If I could just catch a break

I first met “Mark” a couple of weeks ago. He’s new on the street and obviously isn’t having a good time there. I really didn’t know that much about him, but today I felt a tug to spend some time with him. I think the encounter surprised both me and Mark.

Mark is on his way from the east coast to the west coast. He’s got a “sure thing” job lined up out there. If he can only get there. He took his life savings with him and set up from the east coast. Now he’s lost and used that and is stuck here in Austin. He’s been taken in by the local community of street kids and shown the ropes of how to get by. But it just isn’t sitting well with Mark. He doesn’t like handouts and he definitely doesn’t like the difficulty of the life. The Texas heat is killing him. And he’s hungry most all the time. “If only he could catch a break… get a job.” Marks says this all the time.
I decided to find out why Mark left the east coast. The answer surprised me. Mark sheepishly and slowly revealed to me that he had gotten in trouble at home as a kid–trouble with drugs and selling drugs. He got caught when he was 18 and sentenced when he was 19. He spent 7 years, the maximum for his charge, in prison. And nothing changed in prison. He used drugs and sold drugs. He got solitary confinement and other punishment regularly. However, he just knew that once he got out, he could start over… start fresh.
When Mark got out of prison, his family shunned him. He had caused too much pain and too much trouble for them. He wasn’t welcome anymore. However, the mother of one of his friends offered him a job in a restaurant. The other help lived together in a place and let Mark move in with them if he agreed to chores and keeping things up at the apartment. However, Mark was really uncomfortable with the handout and the lifestyle at the apartment. The other folks were 18 and 19 and they lived like it. Mark, now 26, just couldn’t play video games, drink and party all the time anymore. He felt he needed something more. And he was angry about the past. So he took off with a friend for the west coast… to work on a farm run by a friend who promised them a “sure thing” when they get there.
Suddenly at this point in the conversation, I realized that Mark has only been out of prison since the spring of this year. Wow! I cannot imagine how confused and angry he must be. And yet he is so nice to me on the streets. I began to understand that Mark was running away from the hurt, the anger, and the difficulty of the last 7 years. I now wondered about his faith life.
I asked Mark to tell me about his views and experiences with religion. He was very shy to share at first, but began by saying he’s a Lutheran… confirmed and schooled that way. In his own words, “But I’ve become lost. I don’t know where any of that is anymore.” He told of believing in God but not “knowing him” anymore.
Now I understood how I could help Mark. I explained that the longing for something more that he felt in his heart was very real… and very right. However, the journey that he needed to take was probably not to the west coast but was a journey that needed to start in his own heart. He’s been through a lot, and there is a lot to be angry and grief-stricken about. However, the stirrings within himself to change should be directed to getting to know his roots again in the church. Jesus hasn’t gone anywhere, but (as Mark himself said) Mark has lost himself from Jesus. The sense of belonging that Marks wants can be satisfied first by reconnecting with Jesus again. And then by plugging into a community of believers. Mark took all this in with a very sullen and contrite attitude.
Suddenly a friend of his came to the door. He wanted Mark to go. Mark said OK and started to leave. I asked if I could pray with Mark. He hesitated… looked at his friend… looked at me with big sad eyes… and said “yes.” Right there in front of everybody he sat down and asked me to pray with him. Together we thanked God for the journey that Mark is on. Together we asked forgiveness for both our sins. We asked God to guard and keep safe Mark on his journey of healing. Together we confessed that we know God loves us, that Gods sees us as precious and beloved children, but that we often just find that too hard to believe. We asked for faith to believe, strength to persevere, and safety to survive day by day and grow closer to Him.
As we began to pray, I could sense and see the anger come to the surface in a very real way. As we continued to pray, I could feel the sighs of recognition by Mark of his situation and the truth of our prayer. As we finished and sat quietly for a moment or two, I could fell the beginnings of Mark “catching a real break”–the only break he truly needs–to come home to the Savior who has always known him, who he knew as a child, and who wants to give Mark all that he will ever need. I pray to see and walk with Mark in Austin as many days as God see fit. Amen.

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