People on the Streets

“Her name was Lisa. No, Ruby. Lisa died last week. Well, I’m not sure what her name was, but she froze to death.”

People on the streets.

I sat on the wooden pew in the old brick building that houses a simple, yet beautiful church. I was surrounded by many familiar faces, and many broken, tired faces. Those faces, I didn’t know, but they were all too familiar. Tired faces that held ugly stories in their lines, and the tiniest glimmer of hope in their eyes. As the organist gave the news that this woman, Lisa, or Ruby, or maybe someone else had frozen to death on the street, I held my breath, feeling my heart plummet to my shoes. Who was she, this forgotten woman, leaving a nameless legacy? The tears dammed in my eyes, I prayed silently. I didn’t want to cry. I searched the other faces, the familiar ones. People who were here because I said it was a good idea. I wouldn’t say I was a leader, but I was being trusted. I didn’t want to cry, appear weak, look like a bleeding heart. During prayer, I let the tears fall, quickly wiping them away before heads unbowed. I know I wasn’t the only one shedding covert tears. Guilty, heartbroken, helpless tears. It was a bitterly cold night. I had overdrawn my bank account to bring a meal here. I didn’t know what else to do, but I know that we needed to do more. There was so much work, but where do you start?

Under pressure.

We started there, in the outdated building with the dangerous narrow staircase and magnificent stained glass windows, windows that told of glory days that had been long past, much like the bodies intently listening the pews. Former princes and princesses, used up by life’s tribulations. It was a humble, honest building, with the aroma of the evening’s meal undermined by something that smelled like last night’s bar clothes. It was all they had.

People in the street.

Hymns, communion, offering, sermon. Simple, basic, sparse, real. People wrote their prayers on index cards to be read aloud. Bad spelling and grammar revealed desperate pleas. Health problems, unemployment, family member in prison, new babies, hallelujah! No medical care, no medicine, no housing, no paycheck, thank you Lord for these volunteers, this hot meal, this hour and a half of shelter. Help me kick this addiction.

Cries for help. Intoxicated prayers in pencil on index cards. Lord, hear these prayers.

People on the streets.

The story was of the epiphany. The day the wise men first met baby Jesus and gave him their best gifts. It was a story from a perspective I had not heard before. The crock pots simmered at the back of the church, Stomachs rumbled,and we sat in good conscience, at least we were doing something. Chicken and noodle epiphany.

But we all knew it wasn’t enough.

People on the streets!

It was bedtime, two days later. I still couldn’t get the imagery out of my head. It’s another arctic night, wind whistling through the rafters in my warm and safe home. I feel the guilt and pain of helplessness heavy in my heart, my mind searching, praying, what would You have me do?

I need go to sleep, but the words rush my brain, firing like they haven’t done in so long. So I get out the lap top. My lap top, in my safe warm home, in a city where a woman lies down in the street and freezes to death, and no one remembers her name. I turn on some music, and there it is, “people on the street, do ba de ba daaay, “ “Under Pressure” by Queen plays, and I laugh because I know God speaks to me in my language. I can’t imagine the life Nameless Ruby/Lisa must have lived. I know she must have been so tired. I wonder if she gave up. Lost hope. Ran into the arms of Jesus. She was a living ghost, and now she was a real ghost.

Maybe you saw her, on the street. Maybe you looked right through her. Maybe your eyes never met her eyes, and you felt bad, but carried on anyway.

Maybe you saw her, and your heart broke a little. Then you went on about your day, driving the kids home, getting dinner on the table, watching prime time, say your prayers, kiss your kids good night, and forgot about her, the living ghost.

Maybe you gave her a few bucks when you saw her. Maybe it was a blanket, or a cup of coffee, or a sandwich. Maybe you saw her often, then she disappeared and you didn’t know who would look after her now.

Turned away from it all like a blind man. Sat on a fence, but it don’t work.

I feel ashamed because my friend took another nameless woman to the shelter that night. She bought her a blanket and some hygiene items. I’m in awe of her because I don’t know that I would have done that. Would my comfort zone have caused another woman to die in the street?

Why can’t we give love that one more chance?

I wonder if God’s heart breaks to the suffering of his people. His heart must hold a million tiny fissures, like cracks in a dry Earth.

Nameless Ruby/Lisa survived on the street until one cold night stole her last breath. And what impact will her life have, I wonder? I never saw her story on the news, or read about her in the headlines. Sadly, I know that the Ruby/Lisa Shelter for Women will not be build. There will be no public outcry, resulting in the Ruby/Lisa Homeless Prevention Act.

People on the streets…

I want her to know that her cries were not in vain. Her story, the few words that summed up her life and death, “froze to death,” was told to a room full of world changers. We were impacted by the nameless woman who died alone in the cold street. I would be willing to bet that it’s been heavy on all of our minds, and that we are thinking of ways to do more.

Why can’t we give love, give love, give love, give love…..under pressure.