She sat on a duffel bag near the back of the paved lot. All around her others arranged themselves on newspapers, camp stools, gym bags, or pieces of cardboard. A hundred or so homeless men and women would spend the night in relative safety here, locked as they were inside their “gated community.”
She first caught my attention as she made her way past the table where I stood, distributing sandwiches and ice water (ice water being the more desired of the two on this hot Dallas evening). She had reached mechanically for the sandwich, never raising her head as she shuffled past. I might not have noticed her at all, if not for the bright color of her dress. Neon green on this dejected woman in so dismal a place seemed ironic.
Now that the sandwiches and ice water were gone and the melee over fifty or so McDonalds hamburgers was ended, I knew the time had come to approach someone, just as I had encouraged the teenagers from our youth group to do.
“Don’t be afraid. Demonstrate Christ’s love by listening to their stories, talking with them, and offering to pray with them.” The advice I had so easily dispensed earlier now seemed much more difficult to put into practice. Nevertheless, I mustered my courage and strode toward the woman in the neon-green dress.
Bare arms hung between long legs sprawled in a decidedly un-lady-like fashion. The neckline of her halter dress plunged, revealing a sagging bosom and the absence of undergarments. Dark skin, scuffed and dirty, contrasted sharply with her cropped platinum-dyed hair. As I knelt beside her I noticed that her long fingernails sported neon-green nail polish that matched her dress.
“Hello, I admired your bright dress and nail polish when you came through the line.” My words were shallow, and less than convincing. “What’s your name?”
“Catherine,” replied a coarse voice directed at the pavement between her feet.
“Catherine, you look like you’ve had a hard day. Would you like to tell me about it?”
Her head still lowered, but slowly shaking from side to side, Catherine enumerated her frustrations, her anger, and finally her fears. She spoke of her son whom she could no longer see by orders of the state, her difficulty finding employment as an ex-federal convict, and life on the streets –how the heat was almost unbearable, but the cold nights, just a few months away, frightened her even more.
Catherine continued speaking to the ground, but the odor of alcohol hung heavy in the air between us. She had made many poor choices. She had committed serious offenses against society and even against her own family. Now the gravity of it all literally weighed her down.
As I listened, something inside me stirred. I looked past her filth and gaudy adornments, past the hollow eyes and layers of sin, and there I began to see myself instead, only as Jesus saw me from the cross. Her wretchedness became my wretchedness.
Unsure how to proceed, I closed my eyes, seeking help from my Father. Again He took me to the cross, and against every human impulse I reached out to touch Catherine’s arm. “Do you know that Jesus loves you, Catherine?” For the first time her eyes met mine. Her gaunt face showed no expression, but in her eyes I thought I saw a glimmer of hope.
“I would like to pray for you if you don’t mind.” Catherine nodded and I prayed, still holding onto her frail arm. My voice quivered with emotion and tears streamed down my face. As I finished, she smiled ever so slightly. I wondered if this hardened woman recognized the gentle touch of the Savior reaching out to offer her mercy and grace –far more satisfying gifts than stale sandwiches and ice water.
I wondered too, if I would forevermore see neon-green whenever I thought of grace.
Oh Sharlyn this is so beautiful and touching. It spoke volumes to me as often we forget how much we take for granted and don't spend time helping and praying for the other "Catherines" in life. Praise God for your tenderness and openess in writing hon. Lord bless your gift and may He continue to bless others through the penning of words. Amazing!Janice
What a precious moment! Thank you for giving us a glimpse of Jesus reaching out through your encounter with the neon-green dressed woman. God grant all of us whose hearts have been won by Jesus to have that same compassion for the least of these. You brought tears to my eyes.
Thank you as well for leaving a comment on my article "Prepared." I truly appreciate you and your words.