Sweet Jane’s Pain

“Don’t do heroin!” It’s not what I normally say to my kids at the end of the day. But it has been one of those days. What I really want to scream at them is something like; “DO NOT take ANY drugs, not even a puff or a pill. If you have stuff, talk with someone, anyone, I’ll pay if you can’t talk to me. But DON’T you ever take drugs otherwise you will end up like her, like the living dead.”

But all I can manage is a weary, “Don’t do heroin!” It’s been a long day and I am sure my screaming would not help. They look at me strangely. People do what they do. We are all free to choose our path. For some that path leads directly from freedom to a living death.

We parked up at church, young kids in the car, I was just popping in to collect my fancy (vicar) dress for the following days formalities. A strange thing the church. God stepped into the neighbourhood and became human with nothing to his name. Yet we think that adding a few thousand complicated words, expensive robes and brass finery will point to the king born with nothing. Here is a system that’s not working – too much straw in too many bricks, but we’ll come back to that.

Stepping out of the car there is a huddle of teenagers staring round the back of the church. With them a local business owner. All frozen by the sight of someone slumped over their legs. Drug gear littered all around. Clearing up is on my mind, but definitely not on theirs. What are you suppose to do with this? So they just stare.

As I walk over I see the sharps in between her legs, skirt pulled up. She has been injecting in places I don’t want to see. I do the usual checks, there are no more visible needles but I will not want to be crawling around on this bit of grass tonight. Trying to wake her takes time, she is alive, but death is clearly flowing through her veins. I don’t mean that she is going to die tonight, but simply that her blood is thick with her freedom choice and it is slowly killing her.

The teenagers have seen enough to be filled with concern and fear. I hope it is enough to keep some of them safe from chasing a high, but I expect they will forget once the pills are passed. I send them away without a word. The business guy looks tired, he has his own stuff to deal with, so I send him on his way too.

Back to this slumped pile of rags wondering what time it is? Ambulance or safety somewhere. Anything except being left rotting behind the church.

Finally, I get a response. Her head raises before slumping back this time almost face planting the grass. “Could I be? No please.” I think to myself.

Out loud I call here name, “Jane (not her real name), Jane, it’s Mark.” I really don’t want it to be her. Just a few months ago she was clean, we had chatted about curtains, she had never had curtains before. How crazy is that, she was full of joy because of a pair of curtains. They were not even real ones, they were made of a couple of old shower curtains.

But it is her.

Sweet Jane.

Veins pumped full of death. Jesus was so right when he said that the “thief comes to steal and kill and destroy.” The thief has got Jane firmly in his grasp.

A call to the hostel and yes they will take her back in. I struggle to get her back on her feet. Rescue her few things, a bag, a ring and two kids lollies. Even in her stumbling, she insists on putting one in her mouth, so wasted that she does not even take the wrapper off.

My heart breaks for her. There is just a hurting person, a child who needs healing stuck in there somewhere.

The walk to the hostel is only a few hundred meters but it takes an age. People stare, Jane walks a few steps forward and quite a few back. Although we nearly land headlong on the tarmac no one offers to help.

Bad dad moment. The walk is taking a long time and I have left my kids in the car. Sometimes the right thing comes with difficult choices.

Once inside I am greeted by some familiar faces and some new staff. The hostel the residence are not shocked like on the streets. They have seen this a thousand times before. But that does not stop them pursuing the same path.

On the way up to her room, both Jane and I misjudge the door and so with a bloody head she falls again to the floor. My fault and in this crazy world I guess I could get sued. Jane sobs like a baby, she just wants her bed. With the blood flowing down her face, she bites tightly onto her lolly.

One on each side we manoeuvre Jane to her room.

What happened to the joy of curtains? Where did that droplet of pride go?

Her room is thick with chaos. The bed, floor and even out of the door covered with clothes, rubbish and the destruction of this life that is being held captive. This unit is under-resourced from central government cuts and short-sighted local councillors spend choices. But still, the system should work. No one should live like this, especially not in a structure that is supposed to be helping.

We should not be surprised. When people get told to make bricks with less straw, the structures you craft will just come tumbling down at the slightest storm. Austerity is not to blame for Jane’s choice but it is helping to tear her apart. The poor and broken hearted will not be ethnically cleansed from our communities with budget cuts as some may wish, instead, they need to be healed and raised up. Then they will play their part in rebuilding.

Just a few months ago things had been so different. Even before the hostel took here in she has been building relationships and connecting with people. She had even spoken on a video we made, to celebrate five years of our community cafe. Voice cracking as she shared the depth of what if meant to be included in this church family. Her word? “Humble.” But the truth is that we are the ones who are humbled because she had at that time the grit to be in the room.

That night that I took her home became the final spiral down. Now she is out of her room, back on the streets. Grimy possessions over spilling the sides of a child’s pushchair. You will see her pushing her chaos around town, slumped on street corners, passed by, dismissed, excluded. High but not happy, medicated but not healing. Put out of her room because we could not cope. We leave her like this because she has the mental capacity to choose. That seems so wrong. Jane is an addict, she is not in control rather she is being controlled by the demons of the past and the pain of the present.

There must be a better way.

Jane sleeps slumped by that pushchair. I wonder what it really carries? What pains does she push round each day? Could she ever let them go, leave all those self-destructive thoughts behind, find healing for  the pain that torments her?

There are people in our community who have known Jane for over twenty years. Some of them also used to sleep slumped over their attempts to cover the pain. They are finding healing and freedom and I believe Jane can too. Perhaps all we can do is wait for her as she cycles through the straw-less system again. As we wait we keep on loving her with a love that is patient, and kind. A love that always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. This kind of love never fails.

Mind Trips

Some days I am overwhelmed by how amazing life can be. Yet in the very same moment how I can be underwhelmed by the frailty my own thinking. 

The reminder came on the back of a really good week. We changed the Sunday worship structure; finally. Got all the kids back to school; just getting to the end of the day sometimes feels like an achievement. Saw my eldest in an open air play that he has been rehearsing for months; proud Dad moment. Enjoyed good food in excellent company. Joined a strange ceremony when the first full time curate (Trainee Vicar) for St Mags since 1978 was ordained at Exeter Cathedral; happy vicar moment. (We even managed an amusing Neo/Matrix Vicar pics.) Then day one with new curate, including deep conversation and spontaneous prayer on the street. Life and work is good, so what would possibly go wrong? Just a phone call and an old mind trip.

Have you ever tried to phone a big company but talk with a specific team. All is fine unless the team concerned are not customer facing, have closed your case and even making a formal compliant does not get you a call back. But to understand the depth of my frustration you need to understand that I am dyslexic. 

My other half says that I even have car park dyslexic. Most of you will not understand the issue, but it is a massive problem. There I am zipping down the motorway and all is well, then I turn off to the services and suddenly I have no idea which way to go. The signs and arrows may as well be in a Japanese. I have no idea where I am an most of the family have to give me directions. Five back seat drivers is just what you need when you’re feeling directionless.

But the problem also translates to sort codes. Getting the account number right for a bank transfer is easy, cut, paste, job done. But the sort code is more difficult. You can only put in two digits at a time, so cut and paste seems a waste. But when I type the numbers, I read what I think I have written. (Like anything I publish it is prone to errors.) If I have made an error I don’t see it. Info entered, check by one of the kids (no guilt needed) transfer done….. £700 sent to the wrong account.

I honestly don’t have that kind of money to make an error with, but the frustration comes not with the thought of having messed up, or even having lost a large sum of money but with what happens next.

A few years ago the legislation got changed around faster payments (instant inter bank transfers) in order to protect customers like me. The deal is this, the bank makes a mistake you get the money back, you make a mistake and the bank will help your get the money back. What is more, is there is the protection of the law. If you receive a payment in error into your account then you are legally obliged to return it….. Except that in this case, my bank will not help (Santander), the receiving bank will not help (Barclays) and I found out today that the is no money left in the receivers account anyway. He has spend the flipping lot! No, he has spend money that was intended for a holiday and now I could use to spend on school uniforms and food…..

But is gets worse. I have in fact received a little money back, £35.15. I have even had a letter from Santander telling me so and detailing the case number. So I follow the instructions on the bottom of the letter and give them a call to find out what is going on.

The bloke who answers is helpful enough, but can he put me though to the right team? Getting to speak to his manger was easy. Manager one is friendly but clearly knows nothing, so I pressed for her manager, this is a bit more difficult. We get there after some sharp words. Manager level two is highly trained in shutting customers down but now I am on a roll and demand to speak to the team who wrote to me. He makes a school boy error and gives me flannel about the issues I am facing, trying to tell me definitively what has happen. I know he can’t do this and he is making it up. So I press in and finally speak to “Em”’ the manager of managers managers. It is clear that this is a far as I am going to get today. How can you tell? Because this one of not afraid of the silence. Em is not going to hang up, or give me what I want or lose his cool. But then it happens. The mind trip. 

Suddenly I am in front of my bank manger as a student. He is telling me that they are withdrawing their banking services and I will have to repay my student overdraft with in the week. Power shifts, and the mind causes me to stumble. Extreme frustration over my error and a corporate system designed for profit rather than customer satisfaction connects with events from over twenty years ago. My mind trips out.

I sat. I journaled. I read internet tech news. I help my youngest with 11+ prep. I walked the dogs. I eat good food. I prayed. I tried. But my mind got me, tripped me up, took me back to being that young man in the bank and I was overwhelmed.

A few hours later and I am at peace again. Sure of who I am, comfortable with my failings and resigned to my error. But also reminded that I (as I’m sure are you) am never far away from the my old mind trips. So tonight I pray, more than ever that I would be transformed by the renewing of my mind. That my loving Heavenly Father would heal and shape my thinking so that I can live in wonder of who he is and what his is doing.