It was a cold and wet autumn afternoon. As I was driving down Topeka Boulevard, I looked over and saw a woman in great distress. She was sitting under a tree dressed in only her nightgown. As her head bobbed up and down, she tried her best to stay upright. Regardless of her best efforts, she kept toppling over. As I pulled the car closer to see what I could do, I recognized that the woman was a former guest of the Topeka Rescue Mission.
Linda had suffered from chronic mental illness and alcohol abuse for as long as I had known her. On this particular day, she was extremely intoxicated, had lost control of her bodily functions and required immediate medical attention. I called for an ambulance. Within minutes she was transported to the hospital. As they drove away, I wondered if I would ever see Linda alive again. In the work of the rescue ministry, we strive to help people in many different ways. Sometimes that involves literally saving their lives but, unfortunately that is not always possible.
Two weeks after nearly dying under that tree, Linda had miraculously recovered and was being released from the hospital. Without finances or a home to return to, Linda came back to the Topeka Rescue Mission. I stood in the doorway of Linda’s room at the Mission that morning and looked into the face of an individual whose eyes told the story of a long and challenging life. Without finances or a home to return to, Linda came back to the Topeka Rescue Mission. After several months, she completed a program designed to help her get back on her feet. She moved out of the Mission and into her new home. While I wish I could say I was more optimistic, my expectation was that I would see Linda again someday soon. I feared it would be either as a result of a return to homelessness or worse, a premature trip to the mortuary.
After a significant time had passed, I received a call from Linda asking to meet. A woman whom I barely recognized walked through my door the day of our meeting. The broken woman near death that I remembered and expected to see had changed. In front of me stood Linda; a vibrant and healthy woman. She had a sparkle in her eye and looked at least ten years younger than seemed possible for her near sixty years.
We briefly caught up and then Linda asked me if I remembered the last time we had visited. I recalled the visit I had made to her, after she was discharged from the hospital, but could not recall how long ago it had been. Citing the day, month and year, Linda smiled and told me that it had been ten years since that fateful day Ten years since we had last spoken.Ten years that she had now been sober.
She asked me if I recalled the details of our conversation that day. Working with so many individuals throughout the years, I had to admit that I could not recall. Linda surprised me when she admitted she could not remember the conversation either. “But,” she said, “I remember the way that you looked.” By now I was puzzled. Why did this woman who had changed so dramatically over the course of ten years choose to come to my office and inquire about a conversation that neither of us recalled? Linda interrupted my thoughts and said, “It was your look.” She went on to say that she couldn’t describe it but, as she was lying on her bed at death’s doorstep, “the look you gave me told me that I was going to be okay.Since that day,” she continued, “I have never had a craving for alcohol.”
Linda said that she had come to thank me for what I had done that day so many years back. I knew I could not take any credit and told her to praise and thank the Lord for what He had done. She said that she had anddoes but, today she wanted to thank me. I attempted to redirect her once again and told her that it was the Lord working through the staff and volunteers at the Mission who really helped her. Politely interrupting me she continued, “Yes, but I’m here to thank you for the look that was on your face that day.” I was confused. No one had ever made that kind of statement to me before.
Without hesitation, Linda then leaned forward in her chair and, with all sincerity, said, “I’m still smoking. Can you give me that look again?” I smiled and we both enjoyed a good laugh. Linda went on that day to share with me about what had happened over the past ten years of her life and of the remarkable recovery that was taking place. In addition to her sobriety, Linda had reunited with family and come to know Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior.
As I was driving home that night, I was reflecting on my day and talking to God. I can still remember asking Him about my meeting with Linda, “What was that all about?” Though I have never heard an audible voice of God, He spoke to my heart and told me that this was what He had been trying to tell me all along: “It is not up to you to solve all the problems of the people that I have put into your care. It is not up to you to bring in all of the provision of money, food and shelter. All I ask of you is that you remain faithful to what I have called you to do. I will then use whatever means I choose to provide for and heal those who are broken. I mighteven use a simple look on your face.” I sat in awe at the revelation penetrating my heart. This was one of the most profound spiritual experiences I had ever experienced in my life. The enormity of the responsibilities of sheltering thousands, feeding hundreds of thousands, and encountering the brokenness of humanity on a daily basis is unbelievably overwhelming. My peace is His peace. It now comes from knowing that we have an incredibly loving Savior who desires not only to demonstrate His love through us, but also then accepts complete responsibility for the results. It’i not up to me, you or us.It is up to Him.
At the Topeka Rescue Mission, every day we encounter many people who are mentally and physically broken. Their problems and complicated lives are way beyond our ability to solve or fix. We work extensively with and are grateful for the professionals in the areas of medical, mental health and social services. However, collectively we fully recognize that the complex issues in the lives of those who come through our doors often require solutions way beyond all of our capabilities. Sometimes the challenges and problems are just too difficult to solve. It is in those times that we must rest in the confidence of our Heavenly Father and His love for us and for those who are afflicted. As we rest in Him and remain faithful to His call to the broken, we stand assured that we are not only ministering to those in need, but also serving Him as well.
“… I was sick and you visited Me…” (Matthew 25:36).
When the issues in the lives of people around us seem too complex and the problems too great, remember that the main thing God calls each of us to do is to simply reach out in love. It is when we are faithful in this call that we find the peace we seek, His peace, as we place our trust in the Lord to do the rest.