Last year the shelter was open a lot. This year we have been open more. Over 30 nights now. We are better at being open than we were. Pretty damn fine at it actually, but open we are.
As I type this it's a Sunday morning with snow falling outside. I was at the shelter through the night and I have been trying to make sense of Matt 16:21-28 ready to preach on it this morning. Jesus is calling for us to take up our cross. If I'm honest, I don't really want to preach it. It don't want to preach it 'cause I don't know if there's much appetite for it.
I've been searching for the joy angle in it all week and although I have one it seems such a fundamentally difficult message. 'Surrender your life, give up control and authority. Hand everything over to God and you will find the fullness of life.' I don't think anyone's going to believe me. In the end they didn't believe Jesus either. Not until they got to the resurrection.
There's the thing. For all the weariness that these shifts are bringing, I got a call this week from a young man we got to know through the shelter last year. Over the last 12 months he has stolen from us to feed his drug habit, lied continually, been arrested, cheated and used us. This phone call though was from a rehab centre in Wales. I didn't recognise his voice at first, his voice has changed through the fact that he's no longer medicating himself. He's working through the week on a farm, he's put on 2 stone in weight and is getting his teeth sorted. After the phone call with me he was off with some of the others swimming.
When I last saw him he was barely staying out of prison. He was a shadow of a man abusing everyone and anyone. Largely, as a community we managed to continually be vulnerable with him. He stole from us we gave him more. He lied to us we loved him. It was not an easy time for us with him. When and how do you display good sense, how do you become vulnerable but not stupid?
I don't want to get ahead of myself, but when I last saw this lad I felt despair. I was in it with him in as much as I felt Jesus said I should be but in all honesty I didn't have much hope or (if I'm really honest) much faith that it would turn out well. It looked grim.
Things are changing though. He sounded, err .... healthy. He was going swimming!! He thinks Jesus is cool!!! There is the possibility that this young man may actually be experiencing the miracle of Jesus Christ. It's nothing short of that. There was nothing certainly in my power that I could do for him, this I have to put at Christ's feet. He still has a long way to go, it is early days but I couldn't have imagined this 2 months ago for him and yet it is actually happening.
The reason we take up our cross? Because it's the only damn place that real hope can be found. The rest is just plain nonsense.