She looked…well, perhaps a little undone, in the opinion of most. Her hair tousled and haphazardly hand-smoothed away from her thin face. No theme or reasoning just a take-it-or-leave-it style. Loose-fitting, loud patterned pants struggled with the paired floral shirt. A fashion faux-pas at its peak. Backlot runway situation. Her countenance seemed lost in another land miles away from the moment. Her presence seemed to wear a lanyard that might have read, “I’m broken. My best days are past. As you size me up, feel free to file me under ‘I used to be important’!”
And with that, she was comfortable. Her skin held in the best of her.
Many of us have a strong undercurrent of compassion. The kind that really wants to believe the roadside beggar’s sign when it says, “Homeless. Hungry. Anything helps!” We want to believe that he or she isn’t just trying to deceive for a quick buck. And we’d load them up, take them home, feed them, encourage them, and help them get a job. But it’s not always an honorable world we live in and danger is often dressed in the false cloak of compassion so we must be careful to discern.
I’m drawn to those who appear lost and unlovable. The scripture reads, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40) The left-behinds and the invisible, I just don’t want to miss being Jesus or miss encountering Jesus through them. That’s all. My radar doesn’t miss a tear in the audience or on the sidewalk. My heart swells and slows my pace. Maybe Jesus would say that’s a good normal. For the discerners out there, it can be a tricky life.
She had a beggar’s mark. Mountains of bags homing in the corner of the room. They were fortified three layers thick, cheap, plastic, and free. Four feet in front of me she burned the carpet walking back and forth from our product table to her bags. There was a tad of tension at the moment. What to do? Tension not from her appearance or posture of persona, no, I’ve been around Robin Hood’s barn (and his library☺) enough times to know the cover is rarely the book. In fact, sometimes the fancier the cover the duller the well. And to be fair and wise and kind, sometimes the duller the cover the better the book.
The concern was trying to decipher what her game plan was. After our concert, she went straight back to our product table and began disassembling our CD rack. Counting and stacking titles in coordinating towers then feverishly going back and forth to her bags to rummage through them. To and fro she would pace, count, and sift. Moving in beside her I did my best to decode the situation. “Hello,” I said in the most nonchalant, totally fake fine tone. “Can I help you with anything?” I said while side glancing to find one of the children to lasso Daddy or the Pastor or somebody!
Her eyes wandered around mine. Flitting from side to side with every second glance zeroing in on my soul. “I want to buy all of these right here.” She said in a mumbling stuttering tone. She stood very close and began a story that I struggled to follow as it was difficult to make out many of the words. Her finger pointed back to the CD’s and to the price guide. I tried to kindly bargain her down to just a few, but Sister would have none of it! She whipped around and made one last venture toward her bags as I swung around to find the pastor. He had been sitting just outside of the glass doors and didn’t seem moved at all by my wide eyes. I told him she had several hundred dollars’ worth of CDs she wanted to buy but I wasn’t sure if she could afford such a purchase and I didn’t want to leave her without money. I explained we would be happy to give her some if he thought that would be okay. “No!” He remarked without hesitation. “Let her buy them. She won’t take ‘no’ for an answer, I’ll tell you that! She’ll take them and give them away to people she thinks might need them. That’s what she does!”
Her story- Highly educated. A former university professor. Sharp-knowledgeable-relevant. It wasn’t clear as to what happened to her along the way, only now her days are sometimes good and sometimes challenged.
I was baffled. Her cover said that somewhere in her journey she had been swallowed in circumstance and then dismissed. Her best days passed. But were they?
I wonder if she might be living in her best days. Through the shadow of brokenness. Stripped of title and pretense and free to really live outside the borders. To operate without expectation and leave everyone inspired not to be so consumed with matching the tops to the bottoms.
What if when we feel we are last in line? Not even fit to be the mercy pick for the team with the ugly brown shirts with beige lettering; and worst, the local septic suckers are the sponsors. That’s rough. What if it is then we do our greatest work? Can I get an angel choir?
There are those who I know.
He walks with a limp. His spine bent and spent, which causes him to walk hunched over, yet he will make his rounds to everyone that he can to encourage and tell them they are loved. His wife is nearly blind, but his song is always about love and how God saved him as a young man and kept him satisfied, filled with joy, and gave him a beautiful life.
She can no longer walk without a walker and spends 80% or more of her waking moments in a mobilized chair. But when you see her, it’s like you’re talking to your best friend. She listens and smiles, and shares and never talks about her crippling disease. She wants to know about you. She makes you feel loved and cherished.
Her parents have long since passed away. No brothers or sisters. Single, never married and lives alone. She’s never missed a birthday, anniversary or death date. She has very little in monetary value but shares with those in need. Many walk right past her, but if you do, you’ll miss the warmest hug and at least ten minutes of a highly convincing dialog of why you are so, so special to the world.
Sometimes our greatest work is done in the shelter of the shadow. On the fringes of what used to be. When we care less about matching our outfits, being able to stand straight or even stand at all, yet recognizing the power we have to stream a light out from our circumstances and convince others to shine. It’s the unexpected low light that slips in under the door, between the curtains, and through the trees, that does its best work!