I only knew Joe about two weeks and then he disappeared. I assume he moved on, a common thing with traveling kids–I often see them again, but not always. However, Joe reappeared just a couple of weeks later–one very recent Friday. And he was different. Joe was sitting on the curb and not moving, his head hung down. He couldn't stand or look up. Apparently he was hurting. As I approached him, I began to understand why. There was a huge freshly stapled gash along the entire side of his head… probably 12 inches in total length. It looked like a tearing wound to me, but Joe said he had been stabbed in a fight and that it was a knife wound. He showed me two puncture wounds on his torso that were stabs, but not as fresh as the head wound. As he lifted his clothing to show me these wounds, I observed several older scars on Joe's torso, back, and lower body. He was not new to fighting.
Joe was completely disoriented, perhaps from the pain, but more likely from trauma. I arranged for other street kids to be sure to look after him. I got Joe to social work partners for trauma counseling. I made sure that everyone was looking out after Joe and that people were helping him keep his follow-up doctor appointments. That first day, Joe asked for pants. He's very particular, so instead of new pants, I arranged for him to have sewing kits and patches so he could make his current pants work. Joe was pleased.
Joe began to improve after about a week. He was able to carry his own backpack. He could keep up with it without forgetting. The pain seemed to be subsiding. Joe's mental function was improving, although he still had memory loss regarding the fight. I don't know if that's trauma or alcohol.
Joe began to talk of traveling again. But fist he wanted a guitar. He talked of having written songs but he couldn't remember them. I couldn't imagine Joe playing the guitar in his current state, but I know how important music is to street youth. It definitely soothes their soul and gives them a way to express themselves. So I watched and waited.
You see… I had a secret. Just a few days before I met Joe, I had received a guitar from a donor
. Since it's a substantial gift and I can't give one to everyone, I decided to wait and see what the Holy Spirit had planned. As soon as I heard Joe asking for a guitar, I wondered if this was the reason.
On Monday, Joe came to "Talk Time
," a safe place inside a church where we share a simple breakfast and pray together with street youth. Joe had been there before, but only in his trauma-induced daze. Today his face lit up when he saw a guitar in the corner–it had been there before but he hadn't noticed. He asked sheepishly, "Can I play that guitar?" I said, "Sure. We usually play music but you can play the guitar instead." Joe said, "I just want to play for myself… quietly." So we put on music anyway. During prayer time I watched Joe pick and strum. I don't play guitar, but his technique looked amazing and varied.
During prayer time, I encouraged everyone, including Joe, to contribute ideas to our "prayer concert
". He didn't respond at first. Then he engaged a bit, sharing about what's going on with him now: "I'm just waiting to get well. Then I want to travel again. I'd like to find out who did this to me, but I'll be OK. I'm just got to get out of town." I began to rephrase part of that as prayers for healing and safety and so on, but Joe interrupted, "I don't talk to God. I don't believe in Him. I've been on the street for 13 years without Him." I responded, "It's OK. We don't have to agree here. It's safe for everyone." And I continued.
At the end of "Talk Time
," my intern
asked Joe if he wanted to play us all a song. He agreed, and played amazing things. A huge variety of licks from both original tunes and covers of punk, rock, pop, and even one Christian song. I knew the time had come to give him the guitar.
The next day was our "Chillin'" Bible study
event. I brought the guitar. I asked one of the people who had been looking after Joe to try to make sure he came because I had something for him. That person guessed immediately what I was up to and agreed to get him there. Joe refused at first to come, but he followed the group along to the church. He hadn't slept well the night before because of the head injury, so he quickly fell asleep in the comfort of the air conditioning and soft chairs.
I don't mind when this happens… the space and time is intended to be healing for the street youth. I want them to get whatever they need from the event. Of course, I want to share the Gospel, but if they need sleep, how can I begrudge them rest?
At the end, I woke up Joe and said, "I have something for you. Let's go to my truck." We walked over to the truck together, Joe, my intern, one of his friends, and myself. Joe sensed something big coming and got excited. I took a few minutes beforehand to tell Joe, "I love you, and God loves you. You may not believe in God, but God believes in you". I told him, "I've been waiting to give you something because you weren't ready for it yet. But I think you are now. But you've got to start taking care of yourself." He said he could take care of himself, despite the obvious 12 inch rip still healing on his head. I said, "Joe, I hear your words, but your body tells me another story. I began touching all his scars on his body. "These," I said, "tell me about a young boy who had had some terrible things happen to him. A boy and a young man who has been through some terrible stuff. A young man who may not love even himself. But you need to know that you're beautiful and that God loves you… no matter what." His friend also began to tell Joe that he needs to change.
Then I pulled out a big rectangular box from my truck. He took it and immediately said, "You've got to be kidding me! I know what this is! Are you kidding me?" He jumped for joy and bear hugged me. I encouraged him to unwrap it. He was so excited about every detail–the strings, the strap, the carrying case, the pick, the pitch pipe, the shape, the detailing on the guitar… Everything about this simple guitar seemed to please him. Joe's friend watched with pure joy as Joe explored the guitar. I saw his friend wipe tears from his eyes. He pulled me aside and thanked me for doing this for Joe.
When I turned back, Joe was holding the guitar to his chest and saying to it, "You and I are going to take care of each other. We'll go places to do exciting things. We're going to make beautiful music together. Nothing is every going to happen to you." I took the opportunity to inject, "Now Joe…. I know you've been sober since you got out of the hospital. But if you get drunk and goes to jail, you're not the only one that gets hurt. This guitar will get hurt. You'll probably lose it." And I reminded him, "If you get into a fight, it's not just you that pays the price when you got to the hospital. This guitar pays too, because someone else will probably take it in all the confusion. Again pointing to all the wounds on his body, "You have to make good on that promise of taking better care of yourself, Joe. I need you to love yourself as much as you love this guitar.
"And one more thing… I love you no matter what. And God loves you no matter what. This guitar is a gift from God and not from me. It came from a donor
, and I knew it was for you just as soon as you got out of the hospital. If something happens, it happens. I want our relationship to be based on love and sharing–it's not about this guitar. No matter what happens, you can keep talking to me and checking in with me."
He began tuning the guitar. After a couple of photos, we left Joe and his friend and the guitar! I believe Joe will give the guitar great care. Music is so important to Joe that I hope and pray Joe will also start giving himself better care. Wounds, both old and new, must heal. May God bless you, Joe, on your travels. And bring you to a place a great healing, both through your music and through your relationship to others. I suspect many songs will be written along the way. May your music take you closer to God than you ever imagined possible, Joe. Amen.