Sunday, May 6, 2018

Jessica's Story and Mine

Perhaps the greatest stumbling block to the Christian faith is to peacefully accept everything God puts in our lives, and to praise Him with a simple heart through trial and change.  Most of us get shipwrecked by questioning God's providence, and losing faith and hope (and finally, divine charity) amidst trial and suffering.  Jesus gives us, in His own life, the antidote to losing our way, and that is to empty ourselves out in the Desert or on the Cross, to become poor as He once did.  Jesus has spent the last six months or more showing me my poverty, and making me poorer still.  I think it's starting to work.  We resist it, especially us Americans, but eventually humility takes root in the soul for those who keep coming back to Christ.  Eventually we let God be God, and resign ourselves that we are just creatures, albeit His creation invited to "partake in His Divine Nature".  Glory be to God.

Looking back on the last 6-7 months, one episode stands out for signaling the Dark Night that was to come.  While a Dark Night is actually a necessary and blessed grace, I've often wondered, "How did I get to this point?"  Then I always come back to the person of Jessica.  Chris and I first met Jessica along SE 82nd about a year ago.  She was walking along by herself in tiny shorts and had a noticeable limp.  She gratefully accepted our Gatorade, and then explained that her leg was grotesquely swollen because whomever had given her the last hit of heroin was bad with a needle or there were too many impurities in the dope.  We saw her again the next week with a group of addicts, and she tested us by asking if we remembered her name.  Everyone was silent and expectant, as I fumbled about in my brain, but it seemed I would fail the test.  The mood began to fall fast.  Then I heard a subdued voice behind me say, "Jessica."  I turned and pointed triumphantly at Chris, "Yes, he's got it!"  Thank God for Chris!  From that point on we earned the trust of Jessica and the circle of addicts.  That was also the time we met Troy, the young Christian man who became homeless by choice. Troy always stayed close to Jessica and looked out for her, though since he was new to the streets, she had to look out for him, too.  It was easy to see why Troy had a soft spot for her: she was honest and an open book, and they were about the same age.  Please read about Troy here.

We always saw Jessica when we walked SE 82nd, and sometimes I would bring she and her friends Popeye's chicken or pizza.  Her leg began to get worse and then it slowly got better.  I gradually learned more of her story.  She was from Milwaukie, Oregon where it was "much harder to be homeless" due to police harassment, and so she was grateful to have found 82nd.  She had a four year old that she had left behind with her mother, and had no idea where the boy's father was at this point.  They had started out on meth and moved up to heroin.  She had never prostituted though she usually hung out with other users, where there was a lot of "sharing" (to use a euphemism).  Then something changed. Jessica got tired of "jonesing" for dope and decided to prostitute.

The first time I noticed this I was driving by with my little children and so I couldn't stop to talk with her.  My soul cried out in pain, "No!  I have to do something about this!"  Troy couldn't take it either, and so he left and I haven't see him since.  I saw Jessica again the next evening, grotesquely painted up with make-up, and with her swollen leg and all.  I raced home to drop off my children and grabbed my tunic and some money I had gotten from my ATM the evening before.  I put the tunic on while I drove and prayed that I would make it back in time.  I spotted her down by the cheap motels and found a place to park. She had disappeared from sight, and I searched about with determination, ignoring everyone around me. Then I saw her. She was about to drive off with a dope dealer in his early 50s.  I immediately recognized his type from my time in prison and before.  He had once been roguishly good looking, but it's a hard lifestyle.  He even had a "souped up" older model BMW that had seen better days.  Yeah, I knew what he was all about.  Jessica saw me, and asked in surprise, "What are you doing here?"  I instinctively held up the money, and said, "Looking for you."  Her eyes were sad. She pleaded, "Why didn't you come sooner?"  Then there was an opening in traffic and the dealer sped off.

I haven't seen Jessica since and that was over six months ago.  She probably became the live-in girlfriend of the dealer since she was young and clean enough to suit him.  That kind of thing is common enough.  Perhaps she has overdosed and died as have so many young people nowadays.  In any event, I can not save her, nor has God given me that mandate.  She is always in the loving gaze of the Father, and He has a perfect plan for her if only she'll accept His plan of salvation.  I'm positive that His plan does not involve me giving her money to subsidize her drug habit if only she won't prostitute.  I had not done that before and I have not thought of doing it since.  At the time I didn't care whether it was ethical or not, I just felt I HAD TO DO SOMETHING.  But it's not my world and I'm not in charge.  At the time I resented God for once more tearing out my heart and stomping on it.  I declared to God in the depths of my soul, "I can't do this! You're killing me!" From then on I started to walk the streets with a harder heart, with less innocence, with occasional swearing and a grim sense of humor.  Then the Dark Night began to fall right on time.

I've since understood that we are precisely called to open our hearts so that they are wounded.  We are called to open our hearts to our suffering brothers and sisters, just as Jesus exposes His pierced Sacred Heart.  It is a sacrifice pleasing to God, and it is sharing in His divine life.  It is also painful.

Here comes the pain...
Sometimes we are wounded by love and it is a beautiful thing.  Just the other day at the grocery store I ran into a neighbor I often see but have never spoken to.  She's a seventy year old Ukrainian immigrant woman who dresses like a peasant from the Old World.  Her son has Down syndrome, a perpetually twisted hand, and lives at home.  He likes to sweep the sidewalks and driveways.  He is well-looked after.  I made eye contact with the old woman and smiled.  She smiled back with the clear, pure eyes of the holy ones.  For an instant, her square, gray face became beautiful with divine life.  I looked away and began to weep from witnessing the divine beauty within this faithful mother.  I hid my tears from the public but I was grateful that my heart was now soft and open to God's ways, open to His Plan.  Glory be to God.