Sunday, May 24, 2009
Five churches in the Coachella desert came together for a lovely women's breakfast this past Saturday. I had the honor of teaching under the shade in a Garden of Eden-ish setting, complete with a running brook behind me and a stage with fragrant flowers beneath me. Upon leaving, the director of New Creations In Christ invited me to dinner. And I, being a lover of food, agreed!
I hoisted myself into the silver 15-passenger van at five o'clock and immediately was greeted by smiling faces. I was pleasantly surprised to see the motley crew of women from NCIC's Women's Home as they picked me up from my hotel. Little did I know I was seated next to giants.
A lovely French-Armenian girl with manicured eyebrows and soft, pale skin, greeted me with a full smile. Her name was String Cheese because she arrived waif-like to the home at 87 pounds. Behind her was DuWan, a spirited red-head with heavily lined blue eyes, and a silver ring for every knuckle. Her wild laugh and infectious smile removed the edge from her dark painted finger nails peeking from her black leather jacket. To her left was Oklahoma, aptly nicknamed because, well, she's from Oklahoma. She was the quiet one who stared wide-eyed at everyone until she was addressed. Her soft voice and mild mannered demeanor caused a wave of surreal disbelief that I was surrounded by convicted felons.
14,15, 17: the ages these women first got addicted to narcotics. With every toot, slam, snort, or puff, each woman slowly watched their life break apart into a million pieces only to be blown into the desert sand by the winds of dependency. Speed was the drug of choice for the natives of the Coachella desert, but each admitted to trying other drugs. All admitted that their dealers had laced the speed with heroine to get the girls addicted. Each had stories, each colored with personal, tragic, and heroic feats, each admitting the fear of going back... going back to the streets, going back to prison, going back to eating discarded food from hotel hallways, dumpsters, and plates.
By the time we sat down for our Japanese dinner, I felt like a naive child who believed that Mister Rogers still asks everyone in TV land, won't you be mine, could you be mine, won't you be my neighbor? They assured me it was good to be sheltered. I assured them I agreed. But somewhere in the sushi sampling and teppan trying under Kobe's thatched roof, I realized I was seated with GIANTS. Giants like Goliath and Anakim? No, spiritual giants of faith like Ruth, Hannah, and Deborah. They sat with me and expected me to impart some divine revelation, but I could not stop asking questions. Questions which birthed more questions and after belaboring for over two hours, I finally got to hear Oklahoma quietly share her story of hope, restoration, and healing. She's only been in the program for four weeks, but her faith is that of four generations. She met God while in prison and she has yet to be failed by her Master. If I didn't go through all that I've gone through yesterday, I wouldn't be who I am today, said the soft spoken, mild mannered woman with wide eyes. I swallowed hard in attempts to push the lump that was forming in my throat back into my chest.
We pulled into the hotel parking lot and the stories unfortunately had to stop there. I gave my hugs and blew my kisses to the Giants seated inside the silver 15-passenger van. While in my hotel room, I reflected on Paul's words to the Corinthians that I appropriate today for my new friends String Cheese, DuWan, Oklahoma, Becky, and Jen: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old has gone, and the new has come! Ladies, your faith and determination to move forward has left an indelible mark on forefront of my mind. It was an honor to have been seated with giants.