She pulled into the driveway not four minutes later, her thoughts swirling in a cacophonous mixture of rage, confusion, and concern. Even in that short time, she had to crack the windows enough to coax out the insistent smell of his all-day intoxication. She was at the door long before him, slamming it open while he was still navigating the step, that endless step, out of the van to the ground somewhere far below. When he finally made it inside, her feelings of abandonment and emotional rape took over. A family picture found its way off the wall and lay demolished on the floor. It was a convincing sound that scared their eldest son, waking him up.
A family was coming apart at the seams and he knew it. He let her rant. What else was she to do in such a moment? His self-esteem was lodged somewhere in his lower intestine anyway. “Let’s finish it”, he thought carelessly. The minutes seemed like hours as his greatest fear in being found out had already, begun its slow work of building a reality, imperceptibly at first; a new reality that might include honesty and a projected-self deconstruction. Eventually, his nights would be spent in gratitude for what was occurring right here, right now.
These were not those moments.
She grabbed blankets, a pillow and him, tossing them all into their camper which was parked beside their small Oregon rancher home. It seemed to take forever for him to find the bunk where he would sleep that night. Everything spun as though he’d been tossed, shame and all, into a blender. What would be produced from this harrowing concoction no one would know for some time. He stumbled outside again long enough to void his stomach of a small percentage of the liquid hell he’d pounded down that day. The lawn received his offering without comment. With throat burning, stomach eased and spirit desecrated, he climbed back inside and fell asleep instantly.
In what seemed an insultingly short time, the camper door swung open. With a head that felt stuffed with yesterday’s newspapers and paraffin wax, he rose to hear a quaky voice, “time to face the music.” She’d been busy. The night before, despite the late hour, she’d made numerous desperate phone calls to what few trusted friends they had, seeking advice, weeping, yelling, whatever it took. Among them was one to his boss, their pastor. Kent was no stranger to life among alcoholics having led a church for years containing any number of them, some recovering, some not. His instructions were to bring him to the church office the next morning. There, along with other trusted colleagues, a plan for repentance and healing would be discussed. There was no way to know then the extraordinary significance of that repartee.
That meeting was thirty minutes from the moment she opened the camper door and the smell of sad desperation billowed out onto the street and into her frightened nostrils. They met with Pastor Kent in the relative calm of a neutral but comfortable room designed for meetings of civil, adult amusements. A space like this, having housed numerous Habitat for Humanity planning meetings, community events and senior’s teas was more conducive than the pastor’s office, sterile by comparison, and too easily stigmatized as the principal’s office where the bad ones go to get good.
Here, in this room, he was a broken person first, one in need of the face to face confrontation required for the cauldron of grace to begin the slow-cook process of nourishing repair. They spoke together at length, mining every nook and cranny of his troubled past, washing out the backrooms of forgotten and dark things, bent and sorry places that spoke of resentments and misery, choices made, unmade, never made; of lostness.
Given that he was both an alcoholic and a church employee, the situation dictated just the right collective into which he would be entrusted. This included Roger, a congregant whose recovering alcoholic status now reached into its third decade. With a word, he became his first “sponsor”, a term that was to become easily familiar. Also present was his dear friend and colleague, Reed, whose wife had called him out the previous night. Reed knew him intimately. He had provided a steadiness for his faltering steps as he struggled to find his way in a new church, a new community, a new country, a new theology. His family had freely lavished upon them guidance, the kind of information that makes completely new situations such as what he and his family had endured more navigable. Without them, he would not have survived even to see this dark day.
In the weeks that followed, he would become privy to what the walk of grace can actually look like when Christ followers every bit as sinful and broken as he combine their shared mess into a single, bitterly hopeful outcry of “Lord, have mercy.”