She came hoping

She sat on the floor, leaning against the floor-to-ceiling windows of the arena, scooping out an avocado with a plastic spoon and feeding bits of it to her young daughter.

I was reading a book, personal space boundaries drawn. It was her daughter who crossed  those boundaries first.

The one-year old eased up alongside me and asked, “Whatzat?”

She pointed at the book.

“It’s a story,” I replied. “About a climber.”

Her blue eyes danced.

She did not understand that the book I held in my hands was the recounting of a relentless tragedy — Holding Fast by Karen James.  A story of climbers killed atop Mount Hood in 2006. James was one of the speakers at Women of Faith, a conference I attended in Portland over the weekend.

Thus far, the young girl who nuzzled herself between my shoulder and the glass pane, lives freely, unaware of death and the tragedies that await her.

“Outside,” she calls to her mother. “Outside.” She pushes her face up against  the glass as if she’s capable of willing herself right on through it into the drizzle beyond.

A dark-headed woman, scoots across the floor to retrieve her child. I put the book down. There are people in my orb. People who need to be noticed. I do my best to notice them.

The woman begins talking. Like Cheerios dumped, her story rolls out beyond both our reach.

She came alone to the event. Well, just her and the babe.  But now that she’s here, she’s not sure she wants to be. She has a difficult time with organized churchy things. Tears well in her dark eyes. Her legs are folded underneath her. Her hands move rapidly, bird-wings flitting, over her thighs or up to her mouth or out to her sides or after her daughter.

She speaks with the intensity of a politician at a fundraiser. It seems like everything she says is of utmost importance, but trying to keep track of it all is like counting the grans of sands on the bottom of one’s feet — yeah, good luck with that.

She likes music. She came for the worship. But she tried to find someone, anyone to eat lunch with and out of the thousands here, no one invited her to join them. Here among all these women with matchy-matchy t-shirts, with church names imprinted right on them, she felt like an outsider.

She doesn’t just feel like an outsider — here she is an outsider. A single mother, working part-time at a department store, a former meth user and drunk, she came close to losing her son. She weeps when she recalls how her three- year old would urge her, “Mommy, let’s go to church.”

And when she speaks of the day she looked into the rearview mirror of the car and didn’t recognize herself.

“My eyes were dead. Vacant. It scared me.”

She quit the meth all on her own, she says, through the grace of God and with the help from Jesus.

Gave up the pot smoking and drinking too, along the way.

Where’s the t-shirt for that?

She won’t say the word church in front of her daughter.

“I don’t want her to think that church is the place you go to see Jesus. He doesn’t live in a building. He is with us everywhere we go.”

“Can I pray with you?” I asked.

“Oh, I’d love that,” she replied.

She didn’t need anything, not money or a ride somewhere or even a book to read. She just wants to be a part of a community. She wants to matter to someone.

She thought she might find that, here, among her people.

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  • Debbie W

    Gosh – I know how she feels.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Debbie: I think each of us probably knows how she feels. It’s a lonely world.

  • Diane

    Karen: Thanks for being “Jesus with skin on!”

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Does that make Jesus an overweight menopausal redneck or does the thought of that make me a heretic?

      • Diane

        After reading the Shack, that description would work for me…..more likely, than the pictures I’ve seen of Jesus where he looks like a blond, long-haired Charles Atlas.

  • I’m so very, very glad she found you — and that you found her. In deep ways that matter most, that’s church right there.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Yep. Church on the Floor.

  • Nice of you to be a good listener and most importantly a Christian who cares. Sometimes it seems some Christians get so caught up in their own world they forget to notice the obvious – or not so obvious – environment around them. I totally agree with Eleanor.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      And I think you could take the word Christian and replace it with human and still come out with the same observations…
      How was the anniversary, Buddy?

      • Oh, it was pretty romantic…we worked in the concession stand with the band boosters at the football game. I was up to my elbows in hot chocolate. Came home and passed out from exhaustion. Saturday we had a nice dinner with the in-laws and a friend at our house and visited. Sweet time. Thanks for asking. Oh and yes, you’re right about that human/Christian word replacement!

  • The question in the Jacobean English still rings in my mind: “Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink…, etc.” Not so much about “believing” as following, isn’t it?

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Roger: Love this thought about believing vs. following. You are so right and loved your comments about your mama. What an amazing woman. You are so blessed.

    • The Old Sponsor

      Roger, you are as ever – spot on!

  • Patti W

    Oh Karen,
    You were there for that moment. I’m so glad that she found you. Thanks for telling her story.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      I’m the one who needed it — a reminder that among us everyday are the walking wounded.

  • Lori

    Thank you for posting this. We forget that there are people who need us to just notice them.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Lori: That old Betty Boop song says it best — All I want to do is be loved by you.

  • Pat

    She’s not alone. Even some of us active in a church community are still considered and treated like outsiders.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      We are not as good at building community as we’d like to believe we are.

  • Tiffany Lucus

    I used to tell my Grandma that if I felt as welcome in a Church as I did in a bar I would come more often. I have since realized that it is about me reaching out as well, however it can be a scary place. I still get light headed and a little sick feeling when I walk in on Sundays. I feel like not only can everyone see the ugly, they are judging me for it, maybe I didn’t dress right, maybe I clapped at the wrong time, maybe I don’t know the words to all the songs.
    I could have used to find someone like you in church many years ago. Someone who listened even though I didn’t have the t-shirt.
    Thank you for this post! It really hit home.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      I only know how to do that because someone did it for me once…