There was only one word to describe it…pitiful. It was really no surprise; the situation had worsened daily. That day’s ice storm stopped mail delivery in our city and quickly became a perfect storm of desperation. It also became a testament of Buddy’s faith in the storm.
He was sitting on the stained couch, arms around her as they huddled in their thin coats, when I knocked on the door. A child’s tattered suitcase was on the floor by their feet. Their coats offered little protection against air in the house that was nearly as cold as the air outdoors. Too many past due heating payments had led to it being shut off.
“I knew you would come.” My brother’s words felt like they were ripping my heart from my chest.
Life for for Buddy, his wife, and preschool daughter had deterioated in direct proportion to the acceleration of alcoholism in their home. Buddy tried to work, but that meant leaving little Ruthie home alone with her mom. Cathy was in and out of rehab. They were fighting a losing battle, and yet he had somehow managed to hang onto his worn faith in the storm of a downward spiral.
Consistently behind in paying their utilities, it wasn’t surprising when the heat was turned off in their ramshackle house. Mama tried to help them. Tom and I tried helping. The results of our efforts were short-lived at best. Their lack of any phone made it hard to keep tabs, and ask or offer help.
Tom waited in the car with our two kids while I went into the house. Buddy’s voice was low, his words choppy as he told me about sliding down the hill to a convenience store to use their phone to call an ambulance to take Cathy to rehab again. He rubbed his chafed hands together as he told me about crawling back up the ice-covered street to the house on his hands and knees.
It was too cold and trecherous for him to take Ruthie with him to try and get back to the store so he could call me. Of course, he said, he couldn’t leave a three-year-old home alone no matter what the weather was.
Months later, we found out Ruthie had been picked up by the police more than once wandering their neighborhood. Cathy would lock the doors, and drink when Buddy went to work until she passed out. Then Ruthie would climb out the front porch window to “look for help.”
Thirty years later, I cringe at choices that were made and the danger Ruthie survived.
Thirty years later, I am still amazed at God’s grace while we chipped ice off our car and Tom drove us with clinched fists to go help Buddy and his family. I’m just as thankful today as I was then that Tom never asked questions when I said we had to go. We’d packed blankets, sweaters, and an electric heater. We listened to hazardous weather warnings as we literally inched our way almost forty miles from our house to theirs.
Impossible roads, no phones, no reason to hope. Fearful of what we might find, I could barely breathe during the longest ride of my life. And there he sat, “I knew you would come.” Mixed emotions washed over me as I witnessed Buddy’s faith in the storm, and knew it had been greater than mine.
Dear Reader, saying my brother, Buddy, was a hot mess is putting things mildly. He’d been going further and further off the rails for years. He had mocked my faith since high school, sometimes cruelly. Buddy had bullied me for as long as I could remember, and yet, I adored my big brother.
Despite the bullying and cruelty of our younger days, in one heart-wrenching moment, Buddy taught me more about faith than any sermon or Bible study.
Is there someone in your life, Dear Reader, whose life is on the edge? Where life and death teeter on a knife blade of questionable choices?
I’ve lived with that pain, and shame, and guilt. But, Dear Reader, I also live with one moment of amazing grace that reminded me, and gave me hope that faith in the storm can prove itself in unexpected ways and places. Even more importantly, Buddy’s declaration reminded me that God is always in control, no matter what the circumstances scream in our faces.
Don’t give up, Dear Reader! God knows and loves both of you, and as long as you both have breath there’s hope.