Beauty and the Beast
I first met Bobby and Sue on Thanksgiving Day-my first at the Mission. I had no idea what this day was supposed to look like but I did know that we had no money for any extras. A turkey to feed the 30-some guests we were anticipating had been donated and I asked the guys in the kitchen to do what they could with whatever else we had on hand to make the dinner special.
As I walked into the dining room that day, my eyes fell upon a beautiful woman who had a healthy young toddler bouncing happily on her lap. She couldn’t have been much more than 20 years old and the smile she wore was infectious. Her child cooed and giggled and you could tell from their countenances that they were joyful and content. Across from them, with his back facing me, was a young man. From the way he was sitting I could only see his thick black flowing hair. He too seemed to be conversing delightfully and enjoying the day.
I smiled as I watched. Surely they weren’t guests of the Mission, I thought. I went up to the front desk to find out for sure. “Yes,” I was informed, “they checked in late last night.” I couldn’t believe it. What would such a young vibrant family be doing in a homeless shelter? I hadn’t worked with many homeless families before but the ones that I had encountered always seemed rugged and worn. This family appeared anything but that. The child was jubilant and healthy and the parents were obviously in love with each other and their young son.
I went back into the dining hall and began approaching the family. I watched as the mother handed off the boy to his dad and the young child leapt eagerly into his father’s arms. As soon as he did, his bright eyes looked into his face and he started to laugh. My heart was warmed and I was eager to meet the beautiful trio who had captured my gaze.
I made my way through the small crowd to where they sat. The mother saw me coming and greeted me with a warm smile. When I turned to face them all for the first time my heart skipped a beat. I tried not to appear shocked but inside I was completely startled. The young father who sat with his gorgeous wife and son was missing half of his face. One eye was completely gone and only remnants of a nose, chin and mouth remained. His skin was concave and scarred like nothing I’d even seen before.
The couple greeted me affectionately as their child continued to bounce and coo. I watched their interactions with both me and one another as we continued to con-verse. It stunned me the way they acted as though nothing was different between us. He spoke with a soft wispy voice but, aside from that, if you could not see the deformity of his face you would think this family was perfectly normal.
As we talked, I learned of their story; the tragic reality of why they were now guests of the Mission. Bobby entered the U.S. Army and began working as a vehicle technician just two years out of high school. He worked on all types of military vehicles and did exception-ally well in his trade. He married young and experienced a very stormy relationship with his first wife.
One afternoon he came home and was enraged to find his wife in the arms of another man. Over-whelmed with hurt, anger and fury, Bobby ran into the bedroom and came out with a double barrel twelve-gauge shotgun. He was determined to take their lives. As he pointed the gun to the couple, he abruptly changed his mind and decided instead to pull the gun on himself. He put the shotgun under his chin and pulled the trigger. A shot fired and darkness filled his world.
Bobby woke up in the hospital where he began to undergo a series of surgeries. Though they tried their best, there was no surgery or pill that can fully repair the physical or psychological damage that had been done.
Bobby was discharged from the army, turned into an outcast in society and wanted nothing more than to end his life. He continued with various suicide attempts but each one was unsuccessful, only landing him back in the hospital where he sank deeper in his pain. He believed his life was hopeless and ruined … until he met Sue.
Even upon first glance, Sue was able to see past Bobby’s beastly appearance and fall in love with his heart. As their time together in-creased, her love for him grew and before long they were husband and wife. In time they conceived and gave birth to the handsome little boy that now bounced cheerfully in their laps. Sue’s family was out-raged that she would throw away her life on such a man and abruptly cut all communication ties. They, saw only with their naked eyes, while she looked through the eyes of her heart.
Because of his condition, Bobby could not land a job. As a result the family moved from state to state in attempts to find work. They found their refuge through homeless shelters in each city they went. I was amazed, regardless of the hardships and rejection they faced, at the joy and positivity that shone from their lives.
I quickly became filled with an immense love and compassion for this young family and for the next six months I did everything I could to help Bobby find work. Sadly, our resources were scarce and nothing panned out. Though his resume was impressive, after each face-to-face interview that occurred, he was politely turned down. I understood the reasons why but was frustrated within. The depression within Bobby resurfaced and began to mount.
I was outside as the family walked down the street one day. As they came nearer the familiar jokes from others nearby filled my ears, “Oh look, here comes the beauty and the beast.” I watched as he put his head down and she did her best to ignore. What hope is left for this family, I wondered. Can anything good ever come of their lives?
Bobby’s depression continued to increase and as the suicidal thoughts became more prominent, mental health services were able to intervene. Though he became connected with professional counseling and support, nothing seemed to work. His heart remained heavy and his outlook was dark.
Just when I thought this story was going to have a terribly tragic ending, God’s glory broke through. After listening to the penetrating words of a minister who shared the Good News, Bobby finally understood the mystery of God’s love. He handed his life over to the Lord and asked Jesus to come into his heart. From that moment on, transformation began. He walked out of the Mission’s small chapel with a peace in his heart and a revelation of redemption that he never thought possible before. The guilt of his past was completely vanished and his fears washed away.
I watched over the next two months as an extremely hopeless situation transformed into a newness of life and opportunity like this precious family had never known. Bobby began applying for jobs again and rediscovered his worth. He had a new spring in his step and confidence in his walk.
Within a short period of time, Bobby received a promising job offer and he and his family quickly obtained housing. They stayed in Topeka for about a year before another miracle occurred. God had softened the hearts of Sue’s family and they invited them to come home. They moved back to the town they had originally lived and God continued to open up doors. Bobby found an even better job as they picked up the pieces and moved forward in life.
Unconditional love can be described as affection without limitations. When we love unconditionally, we love a person regardless of who he or she is or what they become. While we read about it in storybooks and fairytales, it is a kind of love that is rarely seen. As Sue embraced Bobby regardless of his imperfections and faults, I witnessed the true definition of love stemming forth. Regardless of what he had done, how he looked or how he behaved, her love never wavered. She continued to stay close, hold him in her arms and continually believe in the man she always knew he was.
Out heavenly Father has that same type of unconditional love for us. In spite of our ugliness at times, He sees past to our hearts. Even while our behaviors can become uncomely and repulsive, He never walks away. He remains close to our sides lavishing us with a love that is so undeserved.
This Thanksgiving, we are especially thankful for the love that He lavishes upon us that we too might freely disburse that same love to others. Day after day we see new individuals coming through the doors of the Topeka Rescue Mission void of hope and in search of a new chance towards life. Because of generous supporters like you, we are able to greet them and give them the hope which they seek.
It’s no coincidence that I first met Bobby and Sue on Thanksgiving Day. Through their lives and the memories of their relationship, I can be forever reminded of how very much we all have to be thankful for. Regardless of how hopeless and dark a situation might seem, there’s always hope in the future that lies just ahead.
Thank you for your generous support of the Mission and all that you do to birth hope into the lives of others. Your gifts and your life make a difference in the lives of many. Thank you for your compassion and all that you do. We are thankful for you!