We’re enjoying the city right now. I’ve spent many an afternoon on the road between my neighborhood and Evanston, the seasonal blooms took my breath away. Cherry, crabapple, dogwood and every kind of ivy. Those blooms have become cool shade. The ivy on Northwestern’s buildings is in full leaf…
Last night we attended the first BBQ of the year for our church Advance Group…ages 18-30, married or not. We came early to help set up. While Bruce was filling up propane tanks with one of the young guys, I happened to see a small, older woman stop by our outdoor meeting area. Its actually a parking lot for handicapped and single moms but we use it for events when needed. She looked a little lost so I wandered over to talk to her.
White hair, slippers, socks, frayed baggy shorts and what looked like a PJ top. No teeth, very thin and about 4ft 9 inches.
“What’s going on here?” she asked me
“A young adult BBQ, we’re a church group” I replied
A bit of a pause from her then she launched into her personal story as follows…
“I’m so hungry, I got $700-no, $900 stole from my wallet and I just got out of the hospital, I’m dying of cancer. My boss is going to pay my rent and help me with food but not till next week. I just wish someone would give me a meal”, her face crumbled, tears threatened.
“Well…” I put my arm around her shoulders and said, “I can walk over to Walgreen’s with you and buy you some food if that will help”
“I don’t know how much money you have” (face uncrumbled)
“It really doesn’t matter…can you walk that far?”
“Oh yes! I can walk all the way from 6 Corners, I keep myself going all the time”
“What’s your name?”
“I thought I should use it while we walk to the store”
“Oh, it’s Joan”
“Hi Joan, I’m Cinda”
And we head off in the direction of Walgreen’s, half a block away. She talks to me the entire time, telling me pieces of her life story. She has 5 children (though they don’t talk to her). A boyfriend of 39 yrs (but she’s not living with him and won’t). She’s 76 yrs old (thank you Jesus that my parents care for themselves, they look a decade younger and are 2 yrs older). Worked as a maid at the hotel across the street from our church (it has bad cockroaches). She doesn’t believe in lying you should always tell the truth (agree). She likes to smoke.
When I asked her where she worked (thinking it might shed light on who was going to pay her rent) a grumbly comment about stipends and lawyers tumbled out. I nodded, it sort of confirmed my inkling that she was either experiencing homelessness (that’s the PC way to say it now, we go by what people are experiencing rather than labeling them, so I’m experiencing permanent residency) or that she was simply without funds and needed some help.
As we entered Walgreen’s she was worried they’d make her leave because of the styrofoam cup of Pepsi she carried. I assured her she’d be fine, then picked up a basket and began to peruse the food aisles. She found a couple of pieces of fresh cake, carrot and red velvet and some bananas. I asked if she liked cheese but she said it “plugs me up”. She said she was anemic so I looked for something with iron, fortified juice? Nope. She beelined to the Pepsi bottles, eyes lighting like sparklers. I didn’t argue, calories seemed her most urgent need.
She dropped another tidbit of info, a pack of cigarettes will last her a month! Isn’t that amazing?! I nodded and kept looking. We bought frozen meatloaf and pasta, she said she had a microwave in her hotel room. Since her hotel probably rates 1/2 star on Yelp F I was encouraged. When we got to the checkout I asked the cashier to put things in 2 bags so she could carry them easier and then, the big question…
Would I buy her a pack of her favorite cigarettes and a lighter?
I’ve never purchased a pack of cigarettes in my life.
I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Sure”. I don’t even remember the brand, I was busy keeping Joan from wandering while she asked the guy next to us, (who was experiencing bigness) if he was a Sox fan. Her joy at his “yes” was infectious.
We left, she chattered. I kept my hand on her shoulder to keep her from walking into traffic and as we approached the place we met she told me how much she appreciated what I did. This time there were genuine tears as she grasped my hand.
I told her, “God loves you, you know”
“Oh I know! I’m Catholic so I got religion. I just don’t think anyone should push it on someone if they don’t want it”
“Would you be comfortable if I prayed for you?”
“In the shade” (big grin)
So we moved to the doorway of our church offices and I prayed very simply that God would show her that he loves her and help meet her needs. That he would give her comfort in this season of her life and direct her to the best help for her situation.
She kissed me on the cheek
We approached the parking lot where more and more young people were gathering. She started off toward a group of our young guys
“They’re too young for you Joan”
“The younger the better!”
“Then you’re too much woman for them”
With a cackle from her we parted and though I offered to find someone to drive her home she refused saying she had a bus pass she could use if she got tired. She asked if she’d be welcome in our church? I loved that I could confidently answer “YES” and I invited her to come. She said she just might someday.
I hope and pray she does