Sometimes the towering Sequoias are just so huge, I can’t spot the forest to save a life.
I am whipping around the corner of Costco’s parking lot, relieved to have maneuvered my way through the infamous gas lines with relative ease. Granted, it’s but 9:50 am; the behemoth warehouse itself isn’t even open for business. But everyone knows how crazy these gas lines can be, with all those over-zealous customers fighting to fill their tanks before they rush pell-mell into the insanity of the day.
Ahem. Yes, well…
I am whipping around the corner of Costco’s parking lot. As I rapidly pull into the left-hand turn lane, my attention is captured by two unlikely contestants, each vying for my attention. Initially the tiny digital numbers on my dashboard stare me down, an unspoken reproach as my moments are ticking away. Bible study starts promptly at ten, and who doesn’t value punctuality? Simultaneously, the homeless woman sitting on the median lifts her head as my vehicle approaches. A flash of eye contact, even from 50 yards, pierces deep. She’s been noticed, and she knows it.
In an instant I am filled with Holy Spirit determination. I will not avert my eyes or my heart. As I pull alongside her, I eagerly roll down my window and soak in the image. Skin tanned leathery from weather-worn days. Skeptical eyes framed by voluminous rays, crinkled in the morning sun. Frayed cardboard sign proclaiming need. Hungry. Please help.
My stomach sinks. I don’t have a red cent to offer, not even a bit of overlooked change hidden in the ubiquitous cup holder. It’s a Peter-and-John moment, and the tune momentarily fills my heart. Such as I have, give I thee.
I smile a bit sheepishly and declare, “I don’t have even a penny to give you, but have you visited the church down the street to ask for help?”
She warms just a mite. “They don’t have a shelter available, and every other place I’ve called is full.”
I’m stymied. Although I’m aware of a list of homes that take in abused women and children, I can’t think of a single nearby shelter for homeless ladies. It’s a though I’ve had a brain sweep and all memory banks have been wiped clean.
“I’m sure they could point you in the direction of an available shelter. What’s your name?”
My gaze shifts momentarily to the rear view. I’m first in line for the left turn, and all the morning fuel seekers pile behind me, waiting for their chance to pour onto the freeway. I can feel the impatient burn of dozens of eyes, can hear numerous engines revving in anticipation of the green flash.
“Lee Ann, Jesus loves you. You are deeply loved by God.”
Those hardened eyes instantly begin to fill.
And I begin to pray, calling out life over this precious one who has strayed into lonely and treacherous terrain.
The moment is interrupted by a reminder of the tyrannous rule of chronos. Someone is honking. The light has turned, and I am holding up everyone’s schedule.
“He loves you, Lee Ann!” I fling the last words out the window, hoping they’re caught.
As I make the turn, I glance again to the dash. 9:54. I can still make it.
Twenty minutes later I’m sitting in a classroom, soaking in the amazing teaching of a mighty woman of God. I’m content. Not only did I arrive for the start of the session, but I also took the time to reach out to one of the least of these. Amazing how it all worked out. Sure, I might have been able to do more, but at least she was reminded of God’s love. I lean back and breathe deep.
In that space of self-satisfied complacency, the Holy Spirit begins to massage my soul with truth. And I’m overcome.
Beloved, have I ever instructed you that making it to Bible study on time is of greater priority than living out My love?
I have no words. Surely my weeping heart is breaking the silence around me.
Self-righteous, religious approbation melts in the fervor of His gaze.
Stop for the one. Time can stand still for the one.
Forgive me, Lord. Me, the least of all these. Forgive me.
In that quiet introspection, I resolve to go treasure hunting.
It’s now lunch time, and I am searching. But the median is empty; she’s moved on.
I’m hollow inside, hurting for her. Jesus, meet Lee Ann with your care. With your love.
And as I meander slowly home, I meditate on the grace given for the lesson.
“Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.” James 1:27 (The Message)