The TL at the end of the month…

Today in the Tenderloin the air felt thicker than usual. I think it was because it was the end of the month when people’s SSI checks were about to become available. For pretty much everyone in this depressed neighborhood, since their food had run out way before their money did, their stomachs growled with unusual ferocity. The food we bring helps quiet the rumbles for a few hours, but for most of our friends there, it’s not only food, but their intoxicant of choice that they crave (we don’t bring any of those with us). Many are “dope sick,” their blood less saturated with drugs than they’re accustomed to, and they feel like they’re being turned inside out. For some, alcohol becomes the alternative when they’re too broke for a more expensive inebriant. If they don’t even have enough money for a “40” in a brown bag or a cheap bottle of wine, they’re crazy with nausea, the shakes, and the incessant haunting hallucinations from their DT’s (delirium tremens). It’s a bad time of month for the addict and everyone around them.

It’s not just bad because they’ve been broke for most of the month already, having spent the bulk of last month’s check in the first day or two, but because their fix is right around the corner (so to speak) at midnight on the 30th. I’m told that the anticipation is nerve wracking. If you want to talk about “crazy,” let’s talk about the GA checks that become available at 12:01AM on the first day of the month. Whose rent can be paid at that time of day, and what grocery store is open then? And who do you think lines up across the street from the check cashing store where all the addicts are waiting impatiently for their money to hit their hands? The only ones open for business at that time of night are the dealers and liquor stores – exchanging heroin, meth, crack, and Seagrams! Is that nuts or what?!

Like I said, it was the end of the month madness, but did I mention there was a crazed guy on the sidewalk adjacent to us waving a knife at some guys? Yeah, in the TL, no matter the actual stage of the moon, the end of the month is always full moon. People are more desperate and more dangerous than usual. Several other guys, who I know to be dealers, surrounded the knife-wielder, smart phone video cameras running and pointed. Of course – dope peddlers with iPhones! I ran (well, it was more of a jog, which is all I can manage these days) down the street to the police station only a block away to summon a cop, who, when he arrived the scuffle was already over, the would-be stabber long gone, and no one was hurt.

In spite of the distractions we persisted in our good news showing and telling – sort of a mantra of mine in our street ministries where we bring both physical and spiritual food. We try to show God’s love in practical ways and then make an effort to tell them how they can access that love for themselves – by reaching back as he reaches out.

The end of the month in the TL could be compared to the end of one’s rope or the end of someone’s life (many die in those streets of overdoses, cirrhosis, and all manner of other diseases of the addict and indigent). Does it seem to you that this is when God usually shows up – at the end – at the end of our plans, the end of our devices, and eventually at the end of time? Jesus saved the thief on the cross at the end of his life, the father embraced his prodigal son when he “came to the end of himself,” and God made Jacob the Prince of his people, after a night of wrestling with him, at the end of his strength.

I heard about a man who fell off the pier on which he and others were standing looking at the raging sea far below. He didn’t know how to swim and called for help as he sunk. There was only one swimmer present, a man who was a trained lifeguard. The drowning man came up for air repeatedly and each time he called out. No one made a move, including the lifeguard, until the man came up one last time exhausted and desperate. Finally, the lifeguard dived in, saved the man, and brought him safely to shore. Though relieved and grateful, everyone scolded him for delaying. “Why did you wait so long?” they yelled.

He responded, “If I had gone in immediately, he was so agitated, he would’ve struggled against my help and drowned us both. I had to wait until he came to the end of himself before I could help him.”

When we go at the end of the month to the TL – we go throughout the month too – it might be weirder and more of an adventure than usual, but it’s normally the time when people’s daily extremity is most obvious. We go at the end of the month hoping that they’ll let go of the end of their ropes and that Jesus will show up, catch them in his muscled embrace, and carry them to solid ground.

Many years ago a friend of mine wrote a simple, but beautiful, song called, “Bring Me To My End.”

Oh Lord, bring me to my end

Oh Lord, bring me to my end

So you can start over

So you can start over

So you can start over again


Oh Lord, live your life through me

Oh Lord, live your life through me

I’m dying to let you

I’m dying to let you

I’m dying to let you live through me

(Jeff Tarbill)


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