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.