Counted Among Them

Nov 14, 2011 by

Today I took to the streets downtown to gather some last minute needs before traveling tomorrow.  However, instead of hopping in my car to go to my favorite grocery store, I decided to walk to a new one just a few blocks from our home to check it out.  I left our condo pretty disheveled, which means with no make up on, and blustering with my empty, reusable grocery bags waving all around me in today’s wind.  I grabbed a few of the things I needed, but left others, deciding that those items could be found cheaper at the local Bed, Bath and Beyond.

So, with a couple half-full bags, I walked a few more blocks to purchase cheaper paper towels and body lotion.  On the way home, I realized I also needed to go to the pharmacy, which is a few more blocks.  Now, with heavy bags that looked like they could accommodate a week’s worth of living, I shuffled down the street to Rite Aid for my inhaler refill.  By the time I turned toward home, I was weary from the few blocks that turned into a few more that turned into a few more.  Also, the bags that began empty had long started to tug on my shoulders and become cumbersome.

As I walked home, abandoning any notion of ladylike grace, I had a fleeting thought, “You look like a smartly dressed bag lady.”  I wondered if people passing me on the street thought the same thing.  No sooner that did I have that thought, I found myself passing by several “bag ladies” who sat just a few feet from a shelter that houses many of them.  Tears began to sting my eyes.  It’s not such a far fetched reality, really.

Years ago when I sang with a little Gospel group called His Beloved, we found ourselves staying within the loving walls of Harvest House in Estes Park.  In pursuit of, I don’t know . . . a record deal?  Fame?  Ministry?  His Beloved competed at the Gospel Music Association Conference and, because we didn’t have enough money to stay on the grounds of the competition, we stayed for free with the women of Harvest House . . . a gift extended to us of their generosity and grace.  These are beautiful women, transitioning out of very difficult situations and into the overcoming that is their deliverance.  Between music showcases and songwriting sessions, I talked with the various women of Harvest House, learned their stories, shared my own, and was humbled by the fellowship received and prayers exchanged on one another’s behalf.

One morning, I woke up way too early and, coming out of my room bedraggled and with my hair all over my head, I found two of my new friends pouring over the Bible together.  I joined them at the table for what would ultimately be one of the most intimate, Spirit-filled moments of my life.  The three of us ended up crying at the goodness of God in our lives.  Later that day, one of the ladies with whom I’d met that morning nervously waited for her sister to come for a visit.  The sister was bringing her child to see her for the first time in a long time.  Things had happened, mistakes were made, wounds were inflicted.  The shame and trepidation she felt was well earned, and she was counting on grace.

As we waited together, the sister finally entered, looking nervous and a little angry.  “This is Nicole,” my new friend said, introducing me to her sister.  She stiffly extended her hand and her judgement toward me.  “Oh,” I thought,” she thinks I live here too.  She thinks I’m one of them.”  And with that thought, my chest swelled with pride.  It felt so right to be “one of them”.  I felt so proud to have been so mistaken.  I was happy to identify with women who had suffered so much and overcome so greatly.

If empathy is a gift, I am well endowed with it, to the point that I’d call it a curse really.  A year later, returning to Harvest House to perform a “thank you” concert, a guest speaker gave her testimony about what it was like growing up in a dysfuntional household to a prostitute mother.  The horrors she told were unimaginable and heartbreaking, and the praise due to God for her protection and rescue were real.  Except, the only thing that I could think about as she shared how desperately she wanted to escape her mother was the fact that she was speaking to former prostitutes themselves, women like her mother, who found themselves working hard to get their children back to rebuild and restore.  My stomach ached.

“One of them.”  I think my empathy is responsible for the trouble I’ve had with India.  It’s quite easy to imagine myself as “one of them” Hindus on my way to temple instead of church and, according to the theology of most Christians, on my way to hell instead of heaven because of it.  My stomach aches . . . again.

After my much discussed, public meltdown of faith on Facebook, I returned to my former church for a visit while in Denver for a spell.  Upon seeing me, a former co-worker and pastor on staff greeted me saying something like, “Well, praise God sister.  I’ve been praying that you ‘come out from among them.'”  Anger flashed my face and guided my tongue with dexterity.  You can imagine my smart ass reply.

“Among them”.  “One of them”.  These days, I find myself more at home among “them” than some of “us.”  I wonder if Jesus would too.

Peace and Blessings,


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1 Comment

  1. Nice! I love this.

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