Let me tell you a story of hope. And a story about someone who’s lived without it.
Lately I’ve been feeling an urgency to bring Jesus’ love to the unlovable people in our world. I’ve always had a passion for people living in the inner city, and particularly for women working in the sex trade. I’ve been feeling challenged recently about what I’m going to do about that. Am I going to walk out my passions? Or let my life and my comfort overrule? If I’m really head over heels for Jesus, why don’t I share it more often? Why am I not walking on this earth as Jesus walked when he was here? Fear. Comfort. Insecurity. To name a few answers to that question.
“Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” (James 1:27)
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to walk this out in Edmonton’s inner city. In my fear, in my wondering, in my insecurity. But also, in Jesus. In the confidence I have in Him.
Earlier that day our family had gone skating. As we were piling out of the van, my 6 year-old son piped up out of the blue and said, “HOPE. That’s a nice word. Hope.” Our 8 year-old son agreed, and added that we should have named our 3 year old daughter “Hope”. We agreed it was a very nice word. I honestly didn’t think much of it in the chaos of hockey bag and stroller and busy parking lot.
This was probably not the first time I’ve missed hope in the midst of my own agenda.
Thankfully, the Holy Spirit obviously wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to miss the message this time. He tried again.
When I arrived in Edmonton, I made a quick stop at H&M to grab a few items before heading into the downtown area. I noticed the cashier had a 4 letter word tattooed across the fingers of her right hand. I looked harder and saw – you guessed it – HOPE. I told her of my kids’ conversation of just a few hours before. She chuckled and said, “That must mean something!” It must.
I drove downtown, and kept my eye out for whoever it was who God wanted me to minister to. I felt a bit discouraged when I didn’t see anyone out on the streets. After some twists and turns, I spotted a lady limping down the street. She was really labouring just to walk, and her legs bowed out. I parked up ahead of her a bit, then got out and went to talk to her.
I asked her if she had heard of Jesus, and wheezing and panting she said she did. (She was not in good shape, she could hardly breathe.) I asked if I could pray for her, that I had noticed she was having trouble walking. I told her Jesus wanted to heal her. She was totally open to being prayed for. She asked if we could sit, so I helped her to a nearby curb.
I asked her name, and she told me it was Tara. I told her mine too. I asked if I could put my arm around her. I believe that touch is so unifying. It says, “I’m here with you. I accept you.” She agreed and leaned in.
We chatted about her legs. She told me the pain in them were unbearable. Then she told me she was angry at God. I told her that was ok. I told her He understood, and that He could handle her being mad at Him.
She paused for a few moments, and then said, “Can I tell you something? A few days ago, I was in such bad pain I almost ended my life. But you know? Something stopped me. I don’t know why, but something stopped me.”
I responded, “Or maybe someONE?” She chuckled and agreed.
I said, “let’s pray for your legs now!” I was excited to see what God was going to do. I just knew He wanted her well.
I got down in front of her, and held her legs (checking with her that she was comfortable with that). I thanked Jesus for this beautiful woman and then out of my mouth I heard the word HOPE come out – the Holy Spirit had me pray for hope in her life. For a new season of HOPE like she hasn’t known in a long time. What is life, what is a healthy body, even, without hope? Now I knew why HOPE kept finding me that day. You don’t realize how important hope is until you meet someone who doesn’t have it.
After speaking hope into her life, I rebuked the pain in her legs and commanded healing into them. I looked up at her. She was staring deeply into my eyes, and looked totally at peace. She had a slight smile on her wrinkly face. I asked her how her legs felt. Sometimes healing doesn’t happen instantly. I was ready for this and was intent on persevering until the pain was 100% gone. To my surprise – and delight! – she said, “There’s no pain. The pain has left completely.” She smiled really big now. “Praise Jesus,” I said!
I sat back on the curb with her. She continued to tell me a bit about her life growing up in a foster home. She told me how she meets some Christian girls around downtown and how our smiles look different than everyone else’s. She said she could tell I was a Christian because of my smile. She told me how her friend started hitting her and how her last boyfriend was the one who gave her the black eye she had. She gave me a Kinder egg out of her bag.
I asked her what she really needed, what she really wanted, and what I could pray for her for. She said she wanted not to smoke anymore, she wanted prayer for her family, and she wanted to have a place of her own to live, where she could watch TV by herself without roommates around all the time. I said, “let’s pray for those things too”. So I prayed for her again, bringing her requests before our big Daddy. Afterwards, she smiled at me, and told me how much better she felt. I asked if I could take a picture of her, to remember her. She agreed, and I asked if I could take it of her hands, as I noticed how beautifully she took care of them and how she had done her nails so nicely. We all need something to make us feel beautiful, don’t we?
We got up to go on our ways. I asked how her legs were, wanting to make sure she went away with no pain. She said they were great. They had been throbbing terribly when I had walked up to her. Now they were fine.
She asked me where I came from. I told her God had sent me to pray for her, that I had driven an hour to come find her. I told her that God loved her so much He would do that for her. She giggled. She said, “you know, Sarah, I’m around this area a lot. If you ever come back, you can find me down here.”
Oh, Tara, I’ll be coming back.
She pointed down the street and told me she was heading in that direction. She asked for money for bus fare. I gave her $5. I know a lot of people would say, “She’s probably using that for drugs or alcohol”. I say, I’m ok with that. Why? Because I’ve never known what it’s like to need drugs more than I need food. I don’t know what it’s like to grow up in foster care and sell my body on the street and live in homeless shelters and be beaten by men. If she did use my money for her next hit, I hope the Holy Spirit reminds her of God’s love while she taking that hit. I believe we need to use wisdom and be lead by the Spirit in our giving, but I also don’t believe we are to judge. Why would I expect an unhealthy, addicted, wounded, lost person to make a wise choice with my money? I don’t.
She was very thankful for the money, and then gave me a big hug. She headed down the street. I got back in the car and drove away, past the building that was her destination: HOPE Mission. And then it hit me as I read those words: God had sent ME on a Hope Mission. A mission to bring hope to someone who had none.
My heart grieved as I realized those were the roommates she was referring to. My heart grieved as I realized what a blessing it is to have a home, a place where I can watch TV by myself. My heart grieved to think of her sleeping on the floor, surrounded by people on drugs, people getting sick, people acting out beyond their faculties just feet away from her, people who smelled. My heart grieved to think of how this innocent little girl had been abandoned and so wounded, that she had ended up wandering the inner city in her middle age, instead of living in a home and enjoying grandbabies and hobbies and travelling. My heart grieved as I recounted all of this to Kris, and asked him, “Where were all the Jesus-followers while she was growing up?” One. It could have taken just ONE person to have brought the hope of Jesus to this little girl before drugs and men and a life on the street became her reality. But Jesus is all about redemption, and I believe that is still His plan for Tara. And for all the Taras out there.