The Unexpected Tithe

I’m on vacation this week.  Which means I’m not leading worship and not writing out our weekly tithe check.  Part of me feels bad about this.  I try to fight against this part of me.  Not because I don’t value tithing but because I don’t like the legalistic guilt it inspires in me if I happen to miss a week.  If my comfort comes from putting a certain amount in the collection plate I’m sorely and dangerously mistaken.  I prefer the feeling of uncertainty that reminds me that my life and all I have belongs to the God who created and saved me and lives within me striving to make me holy.  Taking that reality for granted, as though I could pay off God with a certain amount each week is dangerous.  Deadly dangerous.

I walked out of my hotel about 1:30pm today.  I slept in – a Sunday luxury I very rarely have.  Again, the faint tug of guilt about not finding a church to attend.  Church is not my salvation,  though.  Christ is.  The Church points me to Christ and therefore the Church is beautiful and necessary and critical, but it is not in and of itself the answer, as though checking off an attendance box can put my soul at ease.  It shouldn’t, but it often tries to.

She was sitting by the entrance to the hotel I’m staying in.   I noticed one of the employees handing her a handful of granola bars as I searched for a newspaper, to no avail.  I exited the building, saying hi to her as she opened the granola bar.

Why was I thinking about her?  I crossed half the parking lot but there she was,  still in my mind.

Young-ish, but not too young.  Blonde hair showing brunette roots.

I turned around and went back to her. Are you hungry?   She nodded.  I’m heading to Denny’s, you can come with me and I’ll buy you a meal.

We walked the few hundred feet to Denny’s.   It was crowded.  She had a hospital bracelet on her arm and a taped pad to her upper arm from some sort of injection or blood withdrawal.  People watched us as we came in and waited.   I suppose that’s pretty impressive for a place like Vegas, where you assume people  have seen pretty much everything.  But here was something a bit out of place a few miles off the strip, this man in his slacks and this young woman in her shorts.  She pulled a long-sleeve white shirt on that covered the bandage.

So began the next four hours.

I don’t know if any of what she told me was true.  I pray I know someday.  We ate a breakfast lunch at Denny’s before walking a few blocks in 100+ degree heat to the CVS to fill her prescription for antibiotics for the kidney infection she had been discharged with this morning.  Food and coffee helped perk her up a bit for the walk.

Over breakfast-for-lunch it emerged that home, such as it was, is Reno.  Vegas is where she served a jail term, got her first job (at 28 years old), and been homeless for the past two months.  She’s been doing drugs for  15 years, with meth being her current choice.   I Googled and tried to figure out options.  The Greyhound for Reno left at 5:30pm.  It was 2:30 pm when we got out of the CVS with a prescription and enough snacks and necessity to tide her over on the nearly 24-hour bus ride to Reno, through LA and other parts in between.

The Greyhound folks weren’t encouraging.  We Ubered to the main bus station.  Along the way we picked up a couple from a now-famous pawn shop.  In town from Florida for a few days.  Complaining about a few meth-heads in the pawn shop,  and gushing about their gourmet meal the night before.  Jamie laughed along as we squeezed into the small car together.  I doubt the couple realized she was a meth-head.  I wonder what they would have said or thought?  At the Greyhound station we were told the bus was sold out, but we could try and get on it if someone didn’t show up.  We had two hours to kill at this point.  She ate half a Subway chicken sandwich and a McDonald’s shake and we sat.

And sat.  And sat.

Food and sugar had livened her up, and she was very talkative.  In the course of four hours she never asked a single question of me, inquired as to any aspect of my life.  I presume none of that mattered.  I was the source of free food and the possibility of a bus ticket out of Vegas.  What more did she need to know?  What more  could possibly matter to a young woman with three children from three different fathers, all of whom were adopted out?  Did I actually expect her to make polite conversation?  I was a sucker.  She was willing to go along with it for as long as the gravy train lasted, or until I said or did something she didn’t like, at which point I  have no doubt she would have cursed me out and stalked off in righteous indignation.

But we sat, and sat, and sat.  I didn’t say much, and she didn’t seem to mind.

She went off for a smoke and took all her gear with her.  I didn’t  really expect her to show back up, but she did a few minutes later.  We walked the block to the bus station and bought a ticket for the 7:30pm bus.   She could try to get on the 5:30pm bus after all the other passengers boarded, and if the driver said he still had room.   Everything she owned was in a single small bag given her the night before by a church whose name she couldn’t remember.  We sat in the lobby, waiting the last 15 minutes to the bus departure.

If we had been back home I could have connected her to resources.   I half considered sending her that way anyways, calling on some people I know to see if they would be willing to admit her to a long-term recovery program.  But there were no guarantees.  No guarantees the residential program would have space at the moment.  No guarantee that she would be willing to try it.  No guarantees at all.

At 5:25 I shook her  hand.  Either she was going to get a seat on that 5:30 bus or she would have to wait for the 7:30 bus.  She had what she needed to get home, where she felt she had a support system of sorts.  A better chance than she stood in Vegas.

I prefer to think she got on that 5:30 bus.  That she’s en route to Reno right now.  That by tomorrow, she’ll be with people who know her.  That there might be a chance that she’ll get help.  That life can be different tomorrow than it was this morning when she had nothing to look forward to but getting through a day in triple-digit  heat with a prescription she couldn’t pay to fill.

I don’t know that for sure, but I prefer to think so, and pray so.  It’s no more in my control than what happens to the check I write on Sunday mornings.  But it sure looked and felt a lot different.

 

One Response to “The Unexpected Tithe”

  1. Schrödinger’s Meth-Head | Living Apologetics Says:

    […] exactly a year ago I created a Schrödinger’s Meth-Head situation that is still […]

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