It was a Tuesday morning and during my devotional time I asked God for something unusual. A sign. I had decided that because I found myself in the midst of some life-changing decisions, my faith needed a little extra assurance of God’s leading. I didn’t even know what sign to ask for. I simply asked God to show me how He wanted me to move forward. So, on that memorable morning, I closed my study with prayer and then asked a friend to pray for my ambiguous request. After that I went about my day as usual, only this time I was looking forward to see how God would beat the day’s battles.
I went to the gym and after about an hour on the treadmill, I noticed an incoming call from a number I didn’t recognize. A muffled voice asked, “Do you remember when you helped me and my mom awhile back?” I had to strain my mind to recall a chilly evening in front of Chipotle (a Mexican grill) three months earlier.
I remembered how a homeless woman and mother had asked for money for a place to stay. I was unable to offer much help, but I could buy them a meal. After I gave them food to eat, the desperate woman pressed me to help them find a place to stay. Because I had been burned in the past, I struggled about whether to give cash or not. Finally, at the end of the evening, before they departed on a bus, I handed them what I could. Some time during the conversation, I must have given them my name and phone number, but I had forgotten the incident until I received this phone call, three months later.
“My mom had a heart attack this morning. She died and I’m at the hospital. I didn’t know who else to call,” the voice said.
Just the night before, Sissy (not her real name), and her mother were staying at a motel when her mother became unwell and decided to retire early. Sissy woke up the next morning, but sadly, her mother didn’t and was rushed to hospital. Now Sissy was calling me for help because her mother had passed away.
I felt my heart reach out, in spite of the fact that I had no idea what to do or how to help her. I myself didn’t have a job and in fact, found myself dependent on my own parents’ generosity at the moment. However, when I called several shelters for help, none of them were able to accommodate Sissy. At last, I decided to call the motel where she had been staying and asked if the owner would be willing to take her for one more night. I was pleased when the proprietor generously agreed.
Then I drove to the hospital to pick up Sissy. As she stuffed her suitcase into the back seat of my car and crawled into the front seat beside me, a lingering, unpleasant odor filled my car. Sissy desperately needed a bath and clean clothes. As we drove to the motel together, she told me how the hospital would hold her mother’s body for three days before they would send it off to the county coroner. In the meantime, she needed to make a decision about what to do with the body. In the face of her deep loss, I felt overwhelmed with the enormity of her problems. Coming home to food and my own mother felt like an undeserved gift.
The next morning, Sissy called me to share her plans. I felt the pain she suffered as she talked about her mother. She talked about how she was going to ask churches and charities to help her fly her mother’s body to Washington state. Sissy wanted to have the funeral close to home. She also mentioned how she needed to contact her family. Listening to Sissy’s story was fast becoming one of those situations in life where one wishes they had money they could give to help another. Feeling much like Peter who said, “Silver and gold have I none” (KJV, Acts 3:6), I offered to pray with Sissy that Christ’s power and riches would help her through this situation.
Several times over the next days Sissy called to report what was happening. I would listen, and then pray for her. I had no one to turn to except God, and I was touched to see how He showed His tender care every day, unfolding His plan, step by step. Sissy was able to contact a funeral home that offered to reduce the cost of funeral services and to transport her mother’s body to Washington. On another day, a local Baptist church offered to pay for an extended stay at the motel. This was a blessing as the motel was only a few minutes from the funeral home now assisting with her mother’s body.
During those few short days, with every miracle, Sissy’s burgeoning faith grew stronger. Though she faced some disappointments, she would praise God all the more when other doors would open. Our constant prayers together became such a habit that she would preemptively call for more prayer. Thus it was that she experienced the refreshing power God’s grace, bracing her for the day, causing her to long to see what God would do next for her. When breakthroughs happened, she would call me and together we would send prayers of praise to God. However, there was one door that remained firmly closed, getting in touch with sissy's family.
Sissy was trying to find her family in databases at the library and calling numbers she found on the Internet. Several times I asked if she had tried to set up a Facebook account. She would respond that she was just too pressed making arrangements for her mother’s body and finding a way back to Washington. In fact, she had been hoping that the funeral home would somehow make arrangements for her to fly back with the body next week so she decided she would search for her family in person when she landed in Washington.
Sadly, on day six, reality hit. The funeral home informed her they could not fly her with the body, but she would have to find her own way to Washington. Charities informed her that they were unable to pay for the funeral, and sadly, the motel said they could no longer accommodate her. I could hear the despair welling up in Sissy’s voice, as she announced these new complications. Once again, we turned to our only lifeline: prayer.
In desperation, I asked her once more about Facebook. Had she set up an account? She said she had tried, but couldn’t get it to work. I offered to help and two hours after the account was set up, I received a phone call from Sissy.
“I'm looking at my sister's face! There are pictures of my nephews and nieces. I found my brother!" Sissy said.
I could tell she was crying and choked with emotion. Somehow, Sissy’s sister was the first result that showed up in Sissy’s search.
All that evening, Sissy told me later, her phone rang off the hook with phone calls first from one sibling and then another as the good news travelled fast between each one. Her family was overjoyed to find her as they had been looking for her for years. Her brother shared that he could hardly wait to give her a hug and a kiss and he immediately promised to take care of all the funeral arrangements. Another sister was going to send money for Sissy’s stay at the motel and would arrive in two days to accompany Sissy back to Washington.
Her brother breathlessly promised, “We’ll take care of your flight. Don’t worry about anything. I can’t wait to pick you up at the airport. I can’t wait to give you a hug and a kiss. I can’t wait to drive you around and catch up on the lost years. In fact, we’re going to swap you around the family. You’ll stay at one place and then at another!”
With a laugh she couldn’t hold back, Sissy exclaimed to me, “I’m going home, girl!”
I was overcome with joy at the good fortune Sissy was experiencing. However, I was also both humbled and ashamed by our experience. Humbled to know I was part of changing someone’s life. She had nothing, not a place to stay, no family, or even clean clothes. Through prayer and something so simple as creating a Facebook account, the prospects of her life were completely turned around.
However, I also felt ashamed and rebuked. I felt rebuked because I realized just how thoughtless, exacting, and tight-fisted my heart was. I saw how cold and calloused I was and how I was incredibly deceived by my own selfishness. For example, I felt uncomfortable by Sissy’s need to bathe and put on fresh clothes, yet I had not offered to wash her clothes for her. Even worse, believe it or not, while God was demonstrating His compassion to Sissy, I was annoyed at how much time, gas and money I was investing.
And when Sissy called to share the good news of finding her family, I saw that in reality, I had done so little. Sadly, I recognized that I had selfishly offered the bare minimum. And I knew I should have done more.
Yes, I had prayed for a sign, but never would I have thought God’s answer would be in the form of a homeless woman. Indeed, in one week, God proved Himself an able, faithful and true Friend. But Sissy wasn’t the only one to discover that she had a tender Father. Not only did God show His assurance to Sissy but more importantly, He expanded and projected my short-sighted and narrow vision to see the beauty of the gospel through the events of her memorable experience. In fact, I couldn't shake parallels of the gospel story played out before me.
You see, the whole story would have been finished much sooner had I, on that very first day, helped Sissy make a Facebook account. However, Sissy was so caught up in figuring things out herself, she neglected to try the very means that solved all her problems. And when she finally went to search for her family, they had been searching for her all along.
How many of us are in a ragged race, searching for meaning, for identity or for answers? If we would but simply make God our priority, we would find that God has been searching for us all along. In fact, He yearns to answer all our heart questions and fears. Sissy’s story has taught me how the heart of God is sleeplessly searching for His lost children.
Has not God paid for everyone’s way back to his or her heavenly home? Does our heavenly Father not yearn for the day when He will greet us with hugs and tender affection? Does our heavenly family not desire to “swap us around”, world-to-world, to hear of the wondrous things God has done for us?