I heard the man before I saw him. Turning from my laptop, I glanced toward the entrance of the library. He had long, stringy hair and a face so pale and emaciated, he looked like he was already dead. His shirt was black and torn; a picture of a skull was on the front, as if the wearer was trying to match some Gothic stereotype. Homemade tattoos scrawled his veiny arms. His pants hung off of his hips, and I saw the numerous chains threaded the pockets seemed the only thing weighing his skeleton down.
The man twitched his ringed fingers as he clattered through the scanner and strode down the carpet past my chair, taking one so near to my own that I could smell his stench.
Everyone was focused on their computer screens, but no words were typed. We paused, waiting for what . . . we did not know. The man rolled the keyboard toward him and began to smash the keys like a deranged pianist.
I didn’t breathe; I didn’t blink. I stared at my blinking cursor of my manuscript, my eyes burning.
Three weeks had passed since the bombing at the Boston Marathon, and I could almost see the horrific footage from that horrific day scrawling across our minds like screensavers. Who could we trust anymore? Wasn’t the public library even safe?
The man continued pounding the keyboard. Then, with a few more clicks, he shot his chair back and strode out of the room.
All of us slumped toward our computers and continued typing or surfing the net, all worry forgotten. But then, less than ten minutes later, the walking skeleton returned, dragging his chains. He sat back down and clattered the keyboard just as he had before.
Then he left; we relaxed. Then he returned; we tensed: marionettes attached to the cruel puppetter’s strings.
He did this five, six, seven more times. I had only been at the library for three hours and wanted to finish editing a chapter in my second book before I packed up for the day. I decided to stay until I finished, determined not to let the man know how much he rattled me, for the smile slithering across his features as he entranced and exited conveyed that this was exactly his goal.
But I also didn’t want to be stupid. Each time he came into the library, my whole body coiled with adrenaline—ready to fight or flee. All I knew was that, at the end of the day, I was not going to allow him to stop me from going home to my fourteen-month-old daughter.
The seventh time after the man left, I finished the chapter. I clapped my laptop closed without bothering to shut it down. I wound my cord and jammed everything into my backpack.
I was driving home to my daughter—my neck and shoulders still tight—when I was struck by the fact that that emaciated man was once someone’s son. A mother had birthed him and tended him and perhaps even felt that fierce sense of protection that I often exemplify, trying to keep men like him away from my own flesh and blood.
In many ways, I lived a sheltered childhood. Yet I still witnessed the black hole of drug addiction and how it transforms a fun-loving individual into someone you cannot recognize. If not for Teen Challenge, that man at the library could’ve been my brother seven years ago.
With this bittersweet remembering, for my beloved brother is now free, my heart toward that terrifying man changed. How can we help him? I thought. Can anything? God never thinks someone’s too far gone to risk saving, so why should we?
I did not have the answers, but I knew the One who did. Wending down out of the mountain and taking a left down the haven of our tree-shaded lane, I prayed for that imprisoned man and asked that God would send someone to help remove his chains.
How do we begin to love those whose chief goal is instilling fear? If you know someone affected by drug abuse, please contact Teen Challenge. (They do not have to be a teen.)
The below story and music video by Matthew West were actually shared by one of my college friends, who read this post and thought the story behind West’s song, “Hello, My Name Is” sounded similar to my brother’s. When I clicked on the link, I actually couldn’t believe what I was reading: I had gone to college with Jordan; he had dated my freshman roommate.
Coincidence? I think not. Read Jordan’s story and be inspired.
“Hello, my name is Jordan and I am a drug addict.” That was the first sentence of this young man’s story that he sent to me. He went on to tell me how for years that was how he identified himself. A two sport all star athlete in high school, Jordan received a college scholarship to run track and play football at a university in Kentucky. But during his sophomore season, Jordan broke his ankle. That is when he received his first prescription to Oxycontin. He wrote about how addiction quickly took a hold of his life and sent him spinning out of control. After two failed drug tests, the university kicked him out and removed his sports scholarships. Jordan had lost everything he had worked for. He landed at a place called Teen Challenge in North Carolina. Teen Challenge is a Christian rehabilitation center in the business of restoring lives with the hope of Jesus Christ.
Jordan said it was during his time in Teen Challenge that he began to realize that God wasn’t done with him yet, and that all of those defeating titles like “addict,” didn’t have to be attached to his name the rest of his life. His story is far from over. He told me that in the years since his recovery, he went back and got his master’s degree from the very college that kicked him out. Now, he is a teacher and a coach and a newlywed. And he has recently felt God calling him into full time ministry.
He closed his story by saying, “These days I introduce myself a little differently than I used to. Hello, my name is Jordan and I am a child of the one true king!”
What a powerful example of God at work in someone’s story. I read Jordan’s story and couldn’t help but wonder how many people in the world are walking around defined by the defeat and the regret of past mistakes, believing the lie that they will never be able to kick an old habit or move on from yesterday’s mistakes. Jordan’s story is powerful proof that we are not defined by our past. God can restore, redeem, and renew our hearts and lives. He can set our feet on a new path that will lead our lives to a destination far greater than where we used to call home.
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old is gone and the new has come!” Jordan is standing in the light of a new beginning, forgetting what is behind and taking hold of his new name.