She had on sunglasses. The big kind that cover a lot of your face. The whole time she stood at the counter being checked in by my co-worker they stayed in place and her mouth never changed. It was straight. Not even the corners lifted in a little smile.
Angry. She seemed angry.
She stayed for a long time. She shopped and collected several piles of clothes. She never removed her glasses. They stayed in place the whole time she shopped and her face stayed the same. Stoic.
Other shoppers came and went. We prayed with some and offered a word of encouragement. We try to be a place that is a moment of joy in the middle of so much need.
She came to the counter with arms full of clothes. I pulled her name to help me understand what might be going on.
“Hi, sweetie. Did you find some things?” I asked.
One tear. It fell below the lens of the dark rims and rolled down to her chin.
“Oh, honey. What is it?” My heart was breaking for her. The stoic face and glasses were all a mask attempting to hide her pain.
“We are in a hotel. My husband tries, but it’s hard. You get behind on ONE thing and you are OUT! And my son? He has some disabilities and it’s so hard. He’s 17 and so big. He’s hard to handle. It’s just a lot.”
More tears now… so many that I find a tissue and just stand there holding her hand.
“My family WILL NOT HELP! We are good people! We try so hard and we just can’t get it together!! My family says I look so mean… well, I am trying to keep from crying every minute of the day!”
She continues. Her voice a little more shaky but louder now. “Do you know how hard it is to live in a hotel with 10 people!? We have eight kids!! You would think that our family would see what we are facing and step up, but they don’t! They won’t!! They think we don’t try. WE TRY!!!”
She’s sobbing now. There are more tears and more tissues and we just stand, holding hands, and I let her get it all out.
“Do you have a church home, sweetie? You do need support in so many ways. If people there can’t help with housing or bills they can at LEAST pray and love you!” I offer. Trying to offer any hope.
“Yes. We do. We haven’t been going. We need it so much!”
I get a Bible and I begin to underline scripture from the book of Isaiah.
“But now thus says the LORD, He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you: I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you will not be burned, and the flame will not consume you. ” Isaiah 43:1-2
I hand her the Bible.
“These promises were originally for Israel, but we can claim them! God never said that we would not walk through difficult days, but He did promise that He’d be with us.” I say.
“Yeah. I’m going to read this. I need to know this,” she says as tears continue to pour down her face.
A line starts to form behind her so we count her clothes and get items for everyone. It’s a big help with growing kids and uncertain days ahead.
I ask if I can pray for her and we hold hands. She’s dripping tears onto our hands as we pray. She has just kept it bottled up inside trying to be strong for eight other people who look to her as “mom” and all that title entails.
She looks at me through tears and dark glasses, “I am not a bad person. I love my kids. I love my family. This is hard. It’s so hard. Thank you for the clothes.We are going to go back to church.”
Finding peace in the storm. It’s impossible in this fallen world among fallen people and fallen attempts at happiness. Only God… ONLY GOD… can be our peace, our provider, our intimate companion and our hope. He’s the only one that will not fail us and He’s the only one with true answers.
No words that I could have EVER said to her would have helped. She needs Jesus. The healer. The hope of our everyday. The life giving grace that only He can bring. It’s what she needs. It is what we all need.