This month I am recognizing "power walking" women. Each woman, through her physical and spiritual walk, both gives a testimony and shares an important life lesson. This is tribute #1.
A Disquieting Presence
My first heroine was not unlike the Samaritan woman coming to the well in the heat of the day so she could draw water; the hemoraging woman crawling through a crowd so she could touch a garment's hem, and the trespassing woman entering a house so she could pour precious oil on a man's feet.
These New Testament women generated curiosity, criticism, and contempt. These women are introduced without a name, commendation, nor connection (family). Like my heroine, these women had a disquieting presence -- rising out of obscurity to teach a profound life lesson.
The Church Women's Ministry was participating in a city-wide prayer vigil aimed at stopping street violence. Fortified by the prayers of the church clergy, we went forth with Bibles in our hands, songs in our hearts, signs under our arms, and a message on our tongues. We took positions at the four corners at the intersection of two heavily travelled streets. Prepared to speak with pedestrians and passengers, we were women were with a message to keep our streets safe.
Returning from the corners a few hours later, I passed a woman I was sure I had seen earlier. We nodded and smiled. I silently wondered, "Is she walking laps around the church block?" There was nothing distinctive about her except her walk. She walked with a limp.
An Unwanted Presence
The woman with the limp soon became a "fixture" just outside my church. She slept on a stoop at the rear door. Departing in the mornings, she returned in late afternoon. Neighbors asked church members whether we were aware of the woman's constant presence around the church. Soon, I heard that the Church Trustees were concerned that the woman's presence posed a liability concern.
Not long afterward, I greeted worshipers as they entered for Sunday Worship Service. The woman with the limp came to the door. Although I beckoned her in, the woman shook her head and asked me to come outside. "I can't come in," she said. "I was told to stay away."
Pressing an envelope into my hand, she asked me to place her offering in the plate for her. I agreed. "We're having a church supper after service," I said. "Come back and get a plate."
Without uttering a word, she nodded and quickly limped away. I wrote on the envelope containing her offering: "$1.37 from the woman outside the church who walks with a limp. "
Lesson - What is a safe space?
We "Sisters Saving the City" had decided that we would try to find a safe place where the woman with a limp could stay safely. She did return ... to a plate piled high with food. I noticed that her clothes were clean, her posture was straight and her voice was both soft and firm. As she ate, her story began to unfold. I listened and received a transformational lesson.
- She lived with a diagnosis of a mental illness; she felt that her family didn't want her around.
- She had once lived in the neighborhood; she was in a familiar place.
- She experienced shelters as unsafe: "people touched my things and make too much noise."
- She kept her possessions stored in plastic bags, under the bushes at the church entrance or in the stairwell in the rear. Whenever she left, she had faith that her belongings would be safe.
- She grew up in the church; even on the outside, she felt she was near a peaceful place.
My heroine lived in the shadows. She slept in the shadow of the church building. She hid in the shadows of her mind. She dwelt under the shadow of God. And she felt safe.