The Dirty Feet of a Savior

Guest post by Facebook friend Pamela Donnan

Comment by Archie:  This is a long post.  If you skip any or not finish the read, you will have done yourself a very big disservice.   Be blessed.

Recently I re-titled a familiar story. I then re-told it. I didn’t change it up or add any new twists. I just told it through the eyes of one amazed by Grace.

Religious translators errantly refer to it as the story of The Prodigal Son.

The truths discovered in the re-telling of that story have brought so much comfort to me in recent days. They have proven to be ‘living water’ on a scalding hot day, pungent with the merciless finality of death hanging in the air like a thick, humid cloud.

I am walking through a tragedy with my two daughters…. A tragedy that began many years ago, just recently delivering the death blow, July 6, 2010.

There are others on this road. They loved him too.

It appears to be a tragic end to a journey charted long ago….. a journey we were taken captive by and forced to take. No doubt it will prove to be a detour in our lives with profound effects.

Two days before this tragic end, I purchased a card with no recipient in mind. The recipient turned out to be me. It read,

‘Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.’

Thanks to a ‘hallmark moment’ authored by God Himself, I am reminded that ‘it’s not the end’, because right now, ‘every things not okay’.

He had a name. He will always have a name. It was Dad. He was their father.

For the moment, in the darkest hours of the night, blackness seems to swallow any hope of ‘what the enemy sent for evil….’ ever being anything else.

Five days after his death, my pastor husband taught on another familiar story, The Good Samaritan, also errantly named by religious scholars. “The Original Jesus”,

Once again, I found myself behind the ‘religious curtain’ and face to face with a Truth drawing me deeper into His embrace….. Overwhelmed in that moment by His comfort, I also felt sorrow….. and anger.

It is a sorrow and an anger that belong in part to all of us who bear His name…. minus a few… minus a very few……

The ‘few’ don’t rank in title or position… or any form of value as we have come to rank value. In fact, to some, they don’t rank at all.

Today finds me kneeling with Mary weeping at His feet, more aware and more grateful of His Grace than ever before.

“Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair.” Luke 7:44

My tears mingle with the dirt the ‘religious’ left unattended to.

The feet of the ‘few’ have become to us the ‘dirty feet’ of a Savior, bearing the Good News.

We want to pay tribute to the ‘few’. They are the hero’s in our story. I will identify them specifically later on.

Grace, a long cool drink to some. A bitter pill to others. A Love so incomprehensible, so unfathomable, so un-containable, that it flies in the face of all of our man made boxes – traditions, doctrines, and hype – in every sector, political, social and religious. To the frustration of the ‘many’, the ‘upper class’ of our religious societies, those who have achieved a righteousness by works, He became the champion of outcasts. See previous post, Dear Church, Who are You?

He was and remains the Friend and Savior of the poor, the marginalized… the drunk with the dirty feet.…. the populous of ‘skid row’……. He became our ‘Guiding Light’ on a very dark night.

Religion has created an ‘us and them’ mentality in churches today.

I am now one of ‘them’. I live life on the outside now, and my feet are dirty.

I love the church. I am a pastor and a pastor’s wife. I just don’t like the direction the church has taken and I am trying to change that.

Jesus was one of ‘them’ too. He lived life on the outside. He didn’t like the direction it was going either. They kicked Him out of synagogues…. Ask Mary. His feet were dirty.

Ok…. here is where it gets personal. Here is my heart. Please handle it carefully. I am only putting it out there so that His story can be told.

We met when I was 15. Moved in together at 17. Married at 18. Two beautiful daughters. 17 years.

Divorced. (Did I hear you gasp?) That’s a whole story in itself. Another day. Another blog.

He was an alcoholic, but that was what he did, not who he was. Please remember that.

The position was modeled for him as a young boy. He was the beer runner at family parties from as early as he could remember. He was raised in a family that considered it an honor to be thought of as the one who could ‘drink anyone under the table’. And he could. I think they called it ‘character’.

It wasn’t his fault.

Early on he became a successful sales manager for a large pharmaceutical company. They nurtured the development of the disease as drinking was not only financed but encouraged. Most deals were landed over ‘scotch on the rocks’ somewhere. Success in his profession included endless happy hours, cocktail parties, traveling, lonely hotels and expense accounts with plenty of room for it all. They provided the transportation.

I even remember a live mermaid (well you know what I mean) laying on a buffet table at one of the cocktail parties. No spouses were invited.

Who’s fault is that?

Life for us was a big house on the hill, pool in the backyard, ponies, private Christian schools, Disneyland vacations and exotic company trips.

He was a highly functional alcoholic.

But one day, returning from a sales meeting over drinks, he crashed the company car.

He sobered up.

I entered the darkest night of my life via debilitating depression (another blog, another day)

We divorced. I know…. it doesn’t make sense.

He coped by drinking.

Depression, Divorce and Drinking. Topics the church couldn’t touch. Cliche’s just don’t work in the real world.

Another DUI…….

After placing the finishing touches on him, grooming an up and coming alcoholic, the company fired him.

Now in a spiral, out of control, the evil taskmaster demanded more.

‘It truly IS a disease but more insidious than the likes of cancer or heart disease. It systematically picks off the diseased persons support system one by one and at a speed so barely noticeable. It is probably the most patient disease in the world and is so misunderstood. I’ve attended many AA meetings with a friend who needed help and those horrible stories I heard were heartbreaking. So many people die from it but it never gets mentioned in an obituary or eulogy. So much shame attached which is so so sad.’ A very apt note from my friend Cheyne.

13 years later he came to Michigan to see his daughters. Within 5 hours he was in the hospital as the withdrawal from the poison threatened his life.

As if ingesting the poison wasn’t enough, now abstaining from it was demanding his life.

Against his wishes, but too weak to fight, the girls refused to let him go home, but with no medical insurance there were no options for treatment. (I will elaborate in my book)

The daughters did what they should have done. The only thing they knew to do. They called the church…… several of them….

You know the ones….. the big ones with edifices so large and impressive you pull over to marvel at them….. The ones they faithfully attended and supported.

But….. to no avail. Not only couldn’t they help, but they couldn’t even provide them with resources for help. They offered nothing, not even prayer.

Now beaten up by life with nothing left and laying on the side of the road,two daughters are bent over their dieing dad, panic stricken, begging passersby for help.

Back to the Good Samaritan story.

Luke 10:30-37 (MSG)
30 “There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. The robbers were the ‘thief’. The ‘thief’ that comes to rob, kill and destroy. The traveler was some one’s Dad, some one’s son, some one’s brother.

31 Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. The priest (pastor) represents the church.

32 Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man. He represents those who call themselves Christians. They attend the churches.

33 “A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. This is where the story becomes errant in it’s translation. Most religion scholars refer to this as the story of The Good Samaritan. Calling a Samaritan ‘good’ in that culture would have been like saying the ‘good, bad guy’. It’s an oxymoron.

So who would this ‘good bad guy’ represent? Societies outcast. That’s what a Samaritan was, an outcast. But listen to this….

vs33’….When he, ‘the good bad guy’ saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him.

Who does that sound like?

Mark 1:41 But Jesus, moved with compassion…..

Do you think the poor traveler saw Jesus in the eyes of this ‘good bad guy’ or in the faces of the religion scholars? I think the ‘religion scholars’ should be renamed…… the ‘bad, good guys’….

Do you see the difference between ‘religion’ and ‘Grace’ here?

Religion says, ‘don’t inconvenience me’…

or, ‘you did this to yourself, your problem’……

It is rigid and sticks to the course, even when it leads to hell.

Look at what Grace does.

Grace takes the detour.

Grace meets the need, whatever it is and without considering the “whys”.

Grace pays the price, no matter the personal cost.

35 In the morning he took out two silver coins(silver represents redemption)and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill (Christ paid it ALL) —I’ll pay you on my way back.’

Who is our ‘good bad guy’. And what is our Inn?

Well, really there are several in this story. But our ‘good bad guy’ is Ernie. He is the intake coordinator at the Guiding Light Mission in Grand Rapids, MI.

They are the only ones who ‘had room in the Inn’…..

Past the clergy, past the congregation….. past the friends and even relatives….. and there he was, societies outcast ready with the bandages.

Ernie has a story of his own.
He is a former crack addict. Sometimes the
demon overpowers him, but he clings to Grace…..
and he extends it to others. He lives to help others
out of hell. Some would consider him ‘societies outcast’……

But to us, Ernie is our hero!

Consider this….

The free gift of Grace with which God perfects our efforts may come in many ways, but I am convinced that it is the common experience of Christians that it does come. There may be some souls whose brace and bitter lot it is to conquer comfortless.

Perhaps some terrible inheritance of some strong sin from the father is visited upon the son, and, only able to keep his purpose pure, he falls as fast as he struggles up, and still struggling falls again. Soft moments of peace with God and man may never come to him. He may feel himself viler than a thousand trumpery souls who could not have borne his trials for a day.

For you and me is reserved no such cross and no such crown as theirs who falling still fight, and fighting fall, with their faces Zionwards, into the arms of the everlasting Father. ‘As one whom his mother comforteth shall be the healing of their wounds.’” Juliana Horatia Ewing

He was the calm voice on the other end of the phone when my daughter,
desperate to find help, found him.

He told her that Jesus would handle it. Her father would be fine. He would see to it.

He was the cool cup of water in a dry and dreary land, quenching the thirst of a parched young woman trying desperately to save her dad’s life.

They took him in, placing him in their alcohol and drug rehab. They fed him, made him comfortable, gave him medical treatment and became his friend.

34 He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable.

Ernie led him to the Lord.

Here is where the story of the prodigal brought me such comfort. A son, with the stench of pigs still on his clothes, is embraced, fully forgiven and wholly loved by his Father. He now rests in that embrace. His Father weeping on his neck…… What a Father………

Six months later, he graduated from the program. We celebrated.

He was released into the care of his daughters.

He made plans to return home. A place he had no support for his new lifestyle.

They begged him to stay. They cried when he left.

They knew they would never see him again…….

And they didn’t.

The demon returned, worse than before…..

Thirteen months later he died.

The last year of his life was torturous for my girls….. for him….. and for me.

From a distance, they fought for his life. Some days the depression would drive them down. I would find them in a dark room….. in bed….. weeping.

At times, the sadness overwhelmed me.

We knew ‘it’ would be coming. We waited….. and we prayed. I tryed to prepare the girls. How do you do that?

I got the call on a Chicago tollway. I was desperate to find my girls. I would have to wait. You don’t just exit a Chicago tollway.

I was grateful she called me first.

The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was to tell my girls their dad was gone.

My husband told my youngest in a dad sort of way. He wanted to have that moment with her. I wasn’t sure….. I thought maybe I should do it……

She wept in his arms. She later told me that’s the way she would’ve wanted it. It was a moment for her too.

The next morning we drove the four hours to tell my oldest. She didn’t shed a tear. It took awhile to sink in before the tears came…. and then they wouldn’t stop.

A few days later she confessed to my husband….. ‘I am afraid to go through life without a Dad. I don’t want to go through life without a Dad. Would you…. could you…. do that for me?’ They had a moment too.

Last Sunday we had a memorial for him.

We had it at the mission. Ernie and my husband performed it.

Ernie spoke to my girls. He told them they were all their father ever talked about. He assured them of his love for them. He told them he was one of their favorites there…..

My husband bandaged the wounds of the broken, friend’s of the dad, now grieving.

He gave hope to the others that were there. The homeless, the drunk, the addict, the broken. He told them about the Person of Grace. He told them about a Father that loved them, even in their brokenness.

The girls thanked Ernie and The Guiding Light. They talked about their ‘dad’.

Thanks to the ‘good bad guy’ we celebrated a life now eternal, rather than bury our dead.

They treated us to a meal. ‘Us’…. and ‘them’….. together. It was awesome.

I hope they saw Jesus in us.

We did in them.

Who is the ‘church’ and who is Christ’s body in this story?

Is it an institution or is it meal, a bed and some companionship?

I despise the fact that the mission is underfunded in light of the buildings we have erected.

When the girls pleaded with family and friends for help, some sent money….. just not enough. One sent a thousand. That was awesome. But most sent less than they would spend on a night out…. it was sad. We asked if we could donate it to the mission….. most said ‘no’.

He is free of his addiction now. It did not win as the disease is not capable of following him….

Though ‘weeping may last for a night’, it cleans the feet…. and ‘joy comes in the morning’….. dawn’s light is breaking on our night.

My Dad, written by Alisa

He’s in a better place right now
Than he’s ever been before;
All pain is gone; he’s now at rest;
Nothing troubles him anymore.

We know we’ll reconnect with him
At the end of this life’s road;
We’ll see his cherished face again
When we release our earthly load.

A silent tear, a constant wish
that he was here.
Others were taken, yes we know,
but he was ours
and we loved him so.

He bid no one a last farewell,
nor even said good-bye.
He was gone before we knew it
and only God knows why.

He is free of his addiction now.
It did not win – the disease.
He is whole and happy now.
And will live on through memories.

In memory of our dad, he is greatly missed.

If you would like to give in memory of Brooke & Alisa’s dad, please send to
Guiding Light Mission
255 Division Avenue
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
or on-line at http://http//
Please mention their names and they will be told you sent it.

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It is the desire of my heart that God be Lord of my life. Life’s experiences have killed the old man and God is building a new creation in me. I look forward to experiencing the new man God creates in the old vessel known as Archie via "God Spots".

4 thoughts on “The Dirty Feet of a Savior”

  1. wow Ernie, I am honored that you would share and I hope it will somehow give hope to those struggling with their own tragedies. God worked it out, and thanks to Grace, we celebrate eternal wholeness, both individually as well as a family (this is why there is no marriage in heaven…..). You are a wonderful friend. I am blessed by your belief in me…. again, thank you.

  2. Good morning. Thank you so much for making this available. I couldn’t help but think of Matthew 25:31-46 while reading through this. The Lord isn’t impressed by our titles and buildings. He’s not interested in our traditions and how many times per week we are in the building. But he is moved when we depart from our routine and reach out to one who is at their wits end. May we all prayerfully evaluate ourselves as we know the seriousness of the times and the tragedies transpiring all around us. Thanks again. I needed this.

    Blessings always in Jesus name.


  3. I recently wrote a song about the Prodigal Son. This is my testimony of God’s amazing grace in my life. If you have a sec here it is. Thanks for listening. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

  4. I am friends of Howard and Melissa, Howard’s wife he left behind and have been for 6 years. Howard had a great love for his children and always spoke of them. You are right when you say he had a courtship with alcoholism but that wasn’t who he was, it’s what he did.

    Your story was lovely and delivered with grace but I do want to mention his wife, whom he also loved with his whole heart. You share your heart in this blog so that his story can be told, she is part of his story.

    You say he was to return home, where his new lifestyle was not supported; suggesting his wife didn’t support his recovery. Just as your family was rendered helpless to find a facility or group to raise Howard above his disease in his desperate hour, his wife too struggled to find help for him and continued to try until the Lord called his hame. I stand witness to many hours of her tears, depression and pain, feeling helpless to stop his dark journey. I stood beside her in their home moments after the discovery and listened to her heart break.

    Just as you were helpless to stop his disease in the days of your marriage to him, she was as well. Would it be fair to say you supported his alcoholism because you watched him become that person over the years during your marriage? I feel it’s important and fair to say no one person was the fault of Howard’s disease.

    Howard was a great man and he was loved dearly by all that were blessed enough to have his smile fall upon them. His laugh would fill a room and his kind spirit was refreshing. He is free of his addiction now and leaves behind a piece of himself with each of us.

    Howard spoke so often of his daughters I feel like I know them. I just lost my father a bit over a year ago and can relate to their pain. God Bless your family!

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