When they moved in, M had a backpack and a shoebox. They contained things from an earlier time, momentos from his childhood, his baptismal certificate, a picture of E, some cards and letters, a trinket that used to belong to his grandma, a pair of shorts, a couple of t-shirts, a polo shirt, a necktie and a well-loved football.
E had a purse, a tote, a half-full black garbage bag and a laundry basket full of clothes. They were in fairly good repair but as we went through them to assess what would be needed, it came out that very few of these clothes fit. Stress, little sleep, starving for days and then binge eating had taken its toll on E. It changed her metabolism and most of the clothes no longer fit.
“E, if these don’t fit, why in the world have you spent all this time lugging them with you?” I questioned.
“I don’t know. … I mean, it’s just that, they’re mine. … And, well, some of these things came from my mom.”
When all was said and done, she had a couple of pairs of socks, a second pair of yoga pants, two t-shirts and a sweatshirt. But we hadn’t dived into the garbage bag yet. It, too, was full of clothes but everything was four to five sizes too big.
E explained that they had stopped at a church to ask for help. The pastor wasn’t there but a quilting club happened to be meeting. On hearing an abbreviated version of their story, these ladies picked through the old clothes they had been cutting into pieces. They picked out the very best ones, folded them up, put them in the garbage bag and handed it to her.
“We were looking for a place to sleep and some food to eat,” E became angry. “But instead of sharing their cookies, they just handed me all their old junk. And, they put it in a garbage bag. I know what they were thinking. They might as well have just said it. ‘Here garbage girl. Garbage for the homeless girl.’ … I hate churches. Just hate them. Those people pretend to be all perfect and everything but when you need real help, they disappear. If they do stick around, it’s only to make themselves feel good or to tell you what you are doing wrong or to tell you that you’re going to hell. And you know what? … If God is real, he’s just like them.”
“Oh, E. I am so…”
“If He’s real, then where has He been for basically my whole life? Where was He when my mom was drinking? Where was He when I got stood up for prom? Where was He when my mom got sick and people kept buying her beer? Where was God when my mom was lying at the bottom of the stairs, passed out and I was outside in the snow watching her lie there and unable to get to her, help her? I was in sandals with no jacket, no mittens, locked out of my house in subzero temperatures with no phone and no way to get my mom. I had no way to call my dad. Where was God then, huh? Where was He? I had frostbite. My mom almost died. … It wasn’t God who helped us. It was my neighbor. She heard me screaming. But it wasn’t God.”
I so badly wanted to just hug her. Jesus sent the neighbor but now was not the time for a debate or a gospel story. Not now. I just said the first thing that popped into my head.
“Oh E. I am so, so very sorry. You know I go to church, right? B and K go to church. The thing is we are at home there because The Church is filled with broken people. You were let down. Your mother was let down. … That is not the way it is supposed to be.”
After a few minutes of complete silence, she indicated that the clothes from the trash bag could be given or thrown away.
I wanted desperately to fix things, to erase the pain but I didn’t know how. So, like the other Christians she had encountered, I opted for avoidance.
“Well, we have our shopping list. Let’s grab that bag of clothes and head over to Goodwill. Let’s see what we can buy for $75.”
“Can we stop at Target, too?” E asked. “This is embarrassing but we lost our toothbrushes a few months ago and when you have to pick between food and toiletries, food kinda wins.”
“Of course we can. Go get K and the boys.”