This post originally appeared at Two Friars and a Fool as a guest post.
No matter how many times I do it, walking into a skid-row rooming house is always a shock. The smells are an assault on your senses – stale smoke, urine, illicit sex, spoiled food, and more than a hint of mildew. The linoleum was peeling up in the kitchen – in fact, it was the linoleum that identified it as the kitchen – all the appliances had broken years ago and been removed. I noticed the giant stains that cover the carpet as I walk down the hallway, past the bathroom with the mold growing on the walls of the tub, and walk into Katy and Julie’s room.
The room is 10 by 12 or so, with a sagging mattress and box spring in the corner, a dorm refrigerator in the opposite corner with a 14 inch TV sitting on it. The wall is covered with Katy’s artwork – much of it freehand drawings of things she has seen on TV – I see Tigger from Winnie the Pooh, a pack of penguins on ice, a Disney princess neatly colored courtesy of Crayola. The broken pane of glass in the room’s one window is patched with cardboard.
How they got here is such a typical story for me that it bores me to tell it anymore. The full story of how their families have rejected them because of their sexual orientation, how it was all justified because of scripture, how they have been repeatedly sexually abused by men in their lives, how Julie ended up HIV positive because of a rape and how Katy lost three jobs because the managers sexually harass her is their story to tell.
But however they got here, here they are – the rooming house of last resort for them, a step before being on the streets.
Julie apologizes for the dirty carpets – there is no vacuum in the house. The thermostat is in a locked closet, and it must be set on at least 80 – I am sweating after being in the house less than five minutes. Katy is dressed for her job at the fast food restaurant. Julie has been home a few hours from her part-time job cleaning offices.
“Were you able to do it,” Katie asks?
They had found this place in a hurry, a friend of a friend having stayed here once. The last landlord had stolen their deposit when he evicted them out of their studio apartment with three days’ notice after selling the apartment building. Of course that was illegal, but who has money for lawyers?
They moved in with a $100 deposit and the assurance that he would wait 10 days until Katy’s payday for the balance. Five days later, he decided he is unwilling to wait and needs $140 by tonight, or they are on the street. So they call me, and I go to the post office and get a $140 money order, made out to the landlord, from my discretionary fund.
I hand the envelope to Julie, who breaks into tears and clasps me in a huge bear hug.
“Can I ask you a, you know, a preacher kinda question?” Julie says.
“Of course,” I say.
“Yesterday in church, you talked about calling out to Jesus when you are in the chaos, right?”
She was talking about my chapel talk, where we had dealt with Jesus walking on the water, and I talked about how Peter had sank in the chaos (as represented by the water) and cried out to Jesus, who, standing above the chaos, reached out to him immediately.
“Right,” I say.
“I been thinking about that. Today, I felt like I was in chaos, and I cried out to Jesus. And I felt like I was supposed to call you, so I did, and you helped me. So Jesus didn’t help me, you did. But maybe like you were doing it for Jesus – like you’re his helper or something. “
“So, I was thinking about how cool it was that you are Jesus’ helper and all that, and then I realized that when I help people, I get to be Jesus’ helper too. Almost like, right then, I am Jesus. Just like for me, when I think about Jesus helping me, I think about you. Is that weird? “
I laugh, and give serious thought to bringing up incarnational theology, using this as a teaching moment. But then I decide I cannot add a bit to what she just said, so I just laugh again, and hug her, and tell her no, that she got it exactly right.
After hugs all around, I leave, greedily gasping the fresh air when I walk outside, tears streaming down my face.