She wasn't old enough to buy her own cigarettes, so she walked around town finding what leftovers she could in the ash trays.
She was accustomed to surviving. It was really all she had ever known. As a little girl, she had fought her way through life, learning the world can be an incredibly dark place at a very young age. In order to survive, she thought you run when necessary, fight if you can, and pray you don't freeze. No, she wasn't thriving, but by surviving on the street, it took a certain grit and tenacity in which she prided herself.
She was beyond smart in both textbook and street. She knew the "ins and outs" of many things, and she would get this wry smile on her face when she would tell you something you may have never heard before.
She battled fear a lot. She hid it well most of the time, carefully maintaining the high protective walls she'd built. Out of necessity to survive, she defended herself. Hope was
dangerous. Love was fleeting. And, people were only out to take. She knew, better than
most, vulnerability made her a target.
Just barely old enough to vote, yet there she was trying to survive one day at a time...one cigarette at a time.
The first time we met her, she gave us a well-rehearsed version of, "just fine", when we asked her how she was. Her methods of survival were working, and she had it all under control. Except, she didn't, and we knew it.
The second time we met her, that became more evident as the rehearsed version fell away, and fear took over. She was afraid, truly afraid, and she had reasons to be.
She was running again. This time, though, she had an innate disadvantage that she couldn't simply outsmart.
"I can't see him coming, even if he was coming right at me," she told us with a shake in her voice.
Her physically poor eyesight quite literally limited her to be able to see only eight to twelve inches in front of her face. She was running, but she couldn't see. In the hustle of getting out of a really bad situation, she had lost her glasses. So, she wandered the streets in terror of her exploiters who were actively hunting her like prey. She feared they would see her long before she could see them. Then, it would be too late.
I Once Was Blind
There are certain vantage points in downtown Dothan where you can stand looking in each direction and see where she walked. You can see the corners she tucked herself in, the places where she slept, and the locations where she was exploited.
Just as our precious girl had fought against blindness as she ran from her exploiters, we as the church sometimes struggle with blindness, too. WE struggle to see her.
Just as her life depended upon her sight, our fulfillment of the Gospel depends upon ours. The question is: Do we want to see her?
In Genesis, Hagar called out to El Roi, the God Who Sees. The Lord, in all His love and compassion, sees us in the midst of our despair. He sees her. When He looks at her, it is not through blurred vision. He sees her clearly. He sees her pain and her trauma. He sees the walls and the fight to survive. He sees her, and He refuses to turn a blind eye.
I am reminded of the story of the Good Samaritan, which plainly teaches us that the difference between religion and Truth is a willingness to stop and see. The one who stopped may not have known how to tend the wounds, but he stopped anyway. He may not have been able to provide shelter himself, but he gave the money necessary for shelter nonetheless.
The distinction of the Good Samaritan was he refused to continue walking when he saw someone hurting. Like him, the Gospel compels us to face the uncomfortable, to confront things we feel ill-equipped to confront, to love in radical ways, to refuse to look away, and to be intentional about seeing people that are often unseen.
But Now, I See
We made an appointment with the first optometrist who could promise us same day glasses for our girl.
She thumbed through various styles of glasses, asking us each time how they looked. She had made quick friends with the woman who help fit her glasses, joking about how old she felt. The woman laughed, "You're just a baby."
Her most pressing physical need that day was to see. Her ultimate need, the one that could permanently change her life, was simply to be seen.