Learning to Love

Long Beach Harbor Patrol Say No Photography From a Public Sidewalk

I was up late packing, getting ready to leave the next day for Christmas break.  There was a knock at the door, which was a little surprising, since it was well after midnight.  Looking out the window I saw it was a police sergeant, so I let him in.

Apparently my friend Pam was accusing me of breaking into her home and racking up hundreds of dollars in long distance charges on her phone.  This would be funny in almost any other setting, but given the state of Pam’s mental health, it was just sad.  The sergeant knew the accusation was probably not true, but he was going through the motions to clear this case.

Over the course of the next year and a half, I watched this dramatic transformation in her life.”

I had first met Pam at church, about 18 months earlier.  At that time she was sullen, withdrawn, and socially unique.  She didn’t bathe often and it would be easy to think she probably lived on the streets.  Over the course of the next year and a half, I watched this dramatic transformation in her life.  It was amazing to watch.

Pam grew up in a home that was the epitome of dysfunction.  On her twelfth birthday, her mother handed her a carton of cigarettes and a half-case of beer.  “You might as well get started now, the rest of us did!”  Her mother told her.  A couple of years later, in a rage, Pam’s father threw her into the dining room table and broke her back.

The next two decades were a blur for Pam.  I don’t know the details, and don’t need to know, but suffice it to say she was a “biker chick” and her life was lived in motion.

When she first started coming to Calvary Road, her life had disintegrated to the point where she was just one more failure from being homeless.  Her recent marriage was failing, she was unemployed, she had lost her teeth, and her living situation was tenuous.  On top of that, she was schizophrenic – and was not very compliant with her meds.

With the support and prayers of her new friends, Pam began to flourish.”

The people of Calvary Road embraced Pam and loved her unconditionally.  She began to blossom under the shower of freely given her.  She became a regular part of a small group and often hosted our group in her apartment.

For those of us who had grown up in more austere homes, it was a little uncomfortable being in her place.   The floor in the bathroom was rotting away, the bathtub was filled with stale water that didn’t drain, the carpet was filthy, and we were kind of afraid of the “snacks” she fed us.  But we continued to love and support Pam.Old Bakelit phone

My Wonderful Wife was the leader of our group and we began to support Pam in practical ways.  We gave her rides to work, church worship, and our small group.  Sometimes we took groceries to her.  She was more than a “project,” Pam was our friend.  At one point, Pam gave me a key to her apartment, in case of an emergency.

With the support and prayers of her new friends, Pam began to flourish. She was no longer sullen or distempered.  She smiled a toothless grin, hugged people, and participated in discussions.  She got a job folding laundry at the hospital and she began to have .  But like most of us, sometimes it was “two steps forward, and one step back.

Sometimes she would forget to take her medications and her life would began to spiral out of control.  Just before Christmas break in 2000, Pam was not taking her meds.  First she got mad at my soon-to-be Wonderful Wife, and it put stress on everyone.

Because I had grown fond of Pam, a woman about my age who looked 20 years older, I stopped by her place to facilitate reconciliation and peace.  As I stood on her front porch, we talked about how she wanted to be like my fiancé.  She wanted to be a nurse, a small group leader, and married.  It was at that moment I caught a of Pam from God’s perspective.  I saw in her the woman He had created her to be.  I affirmed Pam’s dreams.

Just before I left, I gave Pam a hug.  It wasn’t a hug of pity or sympathy.  I wasn’t hesitant because of her uncleanliness or smell.  I just hugged her like I would hug my sister (if I had one), or my Mom.  I was more amazed by my actions that anyone.  I genuinely loved Pam.  I hugged her because I loved her.

Later, My Wonderful Wife and I would talk about how we learned more from our time with Pam than she did.  We saw how initially we were just giving Pam our leftover scraps.  We were not loving her like we loved ourselves.  We were merely treating her like a project and giving her scraps.  But God had used our friendship with her to teach us how to love the unlovable.  It was amazing.

So here I was talking to a police sergeant in my living room.”

Two days after my amazing experience on her porch, Pam called the police and accused me of using her phone to rack up several hundred dollars in long distance bills.  Her story had some credibility because I had access (her key) and I knew when she’d be at work – because I gave her a ride almost daily.

So here I was, after midnight, packing for a Christmas Break away from Grad School, talking to a police sergeant in my living room.  “Don’t worry,” he said.  They knew Pam and she has always been for them.  He advised me to have nothing to do with her – to stay away.  “She’s nothing but trouble.

But I told him about the amazing transformation we’d seen in Pam. I told him we loved her.  I told him that Pam had hope and we supported her in that hope.  He just shook his head and left.

Two weeks later, while at my future father-in-law’s home in Iowa, I got a phone call telling me Pam had been hit by a car and killed.  Pam left a hole in our heart and we still miss her.  It will be fun to see her without all the brokenness, when we are all reunited again!

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