I get to see Jesus a lot. On Tuesday I got to see Him in a woman named Sparkle.
Sparkle is probably in her 70s, I'm terrible at gaging people's age. She comes into Network often enough that we've developed a friendship, I sat with her for a long time last week and we talked about faith.
It's really incredible to witness truly childlike faith, and I see it the most at Network. I guess there's something about being in a place in life where you honestly have nothing, that you learn to rely entirely on the only One who has ever really loved you. It's a faith that I struggle to access, because I have people and possessions, a home, work, to fill the huge gap loneliness leaves in our souls.
Sparkle has really beautiful faith. She grew up Catholic. She told me on Tuesday she's still trying to work it all out. "I'm really good at giving other people advice, telling them how to trust God. But then I doubt, I don't know how to take my own advice."
Her short, white, frizzy hair was stored under a red felt winter hat that day, grey sweatpants pulled over Ugg-style boots. Her black skin is actually quite smooth for someone who has been on the streets for over 20 years, maybe she isn't in her 70s. I'm so bad at guessing ages.
Sparkle sat over in a chair at a square table near the window. She was talking on the phone loudly and excitedly, drawing my attention away from washing mugs.
"I've got my housing! I've got my housing!"
On various waiting lists for months, years, in and out of temporary places to stay, Sparkle was learning she could finally be inside. Just last week we were talking about how hard it is for someone of her age to live on the streets.
She came over to the counter and I leaned over it to talk with her. We talked about how hard it was to be a woman on the streets. A black woman on the streets. A black, elderly, disabled woman on the streets. "I'm tough though," she told me, explaining that she can hold her own.
As we talked, tears squeezed out of her eyes, sliding slowly down her cheeks. "I'm crying because I'm happy! I just can't believe it. I hope nothing goes wrong..."
So afraid something would go wrong. We talked about her fear. I held out my hands to her, held hers in mine. I reminded her of my favorite Bible verse, that "there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear."
It's really hard for folks to get off the streets, for a hundred reasons. Not only is it simply difficult to get the proper documentation to get permanent housing, but many folks self-sabotage. There is so much fear of ending up back on the streets, it paralyzes people from actually progressing forward. See, the streets harden a person. You have to be tough, you endure endless abuse - physically, mentally, and spiritually. One homeless friend told me about the bruises his soul receives from people's hateful actions and words towards him, the "homeless drunk bum." (This friend happens to be taking college courses, studies all the time, does not abuse any substances, and we attend the same church). To get off the streets you have to let go of some of that hardness, but in doing so, you lose the protective armor that saved your life. So what if the housing falls through, but now you are defenseless?
This fear, this self-sabotaging, this being one's own worst enemy...it's not something only homeless folks do. It's simply more visible in their lives, in the addictions they can't let go of because those addictions are saving them from something deeper and far too painful and vulnerable to address.
But we are all addicts, we are all lonely, we are all searching for belonging and unconditional love. We are all filling those voids with everything possible. We get promotions that mean we are now worthwhile humans, we wither away when our job isn't good enough. It killed me to work at Starbucks as a college graduate who was supposed to be "doing great things," until I learned that working there and building relationships with my co-workers and customers was a great thing. We stop up the loneliness with friendships, family, significant others. Or pretend we don't give a sh** and are wonderfully fulfilled being on our own. Independence is a mask. Our titles are facades.
And we sabotage ourselves. The fear of being alone causes us to destroy relationships because we are so afraid they'll leave anyways. Afraid we won't succeed in our work, we do a bad job and do ultimately end up failing.
It all come down to fear. Such deep, penetrating fear that if we were to access it we believe it would tear us apart. Fear of losing everything, everyone, and being completely and utterly worthless and alone.
But this fear comes from a wrong identity. It comes from a view of ourselves that says our worth and value come from what we possess and what we can give. That no one could ever love us apart from what they can get from us (this, at least, is the lie I must battle).
But then, there is no fear in love. In fact, perfect love has the power to remove all fear because it is not love based upon merit or earnings. It is love that deems ALL as worthy, all as worth loving, and that to all this great, deep, unfathomable love has been given.
I was so grateful to see Jesus in Sparkle on Tuesday. To talk to her about this perfect love, because I knew I was really preaching this message of deep worth and love to myself, because I too am very afraid.