She caught my eye that day as I drove home from work, the young girl slumped sideways on a street bench, knees clutched to her chest. Here’s someone utterly at the end, I thought.
The girl’s plight distressed me. She needs someone to sit by her, a quiet, unmistakable voice said. I changed lanes and halted at the traffic light.
Seriously, Lord? It’s been a long day at work, and 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 getting better at hearing my voice?
Well, here’s 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 around the block as slowly as possible, but the girl on the bench reappeared again. Rats. Once more I circled to find parking, then having locked my purse in the trunk, I fortified myself with a deep inhale and started across the street. I can’t believe I’m really doing this, Lord.
From a distance I noticed that the girl, wearing a sun hat and a plaid black and white coat, now sat tucked under an umbrella. It was not raining, and the bench stood under a building overhang. A black garbage bag, half-filled, sprawled next to her on the ground.
I approached quietly and lowered myself on a nearby bench to get my bearings. How was I actually going to 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 shall 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. An idea came to me. Okay, here goes.
“I want you to know you’re not alone,” I said softly, slipping in next to her.
No response; only muffled sobs.
Whew, did it. I shifted to a more comfortable position. Now what, Lord?
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 in 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?
Somehow this felt like the right course of action. 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 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, crying. Was it time to leave? 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. Eager to interact, I slipped off the bench and crouched in front of her.
“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 before,” 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’s 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 the meaning of your name? It’s so beautiful—it means pity. But you must be tired,” Lori 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 hugged her tight as we bowed our heads. A surge of emotion rose to my throat, and for a moment I could not speak. Then I said, “Lord, please protect and provide for Lori. Bless her. Help her know how much she is loved . . . “
When I finished, Lori prayed too. Then we sat quietly for a moment watching the traffic. I wondered what to do next, so I asked, “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 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. For a while I kept a blanket in the car to give 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, is keeping watch over you and me.
Please note: Names and identifying features of the persons in this story have been changed to protect privacy.