Sundays are nuts right now. Between normal church responsibilities, having a new baby added to the mix with our other two children and having our house listed for sale and having open houses the last few Sundays, it seems like a pretty hectic/insane day.
Today was no exception. Baby dedication Sunday. Many additional moving parts. Interviewing a couple courageous ladies who are making a difference in our city. Preaching on an important topic that is literally killing a generation. There isn't a shortage to do.
But as great and important as all those things seemed at the outset of the day, they don't matter much at all to me after what happened.
Typical Sunday morning. I go in to the middle school around 5:30 and get the air conditioners set up and spend time in prayer and preaching my sermon to an empty room to hear what it sounds like out loud. This is holy ground...sacred space for me. I'm typically alone until 8:30 when some of the C3 team comes and hears the sermon and we give constructive feedback to seek to make it better.
That went fine.
After that around 9:15 I go to get my older two kids and bring them back to C3 so that Shaina can have about an hour to go through the house and make sure it is ready to go for the open house.
I get the kids, all the stuff we needed for the day and I go out to take our other car, the one with car seats in it back to church to continue to get ready for the service. My hands are full and I walk the kids to the door and they open it and begin climbing in. As they are heading to their seats in the third row of the flex, I see her. Sitting in the drivers seat...hunched...pale. I can tell by the look on her face that this is more than a homeless person finding a warm spot for the night. She was an addict. And she was not in good shape. (Yes we leave our doors unlocked. We keep nothing of value in the car and would rather them take a few pennies than break out a window.)
I calmly told the kids to get out of the car and go back to the porch and let mommy know we weren't going to be leaving quite yet. Chaia, the oldest, ever the compliant one, listened. Marquis got out of the car, walked around to the other side and got back in the car and was horsing around in the back seat. I looked for needles and didn't see any. The girl started to stir a little.
Hi, I'm Ben. You're in my car. Have you been using heroin?
Did you overdose?
Do you need help?
Ok I'm going to call for help.
She phased back out of it.
911 What's the location of your emergency. (I share my address.) What's the nature of the emergency?
I have a female potential heroin overdose. She is semi-responsive and admitted to using.
How old is she? (By now the girl is semi-coherent again. Moving around, appearing like everything she was doing was both painful and haphazard.) I ask her her age.
I tell the dispatcher. They assure me help is on the way. Meanwhile, the girl tries to stand up. I've got Chaia now back with me and her and Marquis are both watching. I ask them to go to the porch. They aren't budging. The girl starts walking around. She has a pathetic, already been smoked cigarette butt that she is frantically trying to find a way to relight. She can't find her lighter. I tell her I can help her. I have no lighter, so I come out with one of those big torch things that you light candles with. I light it for her and ask her her name.
She is 80, maybe 90 pounds. She has layers of clothing on including full fledged winter gloves that she'd left in the car. That seemed an odd choice since its to be a high of 93 today. She is emaciated. Not well.
I tell her help is on the way and it is as if she suddenly is able to piece together all that this help meant. She panicked and started walking down the alley away from our house and away from our street.
I can hear the sirens in the near distance. So can she.
I have a warrant out on me right now. I can't go to jail for this.
She begins an awkward but urgent jog. She is still not in good shape. So I keep up with her. But I feel tension because I don't want her to end up in worse shape physically than she already was trying to run from me and I had no way of letting the police know where I'd gone. So I watched her go behind a house and then I ran back to my street as the first police cruisers arrived. I gave a quick description and gave the address two streets up of the house she had gone behind.
I have no idea how the story unfolds after that. I don't know if the police found her. I don't know if she will find the help she needs.
All I know is that an opioid crisis that I've seen on the news and even watched a documentary on this past weekend, and have even brought up in sermons as I share about the foster care crisis that is a direct result of the opioid crisis...all of that went from a thing I heard about to a person I knew.
Hanging out in a place between euphoric bliss and cardiac arrest in my Ford Flex when I'm supposed to be heading to church to preach about...get this...what it means to really be the church.
And my mind goes a mile a minute. I wonder if she has kids. If so, do they know where their mom is? Have they already been taken from her? Does she have a family? Does she remember what hope feels like? How do you get to a place where you end up alone and overdosed in a total stranger's car?
I'm not angry. I wasn't scared. I wasn't even bothered by my kids witnessing it. (Can you say "teachable moment"?) What I was is incredibly sad. I don't want her to die. I feel the tension of imprisonment being a deterrent for people seeking help and maybe the only way she might get clean.
But for the first time, I didn't have a line of statistics to highlight the crisis of the overdose culture. Instead I had a face and a name.
It makes me desperate for people to feel seen...to feel safe...and to feel satisfied. I think we as a church could do a much better job of doing those three things to a world who needs good news.
I don't know where to begin with solving this crisis or even helping it a little bit, but what I do know is that this matters more to me now than it did yesterday.
Over 4000 died of overdoses in Ohio in 2016 and signs point to outpacing that number in 2017. Something must change.
What can we do?
Where do we begin?