So I finished my first week at Degage and have lots of stories to tell already. Many of the patrons that come through the doors there are more than just ‘down on their luck’. Several of them were all to ready to admit that alcohol abuse has been a major contributing factor in getting them to where they are today. It caused them to loose jobs, be shunned by family, and loose homes and self-sufficiency.
However, many of them are now sober and have been for several years, but the stigma that comes along with not having a job for months or even years makes it tough for them to get one – especially in this economy when employers that are hiring have their pick of applicants.
Several of these men (they’re almost all men) that I’ve talked with don’t make excuses for their situation. They understand that poor choices and dependence on the wrong things got them where they are today. And even though they are no longer dependent on alcohol (you aren’t allowed in if you’ve been drinking) they are still dependent – dependent on someone who’s willing to take a chance on them.
Dependence is a funny thing. On the one hand, we are all dependent on other people from time to time and that’s good. None of us is totally self-sufficient all the time. But like so many things in life too much of a good thing turns into a bad thing.
The patrons at Degage are now dependent on someone else for just about everything. The other day, I worked on the ‘second floor’ where we offer hot showers and about 70 or so gym lockers that are available for rent ($2/week) for them to store their stuff in since many don’t have places of their own. All of these lockers can only be accessed with a key that staff have access to. So every time someone needs to get at their stuff (clothes, toiletries, books, etc.) they have to ask permission to have their locker opened.
I processed this for awhile wondering what it would be like to be in a situation where every single day I had to ask a relative stranger for access to MY stuff – essentially asking permission to get dressed. It really bothered me. What does having to live like this do to a persons psyche? How does it make them feel?
Now, don’t hear my wrong, as I said before many of these men are living in the shadow of their own bad choices and they readily admit that. So, it’s not necessarily that I feel sorry for them (although, in some cases their circumstances are beyond their control), I just wonder what it would be like. If it was me, I would be frustrated and perhaps even angry from time to time.
I look at it like this: I give grace only because I’ve received it. So, if someone’s life situation is such that they need to ask my permission to access the whole of their worldly possessions out of a gym locker on the second floor of a downtown ministry center because it’s the only option they’ve got, I’m going to do just that. And I’ll do it with a smile and brief word of encouragement because I know that God, through the death and resurrection of his son, Jesus, unlocked the the gift of eternal life and threw open the gates of heaven for all his chosen ones. And the best part is that I didn’t even have to ask permission – he, by his grace, took care of that too. Pretty amazing stuff.
So this summer, I’ll open locker doors and all kinds of other things for those that need it. Hopefully, I’ll have the opportunity to open the Scriptures with some of them too. The really important stuff is in there, not behind a gym locker door.