Off Ramp Growing Pangs

A few days ago, out running errands, as I rounded the corner, my eye caught someone in 20170601_072006the middle of the road. It was peculiar because I could just make out the image in the pouring rain. As I drove closer I could see a young woman perched on the center median, obviously down on her luck and seeking assistance. The scene seemed surreal because despite the pouring rain, there she stood. At one point bowing at the waist perhaps to ease the water running in her face. Her tattered clothes and bad weather luck paled to her heavy countenance. She wore her despair like I wear my smooth black skin. She made me uncomfortable.  

She was nothing like the standard “beggar” at that off ramp I’m familiar with. Who hangs out there all the time after riding an expensive multi-speed mountain bike, he carefully locks on the light post. Regularly smoothing his matching track suits, adjusting his leather fanny pack he stores his daily collections in and never absent his igloo shoulder cooler replete with lunch and snacks for his long day “working the ramp.” She also was a study in contrast to nice Asian man who “works” the corner near my job, always in pressed denim jeans, fresh sneakers and the crispest white polo, finishing the ensemble with a hand lettered calligraphy cardboard sign requesting funds.  Am I passing judgment? Sure! But pray for me, God isn’t finished with me yet J

There was something raw and unsettling about her so naked and vulnerable. 20170601_072013Desperately seeking assistance even when the rain fell freely. Three lanes over, with the light prompting me to get moving, I reasoned I should turn around to give her “a little something”. But then remembered I had to pass that way after my errands and would give her something on the way back home.  Well as is my way, I quickly compartmentalized the “uncomfortable moment” to a dark corner of my brain. Went about my errands, returned home without darkening my heart with thoughts of her again. 

Then last night… coming home exiting the off ramp, there she was, “my worthy beggar”. Me on the Bluetooth, chattering with a girlfriend about nothing, life flowing easily.  When I feel the guilty clench in my heart, realizing how easily I’d forgotten her the other day. I instinctively reached for my purse, my stomach sinking, as I surveyed her in the same ill-fitting clothes from a few days ago. Only now with the sunlight highlighting their holes, tatters and rent places.

So I’m quickly doing the math (single mom syndrome) if I give her this much,  will I have enough for – fill in the blank…. thankfully the Holy Spirit took over and I stopped thinking and just beeped the blasted horn with the whole wad in fist.

She was unsure at first, but my eye contact confirmed that I was indeed seeing her and acknowledging her in all her humanness. She quickly came over, with wadded fists hanging out my window, her brokenness caught in my throat.

I held her outstretched hand in my wadded fist, for the entire exchange, unafraid and daring to connect. And though I’m not sure why but I asked her…
“What do you need?” (Like it was in my power to meet her need. I was stretching with the wad in my fist) She looked down and said, “the sign says, homeless, need help, God bless you.” Somehow emboldened I say, “I’m not asking about your sign,…  I’m asking you, what do you need?” Now she was the one off balanced.

Maybe I was expecting her to say a place to stay, food, clothes, drugs, heck any host of stuff or things.  But she looked me right in the eyes, as the tears welled up in the corners of hers.

20170601_071946     “I need God. I need him to help me!”

Wow! The cinematic quality of that moment was unreal. The tears, scene, camera angles, cue melodic music softly, and scene. But this was no movie and I was no heroin. I instead defaulted to my “good Christian” script and responded; “Well OK. I hope (this wad) helps.” Trying some semblance of recovery… I stumbled out… What’s your name? “Amanda” she beams. Somehow pleased with being asked her name. “Well Amanda, is it OK if I pray for you?” “Yes, Thank you she smiled softly.” Though… not quite as brightly as the defeat seemed to begin creeping around her edges again. As she went to turn away, she looked over her shoulder and said in earnest, Thank You. God Bless You. To which I offered a sad God Bless You back. As the light changed I saw another car hand her a bottle of water as I whisked away secure in my middle class-ness and not TOO inconvenienced by the moment.  But I was…


I used to hear ministers say God comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. Something that I thought was clearly unfair, if you managed to ever make your way to the comfortable side of the equation. Now however, I think it means that we are never supposed to get so squarely ground in the ease of our life that we can’t be bothered to reach out to comfort those around us. It’s a statement about the nature of God, but even more so a model for the kind of life we’re called to live. I was so afraid of asking what Amanda needed, because of fear that I couldn’t or was unwilling to give her what she sked for. But to my equal surprise & dismay, I had exactly what she sought. I possess what a hurting world is stretching for well beyond a wadded hand: the Love of Christ.

Since that time, I’ve thought of a million things, I’d wished I said her. I wish I would have told her that God needs her and he hasn’t forgotten about her. That she was fearfully and wonderfully made. And that even though life had taken its toll on her, Gods love was waiting to suture her wounds and pour his love into all her broken places. There was this perfect ministry moment and I drove away. Had I only the courage to hold up traffic, pull to the shoulder, hold her hand and lead her to God. She knew what she needed and I knew the way, but fear separated us. In the end she asked God to bless me. Maybe she saw my brokenness and knew that I only knew how to extend myself the length of the charity in my wadded fist.20170601_071927

But in his wisdom, God is using that experience to push me beyond the “comfortable charity” to that of true give-ness. Jesus took his perfection, made it humanity and was broken for our transgressions. Our Savior broke himself to restore us. “This is my body… broken for you.” Maybe God is calling us to dare to bare our wounds of affliction, uncertainty, insufficiency, past rejection, even being taken advantage of by off ramp frequent flyers to dare to restore the world. Ann Voskamp proffers that maybe our hearts are broken because it makes it easier for the love to get in. Imagine that… all this time we live with our wounds hidden and carrying the shame of our fragility, when that is the very place we should begin.

I wish I had dared to show Amanda my wounds. To tell her the story of a woman broken in a million ways by life but restored through the perfect sacrifice of a loving Savior broken for my salvation. I prayed for her as promised but she blessed me more. She blessed me to realize that though we serve a conscientious Savior {Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. Rev.3:20}   He is calling on us to exercise radical faith. {Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Mark 11: 23}

I feel God Stretching me in ways that are causing growing pangs. My life has been filled with great travail, maybe it wasn’t to grind me into dust but to prepare me to share my wounds with the Amanda’s of this world. Grandma used to say anything not growing is dead. Sometimes growth is easy, organic natural….


But sometimes despite the odds, against all efforts to the contrary or by sheer force of will; Grow We Must.

What are you doing with your wounds today?

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