After losing my daughter in a car accident my thoughts began to turn increasingly dark. In a moment of desperation I checked myself into a psychiatric hospital. That’s where I met John, a homeless man who helped save my life.
Everyone loves a good redemption story. This one is my favorite.
A woman sat on a nearby sofa rocking back and forth while a man stared at me suspiciously from his seat in the corner. I took a deep breath. Maybe coming here had been a mistake.
It had been two years since I’d lost my only daughter when she was killed in a car accident down the street from our home. The grief had become unbearable. With my thoughts turning increasingly dark, I mustered up every bit of strength and fight I had left in me and I checked myself into a mental health hospital. Now, as I looked around, I questioned whether I’d made the right decision.
I had planned on staying hidden away in my room until it was time for group therapy but the nurse quickly put that idea to rest. “I’m sorry, but you can’t be in your room by yourself. You have to stay out in the common area with the other patients.”
I’d found a seat by myself at a large table, relieved when nobody seemed to notice me. My relief was short-lived when I became aware of a man crossing the room towards me. His long hair and beard didn’t appear to have been groomed in months and he wore several layers of filthy clothing. He looked like a homeless person and he was headed straight for my table.
The man sat down across from me and introduced himself as John. “So, why are you here?” he asked.
The casual manner in which he asked the question took me by surprise. He talked as if he were asking about the weather instead of inquiring about a complete stranger’s mental health. There was something about him, despite his appearance, that put me at ease and I found myself opening up about my loss. He nodded knowingly and when I finished, John shared his own story.
John had enjoyed much success in his business and traveled all over the world for work. One day his business flight arrived home earlier than scheduled. Tired and irritable from his travels he called his wife and yelled at her for not being at the airport to pick him up. He acknowledged that he had never been the father or husband he should have been and shook his head in shame as he told me how he had cursed and belittled his wife over the phone that day. She’d had no idea her husband’s plane would arrive when it did, but she still apologized profusely telling him she would be right there before loading their daughter into the family car.
They never made it. John’s wife and child were killed in a car accident on the way to the airport. John tried to drown his guilt with alcohol and when that quit working he turned to drugs. Eventually he robbed a bank to pay for his habit. He was caught and spent years in prison. He had lost everything. He looked homeless because he was homeless. The only time he wasn’t living on the streets was during his involuntary stays at various psychiatric hospitals.
I hung my head under the weight of our combined losses. John reached across the table as if to grab hold of my hand but stopped short when I looked up at him.
“Do you have anyone who loves you?” he asked.
I nodded. I still had my husband and a young son.
“Then you fight, you hear me? You fight to get well.”
I told John I would but he continued on, a new urgency in his voice. “Don’t end up like me. I let my grief take over. The guilt consumed me. I had a son, too, but I couldn’t take care of him. Now he’s an adult and he won’t even speak to me… can’t say that I blame him” John paused, a pained look on his face. “If you have people that love you, then you promise me you’ll fight.”
“I promise.” I took John’s hand in mine just as the nurse came over to inform us it was time for our group session.
The next morning I packed my bags. The hospital had provided me with a list of resources designed to meet my specific needs. It was time to go home. My husband, Joey, arrived on the ward to pick me up. “You ready to go?” he asked.
“Almost.” I answered.
I found John sitting alone. He stood for our farewell and before I walked away I wrapped my arms around him and gave him a hug. He wore the overwhelming scent of loss and despair, and I pulled him closer.
As we parted ways John offered me these last words of encouragement, “You’re going to be ok, kiddo. Just don’t forget what I said.”
I didn’t. There were times after I left the hospital when I felt I might never be well again; times I wanted to give up. It was during those times that I heard John’s voice urging me to fight. And so I did, until one morning I woke up and I realized I was no longer sad.
Make no mistake, this is not my redemption story. The redemption in this story belongs to John. No mountains were moved and no oceans were crossed, but incredible good came from his incredibly tragic past. A homeless man sat down next to a grieving mother and simply shared his story. And the healing came… I hope for the both of us.
I’ve learned firsthand that redemption can be as easy as sharing your story. It doesn’t matter your past (or your present), God can redeem it all.
Romans 8:28… And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Do you hear that? He’s calling you now.