Friday, January 7, 2011

losing your life.

 {from here}

It was three days before Christmas, and I had bought Jordan a pair of shoes that were too big. It was late, and I was mad. Mad that I had only thought to take off work after Christmas. Mad that I didn’t know my husband’s shoe size. Mad that I had to leave my cozy house and venture out to the mall. Mad that this one irritant seemed par for the course of my life lately.

But I went. Grabbed the keys, grabbed my coat, grabbed Jordan, and drove a few miles down the road to J.C. Penney. Jordan wandered the mall while I made my exchange (we keep presents secret in our home), and the errand was done in a total of 20 minutes, maybe less.

On the way home, though, I remembered: No shirt boxes. I was about to start wrapping, and I didn’t have shirt boxes. Jordan made a u-turn, and we found ourselves wandering the aisles of Walgreens, which doesn’t sound nearly as depressing as it is. As we shivered out to our car, finally ready for home, a woman approached us.

She was large, poorly dressed, a brown paper bag in her hand. And I knew right then that God had something else in mind for my evening.

We made our second u-turn of the night and headed back in toward the florescent lights of Walgreens, where the woman purchased some groceries for her family. We waited patiently, undeterred when we saw another large, poorly dressed woman join the other. Together, they made purchases of orange juice and chicken noodle soup. “For my sick babies,” the woman explained. As I handed over my debit card to the cashier, I felt what I hope wasn’t pride fill my heart. “This is how Christmas is supposed to be!” I thought. Look what we’re able to do with our money! I’m helping babies get well!

Just as we bid the two women “Merry Christmas,” God changed our plans again. I say God, because I do believe it was Him. I do. I believe God saw us buy those groceries, and I think He may have said to Himself: “That’s a nice start. Well done. But, faithful servant, let’s see what you do now.”

“Can we get a ride? My sister,” the first woman pointed to the other, “just got out of prison and needs some cell phone minutes. It’s just up the road.”

I confess to you that in that moment, I didn’t hesitate. Neither did Jordan. And I don’t know why.

Because I watch Law and Order: SVU. I read those awful e-mail forwards that parents and well-meaning family members insist on sending my way. I do not live in a bubble. I know this world is full of dark things, and giving rides to strangers is dangerous and risky and generally avoided.

But none of those thoughts even crossed the threshold of my mind. I felt like another person. “Of course!” I said cheerfully. Looking back, I’m not even sure Jordan answered. We were functioning as one person. I am grateful for those moments when we do not even have to speak: We just know.

The four of us traipsed back to my car, which is, shall we say, petite. There are two doors. There is room to breathe and to throw most of my junk, but that’s about it. These women were large, and I was afraid for their dignity. Because we had already bought their groceries, which must have been humiliating. And what if they couldn’t fit in my car?

But they did. By some miracle, they did.

Jordan and I climbed in, and the smell was horrendous. I could not breathe. Belches and coughs filled the tiny space. But I kept smiling.

I am a nervous giggler, it’s true. Most of the time, it’s an annoyance. But there are times, I think, when it eases nerves and tensions. So I giggled and asked after the woman’s babies. I listened as the sisters exchanged whispers in the back seat. I prayed, prayed, prayed for safety, because the reality of what we were doing hit me, and I have heard the horror stories. Perhaps they are rare, these stories, but they are told often enough that they seem to be fairly regular. And I wondered if Jordan and I would die taking these women to get cell phone minutes. I wondered if a policeman would stop us and make us get out of the car, only to find drugs in the back seat. I would not trade my Anne Shirley imagination for the world. But in those moments, I longed to be dull, because surely dull people do not plan their funerals or envision the looks on their mothers’ faces when policemen call the house with bad news.

We made it to a side of town that, as a general rule, we do not frequent. Me in my skinny jeans and boots, and Jordan in his leather jacket that even I find obnoxious. I have never felt so white in my entire life. I have never felt so wealthy and undeserving and alien. We forget, with our warm homes and Christmas trees and wrapped presents, that new worlds exist right down the road. We forget that we don’t have to go to India to see poverty or China to do mission work. We are more comfortable with that idea, though. For some reason traveling across town is too much for us. Me, too.

The sisters went inside a store that I’m tempted to travel to again in the daylight. I want to know if it was as scary as my memory is telling me. We waited with locked doors. I texted Chet so someone would know where we were if our car got stolen or we were mugged. I prayed some more, giggled with Jordan, because there was still a part of me that thought this was all a fun adventure, and wow, can you believe this happened to us? The women got back into the car and we drove them down the road to their tiny apartment, and as we drove away, back to our side of town and our dog and our tree, it hit me that we are all not that different.

Because God saved me when I was broken and dirty and poor and undeserving. Those women who smelled and belched and couldn’t even buy their own groceries? That was me without God. That was me without redemption. It would be me still, if Someone hadn’t chosen to involve Himself in every aspect of my heart and soul, if Someone hadn’t selected me and saved me by His grace.

That side of town that I ignore for fear of my own safety and comfort? That is the side of town my Jesus would frequent.

I wish I could tell you that this experience is something I’d like to now repeat, that I’ve been filled with passion for people that I traditionally ignore or, on my best days, care for at a distance. But in reality? It was scary. I have never given anybody a ride in my life. Never.

Jesus commands me to give up my life for Him, and I skim through the verses as if they are easily kept and obeyed. But those moments in which my imagination believed death might loom close? Those were not that easy. In moments of clarity, I felt stupid and irresponsible. In moments of hilarity, I felt naïve and adventurous.

There were a couple of minutes, though, that felt right. We’re taught not to trust our feelings, to think with our heads instead of our hearts. But sometimes, our gut is right. And I just knew we were doing the right thing.

And from the backseat, I heard the voice of a woman who thought the same thing.

“You are angels,” she said. Some people, she told us, wouldn’t stop for her, wouldn’t look her in the eye. “You know what, though?” she said. “It wouldn’t take much for someone to be right where I am.”

I should have told her she was right. That really, we’re all right where she is. Depleted, poor, helpless, alone. That the white man in the nice suit who wouldn’t stop to help is no better than she. That neither am I.

“We aren’t angels,” said Jordan, laughing. “But we are Christ-followers. This is what we’re supposed to do.”

“Well amen to that,” she said.


“If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it.” - Luke 17:33


Mandy said...

What a beautiful story. Thank you for this.

Cassimus T. said...

I agree, a very beautiful story, thank you so much for sharing and for serving Christ as he asks you to.

Katelyn said...

I gave you an award today on my blog!

Laken said...

This story really spoke to me, Annie. Thank you for posting it!

Elizabeth said...

Wow, scary and amazing. Love the verse--chills :)

Manda said...

I just started following your blog, and I absolutely loved this. It's so beautifully written... God bless you both for living authentically.

the friendliest flower said...

wow that story was beautiful! thanks so much for sharing

Megan said...

I just happened upon your blog today and I'm so glad I read through a couple of your posts.

Thank you for stopping and helping those two women. As someone who has been all too afraid to do the same, I thank you. What a precious reminder of the responsibilities of love we have as believers in Christ.