It’s one of the harder conversations you’ll have out on the track. The ones that seem to have no hope. The ones that end in tears.
Running into a smiling face that you see week to week is both joyous and heart-breaking. Joyous because we love building relationships with the women out on the streets and it is a gift being able to see them multiple times and hear more bits and pieces of their story. Heart-breaking because each time we see them out on the track means one more week they’ve been trapped. One more week they’ve been a slave to the obstacles and lies in their life.
We saw “Sixty” on Friday (not her real name). And I love running into her. She always has the biggest hug waiting for me and a huge smile on her face. But this week was slightly different. She greeted me with that same hug and smile- the slight scent of alcohol on her breath – as she told us to “hurry up and pray for me so I can get on my way.” But then she became deflated. She said she was sick of it all and wanted out.
“I’m serious. When have you ever heard me say this before? I mean it. Get me out of here.”
My heart rate livened. I became excited. And I became hopeful that perhaps this was the night. I offered to call some places for her right there. We’d sit down on the curb and make calls all night until we found her a safe place to go, but she was discouraged by that. “You mean I have to call places? I might have to wait? I have to do intakes? I don’t have all night to just sit around and hope something works out.”
And so that was that. I was sad, but I understand it’s frustrating. I know when you are discouraged and at the end of your rope any small obstacle in your way feels enormous – but my heart ached in that moment that Sixty wasn’t quite ready to take the steps to get free. And there was nothing I could do but sit in the pain and the darkness with her. To listen to her talk about the thoughts that go through her head in her darkest moments of wanting to take a handful of pills so it’ll all be over. Of her pleas that I would make up a false complaint and call the cops so she might have a few nights of relief behind cell bars away from it all.
And these are the moments it is the hardest. It is difficult to just stand in the chilly stillness and be present. And it is maddening to eventually have to walk away. Knowing that God loves this woman more than I ever could and he is working a bigger picture that I am only a small part of, but feeling like the only thing I am doing is abandoning her.
We spent time as an After Hours outreach team talking about our fears, and the fears of the women we meet out on the track – and how many of those fears stem from our inability to grasp and truly believe our identity in Christ as his beloved. Loved. Enjoyed. Before we did anything. Because when we don’t fully grasp our worth – it is hard to fight for even our own lives.
This makes me reflect on the church at large and how we’ve presented the gospel. How we believe that we have to clean ourselves up first – or do good and worthy works – before we are able to come before God. We don’t think we deserve his love – or feel hypocritical saying we are his followers if we have sin in our life. But that’s the whole point! We NEED to follow him as our Savior BECAUSE we have sin in our life. I think we’ve presented the gospel in a backward fashion with too much of an emphasis on needing to feel guilty for our sin rather than the emphasis being on our inability to do much about it – grace alone. That’s the message these women need to hear. You are loved – right now, just as you are. You’re not a hypocrite for believing that. Grab on to Jesus, he’s waiting with arms open wide.
I’m hoping the next time we meet Sixty our conversation will go differently. But until then, I pray. I wait. I weep. And I trust the God who finds her worthy beyond compare to come to her aid when my efforts are insufficient.