Joel and I had just finished making breakfast burritos when the coffee shop door opened. A woman in despair walked in. My first thought was that she was had heard about our homeless breakfast and didn't realize it was now held at the park.
"Good morning, can I help you?"
"I don't know. I'm seriously considering suicide. I came here because I know you feed homeless people, and I'm about to be homeless. And don't give me any of that God stuff, because He DID give me more than I can handle."
That's how the conversation began. Within a couple of minutes, it was clear this wasn't really a case of someone looking for breakfast. So I sent Joel ahead to the park with the food and I sat down to talk.
Little by little, her story unfolded over the next hour. Her current distress was caused by her grandson. Born with fetal alcohol syndrome, into an obviously troubled household, he eventually was abandoned by his mother, and then his aunt. His disability basically makes him a permanent toddler as far as emotional and impulse control are concerned. They couldn't deal with it. As his grandma, she couldn't bear the thought of watching him become a ward of the state. So she took him in. Four years later, she was also worn out, and had to hand him over to foster care. She said he's now been in dozens of homes. Each time, he runs off and ends up at her apartment, banging on the door, demanding to be let in. His behaviors are out of control and she has to call the police to return him to foster care... breaking her heart more each time. It's become such a problem that she fears eviction from her apartment because of the constant police presence and disruptions for the other residents.
Last night, and again this morning, her grandson showed up. She decided she couldn't take it anymore. She got her backpack, and a notebook, wrote her suicide note and boarded the bus, heading to a downtown bridge. The bus stopped just outside the coffee shop and she remembered we feed homeless people. She got off and came to the front door. The door and security door were closed. She looked at the sign and saw our business hours are Tuesday through Saturday. About to walk away, she realized there were cars in the lot, and someone must be there. So she came in.
If she'd been one bus later, the building would have been deserted.
As I listened to her story, I caught glimpses of a relationship with God. I asked when God became real to her. She told me probably the first time was when he healed her arm after it had been severely damaged from drug abuse. She'd injected the wrong thing. Doctors had barely saved her life, but she'd lost use of her arm. Until a prayer meeting where God had instantly healed it. "I don't care what anyone thinks, it was a miracle."
I affirmed my belief in miracles, and she went on.
Her story started with molestation as a child. That led to homelessness, drug abuse, rape, abusive marriages... you get the picture. But just as painful for me was to hear this woman with a real relationship with a living God, who quoted scripture freely, talk of her experiences with church.
She talked of churches as "smiling, hallelujah talkers who want nothing to do with someone who's hurting."
She shared about visiting churches, seeking fellowship, and being completely ignored, feeling rejected.
She told me she felt like she was on God's "shit list."
I was thrilled to tell her what she already knew. God doesn't have a "shit list."
Yes, life is often painful. And my experience is that those who love deeply, hurt deeply. But all through her life story I heard a message of God showing up. I saw a woman who, despite her own pain and struggles, reached out and took care of other people. I saw God's heart shining through her.
I reminded her of God's crazy love for her. I encouraged her to continue to pursue Him. To look for those little glimpses, because He's always romancing her. That's when she reached into her backpack... the one with the suicide notebook... and pulled out her little Bible. She told me how excited she'd been to find the Amplified Version at a food pantry recently. She'd been searching for that specific version at thrift stores because it was the one she'd found the most meaning in. And there it was, with type she could read without her glasses... like God had placed it there just for her.
I went outside with her to continue the conversation when she needed a cigarette. When we came back in, I told her I needed to go, but I was glad to have the opportunity to chat with her. I told her about our church meetings and said she'd be welcome to join us. I prayed with her, and she headed back home, telling me I may see her on Tuesday at the coffee shop.
That wasn't how I'd expected to spend my Sunday morning, and she apologized for interrupting my plans, but I told her I thought it was definitely a divine appointment. God sent me to this neighborhood to tell people who feel lost, forgotten and rejected that He is madly in love with them.