Gratitude, She Hovers In Dark Places

*Today’s piece is from Erika Morrison.  She writes over at The Life Artist. She has a killer space.  You should check it out after you read here.  Thanks, Erika!

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Sometimes gratitude beckons gentle like a soft breeze slipping along your cheek-skin. And sometimes she calls fierce and punctures straight through all your hardened places to reach your most-middle . . .

A fall family walk on a Sunday in November with the autumn air, the just-perfect silk-blue sky, ten million more dancing leaves and we are high on health and beauty and the Love that fills the space between us. But always when you are high, someone else in this world (or in your neighborhood) is low and our treading feet walked down the hill to the scene of a domestic dispute, publicly displayed. They were yelling in Spanish and I have wished time and again since living in this multi-cultural sequester of New Haven that I had the empty hours and energy to learn this language and right now is no exception. Beyond tone and emotion I don’t know what is being said, but before our startled vision this woman pushes hard and peels herself away from a raging man and takes flight down the sidewalk. Immediately I am even more aware in all my senses and I reach out to her with the Spirit inside me and I know instantly, this: the foreign words they speak may be lost on me, but I can smell fear and desperation and she wears hers like too much cheap perfume.

Our five flesh-hearts witness her. Two blocks from the incident she crumples to the concrete with body-shaking sobs, agony spilling from her skin. Quickening my pace with an “oh dear God” and I stop to fold my legs to level my eyes with hers. I meet her there, where she is, treading in a whirlpool of grief and I could feel it like she sucked me into her story and it hurt. Jesus, it hurt.

“Are you okay?” is the questions that falls off my tongue and–of course–I know the answer. She can hardly speak through her waking-grave and my arms, of their own volition, wrap full around her bony, malnourished frame. The tip of my nose brushes right up to her stringy, smoke-stenched hair and I will the Love in my body to seep into her molecules because it’s all I have and somewhere in my subconscious I have to believe and hope it makes a difference, otherwise? I’m not sure I can bear the ache.

She turns her neck from one side to the other in response to the question and through her watery-hiccups I catch her broken english, “I’m . . . (hic) so tired of . . . (hic) them beating . . . (hic) on me.” I hear her like it is Jesus talking to me and I even see His face in her overused and forgotten features, in the tears free-leaking in rivulets down leather-skin lines. It’s like He’s staring at me through this woman who has been around every damn block – He’s gone with her and he needs my kindness to ease the tear in His heart just as much as she does.

“Do you want to come home with me? Have a meal and be safe for awhile?” Is my next asking. I wanted to pull her into my body and hold her as long as it took for her to believe she was loved. And she lifted her downcast head and stared through the unbelief with a sort of feral hope that I was for real, “I . . . (hic) go home . . . (hic) with you? Yes. Please!” It was the “please” that got me, an utterance that came forth with such pleading – as if her whole life hung by one quarter’s worth of compassion. I took her hand and helped her to unsettled feet and me, my man and little-men surrounded her and started for home, exchanging names and “hello’s”.

But, it all happened so fast . . . the car screeching up to the curb next to us, the man jumping out and speaking frantically and pulling Yvonne from my arm draped across her shoulders. The woman driving the car opens her door, turns her body to look back at us and very pointedly says,”You don’t know anything about this situation. She doesn’t need your help.” And I am screaming inside and Yvonne is gripping my hand and drags me close enough to beg-whisper through a fresh flood of tears, “Where do you live? I come to you?” Giving her hand a final squeeze, I lean in to tell her my address and then she was gone before any of us knew what was happening or what we could be done differently.

“What just happened here?” We are stunned and our feet are slow to leave the spot where Yvonne left us and my oldest son, Gabriel, is suffering too from this experience and says, “Mama, what are we going to do?” I look into his worried-innocence and I tell them straight and true, “We’re going to pray . . . and boys? Boys, we’re going to give thanks for everything we can imagine . . . for sleeping in safety, comfort and warmth, for love and laughter and hugs and living in the lap of luxury and for being born in the family we are, for being able to notice beauty because we don’t live day after day in ugly and dark. What else are we thankful for?” I ask this last question in my own desperation because it feels to me like raping the already abusive circumstances present in our world if I don’t unbutton my lips again and again and again with full and free thanksgiving for every atom of goodness I can think of.

Selah.

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29 Responses to Gratitude, She Hovers In Dark Places

  1. you bring us along, erika – on this walk, to our knees with yvonne, to that naked helpless place, and finally to gratefulness, the only option left to us in this and every state. beautiful word-weaving, heartbreaking truth.

    (i also find it interesting, you thought your grateful bite would not be on food, but that’s exactly what you offered your fear-filled friend. the universal offer of gratitude)

  2. rain says:

    i found myself holding my breath as i read…

    what an experience for your family, erika…one that will not be forgotten. you know what? sometimes i don’t know how not to feel guilt, instead of gratitude. i’m curled up warm this morning. i have my coffee. a good job. a car. i’m not in pain. i’m thankful for these things, i truly am. but it’s not always a pure thankfulness…i feel guilty for having them. i don’t deserve them; i’m no better than anyone else. others go hungry and i am bored with my well-stocked fridge. you know? ugh.

  3. HopeUnbroken says:

    absolutely heart-wrenching, erika. heart touched, bruised, broken, right along with you. what a reminder of all things good in my life today. thanks for busting me out of my own wretched self-pity. God. . . He is good.
    love to you.

  4. Amber says:

    Just whoa and woe to all of it, Erika. Thank you for sharing this story. I think it’s true that when we see the world for what it is, it makes us desperate to be gracious and to have gratitude.

  5. Kiki Malone says:

    Holy smokes. So this is what the church should be doing: grabbing folks up off the ground, wrapping them up tight, feeding and comforting them even when it might put us in harms way – not for our glory, but because people deserve every ounce of everything ever given to us. This story is hurting my heart in all kinds of good and bad ways. Thanks, Erika.

  6. Angela says:

    Just as Yvonne is etched in your heart and your memory, I guarantee that you are etched in hers. That day on the sidewalk–with your arms wrapped around her–she will remember it. She will…

    I’ve been the Yvonne–seen, heard, held in my bleakest moments by other women with the kind of Jesus-arms that you have. I hope that I will be the Erika someday too–unafraid of the chaos, the smell, the pain, the mess… and willing to embrace the broken with a Love that overpowers it all.

  7. Dolly says:

    I was holding my breath as I read about Yvonne and her tears and suffering. So grateful that you were able to give her a taste of Jesus-love out of the deep well of your heart-life. Praying that Yvonne is rescued …
    You may already have done this, and this may be a long shot, but after attending a human trafficking conference, I became aware of how many people from other countries are trafficked into the US. The fact that she was not free to go with you and that she was dragged away in a car made me think that she is not free and may be a victim of trafficking.

    The anti-trafficking experts recommend calling the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-3737-888 and then they will direct you on what to do next. Sorry for the long reply.

    I linked to Emily’s blog, 2 links after you, so I hopped over.

    Thanks for sharing; you are an amazing writer and person.

    • Oh, thank-you Dolly. Not just for your response, but for your RESPONSE. One of my closest friends founded an anti-trafficking organization called love146.org, so the issue is always on top, but they wouldn’t be able to help this woman in the way I think the org you mentioned would – so I “thank” you for that.

      Love,
      Erika

  8. jewelz says:

    Once again your heart and the words that have come from it stun me.

    True beauty!!!

    xoxoxo
    Jewelz

  9. Seth says:

    Erika,

    First, I really appreciate this post on so many levels. You brought some of your best work here, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that. I mean… lady… whoa. You worked the narrative so well.

    Secondly, I’ve been thinking about how gratitude holds back the darkness, but how it can never completely break that darkness on this side of the veil. Honestly, it’s a bit gut wrenching (and way heavy). But watching you teach your children about the tension that’s here with us… how thankfulness can act as a remedy for despair? Man, that was worth the read. Really priceless. I pray that your kids hold tight to that, fight against the jadedness that can come with being wise to the world. I pray the same prayer for myself.

    I never saw this story coming, not in a million years. It was a beautiful blow to the gut.

    And what Kevin said.

    And Abby too, about the food that is. I totally thought about that the first time I read this post. Dinner played more than a bit role (or roll) here.

    • Reminds me of the Frederick Buechner quote I posted recently “For those who believe in God, it means, this birth, that God himself is never safe from us, and maybe that is the dark side of Christmas, the terror of the silence. He comes in such a way that we can always turn him down, as we could crack the baby’s skull like an eggshell or nail him up when he gets to big for that.” We live on the rim between two worlds, never fully in one or the other . . . Someday. Someday. For now, I’m grateful for the times when Christ in me is capable of breaking into a moment so I (we) can have a glimpse through a dim veil. And we try to “hold tight”.

      Thanks for the invitation.

      Love,
      Erika

  10. I’m with Seth – WHOA. What a story – and such pain. May your Spirit-led words and actions have a life-changing impact on this situation. You will likely never know how that may happen. But you stepped in and stepped up and you turned the experience into a learning situation for your sons, the kind of learning they will not forget. Beautifully done – on every level.

  11. Gripping. How you lifted her, even if for a moment, out of her pain and into your heart. And her story now part of yours settling in our hearts. A beautiful mess.

    Thank you for this.

  12. I ask this last question in my own desperation because it feels to me like raping the already abusive circumstances present in our world if I don’t unbutton my lips again and again and again with full and free thanksgiving for every atom of goodness I can think of.

    i was bawling through this. oh, poor yvonne… poor, poor yvonne and how i wish she could know happiness such as we know… oh erika, thank you, for bending low, for wrapping her close, for breathing Jesus to her. i have so much respect for how you loved on her. so much. and for how you prayed with your boys….

    (seth, thanks so much for hosting dear erika today…)

  13. Pingback: Wherein I Am Undone, Again

  14. Pingback: feeding gratefulness – an abby barnhart special | Seth Haines

  15. I feel like one of your kids. I just want to ask you questions after reading this. Why do they have to pull her away? Why is it so hard for us as humans to receive love? Why are the ones in the car so ashamed, so angry, so sure that we could never be of any help to them? Why is there a blanket of dividing darkness? I love this story and hate it at the same time. You live it and write it so eloquently. Thank you.

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