Friday, February 4, 2011
FINDING ALEXANDER AGAIN
Last July, while the Dirty Roots Revolution was leading a week-long missions trip in St. Louis for a youth group from Indiana, I found out that Alexander had returned to prison. I didn't know if I'd ever see him again. Shortly after this, the DRR entered a period of dormancy and eventually dissolved.
I'm very pleased to say that some eager and ambitious, world-changing college students have resumed the weekly homeless outreach (and I'll post more on that soon...). And on their return from one of their first trips, they VERY excitedly called me to tell me that they'd found Alexander again!!!!
So, this Saturday (probably today as many of you read this), my daughter and I are traveling to St. Louis with the homeless outreach to meet our old friend Alexander once again. And I am thrilled. I'll update you when we get back...But for now, take a minute to read about my dear friend, Alexander.....
ALEXANDER'S STORY (originally posted in February 2010):
On last Saturday’s Dirty Roots Revolution Homeless Outreach, many of you know that my heart (and mind, as many of my thoughts the following week were about him) was captured by one of our homeless brothers named Alexander.
You can read more about Alexander’s story in my blog post and Facebook note, simply titled “Alexander”, but the thumbnail sketch version of his story goes like this: Alexander served several years in prison for an unspecified crime. He was released a few weeks ago and he got into a homeless shelter. He also, through hard work, secured a manual labor job at the rate of about $7 an hour. After two weeks of work the employer did a background check (which could/should have been done at the beginning) and Alexander was publicly escorted from the job site by three armed security guards when his past was discovered. Alexander is trying HARD to look for work. He has been tempted by the bottle since he’s been released, but he has been fighting giving in to that temptation and to his frustrations. We prayed with Alexander last week and I urged him fervently to keep on the path he knows is right.
To make his story worse, Alexander lost his glasses on a city bus about six weeks ago. His eyes are worse than mine, so I can personally vouch that means they are B-A-D. This impedes his chances of securing work, makes it hard to get around, and is just a general frustration.
After an hour of visiting with Alexander, I loved his spirit. I could see his good heart and his desire to change. So I shared his story. And it touched many of you, too. I received many comments and emails after publishing it.
After that, I began to think about putting out a call to raise some funds to get Alexander an eye exam and the cheapest pair of glasses we could find him.
As I logged onto my computer to do so, I received notification from a DRR supporter that if I could get Alexander an appointment with an eye doctor, this donor would foot the bill for his exam and the glasses.
In almost unbelieving joy, I contacted LensCrafters and explained the situation. I told them about the DRR and what we do. They were excited and glad to help out.
Which brings us to today. I fervently asked for prayers and positive thoughts for today because the whole thing hinged on us seeing Alexander today. I was confident he’d show up, because I’d promised to bring him every pair of old, used glasses I could get my hands on during the week (this was obviously before the generous offer of new glasses…).
As soon as I pulled my car up to our distribution site, there was Alexander, peering in my window, making circles around his eyes with his fingers, like glasses. He told me he’d been thinking about us all week. I asked him to hang back and stick with us a while.
After the crowd thinned, I told him the situation and he agreed to go with us.
The nearest LensCrafters I could get an appointment at was in Fairview Heights. After the conclusion of the Homeless Outreach we headed that direction. Alexander was friendly, but a bit reserved in the car. I can’t blame him…he was with me and DRR volunteers Andrew and Kelsey. He’d known me and Andrew a total of about an hour and he’d just met Kelsey. And here we are offering to drive him 20 minutes away, across the river, to give him some free glasses.
We got to St. Claire Square a little early, so we walked through the food court, so Alexander could get a nice sample from each of the restaurants.
After we checked into LensCrafters, Alexander began to loosen up a bit. At some point I could see on his face that he realized “This is really happening!” He’d told us numerous times up to that point that “I sure appreciate this,” but hadn’t said a lot more.
After we sat in the waiting area for a while, Alexander began sharing more of his story. He lived in Greenville, Mississippi till he was 10 years old, when he moved with his mother to St. Louis. He said once he got here he immediately started “stepping off into awful things. And it just got worse and worse.”
He was stabbed nine times with a screwdriver over a gambling debt and in return later stabbed the man who stabbed him. “And, after going to prison once, I went right back out and did bad stuff. Turned into more and more of a monster.”
Alexander isn’t a monster. He made mistakes. I have, too. Mine may not look like his. And others may not look upon mine in the same way as they look upon his. But he made mistakes. Bad decisions. The man I spent today with is NOT a monster.
Alexander said, “I’m afraid to be violent now. I’m afraid to rob. I don’t know if it’s ‘cause I’m older, or wiser, or if I’m just getting soft. But I don’t want to do that. I talk to God every day.”
Alexander also had three children. His 14-year-old son was shot in the head two times. That same day, Alexander’s 16-year-old son shot and killed the man who killed his little brother. The 16-year old is currently serving a 35-year prison term. He has a daughter that will turn 17 later this week. She was born as he was going into prison and he hasn’t spoken to her until two months ago – when she called from a foster care facility in Granite City. They had a bad phone connection and couldn’t talk much. And with a sadness that only a lifetime of this kind of heaviness can produce, he told us he wanted to find her. I told him I’d see what I can do. I’m no expert, and don’t know where to begin, but I will try.
It was time for his eye exam and they took him to the back. Upon his return, it was obvious he was excited to pick out new frames. You could tell he’d had a good experience in the back and had been treated very well, too.
The other part of the “miracle” I was anticipating for today was that LensCrafters would be able to make his glasses that day. They claim “glasses in an hour”, but as someone with horrible eyes, I can tell you, they can’t take care of ALL types of prescriptions in an hour – or even a day. But they had what they needed for Alexander’s.
The staff told me they found Alexander had very serious glaucoma and gave me a referral sheet to a Metro-East doctor who could help him out. I’m going to call that doctor to see if he can, in turn, refer us to a doctor closer to Alexander’s home-base in downtown St. Louis. Maybe we can get him qualified for some kind of public aid to get the treatment he needs to save his eyesight.
We went to lunch to wait for the glasses. Alexander chose the Japanese restaurant in the food court. We got him a big hot meal, which he thoroughly enjoyed. He was very comfortable with us by this point and we talked freely. It was a good time.
He shared his struggles and frustrations. His desire to stay on the right path. He said he needed God to take care of him. I shared with Alexander that the Bible tells us that God takes care of the birds and the flowers. And if they are as beautiful as they are, we know He does care for them. And we, His people, are made in His image, and He loves us more than anything. So, if he takes care of little things like birds and flowers, He’ll surely take care of us.
We talked more and more and then the most magical and unexpected part of the day happened…
A lady sitting next to us got ready to leave her table after finishing her lunch. She sat back down and said: “Excuse me…I wasn’t listening in, and I didn’t mean to eaves drop. But, I heard what you all were talking about – about the Bible telling us that God takes care of birds and flowers and will take care of us…And…this is all the cash I have today, but I want you to have it.” She gave Alexander a few folded bills. I’m not sure how much, but there was a $10 on the outside.
Alexander, Kelsey, Andrew, and I sat there – literally – speechless and dumbfounded with tears in our eyes. She said, “Thank you for the work you’re doing. And sir, you hang in there.” She patted Alexander’s arm , we introduced ourselves, and she left. Her name was Kim.
Thank you, God, for Kim.
Alexander talked on and on about how blessed he was today. He told us when he prayed last week, he worried that God couldn’t hear him. I promised him that God always heard. But, I said, sometimes even though we feel a need, God has other plans or other timing in mind. You may think you need it today…but He may know that next week will be better.
We headed back to LensCrafters and as we waited our turn to pick up the glasses…Alexander grinned and said, “You know what…my buddy likes 7-Up. I’m gonna take some of that money and buy my buddy a big ol’ bottle of 7-Up.” He’s blessed with some extra cash and his first thought is to treat his friend to a special surprise. I.LOVE.THAT.
The buddy he’s talking about shares some space in an abandoned building with Alexander on the nights they don’t go to the shelter. (The shelter has a 14-day in/30-day out policy. You get 14 days to sleep inside as you chose – they don’t have to be consecutive. Once your 14 days are up, you have to take a 30-day consecutive break to give other folks a turn to be inside).
Alexander shared that recently he told his buddy that no one knew they were up there. If something happened, no one would know it. His friend just said, “God knows, man. God knows we’re here.”
In closing, another blessing. As we began the payment process, I contacted our donor by phone and he provided his credit card information to pay the bill. The LensCrafters lady told me with a wink…we took care of the exam. They hadn’t charged us a penny for the exam – just the glasses themselves.
Another unexpected blessing in a day full of them.
I asked Alexander if he needed a new shirt to wear for interviews on his job hunt. “No,” he said sheepishly, “But I do need some underwear.” We got him some new undies and socks. And a nice cup of Starbucks on the way out.
We drove Alexander back to St. Louis, with him looking excitedly out the window most of the way there. I wondered, not only has Alexander been near-blind since he lost his glasses…but how long had it been since THOSE glasses had been updated? He told us he was like a kid in a candy store and he was seeing a whole new world.
He asked us to drop him off about 10 blocks from where he was staying. “I just want to walk…I want to walk and I want to look at everything!”
I can’t tell you how many times Alexander shook my hand today. And I can’t tell you how good the hug I got from him at the end of the day felt.
We can’t do this kind of thing for every person we encounter on our Homeless Outreach. However, I’ve been filled with a desire since we started this program to keep our eyes open for these unique opportunities. Lord willing, we’ll be able to do more.
I don’t say this to be puffed up…but I was part of something today. And it was amazing. What happened today was WAY bigger than Kelsey, Andrew, and/or myself. We were part of what this revolution is all about. People loving people. People doing what they can. People giving what they can. People acting when they’re hearts are touched.
I was blessed today. Kelsey and Andrew told me the same thing many times throughout the day. Alexander said it the most. Every time Alexander told us he was blessed today, we assured him it was a blessing for us, too.
THANK YOU to our benefactor on this project. Your gift means SO MUCH (SO, SO, SO, SO, SO MUCH) to the Dirty Roots Revolution and, most importantly, to our dear friend Alexander. And thank you, as well, for your initiative in this. You weren't asked - you offered. Because you were touched.
THANK YOU - THANK YOU - THANK YOU.
Please continue to keep Alexander in your prayers. His heart was lifted today, but he’s still looking for work. He’s still homeless. He’s still going to continue to be tempted by things that could derail his progress. He wants to do good. He wants something new. And we now know he has severe glaucoma. I'll work with him to seek treatment, but please keep the situation in your prayers.
And he promised us that he was going to pay this forward somehow. I told him that doing good and continuing to try is all he needed to do for us.
I could go on and on. Today was truly an amazing day. Unbelievably so.
Every one of you played a part. Every one of you who prayed and sent positive thoughts our way today played a part. And that, too, is part of what the DRR is all about. Again, everybody doing what they can. We had someone with a desire and a means to provide for this situation financially. We put out the need (a very vague need, I know) for prayer for the situation, and I was flooded with messages today that people were, in fact, praying.
No one person made today happen. Everyone did. Everyone played some kind of role. Kim at the food court played a role. The ladies at LensCrafters played a role. Our donor did. You did.
Most of all, God did. This journey of the Dirty Roots Revolution has taught me so much about blessings and his provision. I’ll write a blog soon on some specific examples of that.
But I lived an amazing one today. Thank you again, to each of you, for making this amazing day happen for an amazing friend.
As Kelsey posted on her Twitter account today:
“Why, yes, Alexander, it HAS been a blessed day, indeed.”