If we’re honest, sometimes there are people that we believe are beyond hope, even as pastors. Oh, we would never say it with our mouths and in our heads we know the right answer – God can do anything, but in our hearts we have given up.
Seven years ago, when we started New City Church, our downtown was much different than today (though we still have a ways to go). Being downtown daily, I met many of the downtowners and most of the homeless downtowners. From my office window at 567 Cherry Street, I often watched my downtown world – a mix of the wealthiest and most powerful and the poorest and weakest. Almost daily I watched some of the poorest and weakest begin gathering hours before lunch drinking brown bagged singles from the Poplar Mart. They would leave for a little while to get a free lunch from one of the downtown providers but they almost always found their way back to that same spot. By three o’clock in the afternoon their voices were loud and usually very coarse. By four o’clock a fight would often break out and someone would call the police.
One in that group was Val. Val knew me and several of our New City folks. Val always spoke to me, calling me Pastor. In various states of drunkenness, sometimes with tears, Val would ask me to pray for her. She always wanted a hug. I had talked to Val so many times about life, about Jesus, about getting off of the streets and getting healthy and day after day, there she was.
I had given up. If I am honest I, would have to tell you that though I prayed for Val when she asked me to, I almost never prayed for her otherwise. She seemed hopeless to me – chronically homeless, an addict who had no desire for anything more than her daily drunken existence.
I was wrong. Val was not hopeless. What I knew in my head but didn’t believe in my heart – that God could do anything – would be lived out in front of me.
One day I didn't see Val. One day turned into two days, turned into weeks. I assumed that like the others, she was either dead or at best in jail. Weeks turned into months and then one day Val, wearing her Sunday best came shuffling into the doors of New City Church to worship. With a big smile she called out to me and as usual she wanted a hug and prayer. “Val! Where have you been?” I asked. And she shared a simple story. One day Val woke up in the hospital. Her Kidneys were failing, her liver was a mess and they had to start dialysis. Val’s wake up wasn’t just physical, it was spiritual. In the coming days, sober she remembered Jesus. She knew that her life was a disaster and she decided to walk with him. After months of dialysis her kidney began to function again. Val found a place to live downtown – the Dempsey, housing for low income elderly and disabled folks. She quit drinking and stopped using drugs.
God saved her.
Some days I still hear Val through my Cherry Street office window, seated outside talking to folks, laughing, fussing – she’s usually trying to get someone straight! Every Sunday you’ll find Val seated to the right of the stage, raising her hands in praise to Jesus as we sing and tossing me an “Amen!” when I preach. Every Sunday she is here to receiving and giving hugs. She is usually here early to circle up with volunteers for prayer. She tells our ladies how beautiful they are and she always speaks to the children and she loves the precious babies. She is not the same woman that I met seven years ago.
I know it’s not very manly to admit, but as I write this, I am weeping – a mix of sadness and joy… sadness because I had lost all hope for Val – Joy because Jesus had not. Val is one of the most beautiful ladies I know and every time I see her I am reminded that with Him, nothing is impossible.