It was my son Cam who pulled me over to room 14 at the rundown motel in downtown Redding. The woman’s partner made a plea for help in the parking lot while standing in line for a warm meal on the drizzly Saturday morning. Cam was moved by his sadness. I was busy elsewhere and missed the conversation but my strong, gentle, compassionate son wouldn’t let it drop.
“We’ve got to find this lady in room 14,” he said.
“I wish we knew where she is,” I said, hoping he would drop it.
You see, I’m getting comfortable talking to, loving and even hugging the homeless and other folks who gather in the motel’s parking lot each Saturday morning. The folding tables and chairs we set up for the community feast are one of six sites run by Bethel church in Redding.
|Finishing up at our community feast in downtown Redding on Saturday|
“It’s right there Dad. That room over there.”
Oh. The one with the number 14 on it. Perfect.
I knocked tentatively. The door opened a crack and then swung wide. A shroud of cigarette smoke billowed out. The room was dark except for the glare from the television. Plastic bins and cardboard boxes filled the room. The floor was covered in wood shavings and cigarette wrappers.
The man Cam met in the lineup invited us in. A woman sat on the bed. A third man, covered in tattoos, lay on a makeshift cot laid across plastic bins. He didn’t get up.
Another woman from our team joined us and sat down on the beside the woman. I knelt down beside her. The sick woman grabbed my hand and pulled it up to the crook of her neck. She squeezed.
Her hair was matted. Her color pale. Hopelessness felt thicker than the smoke.
So we prayed. Her body was broken. Her spirit was buried under immeasurable pain. Only heaven knows what tragedies she has faced.
I felt God telling me she used to swim as a little kid. She loved the freedom in the water. Floating. Limbs moving freely in any direction. Weightless.
“You loved swimming, as a kid.” She started to sob.
“God loves you. He wants you to feel that freedom again.”
And that’s all I could do. Pray and soothe, my friend gently stroking her hair, speaking words of life over her. Her heartache was so heavy.
This past week at school we’ve been learning about joy -- that Jesus didn’t just muscle through the hard times, keeping calm, carrying on. As it says in Hebrews 12, even while hanging on the cross Jesus chose to see heaven and choose joy. Joy gives us heaven’s perspective. Jesus told us in John 15 that He wants us to be completely filled with joy... Always.
All I could do that morning was hold that desperate woman’s hand and plead before God on her behalf. All the evil inflicted on her, all the bad breaks, all the emptiness swirled around me. I couldn’t see hope.
Where does joy come in? How do I bring heaven into that room?
Don't get me wrong. I’m not going to choose to be blind or stupid. Only a fool wouldn’t see the pain and suffering and misery in the world. And there's room in faith for sadness. Jesus wept when his friend died. I hope I always hold hands, pray, and recognize people’s pain. I’m still going to offer a hot meal, a helping hand and I’m going to bring light into darkness.
But just because there’s hopelessness all around doesn’t mean that’s what we have to dwell on. People around us know sadness. They don’t need help finding their pain. They don’t need me to join them in their pit of misery. What people need is joy even in suffering. People want heaven.
I’m going to choose joy.