by zach smith
When I first met “Sarah”, she was eight months pregnant, living on the streets, helplessly addicted to heroin and cocaine, discarded, and let down by everyone in her life who was supposed to love her most. Now, nearly two years later, not a day goes by that I am not haunted by her story. Not a day goes by that my heart does not ache for her. Not a day goes by that I am not overwhelmed with love for who she is and hope for what she could be.
This afternoon I ate a quick lunch and headed downtown. I asked God to open my eyes to see people and places with love and compassion. I prayed that God would let me find Sarah.
As I walked the streets, my mind wandered to the previous day. It was a hard day. I had spent hours looking for several friends, including Sarah, to no avail. I finally turned around and went back to the office close to 4:00. Less than an hour later, on my way home, I drove past Sarah’s usual spot – the crack block – for another look. I saw her there, stumbling back and forth, weighing what had to have been 20 pounds less than when I saw her last. She looked awful. The hardest thing I did that day; the hardest thing I ever do, is watch her disappear out of sight in my rearview mirror.
But this was a new day, and I set out to find her. I walked for a long time up and down the blocks that have become very familiar to me. I decided to walk to her usual corner just to see if she was there. I immediately recognized her from a distance. Her blond hair was tied up, and her clothes were dirty and hanging loosely from her shrunken frame. Scars and sores freckled her face and arms, signs of the HIV that poisons her and the addiction that holds her captive. She was smoking heroin, an improvement in her eyes, from shooting the toxin intravenously. She was surrounded by fellow addicts. There was no way I could get to her. I walked slowly by, hoping that she would see me, but she didn’t. As I walked away, feeling like a coward, I prayed that God would send her to me. ‘That is the only way this is going to work, Lord. I can’t get to her, so send her to me.’ I prayed this over and over as I walked back towards the 16th Street Mall. I found a couple of other kids and spent some time with them. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was still a chance to talk to Sarah today. We had been looking for her for so long and I had finally found her. I began to summon the courage to go back to the block. This could be my only chance to see her. I had to try.
I walked the seven blocks as fast as I could, knowing that every second counted. It was getting late in the afternoon and I didn’t know when she was going to leave. For all I knew, she had already gone on and I had missed my chance. I neared the block and saw her. I hadn’t stopped praying that God would make something happen. I decided to wait on the corner opposite from where she was standing. She still didn’t see me and again I prayed that God would send her my way. A minute or two passed. Nothing happened. But then, she restlessly stood up. Before I knew it, she was walking my direction on the opposite side of the street. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Here I was, praying that God would make it work out; that He would send her to me, and that is exactly what happened.
I quietly spoke her name as she got closer to where I stood. She looked up, confused at first, and then melted into tears and shame. Other times when we see her, she will run to us with open arms, half smiling and half crying. Today was different. I had never seen her look so defeated; so broken. She hung her head and hid her face in her hands as she walked towards me and into my arms. Her shoulders shook as she cried. She didn’t even try to stifle it.
Through sobs she told me that she just wanted to make us proud and that she was sorry and ashamed that I had to see her so strung out. Of course, this was just an opportunity for me to tell her that, though it breaks my heart to see her like this, I, and everyone else at Dry Bones, love her no matter what she’s doing. She told me that her family had given up on her and that she hadn’t talked to them in over a year. She said that she had no friends on the streets anymore. She spends her days among a sea of faces, in a crowd that couldn’t care less about her.
I got to tell her that God has a better plan, and that He desperately loves her. She talked for a few minutes about how much she wanted God in her life. She said that she just can’t, and doesn’t want to, live without Him anymore. As we talked, sitting there on the sidewalk, she simply couldn’t stop crying. With every word of love that God gave me to give to her, she broke down more. I told her how much I loved her and that the other Dry Bones staff loved her too. Then she said those magic words, “I’m ready to get out of here.”