Her name was Hope…
I was almost home, only a block from my house, when I saw her lying there on the side of the road. An elderly woman had fallen into a snowbank and couldn’t get up. I slammed on my brakes, pulled over, and ran to help her.
As I got closer, I could smell the alcohol. It radiated from her body, as did the stench of body odor. Her clothes were worn, dirty, and far too thin to keep her warm on this cold and blustery day.
“Are you hurt, Ma’am?” I asked as I squatted down to help her up.
Her reply was slurred and unintelligible. She was moaning and crying.
“Can you stand up?” She moaned again.
I carefully wrapped my hand around her shoulder and took her other hand in mine.
“On the count of three, let’s try to stand up and get you out of this snow.” She sobbed in response.
Dear Jesus, help me know what to do. Help me to help this woman, I prayed under my breath.
“1…2…3…” I pulled with everything I had, but to no avail. She contributed no energy to my effort and my feeble attempt to lift her from the ground failed.
Dear Jesus, please help me, I prayed again.
I wasn’t sure what to do. Had she hit her head? Was she badly injured or just hurting from the fall? Was she too drunk to walk? How would I ever get her off the ground? My mind was spinning.
Her cries got louder.
“It’s ok, Ma’am.” I tried to comfort her. “It’s ok. I’m here. I will help you.” I repeated that phrase over and over.
“Let’s try again, ok?” I pulled with every muscle I had, but couldn’t lift her by myself. There was a bench about 10 feet away, but it may as well have been a mile. I would never get her there on my own strength.
Cars were driving past me in a steady procession. Some slowed down to gawk, but most kept right on cruising. As I prayed again, a man pulled over to help me.
Between the two of us, we were able to pick her out of the snow and carry her to the bench.
“She is drunk,” the man commented in disgust.
“Thanks for your help, Sir.” I responded. “I couldn’t have lifted her without you.” He headed back to his car and drove away.
I sat down next to her on the bench, picking snow and dirt out of her hair and off of her face. I was freezing cold and couldn’t imagine how this woman must have felt. She’d been out in the elements far longer than I had.
A passerby rolled down her window and hollered out, “do you want me to call 911?”
“Yes, please. Thank you!” I replied, sounding much more calm than I felt. What was I supposed to do at this moment? The woman was drunk, appeared homeless, could be injured and was still crying. I couldn’t just leave. But was I supposed to call the police? Or was I supposed to help her get somewhere else? My van was full of groceries and my four kids, and it had already been at least 15 minutes since I’d pulled over to help. I could hear my baby screaming, even though my 16-year-old daughter was in the car attempting to pacify him.
I took her freezing cold hand in mine and asked, “What is your name?”
For the first time since I found her, she looked me in the eyes and said clear as a bell, “Hope.”
My eyes filled with tears. If I had ever met someone who should be without hope, it was this woman sitting beside me. Yet she had confidently declared her name to me when all other words failed her.
“Where are you headed, Hope? Do you remember?” I asked softly.
“Shelter.” She responded. “Downtown.”
I took a deep breath and asked, “Can I pray for you?”
She nodded, so I closed my eyes and prayed a prayer of blessing and healing over her life. I asked Jesus to bring her peace and comfort and strength and freedom. I asked that she would realize her incredible worth and hope in the eyes of God.
When I said amen, she had fresh tears streaming down her face. So did I.
“Are you hungry?” I didn’t know what else to do until help arrived. She nodded, so I sprinted to my van and grabbed a couple boxes of crackers. I opened them up and handed them over. She had just started to eat when the ambulance pulled up.
At first I felt relieved to see the flashing lights, but the responders were less than sympathetic. I’m sure they deal with situations like this often and become jaded over time, but my heart is not so calloused, so it was difficult to watch how they treated her so harshly.
I held Hope’s hand until they had her loaded in the ambulance to take her to a detox facility. One of the paramedics tried to give me back the crackers, but I told him that she could keep them.
“What a waste,” were his final words to me as the doors slammed shut.
I couldn’t help thinking that he was utterly wrong.
Mercy, no matter the recipient, is never a waste.
There is not a person on earth that is unworthy of loving kindness. Not one. No matter what mistakes they have made, no matter how lost they have become, no matter how broken they are.
I’ve thought about that encounter almost every day for over a year, wondering what happened to Hope and wishing I could find her and help her. I’ve thought about how so many people drove by and didn’t stop. I’ve thought about how people judged her and refused to show her compassion. I’ve thought about how grateful I was for the few who did stop and help.
And I’ve thought about my own life: how God showed me mercy when I was lost and least deserved it. How he gave me hope when I had none. How his reckless love for me has given me the courage to love others who are undeserving.
Why am I telling this story now? I saw a woman walking around a parking lot this weekend, begging people for help. She got rejected twice before she approached me. It reminded me of Hope, and it renewed my determination to be a person of mercy.
James 2:13, “There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.”
I want to be a person who shows mercy first, and reserves my judgement. I want to err on the side of loving kindness. I want to be the hands and feet of Jesus, even if it means doing something as small as offering a box of crackers and humble prayer to someone in need.
I want to be a person who gives hope.
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