“In the Blink of an Eye”
When I look at the community at the Church of the Reconciler I often see men and women caught between two worlds. They are living in a world of chaos and one where their need for order keeps them alive. You can see it in the bags they pack or the grocery carts they push. Each of their days has a purpose and each day is filled with constant flux, no wonder they have a need for everything that is in the bag or cart.
But more important to me is the question, how did they get here? Yes there are addictions, but what pushed them into that abyss? Was it environment, or neighborhood, heredity or something else? What crosses are they really bearing that keep them in this community?
When I first met Robert those were the questions I wanted to ask. But he is a quiet and very private man. A man that one can tell has a kind heart, and that his heart has been broken. When you talk to him you have to lean in to really hear his soft voice. And he struggles with memory, whether caused by his addiction to alcohol, or because of another medical condition, he has to think for several minutes to answer some questions. And he has been carrying heavy cross.
Robert was born in October 1946 in North Birmingham, but his family soon moved to Morris where he grew up. He attended school there, where he graduated from Mortimer Jordan high school. He joined the Navy after graduation where he spent four years in the service. Upon discharge he went back to Morris where for the next 30 years he work at a motorcycle shop. Along the way he married June and they had a son Patrick. Life was good for a time. But life was about to change for Robert and June.
It all began with the sudden death of their son Patrick, and within the next year the death of June with cancer. Robert said that the the death of Patrick so devastated June that she didn't seem to have a desire to live, so she didn't seem to fight very hard to beat the cancer.
In the blink of an eye Robert's life began to spiral out of control and he would be pushed into the abyss of alcohol that would cost him his job, the lost of his home and the beginning of life on the streets.
And it was the Church of the Reconciler that would become the place where he would find hope and a second chance. Though his trips to the church were for the daily food, he would also find people that helped him find the resources he needed. The AA meetings and shelter care that would help him find a place to live. And his eyes were opened to the fact that he needed God.
When you come to the Church of the Reconciler you will find Robert sitting in the same chair he sits in each day outside the Shelter Care Plus office. He is there like clockwork, ready to help in any way he can with the needs of the Shelter Care Plus staff and anyone else who is in need of help. When ask why he volunteers at the church each week he will tell you that this is where God wants him to be. This is where I belong.
He still carries that cross and the grief of missing Patrick and June, and each evening he walks around north Birmingham talking to Jesus and remembering his wife and son. But he will tell you that each day is a gift and with Jesus you can climb out of the abyss and get a second chance.
Robert is a reminder that the reasons for a person being homeless don't just start with the addiction, but with something deeper. And that we all need to listen to the stories of our community at the Church of the Reconciler and on the streets of Birmingham to find what is the cross that each person is carrying. And share with them the cross that we are also carrying.