As I am turning the corner which leads to the store I see her sitting on the curb. Her head is hanging down and her long brown hair is falling over her knees. It only takes a moment in my quick, drive by glance at her to notice the dirty torn up clothes she wears and my heart tears a bit for the aching I imagine happening inside of her.
Only a fast trip into the store, one small thing I need to pick up for dinner. It will just be a second. I will talk to her on my way out.
Five minutes later, driving slowly to the parking spot nearest her, I see she is gone. Looking around me, trying to find her, she's not there.
And I feel heavy.
Maybe I could have helped. But now I won't know. I say a prayer for her.
Then I think of Molly. It was years ago. But Molly's story reminds me who I need to be.
Her smile was radiant. Wherever you were in the church you could find it. She stood out from everyone else, a loving wife and mother of three, a woman filled with joy and always willing to take young women under her, teach them and guide them. This is how I met her.
I was 18 and had only been a christian for six months. I had such a desire for constant fellowship, for learning and growing, and Molly met me there. After church one afternoon she invited me out to lunch, and I gladly accepted. Of course I did, I was overjoyed.
And I went home that day broken inside. I went home with an anger that I hoped was a righteous anger.
Molly told me about her childhood. An only child with the most loving, doting parents. They were killed when she was eleven. With no other family she was sent to live with an unknown uncle and his two sons. The uncle was nice enough, but as a truck driver he was gone a lot. And little Molly was left alone with the abusive sons and their mother who was too afraid of them to do anything. Molly drew into herself. She never smiled, never spoke, never laughed.
By thirteen she could not take it any longer and she left. To the streets of Los Angeles. Eating out of trash cans, never changing her clothes, cleaning herself only rarely.
She met other street kids and hung around them for protection and a bit of companionship, but she was ashamed of who she was. She hated being there, but she felt she had no other option. It was better than where she had been.
Three years went by, and Molly could not resign herself to a life on the streets. Sixteen years old, she knew she had once been a happy, loved little girl, and she wanted to be again.
If only someone would notice me, she thought. If only someone would acknowledge that I am not just some stupid, homeless nobody, I am somebody, then maybe I could make it. Maybe I could get out of this. Someone remind me that I am a person, please!
Molly remembered going to Sunday school when she was little, and how happy everyone was there. The families, the friendships, the lessons. She even remembered Jesus said to love people. She thought that surely there she would find hope.
Being homeless in LA, she knew there were lots of churches that helped the homeless, many rescue missions. She had eaten in many of their soup kitchens. But that is not what she wanted.
Molly wanted family. She wanted acceptance. She desired to just be loved like the little girl she was, to be treated as a person, not a charity case.
So one Sunday Molly walked two hours to a nearby suburb. It was a very nice neighborhood with a beautiful church right in the middle of it. Families went to this church. People walked in wearing nice clothes, holding hands with their children, smiling. It was like the church from Molly's memory. No filth, no homeless people, just a loving, family church.
Molly sat outside, against the church building, and waited. She knew she smelled horrible, her hair was greasy and she hadn't changed her clothes in a month. She wanted to look kind, but she was still so broken that her face wouldn't turn out of its downcast state. It was okay though, she decided, these people knew how to love anyway.
Finally she heard people leaving the church. She heard laughing, talking, lunch plans, play dates. Down the stairs they were coming, they would see her now.
One by one they looked at her, and one by one they quickly turned their heads. She even saw some parents, when they were walking in front of her, pull their children to the other side of them in order to keep them furthest from her. Molly's heart was sinking. If only one smile... but no, not one.
She was devastated, confused and angry. But somehow she was resilient, and she did not give up. Every Sunday she walked the two hours back to that church to undergo the same treatment. Two months. Finally, she could take it no longer...
One Sunday, she walked in. They were in the middle of service and no one noticed her standing there, in the very back. But she heard, she saw...
A man up front was showing pictures of children. They were dirty. They were hungry. They were in need. He was telling the people what his organization would do for these children in their respective countries. He was passing papers around to fill out if you wanted to help. Almost everyone was filling out these papers.
And Molly was glad. She wanted these children to be cared for. She was so glad these people would help care for them.
But then she started crying... What about me? she thought, I'm right here. Why won't you help me?
Finally, someone noticed Molly. Someone smiled. Someone spoke.
And Molly became the woman I had lunch with.
Before we finished lunch that day, Molly pleaded, "Don't forget. When you are loving people, when you are supporting missionaries and sponsoring children internationally, don't forget. There are orphans and widows here at home too."
And I do not forget. Next time I will stop and talk to the girl before I go into the store.