My shift last night involved standing alone at a train station pointing potentially lost folks to the party going on at the theater. Needless to say, I was a little upset I didn’t get to be part of the fun and instead had to stand for 4 hours hoping someone might actually need my help. I prayed to God I would have a better attitude. I knew it’s a blessing to have a job and this was definitely not the hardest work I’ve ever done, yet I was still harboring an ill temper.
I stood there for my first few hours, pacing back and forth, playing little games in my head to stay somewhat engaged in real life. All the while there was a homeless woman sitting in the chairs near me who kept catching my eye. She was reading a book and just had the biggest smile on her face. I toyed back and forth, contemplating if I was going to interrupt her to find out what it was she was reading and why it was she had such a big smile on her face. With 45 of the world’s slowest minutes left on my shift, I went for it.
“Excuse me, can I ask what it is you’re reading?”
“I’m going through the Psalms!” She declared with the greatest sense of joy.
And that was all it took. She opened right up about her life. She told me about the small town in Georgia where she grew up. She told me how she got addicted to alcohol as a teenager. She told me about the series of hardships and injustices and mess ups and prejudices that brought her to being homeless in Princeton for the last 3 years. She even confessed to me she had a sip of alcohol that turned into drinking way too much the other night.
And then she told me she felt that she needed to read the Bible. She was honest that she wasn’t a very educated person and that frequently reading and even hearing stories resulted in a bunch of jumbled up words in incomprehensible sentences, with the Bible being no exception to that. But out of nowhere on Sunday, she had starting reading the Bible. She explained the people who had always supported her and stood by her and helped pick her up every time she was down, those people were always super spiritual. She didn’t understand it. “How could they just love me with absolutely no condition?” She asked me. And she supposed it was about time she figure out just what that was all about. So she picked up a Bible and started reading the Psalms on Sunday. And she couldn’t stop. She was amazed that every psalm touched her in a different way. For the first time in her life, the story made sense and the words were jumping off the page.
That’s about when my radio went off for the first time in 3.5 hours. So I very quickly told her I am a pastor and a person who tries her hardest to live a life of faith, and it made me so very happy to experience the joy she found while reading her Bible.
Then I stepped away and took my call. I was relieved to know I only had 10 minutes left of standing out there! But as my final minutes wrapped up, I felt called to stay for an extra moment. I knew exactly what I had to do.
I had to go back over and ask this woman for her name. “Margie,” she said. I asked if I could pray with her before I left because I really needed to thank God for putting her right where I needed her. We prayed together and my whole night was made. I had been praying for all of those hours standing there doing nothing that my heart would be softened and I would see God somehow through the menial work I was doing. Lo and behold, there was a sweet homeless woman reading her Bible for the first time right there to pass me the joy and humility I needed. I pray we can all be that open and that excited and that joyful as we keep pressing into our lives of faith. I pray we can all be a little more like Margie.