Did you hear about the one who got away?

Dr. Jon R Roebuck, Exec. Director

I heard the news today about a childhood friend who died just a day ago from drug addiction.  He was 59 years old.  Addiction had robbed him of the joy of living for most of his adult life.  It had robbed all of us as well.  His addiction took away friendships, relationships, and any number of potential memories that were never made.

We grew up in the same hometown and attended the same schools.  His younger brother was in my class all the way from nursery school till the time we graduated from High School.  I played football with both brothers.  They also attended my church youth group.  But like a lot of childhood friendships, graduation became the moment when our lives and stories started to part.  He went off to Auburn and I began to lose track of him.  I not sure if he ever finished.  Life got messy and the demons of addiction became stronger and very possessive.   His younger brother and I did a better job of keeping up through the years.  We still live in the same city and bump into each other on occasion.

Unfortunately, my intersection with the older brother was pitiable.  He became somewhat of a drifter.  From what I have been able to piece together, his addiction prevented him from living a sane and rational life.  He was often homeless and at times without transportation.  He moved through various relationships and even did a little jail time along the way.  He showed up at my church in middle Tennessee where I was serving as pastor.  He needed money and any other help I could offer.  Out of the obligation that a lifelong friendship brings, I gave him a few dollars and paid for a few nights in a local hotel.  That didn’t happen often… but often enough that I knew his pattern.  Unfortunately, those scenarios get played out far too often in the life of local church ministry.  However, most of the time, the person in need is not a lifelong friend.

I remember when his mother died a few years back.  The family didn’t know how or where to reach him.  When he finally discovered the news, he tried to get home.  I don’t know how he got all the way back home, but I remember that a cab brought him to the graveside.  He missed the funeral by 10 minutes.

I haven’t seen him in probably 5 or 6 years.  In an odd twist of circumstances, he actually ran into my son at a gas station where he was panhandling for a little cash.  My son talked to him for a moment and discovered he was from my hometown.  It didn’t take long to make the connections.  My son gave him a little cash and wished him well.  I often think of that moment and take enormous pride in the generosity and kindness of my son.

My friend is forever gone.  Addiction has claimed another life.  It is a sad moment for all who knew him and for all who know hundreds just like him.  It is frustrating to see how people simply slip through both our hands and our lives.  Addiction is a terrible foe… one that cannot be faced alone.  If you or someone you love battles addiction, don’t shrink into a shame-infused darkness.  Recognize that your only hope of climbing out is through the telling of your story and the confession of your need.  Victims and those victimized need the support, encouragement, and acceptance that grace alone can offer.  Let’s remind each other that guilt and condemnation never help.  Kindness will be the bridge that affirms self-worth and offers hope.  Ministry is always messy, time consuming, and at times, heart-breaking.  And sometimes, despite your best efforts, you can’t make much of a difference.  But sometimes you can… and it’s the hope that your encouragement and “investment of self” will make a difference that keeps you willing to take the risk.

So, with a profound sadness and longing for what might have been, I must say farewell to my old friend. May you be received with open arms into the tenderness of God, into that place where addiction can no longer claim you as its own.  When the Son makes us all free, we will be free indeed.