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Good news came in about Gone tonight. He’s been sleeping in our outside loo for over 2 weeks following a similar amount of time under our hedge during some truly atrocious weather. We’d got quite used to his taps on the kitchen window asking for a hot water bottle to be filled. More tricky to get used to was him leaning on the doorbell for far too long, usually when the kids are already in bed.

He’d managed to burn almost all his housing bridges in our area, and we were beginning to despair of finding a solution for him. Even Betel said they couldn’t take him before Christmas, when all their teams are busy fundraising, as they said they wouldn’t have the people needed to support someone so vulnerable.

But somehow Gone has managed to find some accommodation that will take him. And our friend the lovely Rev Very Benevolent spent all day today driving Gone about to find the necessary paperwork to sign into his warm new room. We are grateful to God for this provision for Gone, who we have become really quite fond of. He’s almost like an extra child – sweet and frustrating in pretty much equal measure. And now it’s time to think of some strategies to keep Gone in his new home and away from our damp and uncomfortable hedge.

We pray especially that Gone would have the support he needs to deal with his cycle of alcohol, homelessness and frustration. And that all those who have been concerned with him (there are a good many of us I can tell you, from churches, council and other agencies) will be able to get together to put some of this support in place. Next year I don’t want to be posting another pre-Christmas story of how Gone has just found somewhere to live after spending weeks sleeping in our garden.

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We were not only greeted by a scraggy old flytipped sofa in our drive on our return home last week. As we unloaded the kids, the camping gear and wet swimming towels from the car, we also spotted a couple of items which made us think that we might soon again be seeing Gone, our on/off doorstep lodger.

The traditional bottle of Frosty Jack in our flowerbed

We were proved right the next morning, when he sat on our doorstep until lunchtime and tried to persuade the Vicar to ‘do just one small thing’ for him (take him out to McDonalds). After our previous experiences with Gone, we now say that we will take him to Betel to start rehabilition, but that is all we will do for him. Anything else seems only to sustain his destructive lifestyle and terrible cycle of living rough followed by living at Her Majesty’s pleasure. In the meantime, he’s back in our drive, sometimes singing loudly at 6am, sometimes aggressive, sometimes sad and wanting to talk. Pray that we are able to treat him with grace as his behaviour seems so intractable, and pray that his self-destruction stops.

Some information that Gone is too far gone to really make use of...

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Despite my desire to become Alys Fowler (including the Pre-Raphaelite hair), things in the Vicarage garden didn’t go brilliantly last summer. I planted out, but didn’t really give things the attention they needed. I was too busy fire-fighting the clutter in the house.

But this year I’m hoping for more success. I now have a cleaner, who comes every couple of weeks to help me to conquer the house. I have a schedule, which means I am strangely (to me) doing a little more housework than I used to. So there may now be some time to water and weed.

And to start us off, last week we had the gardening team from Betel in to clear the beds and get us on the road to a manageable and (hopefully) edible garden this year. The team comprised four men – one was Gav Burnage, Associate minister from Aldridge Parish Church, who is living and working full time at Betel. The other guys were members of the Betel community in Birmingham, learning to live and work free from substance abuse.

God was kind to us, and the sun shone. The Vicar and Rocky joined the Betel team. I skived off the digging, but supplied regular tea and cake. They sorted out our main beds, nuked some brambles and the evil blue weeds and left everything looking tidy and ready for planting. Now we just have to keep up the weed-free look with regular forays in our wellies. The money we paid for the work helps to pay for Betel’s accommodation and keeps this amazing organisation going. If you live in the Birmingham area and need a garden blitz, why not see if they can help you out?

 

The Vicar with the Betel team. Note the tidy flower bed (and still-absent coping stones).

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If you’ve been following my Twitter account, you’ll know some of this news, but here’s a summary of the latest developments with the homeless alcoholic who’s been spending every morning on our doorstep for the last couple of months.

Whilst I was away on my conference last week, the Vicar arranged to take Gone to Betel in Nottingham. He decided that they could go by train, as Gone is anxious travelling by car. They agreed that folk from Betel would meet them at the station and take Gone by himself to their centre.

The journey went well, although Gone was still anxious about going to stay with people he didn’t yet know. He is very mistrustful, which I guess is a default position when you live on the street.

Once at the station, they had a while to wait and the Vicar spent the time calming Gone and assuring him of the warm welcome he’d receive once he got to the centre. The men from Betel arrived ‘looking like angels, they radiated so much joy’. Gone seemed happy to go with them, so after a prayer, the Vicar returned to the station and headed home to relieve our babysitters.

A good way for the anxious to travel

A good way for the anxious to travel

That was Tuesday evening. On Thursday morning our doorbell rang early. It was Gone. As you can imagine, the Vicar was very disappointed.

‘There were some men I knew from prison there and I was worried they would beat me up,’ said Gone. ‘I came back by train.’

The Vicar left Gone on the step and went to consider what to do. He rang Betel, who told him that Gone hadn’t actually made it to the centre. He’d been too anxious in the car and got out before they left the station. It is a big thing, to leave your familiar haunts and your regular life, however awful that life is.

I returned that afternoon and together the Vicar and I agreed that we would tell Gone that we couldn’t help him any more, save taking him back to Betel. We’ve been realising how his constant presence has been draining us both. The Vicar’s hardly done any parish visiting since Gone has been on our doorstep, and his predicament has been sapping much of our pastoral energy and our time. Gone has spent a few days thinking about it, and yesterday he had a second telephone interview with Betel and this evening the Vicar and another local pastor are going to drive over with him, right to the front door of the centre.

We still don’t know whether Gone will make it. It’s a massive step for him to change his life in this way, so we are praying that God will give him the courage to do it. I’ll keep you posted.

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Gone is still here every morning, not gone. He’s taken to arriving very early and singing under the Queen’s window. Polly is on the floor above and she heard him at 5am the other day. The Vicar has put a note on the doorbell to remind him not to ring until after we are up. He has now retrieved his NI number somehow (he wasn’t around to call the helpline with me). He still veers between sad and apologetic and agitated and abusive.

Not a single one in sight!

Not a single one in sight!

We went to dinner at the Bishop’s on Friday night. The Vicar lost his bet with me about being the only vicar there without a dog collar. There must have been about ten vicars, and the bishop and there wasn’t a collar or a clerical shirt in sight. I very much enjoyed meeting some other local vicar’s wives (including the Rector’s Wife) and hope to be able to share some of their stories here.

One chap there recommended Betel as a possible place for Gone to find more long term help. The Vicar has arranged for Gone to have a telephone interview with them this afternoon. To be honest, I’m not all that hopeful that Gone will want to go and give up the booze. But I’m praying he will.

Heartbreak has been here on and off this week. She’s a troubled teen who’s living in a hostel because relationships at home have broken down. She has a college interview this week, though, and seems to be getting her life back on track. She seemed to enjoy church on Sunday, but had never seen communion before.

This week we’ve heard tales of one chap’s stint in a young offender institution and had our woodpile chopped by a man who wants to retrieve his life after spending nearly half of it in jail and on heroin.

We’ve also had the Sunday lunch I’ve been imagining since we knew the Vicar was going to be a vicar. A dozen of us around the table out in the garden. A mix of ages and races. A massive roast chicken and three puddings. Much laughter and a few tears (from a rather over-emotional Engineer). Warm chat about Jesus and about our neighbourhood. And identification of more mysterious (to me) Vicarage garden plants. Perfect.

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