I know a lady who is 45 years old. She lives 3 minutes away from me. And, she is dying.
My path crossed with hers a little over a year ago when I met her daughter and her grandchildren. I’ve seen her a handful of times, and, truly, nothing about her really captivated my attention. She was just like many of the women I have come to know through our LoveWorks ministry. She’s a hard worker. She cares for her children – - and her grandchildren. She lives in poverty. And, she needs hope.
But, this is what is haunting me right now – and it just won’t stop. During the past year, I had opportunities to share hope with her- to extend grace to her, but I didn’t take them. On numerous occasions, I felt that gentle tug of the Holy Spirit. I knew that He was prompting me to go to her – to reach out to her kids, her grandkids, and HER. I knew it. But, I didn’t. Other things took priority. I was busy… and, I excused myself from carrying her burden because I was busy doing “good things” for people in need. I self righteously decided that I could pick and choose who deserved my time and my efforts.
But, here’s the amazing thing about God. If He is calling you to do something, one way or another, you WILL do it. Don’t believe me? Read the book of Jonah, then we can chat.
Last week, I spent metaphorical time in the belly of a whale. God redirected my path, gave me time to refocus my thoughts, and showed me my own sinfulness and need for repentance.
One of my Bible study ladies had a birthday last Monday. To celebrate her big day, a friend and I took her to lunch. It was a special time. For me, it was such a picture of racial barriers, socioeconomic barriers, social barriers, and cultural barriers collapsing. We sat at lunch and laughed. We smiled a lot. We celebrated like real sisters. It was precious. During the entire meal, the only time we stopped giggling or chatting was when we were interrupted by the deafening roar of firetruck sirens as a series of emergency vehicles rushed by our restaurant. We paused for a minute to acknowledge them, then continued our chatter. We left lunch a little sad that our time had to end… and we headed back to the apartments to drop off our dear friend.
My heart sank when we pulled into the apartment complex and discovered those same fire trucks that had interrupted our chatter. They were parked in front of a building that I know well – and fear crept through my veins. We got out of the car and hurried across the parking lot to try to see what in the world was going on. And then we saw it. Smoke was billowing out of the front door of the apartment of my 45 year old friend, Miss J. My eyes scanned the crowd to find her, but she wasn’t around. Within moments, though, I found her daughter and began asking questions.
Through tears, her daughter described the fire that had broken out in the kitchen, the frantic call for help, the rescue of the fire department, and the ruin of almost everything that they owned. I listened to her story, saw the panic written across her face… and felt the desperation in her voice when she added, “Miss Kim… my mama don’t even know yet. She was on her way to the doctor again. She ain’t doin good at all right now. And, she don’t even have the strength to deal with all this. What are we gonna do, Miss Kim? What are we gonna do?”
A car pulled up a few minutes later, and there in the passenger seat sat a stunned Miss J. She looked frail, and tired, and sick – very sick. Looking into her sad eyes made my heart hurt. In that very moment, I knew that it was no accident that I was standing there. In His grace, the Lord was providing me another opportunity to love on Miss J and her family in a big way… just as He had prompted me to do months before.
Standing right there in the parking lot with fire trucks all around, we made necessary arrangements for hotel rooms and food, and we began working out the details of getting Miss J and her family into another apartment. Within two days, we were ready to clean out the contents of the burned apartment, and move them into another one – complete with furniture, food, and all the supplies that they would need.
And, here’s how amazing our Lord is. A couple of months earlier, I received a call about hosting a group of college students from Georgia. These students were seeking opportunities to serve the Lord during their spring break. At the time, I gladly accepted their offer to come and serve with Love Works – but I had NO IDEA what I would have for them to do… Oh, but God did! Wednesday morning, I sat in complete awe of the sovereignty of God – amazed at His perfect timing, His provision, His persistence.
I was almost giddy with excitement as I drove to meet the college missions team and share the story with them — beyond eager to see what God would do as we worked. I knew that God was up to something. But, even though I spend my days serving those in need, I wasn’t prepared to see the depths of poverty that we were about to enter. Nor was I prepared to share the weight of the hopelessness that my precious friends had been carrying for far too long.
With our surgical masks secured snugly on our faces, we walked into the destroyed apartment to clean it out and salvage what we could. It took us about 13 minutes to realize that most of the items in the apartment had either been destroyed or were simply not worth saving. The longer I stood inside of the tiny apartment, the smaller it felt. It was like desperation and hopelessness were clinging to every surface; it was dark, and lonely, and scary. The walls seemed to close in on us with every second that passed, and the reality of the situation began to sink in as I sorted through the items that survived the fire.
There were pictures, and personal documents, a few scattered bags of clothes, two dilapidated dressers, a couple of out-dated televisions, a tv stand, a broken coffee table, and two small decorative racks, and a series of mismatched plastic chairs…. that’s it.
Every single remaining thing that they owned was on display in a revealing pile on the sidewalk outside. I stood there with the sun shining on my shoulders taking it all in. And then I realized that the tiny, two bedroom apartment had been home to eight people. Eight people. Eight. Eight humans, ranging in age from 3 to 45 had called that place home. Those walls that seemed to ooze desperation and hopelessness had held all of the hope that they knew. Everything that they had known and loved had been in that apartment… and there it all sat, looking empty and broken – right there for all the world to see. It really was a tremendously sad sight.
Moments turned to minutes, and minutes faded into hours – and in what seemed to be a shockingly short amount of time, we had managed to move everything from the darkness of the destroyed apartment, into the sunshine beaming outside, and finally to its final resting place in their new apartment. With the smell of Pine Sol hanging in the air and a cool breeze blowing through the open door, I was finally able to sit down and really talk to the inhabitants of that new apartment. Though Miss J was too ill to be there and was resting back at the hotel, everyone else was there. We sat around like old friends and smiles abounded. Through conviction of the Holy Spirit, I focused all of my energy on really listening to what was being said. I sat there smiling outside, but inwardly groaning – pleading with the Lord to give me His eyes and His ears so that I could display His love for them.
The stories that casually rolled off their tongues were heartbreaking. I sat in stunned silence as Miss J’s 18 year old son shared that he had hopes of attending college, but had missed scholarship application deadlines because their family couldn’t afford to complete the paperwork and mail it in. The cost of a few stamps… Raw emotion was flooding my entire body, and I found myself doing everything I could to maintain focus and composure.
Curious, I began asking questions about the sleeping arrangements. I simply couldn’t imagine how 8 people could comfortably rest with just 3 beds crammed into two small bedrooms. I discovered that Miss J’s daughter and 4 of her 5 children sleep together in one of the small bedrooms… and Miss J, her 18 year old son, and her 6 year old grandson share a bed in another bedroom. Every night. Every night, Miss J’s son sleeps beside her. Every night, he helps her in change into her nightgown, helps her brush her teeth, helps her in and out of bed. Every night he is faced with the reality of a dying mother. Every night that family tries to survive in a seemingly hopeless situation. Every single night. I watched as everyone’s eyes suddenly became downcast and sad every single time Miss J’s name was mentioned. Every person in that room recognized the severity of her sickness – and each person seemed to feel so small and so very helpless against such a difficult health battle.
Reality set in. Miss J is dying. Last Wednesday that became clear to me. She is dying. And, she is currently hopeless. Until last Wednesday, I felt no urgency to share the gospel with her. She was just a sick lady who needed groceries. Shamefully, that’s all I saw when I looked at her. But all that changed when the Lord opened my eyes to her real needs – to the real needs of every single person in her home. They need hope. And, they need hope that can’t be bought… hope that nothing on this earth could ever destroy… an everlasting hope – an eternal hope – real hope.
Here’s what I know: Apart from Christ, we are all hopeless. We all fail. Every single one of us will make mistakes – some big, some small – and, in those moments where our mistakes seem too many to even count, what we need is grace- not condemnation. Praise Jesus that because I am His, there is no condemnation for me (Romans 8:1)
Let me be honest with you, though. Though there is no condemnation for me, there is often awful condemnation in me. Sometimes, I look at people and I am too quick to judge. I look at their situation, and rather than extending grace – rather than listening to their story – rather than taking the time to be compassionate, I simply judge. I condemn. I look at circumstances and think “You deserve exactly what you’ve gotten.”
Shame on me. Shame on me for so quickly forgetting the amazing grace that I have received. The grace that never ceases to flow. The grace that I need in every moment of my life. Shame on me for not readily extending it in EVERY situation.
Today, I am pleading for prayer on this family’s behalf… on my behalf. I am pleading that you will join me in praying that the Lord would soften our hearts, open our eyes to truth, and captivate us with His great love. I am praying for hope. I’m praying for Miss J.
In the meantime, I am willing to do the hard stuff. I am willing to participate in messy ministry. I am going to let my love for them be tempered with grace – and then more grace. If meeting some basic physical needs will allow me opportunities to speak truth and display Christ’s love, then I will do just that. I know that love works. I’m just praying that it works quickly. May we all recognize that time is passing. People are lost and dying. Let’s love people with urgency. Let’s use our time wisely. Let’s make every effort not to miss opportunities. Let’s offer the same grace that we have received. Let’s make much of out time here… Let’s put love to work.
Matthew 25:40; James 1:22