Messy Mercy

Annette and I did not quite know what we had signed up for in those first two years at Desert Stream at Charlie’s. We were willing, and naïve. The saints and saints-to-be were often as willing as they were rebellious and overwhelmingly needy.

Mercy took on new meaning in the desert where we were digging for water.

I remember one man, a friend of Charlie’s, who came to the meeting wearing nothing more than a pair of tight leather pants. At the break, I asked him kindly if he might put on a shirt for the rest of the meeting. Offended, he raced out of the house, and was promptly followed by a band of codependent attendees who tried to assuage his hurt feelings. We lost several men that night when I informed them that this was a meeting designed to overcome same-sex attraction, not fuel it.

Boundaries became a big issue. One day, just before Annette and I were married, I dropped in on a man I was grooming for leadership. He did not answer the door. I let myself in, only to discover him sleeping in bed with an attendee! Shocked, I roused them both and confronted them. The ‘leader-to-be’ was genuinely surprised at my concern: ‘We weren’t doing anything, just holding each other…’

Perhaps you could say he needed a little more training.

God gave us mercy to establish boundaries and to persevere until a handful were willing to abide by them. That gave us a little team that we could work with; we needed a team because of the profound needs in the group.

One woman, a runaway in Hollywood, was just recovering from a drug addiction that led to prostitution. She was as sweet as she was unstable. One meeting she came with her arm in a cast and said she had hurt it. The next day, she called me and confessed that actually she had shot peanut butter into arm in a desperate bid for a ‘high’, and that her arm ‘looked funny, was turning brownish green.’

Mobilizing a friend from the group, we rushed her to UCLA Medical Center where they diagnosed her arm as nearly dead, in danger of amputation. I had to use my insurance coverage to get her into the system. More than that, I was in finals and had to forego my study schedule to help get her settled in the hospital. Her arm was saved. We learned something about the cost of mercy.

Juan was among the Mexican-Americans to join us in West Hollywood. He lived in East Los Angeles and grew up with older brothers in gangs. He was the youngest and smallest (he was small-built to begin with) of a large family; one older gang member repeatedly sought Juan out for sex. The last time it happened, the abuser knifed Juan within minutes of his life. The demoniac saw in Juan a reflection of his own shame and tried to rid himself of shame by killing Juan.

By God’s mercy, Juan survived; our group helped him recover and start a new life.

Ricardo had attempted suicide as a result of feeling that he was a girl trapped in a man’s body. A Christian psychiatrist who was treating him called us and asked if we could help him. What could we do? All we had was a merciful community, and truth (we loved him as Ricardo, not his female persona). He had never really accepted or loved by any group. He became a Christian, laid down his plans to become a woman, and decided to grow in Christ with us.

God entrusted us with His mercy. In the desert of sexual and relational brokenness, we dug a little deeper with each one God entrusted to us. God brought the increase, making the burning sand a pool of mercy.

‘As You have shown us mercy, O God, in the desert places of our lives, would You show mercy to the beleaguered state of marriage in the USA? As the Perry vs. Schw. case wends its way to the National Supreme Court, prepare for Yourself a victory. We shall render to Caesar what is Caesar’s but we shall prayerfully fight for what is Yours, O God. Prepare the hearts of each justice, especially Justice Anthony Kennedy, to uphold marriage according to Your merciful design. Remember mercy, O God.’

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