By Melissa Elizondo
The woman comes up to us with her child asking for money. One of the guys my husband works with offers it to her. “She’s got children. I can’t say no,” he says. But the place is home to a city with one of the biggest drug problems in the Midwest and we’ve seen more than our fair share of scam artists with a sign saying one thing and a whole bunch of Facebook photos saying another.
One of the guys at a church dinner tells of having to put a cap to offering free food to the homeless. Too easy to get taken advantage of. More memorable was the story of a pastor who had a woman come up to him with a demand. “I’m depressed. Fix it,” she said.
In a place where there was a plethora of churches, the man leading a youth group was trying to convey the importance of following God. But all he knew was that it was something his parents passed down to him. One of those antiques that you put on your shelf and get out around holidays. Not exactly the kind of Sunday school answer you’re looking for.
But in a place where fifty percent of guys were unemployed and getting a job at the grocery store was impossible, you find yourself looking for answers regardless. That is what people do and I still remember a psychology professor telling me people remembered lists when they were put in a meaningful way. No matter how much you can tell children they should remember something or do something “just because...,” if it’s not meaningful for them, it doesn’t matter.
It was on a chilly day at the beginning of fall and I’m driving past some people holding signs for money. It’s a familiar site at this point, but I’d been listening to some lady talking about hanging with the homeless and I didn’t have much to lose. So I pull over. Buy lunch at Arbys. Hang out for a bit. Attempt to be human for a while.
What happened next was one of those moments that I couldn’t quite understand. Cause the guy with no teeth walks with me to Arbys. He helps me carry the food. Tells me about the people he’s with. “They’re good guys. Not like a lot of other sorts.” Mostly, he talks about Jesus. He tells me he used to be on drugs. Addicted to all kinds of stuff that I don’t remember. But then, he surrendered his life to Jesus and the addiction was gone. Just like that.
The man is very chatty, but in a pleasant way, and he talks about losing his teeth in a prison fight. It means he’s constantly overlooked for jobs. The girl he’s with? He tells me he’d die for her even though she’s recovering from a lot of pain from her last relationship. At some point, I ask the obliging question of whether or not he has a Bible. He tells me he reads it from cover to cover. Not like some of the church people who just talk about the message the pastor gave. He’s quite cheery as he says this.
He also tells me not to just give money to anyone cause most of the town is on drugs – and is getting worse. It’s one of those things that challenges my conception of how I think the world should be – and just where exactly God fit into a world like this. He tells me about a church down the street buying some of them pizza. “And you know they didn’t have to do it.”
Somewhere in the midst of the conversation, I find my world view changed, thrown off kilter of the usual trek. Cause in the world I was living in? It’s a constant quest to make sure I’m living up to – something. I’m not, of course. Not by anyone’s definition. Yet somehow – I find myself having a conversation with a guy who doesn’t question me with all the laser like precision I’m used to finding – and then just looking away when I fail to meet some criteria I could never quite pinpoint.
Where exactly is God in a world like this? I don’t know – but sometimes when I find myself caught in “the struggle to be enough”, I wonder what it means to really accept others as they are – the way I yearn to be accepted. The way Jesus accepts us as we are in the moment we are us. I don’t always find the answer I wish I would, tied up neat like a package with a bow and strings.
But sometimes I find that strange sense of finding that substance I want to see on this earth, that person I want to see –- the only one who – can take all we are as we are and refuse to let go 'til we shine like the stars in the heavens.
The strangest thing though – is it always looks just like you and me – in the moment when we love each other – as we are – in the moment we are us.