That was her request. It haunts me now, some seven hours down the road. She spoke it from a place of absolute brokenness and ample isolation. She also asked me to pray that the devil would stop doing bad things to her … that God would be stronger than the devil and make him sorry for all the evil things he’s been doing in the world.
We didn’t talk theology and where she had it “wrong” as it pertained to the devil’s power in relation to God’s power. We simply held hands and ate some lunch and prayed for a better day, all the while sitting on the curb in front of the local Bed, Bath, & Beyond.
I found her there, slumped on a park bench, completely unaware of her surroundings. I’d just finished up my Tuesday lunch with the “ancients”. While making my way to the van, I spied her out of the corner of my eye. People were pointing, commenting, and stepping quickly past her obvious brokenness.
It’s not a sight we see very often in these parts. Our lives are fairly sanitized and void of the “in your face” kind of moments that call for involvement. Yes, we take our mission trips overseas, and we stock the local food pantry, but when it comes to “hands on” and “in the moment”, well, rarely are we presented with the occasion. Thus, when such profound “need” comes knocking, it always warrants my notice; not always my intervention, but certainly my notice.
I’ve been noticing “need” all of my life. I suppose it began as a young child while watching my father’s intervention on behalf of the needy within our community. He has a special place in his heart for them, an even more special knack for intervention. If hugeness of heart is learned, then any measure I possess began at home. I learned from the best. My daddy is a foot-washer, both with the tangibles and the intangibles.
Today, my heart was called upon to remember. And so, rather than leaving the parking lot with regret, I circled back around, rolled down my window and simply shouted,
“Ma’am, are you hungry?”
By this point, she was stumbling down the sidewalk, after having been rudely interrupted from her slumber by a honking horn (apparently someone less comfortable with her “park bench” status). Her bleary eyes and mumbling response assured me of her appetite. I told her I would be back and that she should wait for me.
After what seemed to be an extensive wait at the local Chick-Fil-A, I returned to find my new friend sitting on the curb where I’d left her, barefoot and with the few items she carried strewn around her. She quickly offered me her thanks for the food, confident of my needing to make a quick escape. But I didn’t need to … escape. She was where I needed to be.
I sat down on the curb beside her and shared a half-hour of my day with a woman whose fifty-seven years on this earth have left her with some scars and certain hopelessness. She talked about her three children, especially about the one she aborted long ago and how he/she would have been 38 years old this year. When she discovered that my husband was a pastor, she asked if we could come and be the pastors at a church unfamiliar to me. She assured me they needed a good pastor. I assured her I was married to one and that I would like her to meet him someday.
We talked about other things; some strange “others” and some that made more sense. And then, my new friend, Gail, was ready to leave. I asked her if I could pray for her, and without hesitation, she grabbed for my hands and uttered a small request for some restoration within her own heart. Her words; not mine.
For all of the things she could have asked for, for all of the ways her conversation seemed to wander and weave in confusion, when it came to prayer, she asked from a place of understanding. She knew she was in need of God’s restorative power in her life. And so for a few moments, I prayed. Others milled past our make-shift altar with quiet conversation and knowing glances.
And then, as quickly as our sacred intersection had arrived, it passed. I hugged Gail, returned to my van, and she returned to her wandering. Even now, I can’t type these words without some painful tears of remembrance and a few questions alongside.
Does compassion have a limit? If so, what’s mine? Where does it end? Is thirty minutes enough? Should I have done more, been more, given more, loved more? Where do my needs end so that hers can have ample time and room enough to know a deeper sustenance beyond a chicken sandwich and a few moments of conversation? Should I have said more about Jesus, been more declarative about the truth I hold in my heart?
I couldn’t look at her feet, Heidi, and not think about washing them … literally. Not just her feet, but her entire body that signaled it had been a long time since her last shower. But I didn’t offer her a basin. Instead, I came home and immediately washed my own hands and thought about taking a shower to further separate me from the unpleasant smell.
I’m conflicted about it all, and quite honestly, I don’t know what to do with these feelings that wrap themselves around such “open-ended” moments of ministry. Chicken sandwiches aren’t cutting it for me; most assuredly, they’re not cutting it for her. Not really. Seems a pitiful offering when the need is so great.
Still and yet, I suppose it’s something. A beginning, perhaps. The seeding of a further wrestling that seems to be growing in me now more than ever before.
There’s got to be more to my mission on this planet than my words and my feeble attempts at pacifying a temporary ache. I know I can’t be all things to all people; who needs that kind of guilt? But, maybe, I can offer a good thing to the few people who God so graciously scripts into my every day and my along the way. Wasn’t that the lifeblood of his ministry here on earth?
The everyday and along the way? The one over the many? Jesus never rushed his earthly encounters with his created. Instead, he offered people his time and his undivided attention. He even offered a basin and a towel and the humbled posture to cleanse the needs of a very dirty people in order to make them ready for very difficult walk to the cross.
He’s still doing it, and he’s using the likes of you and me as his conduits of reconciliation. He’s entrusted us with a great deal; seems a bit risky to me, for I am well-aware of all the times I could’ve, should’ve offered grace at a deeper level. I’m not there yet, but I’m growing closer in my need to do so. Christ’s love compels me along these lines.
I want to walk like Jesus and touch like Jesus and give the “Gail’s” of this world the peace and restoration that their hearts are hungering for so that, indeed, the devil will get his due and my God will get his glory. I don’t always believe God for the restoration of lives that seem so lost … so far gone and so deeply broken. Tonight I confess my unbelief and ask God for Gail’s complete restoration, for the tiny spark that was lit this afternoon to flame into a full-blown fire of holy cleansing within her heart.
I don’t know what that might look like for her in days to come, but I believe God knows the best way to get there. I only wish I might have done more.
By the grace of God, next time, thus I pray…
Grow my heart to a Jesus-sized heart, Father. One that doesn’t put boundaries on love; one that is willing to bend and to wash and to pray until restoration finds its home within the brokenhearted. Forgive me for my complacency and move my will to action on behalf of the kingdom. Guard my friend, Gail, this night with your careful watch and tender care. For all of the demons that assail her flesh and invade her mind, speak your peace and freedom over them all. Let this be the day of her new birth and understanding in you, Lord, and remind her of your love and mine with every step she takes. Thank you for intersecting my life with hers, and should our paths never cross again on this side of eternity, I pray for her salvation that will land her in my path when I get home to you. Break my heart for your people, again and again and again until I no longer have an agenda of my own but only one that lives and breathes for you. Amen.
PS: “I love because you loved me when I had nothing”… Thanks, Sara, for your penned reflections that inspire and your heart all the more.