I knocked on her car window to offer her a breakfast burrito. She eagerly and thankfully accepted. She took one look at me and said "You're from that Renaissance place, aren't you?"
Surprised, since I didn't recognize her, I replied in the affirmative.
She followed up with "You're Josh's dad!"
Yup. That's me.
She informed me that she'd known Josh from the last two gas stations he'd managed, both within a mile of our coffee shop. He'd been kind and gracious to her, even inviting her to join us for a meal and church service on a Saturday night. The evening she'd worked up the courage to try it out, Josh hadn't been there. So she ate a meal and left.
Now probably a year later, I was knocking on her window. She was living in that car and for that moment at least, parked in the lot where we feed people every Sunday morning.
We chatted for a few minutes. Mostly about Josh, our common point of interest. I made sure to tell her that we would be there every Sunday morning with breakfast burritos. I asked her name again and warned that I probably wouldn't remember it the next weekend.
For several more weeks, we had some small interaction. I learned that her little dog loved the sausage we use in the burritos. She told me she'd held the same job for thirty years before her company had laid her off and she found herself out of resources and living in her car. I eventually did remember her name...
One especially cold weekend during that time, she asked if we might have any antifreeze because her car didn't have any. Picturing myself living in a car without heat when it's below freezing, I rushed over to a parts house and bought some for her.
A few weeks later, as I drove toward Josh's house after an especially frustrating and demoralizing interaction at the coffee shop, I happened to see her on the side of the road, fueling her car from a gas can. So I stopped to check on her. Both frustrated and hopeful, she told me she had a job interview coming up downtown and had just begged money for the gas in the can so she could get there. Concerned about her safe return, I helped her out a little more, and told her I'd look for her Sunday morning.
I drove away feeling refreshed and encouraged. Odd how that works. Then, Saturday night she showed up at church. Once again, Josh wasn't there. But she had a couple more connections now. So she stayed and met the rest of our little group. Then she took leftovers from dinner back to the park to her friends.
Two weeks ago, she wasn't at the park on Sunday morning. I asked one of the others if she'd seen our missing friend. She said she had, but knew she was running low on gas, so she might be stranded elsewhere. As we talked, she said "you guys have done such a good job with her! She's in a much better place now!"
That seemed odd to me and frankly made me feel uncomfortable. I wouldn't want to take credit for someone else's improved state. Especially when all we'd done is be friendly. But that also made me recognize the truth. What really makes a difference, for all of us, is the idea that someone sees value in us. We all need that. And for those of our friends unfortunate enough to be living outside, in a park, a tent, or a car, that need is much more intense. Good people avoid them, or avert their eyes. To the kind, they're usually invisible. Their state makes us uncomfortable. Unkind people, on the other hand, equate homelessness and crime. Or homelessness and drug addiction. Or homelessness and mental illness. Or just homelessness and bad decisions. Unkind people judge. Sometimes they even attack. They verbally accost people for living in the park. They call the police and demand eviction.
So just being friendly. Just showing compassion. Just caring about them as people. That little taste of humanity can be the spark that gives someone the courage to pursue that job interview. Which unfortunately didn't go well. My friend didn't get that job. But she gained something else to ease her life.
Last weekend, she came to church. Now everybody recognizes her. And she's learning all of our names. When she came in, she told Josh that she'd had a rough week (negative emotions from a failed job interview take down the best of us). But there she was. She ate dinner and stayed for church. At one point, she went out to give her dog a potty break. But she came right back in. She talked with almost everyone.
And as she left that night, her heart was lifted. She was happy. Life was a little bit brighter. I rejoiced in the change of her countenance. But even more so with her comment.
"I feel almost like I'm part of your family now."
She gained a whole room full of people who see value in her.
Yup. That's us. A group of broken people who've become family. One person at a time. When you're aware of your own brokenness, it'd be pretty silly to judge someone else.
And that, to me, is exactly what church should be.
I'm so proud of our little congregation.