My church had an interesting visitor last night. I almost didn't go to bible study this week. Usually, my daughter and I go together, but she was at camp, which meant I would have to go alone. I hem-hawed around. Picked up my purse. Put it down. Thought about it. Picked up the purse. Decided to go. Decided to screw it. Decided I'd better go to church and pray after that last thought. Okay, I'm going! I ran out the door and was a good ten minutes late. Oh boy, am I glad I went.
Had I not gone, I would not be able to tell you about a very intriguing visitor to the church, which prompted the question in my head, "WWJD?" What would Jesus do?
I sat in my usual spot. I noticed two strangers in the front pew, a young adult man and a woman I assumed (correctly) was his mother. At first, they were unremarkable, but as the minutes ticked by, I could tell something was wrong. Very wrong. I don't exactly know if I saw it so much as I felt it. There was a presence of something being very wrong and although I couldn't put my finger on it, I stared quizzically at the back of this man's head.
His head was shaved. It's a predominantly black church, so I will point out that the young man and his mother were both white. He was wearing a Grateful Dead t-shirt which was cut down both sides, exposing his sides all the way down to his camouflage shorts. We don't dress fancy for Wednesday night church and nobody would have cared on Sunday either. That's not the point. Come, we'll love you, that's all. If your church disses you for the way you dress and you're sitting in there in earnest, you better find another church. I'm just sayin'. That's not the love of God. Run, don't walk, to somewhere that accepts you for you.
He had tennis shoes on, but took them off at some point, revealing short grey sport socks underneath. He was tattooed from head to toe. I mean literally he had tattoos on his head, down his exposed sides, arms, neck, everywhere. I was interested in the content of the tattoos. I wanted to know the story behind each one. There's a story behind every tattoo.
I hope you're not reading me wrong here (that has been known to happen). I don't mind tattoos at all. I have one and I forget it's there until someone notices it. I swear, I had no idea what a tramp stamp was when I got it and I would never call it that, but I digress. I'll post a pic someday with a story. Anywhooooo, this young man's tattoos were hard not to see. It wasn't the tattoos that drew my gaze, however. I was mesmerized by that feeling I referred to earlier.
His mother rubbed his back as they sat there and she spoke softly to him. I saw her mouth say, "Do you want me to? I'll do it," and he managed to nod in agreement.
Our pastor was taking testimonies and people were sharing their stories of goodness from the week. The house was filled with the presence of thanksgiving and virtue - a palpable presence - and you could tell the young man was feeling it, as was his mother. I watched the young man intently, drawn to the very interesting story I knew resided within him.
There were other signs that the young man was in distress and I felt a strange sorrow for him. He stood up unexpectedly. He paced. He seemed agitated and confused. He sat on the platform stairs. He began to cry several times, but kept stopping himself. He sat down again. He covered his ears and rocked. The presence of the tattoos told me that he had unimaginable stories to tell.
He stood again and turned to the left, facing no one in particular. He had a rubber band twisted around his wrists. You know, the kind kids wear as a bracelet that are colored and form into a shape in their natural state? He began to lift his hands, as though reaching out to God. The rubber band was twisted in a figure 8, one loop over each wrist. It was as though he was handcuffed. He noted it and sat back down.
At one point, he stood abruptly, turned sideways, and thrust his arms out wide. The rubber band broke. He looked at it in dismay, as though he had just been unsure of what was on his wrists in the first place and why it was now in pieces. He handled the rubber band with puzzlement. Why was it on his wrist? What was it? What did it mean that it was now broken? It seemed symbolic to me, but to him, it was a mystery.
He sat back down. His mother got up and gave a testimony and I hoped she would share his story. Instead, she talked about a product she sells that she was excited about and the fact that she felt it was sent by God to heal the sick, and then she brushed over a mention of her son, who was having "issues" and "definitely going through some stuff" and needed prayer. It was blatantly obvious that he needed more than Jesus Juice and that he was in distress. She said that she had raised her kids to know God and that her son knows God and wants to share that with people as well. He stood up and unexpectedly attacked her with a huge hug in the middle of her sentence and she warmly reciprocated, then he just as abruptly sat back down.
As the congregation participated in some prayer and thankfulness time, he covered his ears and his face contorted. He was in pain. I could feel it! He turned around and stared intently at the woman behind him. His face reacted with great animation to what he was seeing. It seemed as though she was telling him something very profound or disturbing and that he couldn't believe what she was saying. Later, she told me that she hadn't said a word to him. I realize now that he was looking at someone or something else in his mind. Margo just happened to be in the way.
After his attempt to get up on stage and several times of wandering about while looking panicked, they decided to escort him to a room in the back to talk to him privately. He felt affronted by this action, even though it was meant with no malice whatsoever. He was visibly paranoid and I understood that, especially since he had never been to the church before. They attempted to take him to a room, but he hesitated at the door, putting his hand out, finger pointed, and a look on his face as if to say, "Wait, I think you're out to hurt me and I'm not sure I want to go." It was about then that I started praying intently.
I could feel that there was a possibility that he might blow at any moment. I didn't know what his need was. I didn't care. It was just clear that he was in need. Period. It became clearer and clearer that he wasn't in a good frame of mind for some reason. They got him to go back into the room and he shot back out of there within a few short minutes. They re-directed him to another room, away from the congregation, where a dear lady was trying like heck to give a presentation on the sins of the flesh. Her subject was "wrath." I was up next with "envy." We both made it through our presentations without further upset, as they had succeeded in getting him to the back dining hall area. I knew one thing. I didn't envy my (thankfully very large) black brothers one bit for the task of calming this poor soul who was obviously not having a good day.
He appeared to be tripping on drugs. I know this because of my own experience with drugs in my "colorful" past. He mentioned to someone that he had done mushrooms and everyone then assumed that was the cause of the distressed behavior, but after a conversation with him yesterday [the following Sunday - this post has been updated and edited due to circumstance], he was not on drugs that night at church and the mushroom experience was in 2003. What he was experiencing that night, but could not convey in the state of mind he was in, was extreme sleep deprivation. I have to tell you that it reminded me of a bad acid trip. There are good trips to la-la land and there are bad trips to la-la land. Bad, scary trips. Trips where you wonder what in the heck the dealer put in your batch. That's where I thought this guy was.
I felt truly sorry for him. I could tell he was afraid of something and the church members present were a bit on edge as well, sensing his discomfort. I wasn't afraid myself, but I was fully prepared to duck and cover if necessary. Who knew if he had a "nine" in his pocket? Not me. I had seen people in that state before, so at least I knew what I was seeing. I knew that the man I was looking at wasn't the man I was seeing with my eyes. He was a body inhabited by something else. He was possessed, gripped, and tortured by something unseen to the naked eye of those around him. If you have ever been tormented by a lack of sleep - I mean a debilitating lack of sleep - then you will understand this and sympathize. I sometimes think my insomnia is a curse. I mean, for real!
His mother was very supportive and agreed to stay with him until his condition improves. She said he had just gotten out of jail and he wasn't like that before he went in. She said he was a good person. She said they'd been to the hospital to try and get him something to calm his nerves, but for whatever reason, he was denied. In our subsequent conversation on Sunday, I learned that he had not slept the entire time he was incarcerated - three weeks. Three weeks! No wonder he was in a hallucinatory state!
She said that they didn't know anything about the church and that they had been driving by and she said, "There's a church and there are people there. Do you want me to go back?" He did. And just that easily, if he had been in possession of a deadly weapon and mistook our congregation's motives to move him to another location to give him personal attention, we could have all been statistics in an unbelievable tragedy that night. What we witnessed instead was a broken man in his greatest hour of need. Although he may not recall it well, I will never forget it.
It's funny how much his state resembled that of being on a drug trip. But being an insomniac, it made complete sense when he told me he hadn't slept for three weeks. I am practically a non-functional basket case when I get very exhausted. I can't think straight, can't make decisions, and am emotional. It made me remember the drug trips, though, and I had to give pause to a funny/scary memory.
Once, eons upon eons ago, I went on an acid trip where I thought our toilet was trying to eat me when I went to the bathroom. I called my boyfriend into the bathroom to verify that it was really reaching out to grab me and whaddya know? He said it tried to eat him too. We decided to hold our pee until the drugs wore off a bit. I remember parts of that night very well. I remember looking at a picture of he and I on the bookcase and saying, "Do you think we'll ever be those people again or do you think we'll be stuck like this forever?" It was scary as hell. I'm so glad I'm not that person anymore and I never tripped on acid again. One bad trip is enough. It's a wonder we hadn't killed somebody that night driving to the house, the drugs already in effect. In our eyes, both the truck and the road were bending out of shape and things were distorted and the colors were all wrong.
|What do you see? It's all a blur...|
I can only imagine what this man was seeing. I wonder, what will that man remember about Wednesday night bible study? Did we appear as horrifying zombies out to devour him? Was our toilet trying to eat him? Were his chains broken that night? Did God begin to grant him with the rest he desperately needed that night?
As they exited the front doors, the pastor said, "You two come back again. You're welcome here."
I love my church. But I wondered, would most churches allow this visitor, who by all presumption was drugged, to stay in the church that night and then welcome him back with open arms? Mine did. And he did come back on Sunday with both his mother and his child, in a better state, although still slightly confused. He was not yet ready to give a testimony, but willingly shared his story when asked.
I had the opportunity to speak to him for quite a while on Sunday and that is why I updated this post. Circumstance necessitated the change. The way he had worded his experience with the bad mushroom trip made it sound as though it was current and so the presumption the church had was wrong, but I felt they handled things right. The church deserves credit for that and he deserves credit for entering the church when he most needed to get help from a higher power, even though he wasn't in a state of mind any of us could easily understand.
He loves God and wants to do all he can to change his life for better circumstances and to serve God and God's people and to spread the word, but he has many struggles. I'm asking those of you who are Christian followers to pray for him. I'm asking those of you of other faiths or atheism to give a moment of silent reverence or just send positive thoughts and vibrations his way. I surely do appreciate it. And if you already read this post the first time and are now reading the revision, thank you for taking the time to do so.