I spent the last two days at a conference called “Why Christian 2016”. The speakers at this conference answer the question as to why they are still Christian in a world that seems to be so filled with hate and sorrow, in a Christian climate that is so filled with division, in a Church that seems to judge everyone that they can’t fit into their tiny little description of what Christians should be. Every speaker had a different answer and every answer was meaningful and valid.
As I sat listening to the speakers, I became determined that my next blog post would be my answer as to why I am still a Christian. I was certain that I knew exactly how I wanted to answer the question, but this evening when I sat down to write it felt like everything had changed.
The conference started on a high point and I was thrilled to be there with a friend. The longer the conference went on, however, the more pain I felt. Each speaker seemed to stir up more and more of my past, touching the painful places until I was raw. By lunch on the second day of the conference I was aching, crying, and emotionally exhausted. My colleague in ministry left the conference early, emotionally overwhelmed from hearing so much about pain and loss when so much of her life and her ministry has been colored by pain and loss (her own and that of others.) I felt alone and rejected after she left (silly, I know) and at the same time certain that I needed to stay and see the conference out to its end.
After the final worship was over, I headed back to my hotel, determined to have a quiet evening. I decided to catch up on my reading and order room service, since I had no one to accompany me out to dinner. I got my email…I read for a while…I tried to watch TV to no avail…and then I found myself googling an old friend’s favorite Chicago restaurants. She had grown up in Chicago and had recently been back to visit; she had raved about returning to favorite restaurants and I was determined to taste the heaven she had described in her Facebook posts. A few minutes on Google and I discovered that Lou Malnati’s, famous for its deep dish (Chicago style) pizza was close enough to my hotel that I could walk there, so I headed out to snag my dinner. So what if I was alone for the night? I took a book and I figured that I wasn’t enough company for myself I’d just strike up a conversation with a stranger.
The pizza was delicious and my book was more than enough to keep me occupied during dinner. I had them box up my leftovers so that I could head back to my hotel. In the dark I got confused and failed to turn on Walton Street. When I realized that I had missed the turn, I simply headed east on the next street I could find, knowing I would have to backtrack a little to get to my hotel. It was the best thing that happened to me all night, because if I hadn’t missed my turn, I wouldn’t have been on Delaware Street at all!
As I headed down Delaware Street I encountered the best dressed homeless woman I had ever seen. She was obviously homeless, holding a cardboard sign and cup to gather donations. As I passed her, I suddenly turned and asked if she would like my leftover pizza. Her eyes lit up and she said “Yes!” I pulled my book from the leftovers bag and handed everything else over to her. I told her that I was glad to share with her since I was plenty full; I let her know there a half of pizza left and told her I hoped that would be enough to fill her up.
“My name is Patricia” she blurted out.
“Hello Patricia! My name is Tina! If you don’t mind my asking, how did you end up homeless?”
I stood with her and listened to her story. I sat down so she could eat her meal while she talked to me, but she told me that her knees wouldn’t allow her to sit easily, and if she sat she wouldn’t be able to stand again for quite a while. I stood back up and she told me that her husband left her, taking pretty much everything she owned. She told me that she ended up homeless when he left. I told her that she seemed to have gotten a raw deal in the divorce. She agreed.
After she told me her story, I told her that I was in town for a Christian conference. She revealed that she had accepted Christ into her life at the age of eleven, but that she had struggled with her faith since then. “I’m a backslider” she confessed. She said that confessing her sin was incredibly important to her, because she knew that she couldn’t be forgiven until she confessed.
I remembered a quote from one of the preachers earlier that day in the conference. “Do you remember when we were young women?” I asked, “Remember how they used to say that ‘True love waits’?? I know they were talking about sex and all” I told her, “but one of the preachers today said that he realized that it means so much more than that. Patricia, God doesn’t leave us when we backslide. God stands right behind us, saying ‘I’m right here when you’re ready.’ True love really does wait…because God waits for us to return to Him, and He never leaves us, no matter how hard we work to leave Him.”
“That is such good news!” Patricia was starting to cry.
“That sounds like good news to me, too.” Then I asked if I could pray for her.
We spent a good 10 minutes together, holding hands and praying as people passed us by. I prayed about her past and all the pain she had endured. I prayed that God would help her know that she is His precious little girl, and that nothing she can do will ever make Him leave her. I prayed that God would help her find a safe place to sleep this night, and that God would help her find a safe place to stay so that she could have a bed and roof every single night. I prayed that God would reveal her next steps to her. And then I thanked God mightily that my circumstances, which I had thought were unfortunate, had led me to this encounter with Patricia. I thanked God for allowing us to meet, and for blessing me with some time with Patricia.
When I finished my prayer I realized that both Patricia and I were crying. She hugged me and I hugged her back. We talked for a few more minutes and I shared some of my cash with her so that she could take care of her personal needs. We talked a little more and then we hugged again.
I know that you might think I got taken advantage of, that I gave away my money to someone who will only drink it or smoke it or shoot it into her veins. I realize that you may feel I was foolish or put myself in harms way. It doesn’t matter to me.
I met Jesus on the street tonight in the body of a beautiful black women who was hungry for human contact and love and prayer. Before she let me go she looked me in the eyes and said “I love you!” and I smiled at her and said “I love you too!” I really meant it, and I know that she did too.
I met Jesus on the street tonight. I shared some of my time and my resources with Him and then I praised Him as I finished walking to the hotel, because I am blessed, so blessed to have been allowed to share that moment with Patricia.
Some people say that they are Christian because Jesus loved them first. I like that idea, but that’s not my reason.
Why am I a Christian? Because Jesus will meet me in the strangest places, just to share dinner with me when I feel a little alone. And if that isn’t love, I don’t know what is!