Based on actual events. Shared with permission.
I’ll never forget the morning I got that surprise knock at my door. I wondered who it would be, since the clock hadn’t even yet chimed nine o’clock. I opened the door, and there she stood on my porch, her hair wrapped up in a dark bandana, and her little pre-school aged son at her side. She wasn’t going to ask me directly, but she didn’t need to – the story unfolded without explanation. The look in her eyes, the restless way she shifted from one side to the other, the way she clung to her little boy’s hand. They were here because they needed food. They were hungry, and she had no way to buy any food, no one else to call, no one else to ask or borrow from. My instincts were confirmed when she began to open up, telling me, unprompted, of the agony she’d felt as she poured the last few ounces of milk over the last bit of cereal not even thirty minutes earlier, so her kindergartener wouldn’t have to go to school hungry. She related how when her perplexed pre-schooler had asked, “But what about me, Mama? What about me? Where’s my breakfast?” she’d replied with the heart-wrenching words, “I don’t know, son. I don’t know.” And she really didn’t. I grabbed an empty cardboard box I had sitting down in my laundry room and quickly set about filling it with food – anything easy to pack that I had on hand. Apples. Spaghetti sauce. Cheese. Bread. We stood in my kitchen and both wept as she talked about the events in her life that had led her to this state. She talked about life and choices and God and second chances.
I didn’t know her story very well. I knew her husband had abandoned her and their three sons – had left for another woman in another state. I didn’t know for sure but had heard he’d been incarcerated. That there were drug issues. But I never asked her about these things. Whether any of that had anything to do with her or not, it did not define her, and certainly did not have to dictate what she was going to do from that day forward. So I kept my lips shut. Other scant details I gleaned just from observation included that she struggled to hold onto employment. She would go long stretches between jobs, then finally a job would turn up. But it seemed to never last very long. She wouldn’t like the hours, wouldn’t like the other employees, or some other aspect of the job. And so she would quit. I sometimes marveled at how she could let go of the employment that had finally come to her – employment that was desperately needed – so seemingly easily. I wondered but didn’t dare ask how she floated those weeks – sometimes months – that would pass before another job would come along again. And sometimes, I’m now ashamed to admit, I felt frustrated with her. I felt frustrated that she seemed to not get that others are willing to help, but at a certain point, you have to be willing to help yourself. In hindsight, the impulse to think this way was understandable. Through the lessons I would learn through our unlikely but life-changing friendship, though, I eventually came to the humbling realization that for some people, if just walking away anytime something is unpleasant or not what you’re interested in anymore, and especially if you’ve been the subject of that abandonment by nearly every trusted figure you’ve ever known, over and over again – if these are the patterns and behaviors you’ve observed and been surrounded by your whole life, then sometimes just getting out of bed in the morning is actually a profoundly heroic act.
There were other visits. They were not for food, though – her food stamp card replacement finally came in the mail. Instead, she would come to use my washer and dryer. She didn’t have a washer-dryer set of her own, and could not afford to go to a Laundromat. She and her sons would wear through all their clothes, and then when they’d run out, they simply didn’t go to school. No clean socks meant no kindergarten. A couple ladies at church who knew about her situation talked about organizing a laundry rotation, but I felt uncomfortable. Was that really going to help her? Help her self-esteem? Help her feel confident? Help her be independent? I felt that it would not. I went to our bishop, the pastor of our local congregation, and asked if I watched listings for used washers and dryers, could some funds be used to buy her her own set. I asserted that she would not get her life on track and achieve independence and stability with the “big stuff” if she did not feel in control of the little, most fundamental things first. How can you be expected to have the confidence, fortitude, and tenacity necessary to go out and face the world, hunt for a job, and keep that job if you first can’t manage sending your child to school with clean socks? Or being able to feed him breakfast? She needed to taste success, I told him – here a little and there a little, discovering that yes, she is capable, and then she would be more and more emboldened, ready to tackle the next hurdle. The bishop agreed, and so my quest for a suitable washer dryer set began. I watched Craigslist like a hawk. I stopped at every garage sale. I went to appliance outlets. The trick was to find something that fit the budget I was given that was still in good condition, and find it before anyone else did. The good deals got snatched up before I could get to them; those that lingered and couldn’t seem to sell, you wondered what was wrong with them. My hunt was proving more difficult than I thought.
One day she was over at my house and I had Craigslist up on my computer screen. I had my eye on this fancy washer dryer set – Maytag Neptunes, the Cadillac models at the time. They were steeply discounted at only $200 for the whole set – ridiculously cheap — so I suspected they were either long gone or seriously flawed. Still, I showed them to her and said I’d call, but prepared her for the likelihood that they were gone. I called the number listed and was incredulous when the owner told me, now over a week past her original post, that they were still sitting in her laundry room. “What’s wrong with them?” I asked. She assured me there was nothing wrong, but that she had simply upgraded and wanted a quick sale to make room for her new machines. She was as astonished as I that they still hadn’t sold. I drove out that same afternoon to see for myself. I drove through two towns to get to her house. It was a stunning home situated in an affluent neighborhood, and then when I stepped inside, the interiors were even more breath-taking. Clearly this was a woman who was very particular and took meticulous care of her furnishings. The washer and dryer are going to be just fine, I told myself. And they were. They were more than fine. They were better than my own set. I stared at the intimidating array of features spanning the display panel and marveled at how she could have possibly upgraded. Did the new set have a “launch into outer-space” feature? “I’ll take them,” I told her. We discussed payment and pick-up arrangements, and then I left.
I was utterly giddy as I drove home. YES! Finally! After all the turmoil and heartache and grief she’d been through, FINALLY something was going to go right for her! It was a small thing, but it was symbolic. This wasn’t just about being able to independently do her own laundry. This signified something much larger, something much more important. This was going to mean those first critical baby steps towards her being able to feel a spirit of independence, capability, ownership. As I drove along, I smiled as I thought about how she was going to have the nicest washer-dryer set in her entire neighborhood. I was so overjoyed at this unexpectedly amazing luck and what it would mean for her, both practically and psychologically, that I actually exclaimed aloud to my empty van, “She’s going to feel like a princess!” Then something life-altering happened. No sooner had the words escaped my lips than I felt a voice — yes, felt, but it was palpable, and it was piercing – abruptly interject itself into my thoughts: “She is a princess.” I drove on in stunned silence. “She is a princess, to Me.”
I sat there trying to process. That really just happened. Another mile went by. Those words…. There was nothing about her temporal situation that inspired connotations of royalty. If you were assessing by circumstantial evidence, she was the last person you’d think of as literally “a princess.” In fact, there were plenty in the world who would look down on her, even scorn and loathe her, and feel justified in doing so. And yet it was unmistakably stated: “She is a princess, to Me.” Those six words, and knowing Who had declared them, seemed to also imply the unstated addendum, gently but clearly, “So be careful about your conduct and your attitude. Think about whose presence you’re in.” It was a small and fleeting moment, hidden away from any limelight, just me traveling alone one random afternoon in my van, but it rattled my whole world. I’d heard, read, and been taught all the scriptural adages my whole life: “the worth of souls is great in the sight of God,” “heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ,” “inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me,” “love one another, as I have loved you,” etc. I’d also heard all the “I am a child of God,” “daughters of a King,” “divine nature,” and “divine inheritance” stuff. But this was the first time I felt those truths to be real. God himself said it, and said it about someone the “natural man” wouldn’t have ascribed it to.
I read once that, according to the author, sometimes those we are inclined to pity, because of great poverty, accident, disability, illness, oppression, or any other misfortune or unjust condition causing grief or strife, are actually regarded beyond the veil to be among the strongest and most honored spirits because of the very challenging mortal missions they accepted and agreed to fulfill. I don’t claim to know whether that’s true or not, but what’s much more important is that it made me think differently about people. The disheveled man in the wheelchair who kept yelling angrily at me as he used his feet to inch his chair right through the traffic of a busy downtown street, for example. What was his story? Or maybe the pictures I saw of an impoverished family sitting in rags as they ate their meals out of the dirt. Or my own autistic son, whose severe behavioral challenges sometimes so profoundly burdened my heart that I didn’t know if I could make it through another day. Or maybe even the lady that snapped at me in the line at Panera the other day. What if these were people I would honor, admire, even look up to and pay homage to, if only I knew the true spiritual identities behind their mortal “disguises”? One can’t help but think of C.S. Lewis’s now legendary supposition: “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.”
My friend taught me that the worth of souls is great, no matter the outward appearance or the temporal circumstances, and that our Father in Heaven really, truly does think of us as children of royalty – His own heirs, and join-heirs with Christ, irrespective of what our mortal conditions or challenges are. Was it not Christ himself, the King of us all, who was “despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief,” “oppressed and…afflicted,” from whom “we hid…our faces…and esteemed him not”?
If Christ, the Prince of Peace, the King of Kings, who descended below all things, loves without conditions and regards all of humanity that ever was, is, or ever will be as his own, as princes and princesses, heavenly heirs who may one day stand at his side, then I must try, with everything in my power, to do so also.