Jesus Walks the Streets
She caught my eye that day as I drove home from work, the young girl sitting on a street bench, slumped sideways, knees clutched to her chest. Immediately a phrase struck me as if planted in my mind: “Utterly at the end.”
As I maneuvered through traffic, the girl’s plight kept troubling me. Suddenly the Lord said, She needs someone to sit by her.
What? Lord, it’s been a long day at work, and besides, I want to get home.
You still have an hour before dinner.
But I was going to run an errand.
You can do it another time.
But plopping down next to a complete stranger? That’s weird!
Remember your recent prayer about wanting to get better at hearing my voice?
Well, here is your chance.
Maybe this isn’t really your voice?
The only way to find out is to obey.
But I wasn’t expecting you to ask me to do something so random! What if it’s not safe?
Will you take the risk or not?
I sighed, Okay, Lord, I’ll circle around. If she’s still there, I’ll do it, but otherwise not! So went my lame attempt at a fleece.
I drove as slowly as possible around the block and Oh drat, she had not moved. Once more I circled to find a parking spot. Maybe by now she had wandered off? No. So I locked my car, put my purse in the trunk, and took a deep breath. I can’t believe I’m really doing this, Lord.
From a distance I noticed that the girl, wearing a cream-colored sun hat and a black and white plaid coat, now sat tucked under an umbrella though it was not raining, and the bench stood outside City Hall under the building overhang. A black, half-filled garbage bag sprawled on the ground.
I approached quietly and decided to sit on a bench nearby to get my bearings. How was I going to actually go over there? The girl appeared motionless, but then I noticed her shoulders heaving and heard choked sobs.
Suddenly all my fears vanished and everything inside me softened. Oh, Lord, how can I help? What do I do next?
My only instructions had been to sit with her. She occupied most of the bench, and the small space remaining would place me only an inch or so from her back.
Lord, I don’t want her to be frightened when I move in that close. He gave me the idea to say something soothing as I approached. I took a deep breath. Okay, here goes.
As I slipped in next to her I quietly said, “I want you to know that you’re not alone.”
No response, only muffled sobs.
Whew, did it. Now what? The Lord seemed to indicate I just wait.
The minutes ticked by. She continued crying. I continued waiting. This is going on a long time, Lord. Is this really all I’m supposed to do? He seemed in no hurry. Then I won’t do or say anything unless you prompt me. The situation seemed so strange, unpredictable, and possibly risky, that I was very motivated to make no move apart from his direction.
Time felt suspended as I began silently interceding for this dear one. Comfort her, Lord. You see her grief. After a while, I took in our surroundings. Occasionally people walked by, and a few feet away rush hour traffic hummed along, but no one seemed to notice us. However, we must have been a strange sight—a middle-aged woman wearing a long, black business coat cozied next to a transient huddled under an umbrella.
The lack of attention was certainly a relief, but it was also puzzling. It seemed as if God had placed an invisible shield around us so that He could work undisturbed.
She continued to cry. Isn’t there anything more I can do? She is so heartbroken. Would touch help?
The Lord seemed to endorse this course of action, so I gently placed my hand on her back. She did not react and continued on as before. I was shocked by her bony frame. She seemed too frail and her coat too thin to be outside on a cold winter’s day. Lord, I know you love her so much. Please help. I continued praying silently, and it felt more and more comfortable to be with her without needing to say anything.
After some time I added my other hand and from then on kept both hands on her back. Sometimes I gently massaged her shoulders. How badly I wanted her to know that she was not alone in her time of need.
My arms soon tired from the odd position, however, and I was getting cold. I wondered if the girl was crying in some kind of drug stupor. She did not seem aware of my presence. If she “came to,” would she suddenly turn hostile? I could not imagine how this encounter would end. Lord, I really don’t know what I’m doing—you are going to have to guide this whole thing. It was your idea anyway.
The girl’s quiet sobbing did not stop. After some time, words formed in my mind. Softly I said, “I’m so, so sorry.”
Still no response. Still more waiting.
Soon forty minutes had elapsed and nothing had changed. She remained motionless, tucked into herself under the umbrella, crying. Was it time to leave? I checked in with the Lord and felt impressed to try one last time to reach her.
I leaned in close. “Is there anything I can do?”
Suddenly she stirred and seemed to say something. I slipped off the bench to crouch down in front of her, eager to interact.
“Would you mind repeating what you said?”
She raised her head, and to my surprise, I was looking into the tear-stained face of a pretty woman in her 30’s with a deep scar under her left eye.
“Are you a Christian?” she asked with awe in her voice.
Why are these her first words? “Yes,” I stammered.
Her demeanor was soft, open. “What church do you attend?”
I told her.
“Oh, I think I might have attended there in the past,” she said.
I did not want to get side-tracked with a conversation about church, so I reached up and gently touched her arm, “Do you know how much God loves you? He sent me to you because He did not want you to be alone in your grief. He has not forgotten you.”
She nodded, then smiled, “I don’t think it’s ever happened that someone put their hand on my back!”
“I assure you, I’ve never done this before.”
“You haven’t?” She seemed genuinely surprised.
“Absolutely not. That’s so not me.”
We both chuckled. I told her how God had prompted me as I drove by, repeating his message of love and care for her. She began to tell me her life’s story. There had been abandonment, failed relationships, and trauma.
“Things have been so bad the last three months,” she said, “and today City Hall denied my last hope for help. If you hadn’t come, I don’t know what . . . ” Her voice trailed off, and she looked away.
“God sees and he cares,” I reassured her. “No matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done, he loves you.”
“Yes, it is wonderful that God sent Jesus to die for us,” she said. So she knows the gospel!
We talked more. Finally I said, “Is there anything I can do for you?”
She shook her head. “No, but you could pray for me.”
“I will. Would you like me to pray with you right now?”
Her face shone and she nodded. “My name is Lori. What is your name?”
“Oh,” she said, “Do you know what your name means?” Before I could reply she said, “It’s so beautiful. It means pity.” I’d never heard this meaning before, but apparently it held special significance to her.
“You must be so tired,” she said patting the place next to her. “Please sit by me.” I was relieved to straighten my cramped legs and did as she asked. Right there on the street, with all the traffic noise, the comings and goings, I held her tight and prayed fervently. Then haltingly, she also prayed.
I wondered what to do next. “Do you need a ride somewhere, perhaps the Mission?”
“No, they’ve rejected me, but don’t worry, I’ll be fine.”
I did not sense that the Lord wanted me to take her home. “I hate leaving you like this. Are you sure there’s nothing more I can do for you?”
“No, but when you think of me, would you pray for me?”
I promised that I would.
It was time to say goodbye. I said some final encouraging words, gave her one last hug, and then rose to go. I walked a few steps, then looked back and saw that she had tucked under the umbrella again. Jesus, please protect her.
As I headed to the car, my chest felt tight and my throat constricted. Lord, you walk the streets and find ways to minister to a single lost sheep like that? How great is your love, your mercy, your kindness! Oh, and I had so nearly missed out on doing this with you! How many God-opportunities had I passed by over the years because I wasn’t paying attention, because I was unwilling to take the time, or because I was too afraid of making a fool of myself?
To this day I have not forgotten my new friend’s name. When I see a homeless person, I often think of her and try to remember to say a prayer like I promised. For a while I kept a blanket in the car to give to her, but I never saw her again.
It has been several years since our encounter, but surely the God whose eye is on the sparrow, who does not slumber nor sleep, has kept watch over her.
Please note: Names and identifying features in this story have been changed to protect privacy.