrow,

aching with sin, the mark is missed.

This wicked racist culture–

Are we white enough, Mr. Duke?

This pernicious gun culture–

Are we safe enough, Mr. LaPierre?

Numb my soul, break my heart.

Stick me with a needle,

see if I feel,

see if I bleed.

It is a deadly, deadly web we weave.


In March of 1973, E. B. White wrote to a Mr. Nadeau, who sought White’s opinion on what he saw as a bleak future for the human race.

30 March 1973

Dear Mr. Nadeau:

As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.

Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society—things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.

Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.


(Signed, ‘E. B. White’)


John 12.46:  I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness.


I will wind my clock . . .

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Filed under episcopal, gun violence, Justice, police violence, racism, sorrow, terrorism

Alleluia . . .

Alleluia, Christ is Risen!

Christ is Risen, indeed!  Alleluia!

For the lost.

For the hungry.

For the homeless.

For the suffering.

For the abused.

For the  . . .

Terrorism abounds.  Lives are lost.  Families and friends grieve.

Politics continues to unfold in most peculiar ways.

Legislatures seem plagued with mean-spiritedness.

Thursday afternoon, as I walked to teach my class on world religions to 7th and 8th graders, I encountered the spirit of sorrow.

Out of the corner of my eye, as I hurried out the door, I noticed movement in the tented area just outside the food pantry doors.  I walked over to see what was going on.  To my surprise, I encountered a tiny, young woman, mid-20’s, matted hair, curled up in a tight ball on a bench in the safety of the tent, wearing only an athletic halter top.  I am not exactly sure how she arrived, but I did not see any clothes to cover her.  She looked up at me, completely unaware of her state of undress and told me she was hurting.  I called 911.  I was talking to the dispatcher and to the young girl trying learn what I could.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“You know . . . I am hurting,” she mumbled.

“Where are you hurting?”

“Is she breathing?” asked the dispatcher.

“I am hurting here.”  She pointed to her stomach.

“Is she sitting upright?”

“No, she is curled up.”

“Is she passed out?  Is she bleeding?  Has she vomited?” rattled off the dispatcher.

“She only has on a halter top and she is clearly disoriented,” I managed to give what I thought to be the most germane information.

The conversation was three-way and confusing.

The young girl kept looking deep into my eyes.  It was as if she expected me to see the source of her pain.  Her eyes were hollow and distant;

the source of her pain was deeper,

more complex,


I looked back, her eyes surrounded by a mop of tangled, stringy, dirty, brownish hair, her face round and child-like. I looked deep, deep into her eyes.  To my horror, in her pain-filled eyes I saw hopelessness.  Only empty hopelessness.  It filled the dark void of her eyes.

“You know . . .”

“You know . . .”

“You know . . .”

She kept saying.

Her mouth neither frowned nor smiled.

She offered only a thin grimace

Of pain,

Of sorrow,

Of hopelessness.

The ambulance arrived.

Two EMTs, both women (I wondered if the KCFD did this . . . thoughtfully).  I told them what I knew and they tenderly guided her on to the gurney and covered her.

“Don’t let them hurt me,” she said, looking back at me.

I softly told her they would not hurt her; they would care for her.

I gave the EMTs the information I managed to glean in our short time together.

They bundled her into the ambulance.

The ambulance departed.

Alleluia, Christ is Risen!

Sounds good on Sunday morning,

not so much on Thursday afternoon.

I looked into her eyes . . . deep, deep, into her eyes.

Forgive me, Lord, for I have sinned:

I saw darkness and my light was not sufficient to overcome it.

I saw hopelessness and my hope was not sufficient to fill it.

I saw the soiled, twisted body of your creation, beautiful even in its brokenness, and I could not save it.

She said, “You know . . .”

Help me, Lord . . . I want to know.

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Filed under easter, episcopal, sorrow