On Thursday, after a full day of babies and neighbors and a throw together dinner, the older girls and I slipped out to Target for a hairdryer, coffee, rice cakes and shampoo. I splurged on two vanilla bean frappuccinos and one skinny iced caramel macchiato because I had a coupon and a gift card and because I’m down to only four more summers with my oldest before she leaves my nest. We piddled around for an hour, slurping our drinks and eyeballing the clearance shelves, before heading back to the house sometime after eight o’clock.
Thad met us at the door just like he always does and I caught the whiff of something I recognized as familiar but not home. I searched his face from the edge of the front porch, trying to read what I already knew. We had a guest.
With bags in tow, the girls and I crossed the threshold to see the mere shadow of a woman sitting at our table. We’d not seen her in six months. She was in a tank top and sweat pants and I could count every knob on every bone in her arms and on her back. I stooped to hug her hello, feeling the full weight of bones, sinew, and flesh in no more than ninety pounds.
I pulled up a chair to ask her the questions I already knew the answers to. No, I’m not okay. Yes, I’ve been using. Yes, I’ve been doing all kinds of things to get the drugs. I miss my kids. If I don’t get this right this time I’m going to die. I need to get out of this place. I want to get to Portland where my husband is and I’m willing to hitchhike all the way there. You know all those times I’ve been in jail and I’ve read my Bible and got right with the Lord. I know Jesus has saved me but I can’t quit and I ain’t ready to go back to jail. No, I haven’t used since Monday. Yes, I’d love something to eat. But nothing heavy. My stomach’s been acting up on me. I can’t keep doing this. I’m going to die and I am okay with that. If it’s my time to go, it’s my time to go and anything is better than this mess.
I rose from the table to hide out in the kitchen long enough to prepare a some salad greens and grilled chicken. And then I asked myself the questions I already knew the answers to. Yes, she can stay here. I can flip the corner bed in no time. I can get her clothes washed while I fix the bed. I don’t get to say no. No is not an option. No, she’s not dangerous. We’ll check her bags to make sure she’s clean. I don’t want her to die in my house. It’s only one night. Tomorrow we’ll put her on a bus to Portland. I don’t get to know the purpose of all of this. I don’t know what I’m doing. We can’t make her stay. We can’t fix this.
I served her the salad with four kinds of dressing and wheat thins and noticed she chose the french. She talked a mile a minute for an hour before posing the question I knew was coming: Could I stay here tonight or could you help me get to Portland?
Thad and I both nodded yes to both requests.
You can stay the night and we’ll get you on the first bus to Portland.
This morning, as I struggle to find the words to write here, I’m overwhelmed with the simple complexity of following Jesus’. It’s simple in that we do what Jesus commands and He commands us to love our neighbors. But it’s complex in that we’re not given directions on how to love them. We’re not given one loophole or one out or one except those neighbors. Jesus doesn’t give us a how-to manual of things to do and not to do and a long list of troubleshooting options.
Jesus doesn’t even command that we all demonstrate love in the same ways. He just commands that we love.
Last Thursday, when faced with a friend who needed a place to stay and a bus ride out of town, we wrestled with the second part of loving our neighbor. Giving her a place to stay was an absolute yes because Jesus commands that we house the poor wanderer. But intentionally putting this girl on a bus headed to Oregon to live in a tent with her husband at The Grotto was harder. What if something happened to her on the way there? What if she started using again? What if her husband was gone by the time she arrived? The what ifs were daunting.
Thad and I spent hours talking with our friend late into the night. We know her. We are certain of her salvation in Jesus. She knows the Bible. It’s written on her heart and she recalls it easily. We also know the thorn in her flesh is heroin. We know heroin has eaten her up and spit her back out a fractured woman in need of the kind of deliverance we cannot give her.
And we know that a sovereign God, who holds her life in His hands, has the power to deliver her straight out of the hell she has made for herself and right into his presence.
The outcome is not ours and we don’t get to know God’s purpose in any of it. We don’t even get to pray selfish prayers or manipulate circumstances to give people what we believe to be their best shot in life.
We simply get to love our neighbors and steward our time with them well. We get to feed their aching tummies and quench their parched tongues. We get to sit with them in the hard parts of life and give them safe places to lay their heads. We get to visit them behind bars and in mental wards and rehab centers. We get to speak truth into their lives and point them to Jesus.
But we don’t get to choose how God delivers them.
And that’s the beautiful, heart breaking truth.