After a quick trip to Target for a handful of items, Thad met us at the door just like he always does and I caught the whiff of something I recognized as familiar but not exactly 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 her body of nothing more than bones, sinew, and transparent flesh.
I pulled up a chair just as she began to vomit the entire weight of her sin on the table.
I’m not okay. I’ve been using. I’ve been doing all kinds of things to get the drugs. I miss my kids. If I don’t get this right I’m going to die. I need to get out of this place. I’ve been living with a man and he scares me and I feel this heavy evil spirit when I’m in his house. 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 heroin and I ain’t ready to go back to jail. I haven’t used since Monday and I’d love something to eat. But nothing heavy. My stomach’s been acting up on me. I can’t keep doing this. I am going to die.
I rose from the table to hide out in the kitchen long enough to pull myself together and to prepare some salad greens and grilled chicken. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t stop my hands from shaking and my heart from beating out of my chest. I couldn’t help but replay her sins in my mind and count the ways she’d manipulated others in order to simply survive. I could not stop thinking about the possibility of Hepatitis C or AIDS or STDs. I couldn’t stop the fear that I felt creeping up the back of my neck and the anger I felt at the unspoken expectation that I would indeed house her and then get her to Portland. I couldn’t subdue the judgment in my soul towards her.But I also could not quiet the mercy, once poured out for me.
I served her the salad with four kinds of dressing and wheat thins and noticed as she chose the French. She talked a mile a minute while she ate and I knew her teeth must have ached with each bite. She shoveled in fork after fork of romaine and I watched as each forkful was carefully placed in her mouth to avoid certain teeth. I stopped hearing the words she was saying and only focused on her face. And for an hour, I studied her.
Her face was etched in lines, making her thirty-nine years look more like sixty-five. Her skin was deep brown from years of being in the sun and her eyes were cloudy, almost glazed over. Her brown hair hung limp around her shoulders and her scalp begged for a long, hot shower. Her shoulders sagged, her smallish chest appearing concave against the edge of the table and I couldn’t help but feel the weight of her humanity and my own.And somewhere between us and the table, I quit counting her sins against her and began counting God’s mercies upon her.
I counted her humble spirit and her willingness to confess wrongdoings. I counted her love for her children and her relentless pursuit of sobriety despite heroin’s grip on her. I counted her devout commitment to Jesus and her brazen belief that to die is Christ. I counted her years of heroin addiction and all the years of trusting that Christ was bigger than the addiction even when it appeared that heroin was winning. I counted the lines on her face as lines of wisdom and the glazed over look in her eyes as eyes set on the prize. I counted her aching teeth as the thorns in her flesh and the man not her husband as the means by which Jesus reminded her that He had not left her. And I counted her broken humanity as surrender and not a lifetime of sin catching up to her.
Sometime before 10pm, my friend posed the two questions she came to ask: Could I stay here tonight and could you help me get to Portland?
And without skipping a beat, 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. Unless you decide you’d rather stay here. We’d love to have you.