“Will you give me some food?”
Her dull brown eyes gaze up at my friend, Amber, and me — twisted up by an unknown drug, beneath the blue sequins of a feathered masquerade mask she found in the garbage.
I strain to understand what her muddled words are saying.
“… I also need money for the bus.”
“I… I’m so sorry… what did you say?” I am stammering,
Again, a gummy, wet, one-toothed answer that I am struggling to understand. My heart is sinking, and screaming, and fleeing.
She is wearing black exercise pants and a low cut white T-shirt. Her dark hair has been buzzed short. She has an ancient medical bracelet on her slim wrist with only her name and birth date scrawled across it.
Stacey Grant 7/3/77
A lighter is pressed deep into Stacey’s cleavage. She continually adjusts it, along with the other random items she has carefully stowed away there. She comes close to me, pressing her cluttered bosom into my personal bubble.
“I look good, yeah?”
God, this was not on my schedule today.
Photo by Lauren Koski
I had homework to do, people to call and maybe even a post-church Sunday nap to take. Selfishly and awkwardly, I wanted to run. But standing in front of Amber and me was an opportunity and, praise Jesus, Amber had the presence of mind to take it. So into the nearby Jamba Juice we walked, Stacey at our heels, still mumbling different unintelligible phrases about the cops, drugs and whether her pants made her look fat or not. She made her way to the different patrons in the Jamba Juice and tried to start conversations with them as well. Most of them ignored her; all of them stared at Amber and me wonderingly.
Stacey raised her voice above the smoothie blenders, she pushed her way through the line of customers to see the menu better and two oranges we bought for her (upon her request) disappeared into her shirt with the lighter. She asked me for my earrings and my shoes; she told me I had beautiful eyes. Stacey rolled up her sleeves to show me the names of her four children tattooed on her bicep. Robert, James, Corinne, Gianna — they were taken from her when she became addicted to drugs.
She whispered, “God bless you,” to everyone there. She almost grabbed a smoothie from a woman with an upturned nose. She made two trips outside to check on her cart full of garbage treasures. She explored the restroom.
Smoothie in hand, we walked with Stacey back outside to her cart. Sitting at a nearby table, Amber began to share the Gospel and Stacey’s crisscrossed eyes immediately grew swollen and glassy. She knew. She saw her mess and understood how she was separated from God. She knew it her whole life, but it was not enough to just know it.
“I love drugs,” she told us. “I won’t ever give them up unless I hear God tell me to, and I don’t hear Him telling me anything.”
My heart sank; we joined hands in prayer; I held back tears; a security officer for the shopping center stared at us from a distance.
“Do you love drugs more than God, Stacey?”
She didn’t give me a direct answer.
With a peach smoothie and the perfect amount of change (that Jesus must have intentionally placed in my wallet earlier that week), we were able to send Stacey off to catch a bus.
It was a situation from which I expected to wake up. It was offensive, awkward and uncomfortable, but it was real. It was this sinful world, according to Riverside, California, in all its raw glory — and in a Jamba Juice on a Sunday afternoon, Amber and I had stepped right into the middle of it.
“Thus says the Lord God to Jerusalem: Your origin and your birth are of the land of the Canaanites; your mother a Hittite. And as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you, but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born.
And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I made you flourish like a plant of the field. And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full adornment.
Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil. I clothed you also with embroidered cloth and shod you with fine leather. I wrapped you in fine linen and covered you with silk. And I adorned you with ornaments and put bracelets on your wrists and a chain on your neck. And I put a ring on your nose and earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head.
But you trusted in your beauty and played the whore because of your renown and lavished your whorings on any passerby; your beauty became his.”
Ezekiel 16:3-7, 10-12, 15
Aren’t we all like Jerusalem? Aren’t we all like Stacey? We wallow in our mess waiting for a Messiah to come rescue us, and when He does, sometimes we choose to whore our blessings and ignore the One who gave us those blessings. Oh, the numerous times I have said, “I love God, but I also love _____.”
I do not share Stacey’s story with you to be a contrarian. I do not share it to get good reactions. I am sharing this because in church on Sunday before I met Stacey, I prayed that God would use stories to strengthen my own faith. In the pews, I saw how stories of redemption, or even heartbreaking stories like Stacey’s, are one of the ways He speaks to my heart and reminds me of His greatness.
Ezekiel 16 is one of my favorite passages, and it never fails to make me cry with the pain of my sin and the power of my God. On Sunday, the Lord presented Jerusalem, sin, the Gospel, Jesus Christ, everything, to me in the package of Stacey and her story — and it sent me spinning.
Stacey also reminded me of the environment I had lived in for the past 4 years. With an extremely high percentage of homelessness in the country, Riverside is a place that has completely shifted my perception. The homeless are not just individuals, but they are individuals with stories and struggles. They are a people group that the Lord is reaching for His glory. Redemption and reconciliation is offered to them, even in their unkempt, unloved state. And we are just like them, our sin is simply hidden beneath our pretty clothes and manicured nails. When our perspective is flat-lined, we are all like Stacey.
Ezekiel 16 shows us how Jerusalem failed to fully recognize God’s mercy, how they took advantage of it and how heartbreaking that is. But the amazing part of the story is that God still sent His son to save them once and for all. Again, not all of them recognized it, but He chose to rescue them anyway.
No, Sunday afternoon did not go as planned for me. It began with a prayer, changed with a Jamba Juice coupon in my wallet and exploded with a woman who was hungry for more than physical nourishment. It was awkward; Amber and I stuttered through the Gospel and through prayer, but it wasn’t about that and it wasn’t about us. It was the Lord choreographing a scene with three broken women and proclaiming His name in that moment. Even though Stacey still clings to her addiction, it was a reminder of His sweet, sweet grace and the fact that He equalizes the playing field for His children. His love is so unpredictable and undeserving. I ask that you would join me in prayer this week for Stacey. I am praying boldly that the Lord would speak loudly in her ear and that He would pour grace upon her to hear His voice. Hey, the Lord is mighty enough to speak even through the fog of drug addiction, let us believe He will do that for Stacey.
“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
*I have changed Stacey’s name and those of her children in an effort to protect their identity.