Sunday, March 8, 2009

Jacked for the Rent

I prepare to make the last turn to church and watch “Hookers’ Corner.” Will she be there this morning? She hasn’t been all winter but still I watch, ready to give a friendly smile and wave.

She’s not there but I see a little bit of a thing walking through the intersection toward me. “Could I get warm in your car?” I’m late for prayer meeting but she needs help.

“Sure! Come in.”

I park against the church, leave the engine running and wait. She tells of being “jacked” for her rent money. The large, bruised “egg” on her forehead testifies.

“I need money for my rent. Can you help?”

I am willing. Does she speak truth? What should I do, God?

I could take her for breakfast. She’s probably hungry. I ask.

She wants money more but I want time to think and pray. “Let’s go to McDonald’s.”

She agrees. Does she hope I’ll give her money too? She livens as she takes the hot chocolate. “This is good!”

We sit by a sunny window. I search for ways to open conversation—I don’t want to be intrusive—but there are long spells of silence broken by short breaks when she leaves to bum a cigarette. All say no but one man will help. He needs cigarettes himself. He’ll buy a pack and come back to share with her. Will he? Who would go to that trouble? But he does and they stand in the cold, smoking. She returns with half her cigarette saved for later.

“You have a cross on your finger,” I point to the simple tattoo.

“That’s for my mother. She wanted it but she’s dead now. My sisters have one too.” Her foster parents used to take her to a church camp every summer. When she was fourteen, she gave her life to Christ.

“What about now?” I ask. “How is your relationship with Jesus now?”

Not so good. She shakes her head.

She’s the age of my eldest, though half the size. He’s talking about graduate school but she has four little kids and a boyfriend who beats her. Survival is all she can manage and that is held by a thread. Years of hard living have rotted and blackened her teeth. I want to help. God! What should I do?

A picture comes, showing grocery bags. Take her shopping for food? That won’t help with rent. She’s patient but persistent. It’s rent money she needs. I give her the money I have but it’s too little. God! Help her find the rest!

“May I pray for you?”

She nods.

I reach out. “May I place my hand on your arm?”

She moves her hand to mine and I pray. Oh God, there are so many who hurt. And this one has such need. Help her, God! Help her! Safety, rent money, hope. She needs a miracle. Will God give it? He doesn’t always.

She’s afraid to ask, surely I’ll say no, but her need is strong. “Would you buy me cigarettes?”

O Lord! What should I do? The picture comes back. Groceries. Her kids need food.

I agree to cigarettes. She agrees to milk and fruit. Most stores are closed but one is open. I don’t buy much—milk, bread, fruit, pasta, juice.

“Is there anything you’d really like?”

She nods. Yes. I can buy cookies. I see a small package of four Easter chocolates and add it for the kids. Sweets can sweeten the soul.

I drive her home. At the last minute she chooses a neighbour’s instead. She will tell the man who beat her to pack and leave. Good choice. We walk together to the door, sharing the load. Inside I set my bags down and turn to leave but she wants a hug. I agree, but she won’t let go. When she does, she kisses my cheek and thanks me.

I wish there was more to say. I wish there is more I could do. I leave, heavy with the burden of her need. I told her I will pray. I must pray. Perhaps God will have mercy. O Lord, have mercy!

I miss the prayer meeting. I miss singing and worship. People may think I’m late because of the time change, but that’s okay. God is good and today we worked together.

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