“. . . that they should seek God,
in the hope that they might feel their way toward him
and find him. Yet he is not actually far from each one of us, for
'In him we live and move and have our being.'”
I think we are most beautiful when we feel most like ourselves. That sort of beauty emanates from within. It is not just outward and physical; it is tangible. You can feel it. When we feel most like ourselves, who we are radiates from us, and that is beautiful. I feel most like myself on a street corner, sitting on the dirty concrete with homeless men and women. I feel most like myself when I, on some level, forget about myself and am focused on other people—their lives, their stories.
Today* was my 10th time on the street corner of Malcolm X & Dawson with CitySquare. Every Thursday for over a year CitySquare has been there, handing out water bottles, snacks, and sometimes—like today—full meals for the homeless men and women who stop on the corner, headed to Austin Street Shelter through the open field caddy corner to us. CitySquare has strategically located themselves by a bus stop and the shelter, so that they catch people getting off of the bus going to the shelter. It may seem small, but the thought that has gone into that placement—being where CitySquare can be the most effective with the resources God has given them to share—touches me. I want to be that thoughtful.
Oh the deep, deep love of Jesus—vast, unmeasured, boundless, free.
Two weeks ago, a homeless woman named Laura and I sat and talked for over an hour. She had already talked to Larry James (the president of CitySquare and a man I’d like to emulate) for quite a while—and now Larry was off on his phone making connections, trying to help her, so she and I began to talk . . .
Her boyfriend beat her, and she was ready to leave him. Her feet were hurting her—bad. She started telling me how her boyfriend never really cares for her needs, like rubbing her feet when they hurt horribly. She used to be a waitress, and her feet are so gnarled that by the end of the day she has a lot of trouble walking. Her boyfriend will chide her to hurry up, even when she tells him she is in pain.
Recently, he hit her on the face, and that’s why she was ready to leave him. I felt like I was supposed to offer to rub her feet, but I didn’t know if that was okay, so I whispered to Larry, “Can I rub her feet?” With his classic Larry grin, he said, “Sure,” as though it were an every day happening for someone to rub another person’s feet on the street corner. Although I felt uncomfortable doing it, I felt like God prompted me to, and that he had prepared me by the times we went to the brothels to wash feet.
The brothel trips had opened me up to the idea of touching dirty feet, feet that you don’t know where they have been.
When I offered to rub her feet, she looked like she had won the lottery. “No one ever touches me—are you serious?” I was, so she took off her dirty socks to put on fresh, new, clean socks so that I wouldn’t have to touch dirty socks. How thoughtful.
By then, a man named Tommy had joined us, and we started talking about Jesus.
Laura, Tommy, and I bonded while I rubbed her feet. You know, you can get pretty close to someone that way ;). She kept talking to us about her story. A lot of people she loves have died, most recently her husband and then her brother.
The top of the house where Laura's boyfriend kept tabs on her
Suddenly, my attention was drawn to a man sitting about 200 yards away from us, propped up against a run-down white house opposite our corner. I realized by the look in Laura’s eyes that she knew this person. And then by Tommy’s reaction, it was clear this man was her boyfriend—the boyfriend who also beat her. He was there to keep tabs on her. Obviously, he was trying to intimidate and control her. As she watched him, she began unpacking the internal battle going on. She wanted to leave him—really she did—but she was worried about him being alone. She was worried about not talking to him again. She wanted to go back and get her stuff.
Then Larry came back with the news that she could go to a shelter for abused women. Larry and I started to talk, and he asked me to take her over there. I got the directions and asked Laura if she was ready to go. The boyfriend you could see out of the corner of your eye, just waiting, watching her. She had teared up multiple times by now; as she cried, she remarked that she couldn’t cry around him—not even when her brother died. Her boyfriend thought it was stupid. But then he would cry whenever he wanted to get back in her good graces, after he had hurt her.
She was still buying it.
That much became clear when I told her I could take her to the shelter. All of a sudden, she couldn’t go right then. It was about to be her birthday, and her daughter was coming in town to meet her at the Westin to take her out for her birthday. The internal battle raged. We started talking again about God. She had been praying every day she would have the strength to leave her boyfriend. As I listened, God brought Deuteronomy 30 to mind, and I asked to read it to her and Tommy. They wanted to hear it . . .
“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. . . .
See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. . . . Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days . . .” (verses 11;14, 15, 19b-20a)
Then, we prayed with our arms around each other. Laura continued to wrestle for the next half hour. Finally, I told her that I didn’t think she really wanted to go to the shelter. She couldn’t object, not really. So we talked about co-dependency, and she admitted she knew she was codependent. We talked about how her co-dependency went back in her life, even when she was married. I told her I myself am a recovering codependent.
As the time drew to a close, Laura promised she was still going to go to the shelter. “Tomorrow,” she said. “Can I have your number? I will call you tomorrow morning from the shelter.” I wrote it down for her.
I’m sure it’s not surprising to you—nor was it to me—that she never called.
As Larry told her many times that day, “It’s your choice.”
He’s right. It was her choice and only her choice. She had to be ready. Ready to leave the old life for a new life. That would mean leaving behind some things that still had real value—but for that which held greater value . . . leaving some good things for truly beautiful things: freedom, the chance to heal, the chance to know she is loved and valued not for what she gives someone or how she meets their needs, but to learn to get her needs met in healthy ways.
Before she left, I made sure to tell her that even if she didn’t go to the shelter, I hoped to see her back. “We are all in process, on a journey. There is no judgment here. I want to be your friend no matter what you decide to do.”
She hasn’t come back. I have been praying for her and for Tommy.
Today, Tommy did come back. Right off of the bat, he told me “Laura is back with her boyfriend.”
“I know,” I replied. “She wasn’t ready.”
“She wasn’t, but I am,” Tommy said. “I’m ready to stop smoking crack and I have. I’m ready to stop drinking too, though I have been drinking today.”
So it was all for Tommy? All the while I thought what happened on the corner was for Laura, but Tommy was the one? He was the one God was getting ready?
Tommy told us it’s very difficult to change because of the company he keeps. And it’s not exactly the company he keeps by choice, but the inevitable company he is surrounded by because of homelessness. Even still, every day, he has started reading a chapter out of Proverbs and Psalms, and a chapter from the Old Testament and a chapter from the New Testament. Today, he didn’t have time for his New Testament chapter, so he asked me to read it: Revelation 1.
I got my Bible out of the trunk, and, sitting cross-legged on the dirty steps on the corner, read aloud Revelation 1 . . . “I am the first and the last. I am the living one. I died, and behold, I am alive forevermore . . .”
After it was finished, we talked about what we learned from the passage. Tommy said again and again he is ready for a new life. He hasn’t been ready before now, but he is now. Tommy and I held hands and prayed together—on the street corner. With other men and women around, homeless and not homeless.
We plan to start reading the Bible and praying every week on the corner. Tommy seems really ready.
You never know, do you? Is someone really ready? You never know—not with people who have homes or people who don’t. But we are all on a journey, and what a joy it is to be a part of each other’s story and the work God is doing in our lives.