A picture* from today, though not of "Lila," is of some of my friends -- Ava and Mr. B!
I left the woman in the wheelchair and walked over to her today. I had never seen her before. I said, "Hi, how are you? My name is Elisabeth," as I reached out my hand.
She said, "Hi, I'm Lila. I just got here."
"Yes," she said, and then she continued, "This is my first day here." (By here, she means the streets.) She began crying, the type of crying for which no words will do, so I moved next to her and put my arm around her. She cried harder with that touch, and I think I knew what she was feeling ... that feeling of holding in the emotions until someone cares, and when they care, suddenly it comes rushing out.
She wept. And so I hugged all around her, and our heads touched each other, and she buried her head as she cried. Silently, I prayed, and I sensed God's presence on the concrete as we sat together in her pain.
Slowly, she shared parts of her story, and why for the first time ever she is homeless -- as of today. She had suffered abuse throughout her life -- starting in her home as a child, from the very people who were supposed to protect her, and extending into her adulthood. Her life has been characterized by abuse, but this morning, she decided no more. She left some men who had let her stay with them because they expected something in return. She was taking her life back. She doesn't want to allow people to take advantage of her any more.
So even though it's painful to be on the streets and staying at a shelter, it is very hopeful. After her tears dried, we walked over to the little spot where we study the book of John together, and after our study, I told her, "I'm so proud of you," and she smiled so big.
I continued, "We are here every week, and we are here to support you."
"Thank you," she replied, her eyes brightening.
Today, I saw a person whose life is physically difficult and materially sparse go from great despair to great hope. And she is not the only person in whom I have seen this change. As we enter into each other's lives and messes, something marvelous starts to happen. We realize we are not alone in our pain, and that other people will be there as we face difficult things, and we see that we do indeed have strength inside us to face the pain.
Not being alone, being together in community, hearing each other's stories and failures, and consistently being present in someone's life really can instill hope where there is none.
Truly, it is so often in each other that we experience the love of God for us. What does it mean to be the hands and the feet of Jesus? It means to love someone where they are, to enter their pain, and walk with them on this funny road we call life.
*Picture posted with permission