There is always someone without visitors.
Have you ever met someone new and they immediately break a piece of your heart? Let me tell you about my friend, Teresa. My heart aches a little as I think about her.
She was the kind of person most would overlook. Actually, that was her problem. Most people didn’t think twice about hurting, abandoning, and taking advantage of her.
Teresa never had visitors.
Sitting next to her by the window at the end of the hall, she didn’t look my way. There wasn’t much of a view, but it beat the one on the South Side. At least, you could people watch out of this window as they went in and out of the hospital.
The South Side backed up to run-down shotgun houses with knee hide weeds in the front yards. The black cats playing in the dumpster provided hours of entertainment though.
It’s strange how one street over lies a blunt change of living. Like when they build million dollar homes in an up and coming area, but the next street over has trailers with foil in the windows.
It was kind of like Teresa and me. I had a roof over my head and I’d certainly never missed a meal. She had dark skin from days on the street and no belongings. She endured years of abuse and I lived loved.
On this day, our roads intersected.
We were both patients.
“Can I ask you what happened?” I traced my finger down the middle of my chest. She had a large, noticeable scar protruding from her tank top.
Now I wouldn’t normally ask stuff like this of a complete stranger. But when you are in a mental hospital, there are no rules.
She turned toward me with her eyes still facing downward. She wore the somber express of depression well. There comes a point in depression where your face can’t fake it anymore, especially the eyes. Teresa was anything but fake.
“I was shot,” she said.
“Twenty-two times,” she followed-up.
She looked up to see my eyes widen.
“Woah,” is all I could muster. It took me a minute to process.
“Well you must be something special for God to keep you around,” I said.
She smiled and so began our friendship. Albeit a short one, but one I will always remember.
It turns out she had two kids, but hadn’t seen them in years. Any friends she made always stole from her and then left. She owned nothing, not even the clothes she wore. They were borrowed from the hospital.
She wanted friends, family and love. But she was so tired of trying.
Her timeline was stamped with trauma, starting early in life. She didn’t deserve the cards she was dealt.
Her grief was valid.
Her depression was valid.
Her fear was valid.
Even so, her faith shone like a five carat diamond ring. Perfect cut and clarity.
We’d walk together and she’d talk about how “God is gonna do right by her. Because He’s a God of restoration.” Her words would make my hairs stand up. She was certain. She was bold in faith. And she was patient.
Patient in affliction.
A very hard lesson to learn. Especially when the days are long, the nights longer and you keep wondering when His rescue is coming.
“Do you know where you are headed?” I asked.
“Salvation Army on Thursday.”
Even though she would rather stay at the hospital, she would be transferred to the shelter. In the hospital, you get the care needed. At least most of the time. You see the doctors and nurses and get your meds. You sleep in a bed with blankets and you get hot meals.
Teresa told me you don’t get much sleep in shelters. Not when you share your bedroom with many strangers.
After hearing stories like Teresa’s, the cloak of oppression starts to weigh on your shoulders. It’s hard to sit in the dark. It’s even harder to be a light in the dark. The longer you sit in the dark, the harder the wind blows to extinguish your flame.
You know He is good. You know His mercies. You know His love.
But you can’t help but question.
What is the purpose in all of this pain?
Why does she have no one? How could you let that happen to her?
Why did you let those monsters hurt all of these ladies?
It seems crazy, but I start to feel guilty for not having a hard life. Strangely, I start to compare trials like others compare blessings.
Why does my suffering pale in comparison to hers? Why her and not me?
Why was I given my family when another child is born into a lion’s den?
I’ve come to realize that Lamentation is actually evidence of great faith. Who are you crying out to after all? Who are you expecting to answer?
One night, stewing in a thick pot of grief -- He threw me a line. He knows he has to reel me in from time to time, taking my stare off of the storm.
He caught my eye with a little sliver of shine, like a silver fishing lure slowly descending through deep waters. He brought me back to the surface.
Down the hall, I saw a lady walk in. He had sent her a visitor.
It was Teresa’s last night before heading to the shelter. The lady didn’t stay long, but I watched her hand Teresa a large bag and a brown book. Teresa gave her a big hug and kiss on the cheek.
Teresa now had some belongings.
The staff laundered her new clothes and she spent an hour trying them on. She looked like a teenager on a trip to the mall. She held a gown to her chest. It was the first time she owned pajamas in years.
It was getting late. I watched as she placed the brown book neatly in her lap. She ran her fingers over the leather cover.
As a tear ran down her cheek, she opened the book.
Her last Bible was stolen.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (Romans 12:12, NIV)
"I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival, so that you will no longer suffer reproach. Behold, at the time I will deal with all your oppressors. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I gather you together; among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes," says the Lord. (Zephaniah 3:18-20, ESV)