Once when I was a chaplain at Union Rescue Mission, a tall, thin man came into my office. He was nice looking, about thirty five years old, with a big mustache. I liked him the second I saw him.
He began to tell me his story. I let him talk for a few minutes. As he talked, a powerful feeling of caring for him came over me.
I said, “Bob, before you go on, I need to tell you something. I love you.” I felt surprised that I had said such a personal thing so quickly. He looked a little startled for a second. Then he continued telling me his story. A little later that day, he decided to join one of the mission’s residence recovery programs.
Some time later, he told me that when I said that I loved him it scared him. For months, he felt like I was chasing him around the mission trying to hug him. He peeked out of the doorway to his room, every time he left his room. He felt that I seemed to know when he was going to be in the hallway and showed up at just that moment to throw my arms around him.
Gradually he learned to trust me. That allowed him to enjoy my love and to return it. He did very well for about six months, but then he went out drinking again and disappeared.
He came back after an absence of about six weeks, badly needing detox. I put him in detox where he stayed for several days.
When he came out of detox, he was a man with a purpose. Bob asked me to make him the Dryout Room Coordinator. He had not been warmly treated while he was sobering up. The room was dismal The food service was late and served him cold food. More importantly, I had failed to stop in to see him. That had hurt his feelings.
He was determined to reorganize the room, to find a way to make the atmosphere more cheerful and to take better care of the men drying out. He especially wanted to spend lots of time with the men.
When I gave him the Dryout Room responsibility he said, “George, I promise. No one in detox is ever going to feel abandoned and forgotten again, as long as I am the coordinator.”
The next months proved Bob a man of his word. He was in the room all day every day. He also stopped by to visit in the evenings. He repainted the room and hung new curtains. He personally delivered the meals to detox, and made sure the detox men got the best food the mission had to offer.
He became a very respected minister of hope and cheer. Eventually, he came up with a way to rearrange the laundry room so a wall could be added allowing a large, airy, attractive detox space.
After a year, Bob felt it was time for him to go home to his family back east . This time he left the program in good standing and for a good reason. We didn’t see him or hear from him for a while. That is not unusual, as many men who beat the street, want to forget about their whole skidrow experience when they leave.
About eighteen months later, he showed up at the mission again. This time he looked prosperous and was at peace. He had gone home and had gotten a job in a convalescence hospital, and moved in with his family.
Unfortunately, there was too much damage already done to his marriage for his relationship with his wife to prosper. After a year, they separated. He had taken it as well as possible and had not begun to drink. Instead he traveled across the country and came to see me. I arranged for him to stay at the mission for a few weeks.
I found out that his birthday was coming up in a few days. I invited him to come home with me for dinner. When he came, my four little girls had made him gifts and we had cooked him a nice dinner. The fellowship and food were great and he loved his gifts.
After dinner the girls went off to play. Bob helped us clean up. Then we sat down to enjoy coffee. The atmosphere was warm and very mellow.
When we got settled, Bob said, “Do you remember the day when I first walked into your office,” I did remember and told him so. I expected him to want to recount that story. The story was a favorite of mine and I was looking forward to hearing it again.
Then he said, “George, when you said,’ Bob I love you’, No one in my whole life had ever said those words to me before; not my mother, not my father, not my wife, not my children. That was the first time anyone ever told me they loved me .”
When he said that it took my breath away. I was so glad that God had somehow gotten through to me and prompted me to speak. I loved him at that moment more than ever.