Unimaginable Consequences

Tonight our record-breaking 14th Holiday Feast was held here at the JUSTembrace hospitality house.

It never should have happened.

I’m going to share a story and some deep emotion that I’m currently in the midst of, so please take the following with a warning of its honesty.

This morning we held our monthly foot clinic. Mid-way through I noticed a woman with a tan coat zipped and buttoned from top to bottom with the hood up and pulled tight around her face – her bright eyes popping out cautiously.

I invited her to take a seat and she approached with such caution that I realized she needed more direction, so I led her to her seat and helped her get her shoes off, trying to make her feel comfortable.

As I pulled at her shoes, I realized her feet were bare in sneakers that were a few sizes too big for her petite feet.  With flashes of a heart-breaking episode of “Call The Midwife” racing through my mind, I gently pulled her shoes off and instantly noticed a few raw and bleeding sores. In order to get her feet into the warm soak bucket, I had to unbutton her bottom button on her coat to lift it high enough so it didn’t drag in the water. As I explained what I needed to do, she helped me enthusiastically, lifting her coat high enough to reveal that she was only wearing that coat.  Her vulnerability in that moment almost made me lose it.  I walked around the sanctuary – pretending to make a call – trying to think think think about what on earth to do in this situation.

As I sat back down with Sabrina I slowly – very slowly – asked a few questions. There are so many reasons people are the way they are in the moment we encounter them – sometimes they are in their normal state, other times, they are in an alternate place, surviving an “episode”. So I sought more information. She looked at me with her childlike eyes telling me about her children and having grown up on the West Side of Chicago.

I found out she’d stayed in a police station the night before and was looking for a shelter for the night.  She had left her former residence because it was too filthy for her, she said. There was evidence that this sweet woman had recently had a disconnect from reality and was trying to survive in her new reality.

As she was getting her freshly bandaged feet with warm socks into her shoes, I offered to walk with her to the woman’s shelter just a few doors down from where we were. I didn’t know much about it, but I have many friends who are clients and have had wonderful experiences.  So we went – and we chatted as we walked.

She asked me; “Do you have a bible?” “Yes I do.” I replied. “Do you read it?” Yes ma’am.” I chuckled. “Do you not understand what you read?” “Well, I actually went to college to study for ministry.” I confessed. “OH! So you’re a pastor!?” “Haa, well, yes, I am. I’m not ordained, but I do see myself as a pastor.”

How humiliating that conversation is to me now.


When we reached the shelter, the volunteers manning the day center informed us that they could only help Monday-Friday 9-5.  Naked, cold, vulnerable Sabrina would have to come back in 2 days.

We talked to the volunteers for several minutes as my anger and resentment (always battling in my head and heart) were beginning to bounce around inside me – simply allowing me to avoid my deeper feelings of helplessness.

As we left, I came up with a game plan for Sabrina.  It was lunch time and they were serving lunch right where we’d had the foot clinic, so I encouraged her to go there and eat something. Then I encouraged her to walk about 3 blocks beyond there to the hospital where I’m pretty certain they allow people with nowhere to go, a warm place to rest through the night.  I encouraged her to make that her second stop for the night.

As we parted ways, she asked to hug me twice.  The second big, long-lasting hug haunts me. As she embraced me her message changed from “Thank you!” to “It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok.”

We parted there – and I knew nothing was ok.




When I got home, I turned on Netflix and got the turkey out, seasoned it and put it in the cooker. For hours, I pushed the experience I’d had with Sabrina out of my sight, but it lingered in my peripheral.  So with thoughts of Sabrina encroaching, I cooked and served our last holiday feast for 2013- #14 to be exact.

After the turkey was de-boned and the stock pot was boiling, I went to take a shower before bed. As soon as my clothes from the day were removed, it was as if my emotional shield was also gone and a wave of remorse and grief hit me so hard I fell to the ground in howls. Howls. I have not cried that hard since the shooting this summer, and before that, it had been years.

My grief and emotion just took over my body as the helplessness and regret fell around me.

I never should have left Sabrina. She was a gift and I refused to stay present with her. I held her at arm’s length and then blamed “the system” for her suffering.

The worst part is my best excuse for not taking her home with me, or at least, making sure she got to someone who would help her, was needing to get the turkey in the oven.

What a wretched reality.  This is why I say dinner #14 never should have happened.

I realize if you are still reading this, you most likely have a lot of sympathy for me, thinking that I did my best.
But I didn’t.
Not at all.

As the reality of my selfishness beat and battered me as I sat sobbing in the bathroom, the sound of the “wintry mix” falling outside  intensified my sorrow every time my sobs quieted – triggering the helplessness to kick back in as I imagined Sabrina roaming the cold wet streets without anyone to care for her – or even to talk with her or be present with her in her suffering.

I have no dis-illusions about the men and women who die on the streets of our cities all of the time. It’s not the death or even the suffering that causes the feelings of helplessness to overwhelm me.

It’s the isolation. The fact that a precious human being is left all alone to suffer.

As I felt Comfort try to seek to put His arms around me, I fought. I fought hard. I felt so unworthy and unable to stop my grieving as the sounds of suffering echoed through the drafting windows. How could I allow the Lord to hold me when I couldn’t even hold Sabrina – or, if Sabrina happened to be inside tonight – the Sabrina’s of the world. There are so many people suffering all alone – overlooked and held at arm’s length. I was so wrapped up in my need to cook a 14th turkey that I wouldn’t change my plans to spend the day caring for a vulnerable soul.

That is so heartbreaking. My selfishness and calculated generosity terrify me.

I will give in to the Comfort offered, but I want to sit in the pain of my sin and allow myself to be shaped by it. I need my heart to be broken and the cold calculating “executive director” to be thawed.  I need to grieve and mourn the possible consequences of selfishness and self-importance.

Instead of seeing God as out to quiet my pain, I want to allow Him to sit with me and give me courage to face it. And ultimately, that’s the path I want to model for others. Jesus doesn’t pat us on the head and say “there there” when our sin causes suffering – but He sure does sit with us on the bathroom floor when we fall apart and He does not leave us as we crumble at the awareness of how awful we can be.  I trust that is really the best place to find Him.

3 thoughts on “Unimaginable Consequences

  1. No words!!! I sit here and ask God to forgive me for all the opportunities that I walk by. Thank you for sharing all of this. On top of the pain, it had to be both painful and somewhat therapeutic to share it all. I remember being on the mission field in Surinam, visiting Jim and Diane. We walked by huts, poverty, needy people. I could not manage to rap my head around how one determines how to help everyone? I couldn’t get some of the images out of my mind. I remember seeing a homeless person in our town for the first time. I was shocked. I immediately was thinking, thinking, thinking of how we could set up a shelter. We actually talked about opening up our basement. I wasn’t well myself at the time. I couldn’t care for myself, let alone provide meals and safe/clean provisions for homeless folk. Then, like you said – how does one know that fine line of distinction: those that choose this lifestyle, and those that are victims? My heart cries for you. Lori put it all so well in her blog. Your chosen occupation and location is not without great amounts of blood, sweat and tears. So much more than most required. Your end result of where you are at with it all…….just sitting at the feet of Jesus; that is the perfect space to grieve, listen, breathe in that ‘holy air’, and the power that only the Holy Spirit can give us. So, like I said…….I have no words to encourage, except to say that I find myself in this same place of sin – call it sin of omission, sin of being complacent, sin of fear, afraid to take those risks that we hear rolling around in our heads. We just attended a live Nativity, last evening. The most beautiful demonstration I have ever seen. That inn keeper…..they portrayed him as telling them they had to leave, but reconsidered and took them to the stable. I remember reading different accounts of how folks interpret how that inn keeper must have felt when he learned that it was the King of Kings that he asked to reside in a dirty, smelly barn stall. He was the character that spoke to me most. I thought of how I want to ‘be aware’, and even if I have to, to reconsider and find room. His act was all part of God’s plan.

    I have to believe that God took care of Sabrina as she left your embrace.

    A young man, this spring, came to my door. It was the time of day that most people were home from work. Abe was still staying in Lancaster, during the week, with his parents. He had knocked on doors, on both sides of the street for several blocks and no one answered their door. He was in his twenties. He didn’t look to be one that could easily be judged as someone ‘bad’. I opened the door. He sighed with relief, and told me he had locked himself out of his apartment and needed a Philips head screw driver to take his door off it’s hinges. It took me ‘forever’ to find that kind of screw driver. I kept finding the very small kind, I would show him and he knew it wouldn’t work. I did happen to finally find one. He said he would bring it back. Days went by and no screw driver. Several days later, it was there on the porch. That is when God spoke to me that this could have very well have been a divine appointment. From that day on, I pray for him regularly. I don’t know his name. I don’t know where he lives…….I simply tried so help him in his need. I later thought…….I should have driven him home, made sure he could get in, and if not, helped him from there.

    Ok, I will stop here. I just want to keep confessing my sin, so that you don’t feel so bad about yours. Sorry. That doesn’t help a whole lot. I know. I have been there, and no matter what others say, it doesn’t help. Only God can give that peace and comfort. All I can say is that I pray for you on a regular basis. I continually ask God to provide for you. I sure wish I could.

    Love and hugs (the big bear kind)
    Aunt Bonnie

  2. Sher
    Thank you for sharing this with us! I think we all have moments like this in missions. But, I loved how real you were. Know that we are praying for you and the people you meet. Lot’s of Love… The Georges

  3. Training dear Sherilyn. Guess what? You are not perfect! Gasp! Does God expect you to be perfect? No! Does Sherilyn expect you to be perfect? Yes! God is still training you. You will make mistakes! Is God upset with you? I think not! I think he’s gently smiling and saying, she learned her lesson well. She recognizes the enormity and the all encompassing reach that I want her to reach. Farther than she has ever been before. You did not fail Him. But He’s showing you that there is farther to go. You need to seek out more resources. He has opened your eyes to the needs that are greater than you have dealt with up until now. And I feel that was what His intention was. And you have responded by showing great remorse for not doing “more”. Stop weeping and start praising Him! Know that He is leading you into a deeper ministry and He did not expect you to solve all of this woman’s problem’s. She was sent to you to make you more aware of the other problems out there, and to search and seek His guidance of how He wants you to prepare for whatever He lays on your heart to do about them, if anything. Maybe He just wants you to have a viable game plan for these opportunities arise. Have a list of solid contacts that you can call. Praise God He is certainly doing some intensive training on you! And you are listening, but don’t bash yourself for not doing enough! Get up and thank Him for trusting you enough to use you! Put on the whole armor of God and get prepared to do His will! He will give you the strength and knowledge that you need! Weep no more! Go in Jesus name!

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