The name Paul is being redeemed in my life.
I met a man named Paul about a year ago. I met him through a community at my church. He had asked some of the church leaders about getting involved in a community. I had some time in my schedule as classes were winding down and summer was rolling in and I offered to contact him and help him get involved. Our first meeting was at the Taco Bell down the street from his house. We had some pretty intense conversations and I felt that God had crossed our paths with purpose and I was excited for the ways that both of us were being stretched in knowing each other’s life stories. We were connected in the pain that we carried. Not as much in experience but in the feeling of carrying a burden much larger than ourselves. Rather suddenly, our acquaintanceship/friendship was ended when he asked me never to call him again. He told me I would never understand the extent of the things he had been through, and he was right, I would and will never know what he has lived through and see the things that he has seen. He told me then that he prayed with all his strength for God to take him away and for me to not contact him and he hung up the phone.
I sat there and stared at my cell phone for what felt like hours and sighed. I’m not one to blatantly do what someone tells me not to. If someone doesn’t want me in their life, I’m not going to force it. I’ll honor that. I felt like someone placed a brick on my chest. I wanted so desperately to call him back to tell him over and over that there was hope. That there is so much more than pain and sorrow. That he is loved and the pain he was experiencing wouldn’t be forever.
The whole experience left me feeling uneasy and sad. I wanted so badly to know how Paul was doing and to check in, but he asked me not to call, so I tried my darndest to let it go. It couldn’t have been more than one week when I was working at the coffee house and a homeless man walked in offering to sweep our sidewalks for a bowl of soup and a bagel. “That sounds like a fair trade, deal,” I said. “What’s your name?” I asked. He followed me to the back as I went to grab the broom and answered, “Paul”.
He must have thought I forgot to breathe or something because after an uncomfortably long pause, I answered, “It’s really great to meet you, Paul. I’m glad you’re going to help us out today.”
I laughed to myself at the fact that less than a week had passed and another Paul had crossed my path. I had a feeling that this Paul would be an impactful person in the same way that the first Paul I met had been and I was right, Paul began coming into the coffee house daily. He would help out with sweeping or washing the windows, but as the seasons changed and there were no longer leaves to sweep, we just invited him in to have a meal and to talk with him. He told us the story of how he came to be homeless, how he graduated with an MBA so many years ago and used to own a fancy sports car. It became part of my day to see Paul and to check in with him. I would always offer him food and sometimes he would decline and I would insist, “at least take a little for later” I would say. One day he confessed to me, “I’m not really hungry most of the time when I come in here. You guys talk to me like a real person. Nobody else talks to me out there.” We had a great friendship going, Paul and I, but it didn’t stay great for long. When I first met Paul, he hadn’t been on the streets for very long and as the weeks passed by, he became more and more sad and each day his hopes of getting off the streets died a little more. He began using his money for alcohol and not for food and showers. He would come in slurring his words and reeking of alcohol. Several conversations were had but ultimately we had to tell Paul that he was only welcome at the coffee house if he were sober and that was a decision he was going to have to make for himself. Months went by and no one at the coffee house had seen or heard from Paul. I felt that same uneasy feeling that I had felt months before when the other Paul asked me never to call him again. Sigh…Once promising relationships had disappeared and left me wondering what had become of them both and worried about where their paths may have led.
Several months had passed since Paul had asked me not to call when one evening my phone rang while I was in a meeting. I glanced at it and saw his name across the screen. I watched it ring silently and watched the missed call replace his name. I hoped and hoped for a voicemail and a minute later, a voicemail message appeared. I listened after my meeting shocked at what I was hearing, “Hi Shannon, this is Paul, blast from your past! …Just wondering why I haven’t heard from you in ages. Call me back.” I was so confused. His voice was chipper and cheerful and hello, he asked me not to call. I called him back and he acted as if no time had passed. He was cracking jokes and quoting verses from the Bible. He’s smart as a whip like that. Our friendship was back on track and he apologized for the way things had ended before and told me he was ready to be in community and to seek help. He’s been coming to the recovery groups at our church and has never been better. He has remained a good friend of mine and thanks me again and again for being a friend to him. Just my knowing him through the seasons and through the rough patches of life, I have been stretched and grown and ultimately have become a more gentle and persistent person. I have been so thankful for him and his will to keep on even when life seems like too much and when he wants to just fold his cards and bow out of the game. He survives.
If this blessing weren’t enough, maybe a week had gone by after I had reconnected with Paul when I was working at the coffee house and who walks through the door but my old friend Paul. I barely recognized his cleanly shaven, tanned and slim face. His smile stretched from ear to ear as he greeted another coworker and I heartily and happily. He said he only had a moment but wanted to stop in and see his favorite people. He told us about his new job and his holidays with his family and how he had been clean and sober for a couple months. Me and the gal I was working with were just glowing. All of us that work at the coffee house had been worried about him and where he might have been. Last we had seen him, he was not in good shape and the weather was getting below freezing at night. But here he was, standing right before our eyes, alive and well, making jokes and asking us about our lives. Oh man, it was a glorious and happy day.
After he left the coffee house, I swear I just stood there smiling for a good hour. Two Pauls had come into my life and then out of my life. I thought that was it, I thought the name Paul would always stir that sense of worry and unease in me, but here I am writing about the two of them and the joy just bubbles up in me. The things they have been through and seen, I will never know, but I am so encouraged and filled with hope in knowing them and their unfailing desire to keep living and giving thanks in the midst of it all.