I have debated about making this post a long time. The subject is unpleasant, and I certainly don't want to brag about how we overcame this difficulty. But God keeps nudging me toward sharing this story to show HIS strength.
And let me tell you... it was ALL HIS strength that made this possible, for on my own I could not possibly have dealt with this situation.
Recently, the local police stopped by to ask if we knew where a traveler could stay. Brad talked to them for a long time before they left. He had told them he knew of nowhere. I know he didn't volunteer our spare room because it wasn't really "spare" anymore; my brother was moving in with us a couple of days later. I had his room clean and ready to go. I appreciate Brad's protection of my work, but I said, "Well, the person could stay here..."
So Brad called the police back and made the offer, and the police brought the traveler to our door. We've had strangers stay with us before, and I'm sure we'll do so again. Usually, the traveler is a Native man, hitchhiking his way to see his mom, his kids, or to get to a job. Usually, the traveler is reasonably clean, reasonably sober, and very appreciative.
My mother has a wonderful gift of hospitality, and I think I learned what I know of it from her. Generally, I enjoy being a hostess, providing meals, a bed, a shower, and laundering clothing and bedding for their travels. Jesus' words on how we treat "the least of these" inspire me to be genuinely happy for these opportunities, even if they're sometimes slightly uncomfortable.
This time was different.
When the police dropped off the traveler, I was shocked. I couldn't tell whether the person was a man or a woman. (woman) She was dressed in multiple layers of ill-fitting, disgustingly filthy clothing. She had a t-shirt around her hair and much of her face, leaving few clues to her age. (74) She was toting a ripped-up trash bag and a handled tote-bag, which she deposited on the floor of our kitchen. Our cats immediately began sniffing around in them; I was afraid they would urinate on the items, marking their territory.
And the smell... I have never smelled anything like it before in my life. Seriously. Never. Ever. It was the worst stale-urine-on-a-bedwetter smell combined with the worst BO and some other smells I never want to experience again. She had obviously been using her clothing as a toilet for weeks. Her pants were even wet as she entered the house. My eyes and throat burned as I greeted her. My stomach turned over as I watched her sink into a chair in my kitchen, and I dreaded the idea of her even in my house, let alone in a bed in my house.
And I sent up a silent prayer, begging with God to give me His love for this forlorn soul because I could find none in my heart.
And He did.
I was suddenly calm and unbothered. My physical repulsion at this woman's condition was removed. I was able to serve coffee to her, chat with her, offer her (with genuine joy) food, bed, shower, laundering.
It is not a testament to me or my strength, ability, or faith. Absolutely not. I could not possibly have succeeded in suppressing my revulsion. It was a gift from God. My peace of mind, my strength of stomach, my ability to actually love this traveler were given to me, complete, from Almighty God.
After she went to bed, I sanitized the chair and table where she had sat. Yes, it was that bad. But I didn't do it out of disgust, I did it to protect my family.
And when, in the middle of the night, we were awakened by the overwhelming stench of her using the toilet (removing her clothes made the smell so strong that we were suddenly awake, eyes and throats burning at the far end of the hallway), I was able to thank God that she felt safe enough to use the toilet instead of her clothing.
I got up the next morning, cooked bacon and eggs, determined to send her on her way with a good meal. I awakened her gently, thanking God that she slept on the bed instead of in it. She started with fear, then realizing where she was, asked if she could stay another night. Since my brother was in need of the room, we said no, but invited her to breakfast. Then my husband drove her halfway to her destination, where she would likely be able to hitch the rest of the way before nightfall.
After she left, I was left with the delousing, bleaching, sanitizing, washing, and deodorizing... but I was also left with the love of God for this unfortunate soul who wandered through our lives. And the absolute knowledge that...
I am weak.
But He is Strong.
In all things, depend on Him. He will provide all we need. The Lord is my strength and my shield and my righteousness. It is only in Him that I can do His will in this world.
I am weak.
But He is Strong.
PS There are no pictures for this story because I refuse to utilize any homeless, desperate (or any other) person for my own purposes.