IN MEMORY OF ARNOLD
It was a hot, dry day when Arnold showed up at the ministry complex seeking
help. He had been released from jail just a week prior and was living
on the streets. Arnold was a tall, strapping man whose intimidating
frame was evidence of his life-long commitment to bodybuilding. The
ministry was holding a cookout, followed by a Bible study for its
residents and guests. Arnold introduced himself and briefly explained
his situation. We invited him to join us for dinner. He gladly
accepted and soon became acquainted with everyone while enjoying his
Later during Bible study, Arnold made himself at home
and willingly participated while gracing us with his anecdotes. He was
passionate in his opinions, yet softened them with his humorous wit.
In a word, we found him colorful. Later as the evening came to a
close, I found myself alone with Arnold. He began to vividly recount
many of his
life's experiences. Arnold spoke of how his drug and alcohol
abuse started in his late teens and had developed into a serious
addiction by his early twenties. During this time,
Arnold's brushes with the law became more frequent and serious.
Sadly, he spoke of how while in jail he was told his wife had died of a
heroin overdose in a motel room. Her death caused escalating anger and
further drug and alcohol abuse in Arnold's life.
During my conversation with Arnold, I could feel my eyes
welling up with tears. To avoid embarrassment, I politely excused
myself. After regaining my composure, I returned and again listened to
him intently. Following years of incarceration, Arnold was released and
began a new life. He learned a new vocation and married a woman with
whom he was active in a local church. They were happily married a number
of years until Arnold saw signs of drug abuse with his stepdaughter.
He tried to address the issue with his wife, but she denied any
possibility her daughter was abusing drugs. One morning, just a few
months later, Arnold found his stepdaughter dead in her bedroom. She
had died of a drug overdose from prescription drugs. The sorrow and
grief over her death put a severe strain on his marriage. His marriage
ended in divorce several months later.
Anger, drugs and alcohol returned to Arnold's life with a
vengeance. He found himself doing hard time in prison once again.
Arnold shared many other details of his life that night.
The present is all that we ever have to work with, and it needed
to be addressed. Arnold agreed to join the program. His feet were
severely blistered from working day labor in poorly fitting boots. That
night Arnold soaked his feet, which relieved much of the pain.
A couple days later, Arnold was very happy when the ministry
furnished him with a new pair of sneakers from Costco. I remember him
proudly showing off those shiny white sneakers to the others in the
program. Arnold did very well during his first week and transitioned
very nicely into the program. But soon, he began to drink again. Then
he stopped going to work altogether. I reminded Arnold that he needed
to do well as he had when entering the program. I also cautioned him
about drinking alcohol. Arnold responded by becoming disgruntled.
The next day he left for work in the morning, but did not
return in the evening. All of us were very concerned. Fortunately, I
had learned before, that a person who unexpectedly leaves generally
returns a few days later. Three days later, Arnold returned to
retrieve his belongings. He explained to me that he was choosing to
leave the program because he thought it was too strict and required too
much of him. I asked him if he thought I had been fair and kept my word
to him. He softened as he warmly replied,
"Yes." He admitted he understood what the ministry was trying to
accomplish and believed it to be a good thing. Arnold felt he simply
was not ready for it.
He asked for a bed sheet to carry his belongings. We talked
amiably as he leisurely packed his things. Arnold gave me a big,
affectionate hug good-bye. He appeared to me a gentle giant in that
moment, or a large overstuffed teddy bear that never received the love
it was created for. I drove him to the corner of Broadway and McClintock
where he caught up with a homeless man he had befriended. Arnold shook
my hand and got out of the car. I watched him as he whistled happily
while walking down the street with his friend. That was the last time
that I ever saw Arnold!
From time to time, I wondered about how Arnold was doing.
He was so well liked and received by the other men in the program. A
few weeks passed when I received a call from a friend of
Arnold's. He told me Arnold had died in a cheap motel room from a
heroin overdose with a needle stuck in his arm. I was stunned and
really did not want to believe what I knew must be true. I became lost
in thought. He had met the exact same end as his wife and stepdaughter!
How could history repeat itself in such an ironic manner? And how do I
break the news to those who fondly knew him?
Some time later, I searched the Maricopa County website and found
Arnold's obituary. It listed his date of death as September 5th, 2002.
I had met Arnold only two months before his death. It had been only a
month before his death that I hugged him good-bye and last saw him. The
Bible tells us in Psalms that a
man's life is but a vapor. The poignancy of that truth has struck
a deep chord within me since
It is my sincerest prayer that Arnold's life and death would
serve to awaken within us all an urgency for men to receive the person
of Jesus Christ deeply engrafted into their lives. There is a greater
call than the bottle or drugs on a man's life.
"The greater call is God's Word on the heart and mind of each man
for the purpose of saving and directing the course of his life!"
This article was written by the co-director of Jesus Cares Men's Program, Mike Lawyer. He served the mission for 7+ years in pastoral oversight of many men like Arnold who desperately tried to cover the pain of their past with substance abuse.