A year ago lost month, I lost a dear friend. I met Michelle at the home of a widow named Ms. Lovie in the inner city community where we regularly gathered to encourage and support women trapped in prostitution and addiction. Michelle had encountered a team of volunteers working in the community garden who shared God's love with her and invited her a way to walk out of this lifestyle with the support of a family. She rejected them initially, but that afternoon she walked back to Ms. Lovie's house having mulled over the words of love shared with her earlier. She asked Ms. Lovie to call us and tell us she was ready and wanted out. We picked Michelle up that evening and drove her to a safe place for the night. She stayed there until she could get into an outpatient rehab group home and we began our friendship. The first few weeks were sweet, we learned a lot about one another. I learned that she was abused as a child by a "stepdad" figure when mom worked nights. She recounted being 7 when he first stumbled drunk into her room. She also recounted how she felt when she saw him turn toward her twin sister's bed instead of hers and her split second decision to go put herself between the two of them and take the abuse so that her sister could be spared. She told me how she hated that one of her eyes was lower than the other, and how she liked her glasses because she noticed it less. I told her I loved that about her because it reminded me how she saw the world a little different than most of us do and how much we needed that "sight" and she smiled for real at that moment right in the midst of her pain. She told me about how her mom refused to believe her about the abuse and how when she turned to the streets to search for a solution to her pain how they locked her out. She told me how much it sucked that her sister, who faithfully attended a prominent black church in town, judged her without ever knowing what Michelle had done for her. We wept together over this and read the story of the prodigal son --it was a moment of liberation for Michelle. We spent a lot of time laughing together and joking and a lot of time praying, and a good amount in tears.
Michelle had survived all of that backstory and gone on to graduate college and work for the Urban League. She was a faithful and loved worker and had never intended on leaving until she went to the doctor for a check-up and learned that she had colon cancer. She was recently divorced and the news of cancer combined with the doctor's report that the initial chemo treatments weren't working like they'd hoped sent her running to the streets again in search of a way to numb the pain and the fear of facing something like this alone.
She and I made her first oncology appointment since she'd been "clean" together and we went together. I'll never forget that first appointment when I asked if she'd like me to wait outside the doctor's room or come in. She invited me in. It was a profound moment for me in every way as she trusted me to sit with her in her pain. In my soul I knew she had allowed many people to use and abuse her naked body, but this was perhaps a first invitation into her true nakedness -- the kind that longs to be fully seen body and soul without fear because it is rooted in His beauty and love in, for, over her. We sat there and listened to the doctor report, her in her gown and I in my clothes from the chair and we heard it together. And, for a few months she and I and another church friend named Kim sat through her chemo treatments with her and prayed like crazy.
At some point along the chemo journey, she was horribly attacked and the trauma coupled with the cancer's unrelenting advance ultimately sent her back out to the street looking for a way to escape the pain. This season of silence from a woman who had become my friend was hell for me. I could still hear her voice saying, "HEYYY sista girl" and wrestled deeply wondering whether she was alive or dead and whether we would get to see her again or if her life would ultimately end amidst the chaos of the streets. I’ll admit, there were many days that I felt hopeless and defeated by her absence.
Then we heard word from another woman on the street who went by "black". She just so happened to be the only person Michelle had ever prayed for the Lord to deliver and she prayed for her by name. It was from her that we heard Michelle was close to the end and in hospice care and she gave us a phone number. I wasn't sure what to expect when she answered. Would shame win and she refuse to see me? Would she want to talk or even be able to at this point in the dying process? But she answered with tears and invited us over. Something in my spirit knew it was urgent. We went, prayed over her broken body, wept with her, held her near. When we left I knew it was a "goodbye" and in fact, she passed into a coma moments after we left and died a only couple hours later in the presence of another friend from our church family. How tragic, and yet what a crazy profound gift of the God who sees. I will never forget the night of her funeral, I laid awake with a very sick daughter in our guest room so that Josh could get some sleep. My little girl was burning up, Michelle was gone, and it honestly felt like anger and grief would swallow me. At that moment, the Metrolink train went over the road near our home -- it did that a dozen times a day, but in the stillness of the night and my soul I heard it's echo and it sounded like a stadium full of people in full celebration. The roar. And I knew. It was the sound of heaven breaking forth, Michelle's entrance to he place of perfect justice and perfect mercy.
I was a blessing, for sure, and that is awesome. But there is no way to articulate how profoundly blessed I was by this woman. This is the confounding nature of His Kingdom-- I see Jesus differently because of Michelle. I know that I will hear her say, "HEYYY sista girl" again in the new heavens and I cannot wait.