But let me rewind to a week ago, where it all began, even though I wasn’t privy to the beginning; only to the heart-stirrings of a young daughter who didn’t forget to remember her.
The woman from my “by the grace of God next time” post. Perhaps you remember her as well. I first encountered her five months ago—the memory of that day as fresh now as it was then. Her brokenness intersected with my compassion, and we shared a sandwich and some fellowship outside a Bed, Bath, and Beyond store on a hot July afternoon.
I’ve not forgotten her; just buried her a bit beneath the urgency of the moments that bombard my daily existence. Daughter hasn’t forgotten her either; from time to time she asks about her. Last week she asked about her again.
“Mommy, I wonder if your friend Gayle will get any presents this Christmas? I wonder if she has a place to sleep tonight? Do you think she’s hungry? Could she come live with us?”
“I don’t have the answers, baby, but we could pray for her… pray that God takes good care of her this Christmas and that maybe he would allow us to run into her again.”
We did pray and then said our good-nights. I thought a lot about Gayle over the next twenty-four hours, and then buried her again beneath my busyness. That was until yesterday morning when I nearly ran her over with my van.
I never take my children to school; Billy assumes that role, but the kitchen counter guys were coming, and I don’t do “guys” in my house all by myself. Thus, I offered him a trade–my taxi services for his overseeing of home improvement. After dropping my kids off, I decided to make a quick run to the McDonald’s drive-thru for a biscuit. The four-lane road was packed with the usual morning traffic, moving slow enough to force my irritation. It was then that I saw her sauntering between those four lanes, making her way, it seemed, to McDonald’s as well.
After making a hasty swing into a parking space and dashing indoors, I found Gayle sitting alone at a corner booth. I re-introduced myself and asked her if I could buy her breakfast. She heartily agreed, and then she amply consumed. Knowing that God was calling me to further interaction, I offered Gayle a ride to the place where she was staying; she said she was living at a local motel not far from our location.
We made a quick detour to a local store for some clothing and toiletries before heading “home” to Gayle’s temporary shelter. Upon arrival, I quickly surmised that Gayle had nothing to call her own at this motel—only a recent stay that left the owner questioning whether or not she should be allowed to stay there again. He finally agreed and gave me a reduced rate for two nights with the understanding that Gayle was not to smoke in the room.
I signed my name to the receipt and then drove her to the designated location at the back of the motel—an isolated locale away from the other “guests.” We unpacked her purchases, had a prayer together, and then hugged our good-byes. As I drove away, Gayle was heading back through an alley way to the front of the motel to secure some ice for the Pepsi liter I had purchased.
My heart was fragile in those moments; so much so, that I didn’t notice the commotion going on around me at the motel. I only noticed the empty rooms on the backside of the motel, an open door to one of those rooms, and the gaunt figure of my new friend in search of some ice. I spent the rest of my Monday in contemplative hurt for the entire situation. I couldn’t quite put parameters around my feelings, wasn’t quite sure as to the “underpinning” of my strong emotions, but I felt them… all day.
And then this morning, after dropping our kids off at school, my husband called to tell me about a report he’d just heard on the radio. A double homicide at the very same motel my friend called “home.”
Yesterday, somewhere in the neighborhood of 10:00 AM (the exact time I was unpacking Gayle and leaving the premises), a couple was found shot in their room—employees of the motel, family to the manager that I had spoken with earlier. A couple in their 60’s; apparently, they lived there, worked there, died there—most likely a robbery to blame for their deaths.
I’ve spoken with the police twice today about the details of my excursion to the motel. Thankfully, Gayle is safe. The police told me that she was still carrying her ice bucket around when they spoke with her last evening. Thankfully, I am safe as well. Funny thing, in all my interactions yesterday morning, never once was I scared, felt threatened by my environment, or worried at all about the details of my interactions with Gayle. It wasn’t until I left her that my heart began to experience an extreme heaviness—the weight of our encounter.
Today I better understand the reason for that weightiness.
Pure and prevalent and within reach of where my feet walked yesterday morning. Two dead, less than ten doors down from me… close to me, yet kept from me.
And my heart is completely sad because of it all.
For Gayle. For the couple who were needlessly slain. For the manager, who moments just beyond our encounter, would learn of his relatives untimely demise. For everyone tonight who sleeps without a roof; for those who sleep with one knowing that come check-out time tomorrow, they’ll be back at it again—panhandling for another night’s rest, another day’s food.
Tonight as I sat around my dinner table with my family, the tears poured down my cheeks. The food wasn’t the richest of fare; we live on a budget, and with Christmas just around the corner, there isn’t always the extra we’d like. But we’re satisfied, and we’re safe, and Lord willing, we won’t have to worry about where we’re going to lay our heads for the next season. According to the world’s standards, we are richer than most, and yet my heart is completely saddened by it all. There is a gnawing discontentment that roots deeply within, and I’m wondering what to do with it.
I am exceedingly grateful for all that I’ve been given, but I’m a bit sickened by the disparity that exists between my good and Gayle’s. It doesn’t sit well with me, and while I’d never in a million years want to be her, I imagine she’s thought at least a million times that she’d like to me be… be you.
Be someone who matters to someone else; be loved and cherished by a good man, adored and dutifully honored by her four children. She’s not there yet; I don’t envision that she ever will be. But I am, and my heart is completely saddened because of it.
For her. For my world. For those who’ve never known the truth of the kingdom that is intended for their gain, their ownership, their joyous impartation.
I don’t know if justice will ever roll down for Gayle on this side of eternity. I wish that it would… that in some large way she’d find deliverance at the hands of her Father. But my feeling tonight is that she will have to wait. And that wait is the saddest lingering I can imagine. To not know freedom here but to have to wait for it until her arrival “there,” is a long, arduous, and depleting journey to get home. I hope she makes it.
I am haunted by my experience, friends; this one this time around will not bury soon. I suppose God intends for it to simmer until next time, and I can honestly say this evening, I’m not sure my heart can handle a next time. Not sure I want a next time.
I prayed for a next time back in July. God gave it to me yesterday. And now, I don’t have clue what to do with it—with Gayle and the holy rest of them who walk a similar path.
An odd Christmas ache, friends, that has found its way to my heart this year. It’s found its way to our Savior’s as well; and somewhere between the two—the ache and the heart—Christmas tells its story all over again. It shouts its everlasting witness.
Its glory; its gain; its good; its grace.
And therein, my tender ache finds the smallest inkling of some peace…
for the journey.
Thanks for listening; thanks for praying as you will. May God show himself faithful to the cries of the saints this night. I love you each one.