As I printed out the worksheets that would lead us into revisiting the stations of the cross in North Everett, I saw one word written all over it: heroin. Jesus falls: Heroin. Jesus meets his mother: Moms who have lost children to heroin. Jesus greets the criminals dying alongside him: Heroin. Jesus dies: Heroin. Jesus is buried: Heroin.
And resurrection. Sometimes for a moment. Sometimes for a lifetime. Sometimes for just long enough to have one last great memory with their children. We've seen our neighbors in Everett break free from heroin. And when they do, it is just as miraculous and breathtaking as Jesus' resurrection. Even if our friends and neighbors only walk away from heroin for a moment: it's stunning. And when they walk away from it for a lifetime: it's a miracle.
But the point is: if you are going to walk the Jesus way in Everett with open eyes and a compassionate heart, there is one thing you can't escape: heroin.
Heroin. Heroin. Heroin.
Don't get me wrong. I love Everett. It is an excellent place to live. (I started the hashtag #youshouldmovetoeverettwa. And I mean it. You should move to Everett, WA.) If you're just passing through or if you make it your bedroom community, you might never know about heroin in Everett. But if you get to know your neighbors, and especially if you work with neighbors experiencing poverty and poverty related trauma, well... Heroin. Heroin. Heroin.
I saw it coming. To sit with Jesus' story, to wonder about people on the margins experiencing echoes of this story, to wonder about life altering trauma. These things were going to call me to contemplate and grieve a heroin epidemic and the friends and neighbors I've lost or nearly lost to it.
So, with a heavy heart but also a pastor's heart, I drove to the place I said we'd meet up.
No one joined me. This happens. This is church planting. You offer good things and sometimes no one is interested or no one has time or it's intimidating to wonder who else will be there or, or, or. So, no one came. And I'm okay with that.
I strapped my daughter on and tried to keep her entertained as we waited at least 15 minutes to make sure someone wasn't just a little late. I smiled at everyone who passed through the park. They engaged my daughter because she's just pretty darn engaging.
I noticed one gentleman holding a crumpled paper bag circle through the park over and over and over. At least five times he walked in and then left after making eye contact and smiling.
I noticed another gentleman with a backpack beaten up in the way that tells me maybe he keeps his whole life in that backpack and maybe he sleeps outside. Maybe. His head was hung. He sat in one place. He never made eye contact. He never even engaged that engaging baby.
After 15 minutes, I decided the kiddo and I would head home. The circling gentleman passed through the park. I smiled at him and walked to the car. I noticed him watching me walk to the car and get in. It takes time to get in the car with a baby.
After I was in the car, I looked over and he had walked up to the man sitting on the steps. The man pulled something out of his backpack. He exchanged it for the crumpled paper bag. And the two parted ways as I drove off.
It could very well not have been heroin. But it was something. It wouldn't be a gamble to say that something exchanged between them was the kind of thing you exchange when you are out of ways to metabolize your trauma. When the harm done to your body is outweighed by the pain you feel from how life has bloodied your soul and your story.
And maybe I'm wrong. Maybe my eyes were a little too colored by the stories I've seen here in my neighborhood. Maybe it was just something completely innocent that happened to look odd. But, even if my interpretation of this interaction is off, I know things like what I thought I saw were happening in my neighborhood. At that moment. Just maybe not at that place.
Good Lord it is Friday in Everett. Let Sunday come. And let me join in its coming.