Sadness and peace.
I wake up not tired but as I peer silently at my phone in the dark, attempting to get through my bible plan, I find myself dozing off. An hour later, I’ve read through the multiple passages for the day and go through the rest of my morning routine. Prayer is short and I feel a bit apprehensive when I exit the door. “Great is Thy Faithfulness” is stuck in my head for no apparent reason (not a song I’d normally listen to as I’m not a huge fan of the melody) so I download it on Spotify, add it to my playlist and play it as I walk to work.
I see Darlene at the corner of 18th and JFK and my heart drops a little. I want to say that it’s out of disappointment that she did not find a permanent home…but I know it’s honestly because I know I’ll have to buy her tokens again this morning. I am quite disappointed at my state of heart when I greet her. “I was hoping I would see you today,” she tells me, head uplifted. “So was I,” I lie. “Do you have any tokens?” she asks me and I note that she does so with a much different tone than before. She has never asked me outright if I could get her tokens; instead she’s always chosen to explain her situation and shrug her shoulders and look at me beseechingly, trusting me to get that she needed tokens and offer (in which I’d always feel a sense of frustration and annoyance: are you lying to me? are you making this up? why are you always here? why does no one take you in permanently). This time she outright asks and although I do not show it outwardly (”no, but I’ll go get some. Be right back.” “Okay, and a coffee, too.” “Yep, got it.”), it sticks with me as I make my way backwards down into Suburban Station (passing by several coworkers and pretending that I don’t see them). Her posture of asking reminds me of how God tells me to ask for things in the Scriptures. Shamelessly. Fearlessly. Trustingly.
So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Luke 11:9-10.
As I purchase a baggie of two tokens ($4) and make my way back, the accountant in me calculates the expense I’m incurring each time I run into her (add in the coffee at $1.25 and that’s $5.25…more than a standard starbucks drink…more than a boba) and my shoulders droop a little. I slip back into my usual habit of guilt tripping and self loathing (you’re such a terrible person, you can never do anything genuinely, you never do anything without counting the costs, you can never love someone unconditionally) and usually I would spiral into dark thoughts that would burden me for a good part of the day but this time, something different happens. I face the little voice inside of me and tell it to shut up. “I know,” I say in defiance and it seems to shrink back in confusion. I feel a warmth and peace encompass my heart; there are no words that I consciously say to myself but if I were to give words to what brought me out of guilt and shame it would have been the following: “I know I’m wicked. God knows, too, that I could never love someone like He does. That’s why He gave me Jesus.” Filled with hope, I start praying for a softer heart, for a more giving heart, for a patient heart, for a trusting heart.
I make my way back to her little corner, purchase a coffee, and present to her my humble offerings of grace. She fumbles with the coffee as she’s using her various long sleeves to cover her glove clad fingers. It is 18 degrees outside and I can see her trembling underneath her layers of clothing. I take the coffee from her and set it on the ground as she speaks: “if there’s anything I need prayer for today, I need comfort. I’m so upset right now.” Again, I’m struck by how forward she is with asking again. Usually, it’s me offering to pray for her at the end of our exchange, not her asking. I take her hands in mine and pray.
I pray the same prayers I usually pray for her (provision, comfort, warmth, kindness, and patience) but this time, my heart feels different. It no longer feels cold and distant, as if I were just reciting words. It feels like it is truly pouring itself out, praising the Lord and asking the Lord for help, because it trusts that the Lord is good. And I wanted to stay there, squatting uncomfortably on the ground, feeling the cold seep into my coat, Darlene’s hands shaking in mine – I wanted to keep praising the Lord. I opened my eyes and Darlene smiled at me. “You know, I’ve been reading the bible a lot recently.” My eyebrows shoot up, again, taken aback. Usually she just thanks me and I go on my way. “What do you read?” I ask her. “Psalms and proverbs are my favorites. John. Matthew,” she answers.
She tells me about her family, how there is a history of mental illness. She tells me of how her father came to the faith late in his life and then died, a good and kind man. She tells me of how her aunt is mentally afflicted so she cannot stay at her place. I listen to her open up to me and feel my eyes open in response. I had often questioned myself, over and over again, why I continuously help this woman begrudgingly. Why help someone who can not give me anything in return? Why continuously give when it feels like nothing is changing (am I enabling her/is she even trying to get off the streets)? Why do I feel taken advantage of? Why continue to help her?
As I listen to her share some of her story with me, I realize it is not God asking me to help her. It is God asking me to stop for a few minutes on my morning commute to receive His grace, for He is using her to humble me. I listen to her tell me all the crap she’s gone through in life, about her brother’s suicide and how she refuses to end up like him. “You know you’re saved right?” I ask, “Because you believe.” She nods. “Yeah, it’s the only thing that keeps me going.” I consider all of this and think of the number of things I have complained about in my life and look at her half frozen state, near pneumonia (which she has recovered from multiple times by now) and admit defeat. “I’m so amazed by your faith,” I breathe out quietly. Such childlike faith, when she knows the desperate situation she’s in, when she knows the cold like the back of her hands because she can no longer feel them, when she knows the frustration from being turned down from permanent housing over and over again – yet, she still asks God for help, never once shaking her fist at Him, trusting Him to give her what she needs. She shrugs her shoulders. “It’s the only thing I have,” she answers me, and I remember: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3) and for a split second, I envy her. She knows she’s saved. She lives, day by day, trusting and asking for the Lord to provide. Do I?
I leave her, feeling a strange mixture of sadness and peace. I’m walking into my third last day of work. I’m facing unemployment come Thursday. I’m utterly confused about where in the world my life is headed, where I’m supposed to be, what I’m supposed to do, how I’m supposed to get there, etc. Sometimes, I feel as if I could burst from all the anxieties and worries I hold in my heart. I think about the bowl of hot oatmeal I ate for breakfast. I think of the warmth of my blankets. I think of my friends (several of who I know from the bottom of my heart would drop anything and everything for me the second I called for help) and my family who tells me they’d support me in anything (even though they do so reluctantly, it’s support nonetheless). I think of the good amount of padding I have in my bank account thanks to the two years of respectable (albeit insufficient for the amount of hours worked) pay and wonder. Because, Darlene has one bag, a couple of blankets, and a piece of cardboard to her name, and never had I heard her tell me: “I’m so worried.” Instead she says: “I keep praying.”
“I’m about to cry,” I remember her telling me and I realize we are just the same. I’m about to cry, too. For such different things, yet I can’t help but feel despite everything I have, I still have nothing compared to Darlene.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Matthew 5:6.
Great is thy faithfulness. God is faithful. He has provided for both Darlene and I in our respective years of life so far and He will continue doing so. My prayer for this coming year is to trust in His provision, clinging desperately onto His word and His promises. Depending on Him to soften my heart, begging Him to open my wallet when I want to seal it shut, looking to Him as my light in the dark, and praising Him for all His sanctifying work done in me.
I am a wicked, distraught, and detestable person, but praise the Lord, that He loves someone like me. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for loving me.