“Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20).
I saw her standing on the sidewalk at the end of the Manna House driveway. I was hopeful that she was in a peaceful mindset. This guest has had a difficult history at Manna House. Her outbursts, her threats of violence, and finally her throwing of hot coffee at a volunteer, culminated in her being banned indefinitely three years ago.
A guest who is banned is not allowed at Manna House. Usually a ban is for a week or two, or maybe a month. The hope is that the time away will allow the guest to evaluate what went wrong, and then come back to discuss how a change can lead to being welcomed again.
With this guest attempts to help her develop some minimal respect for other guests and volunteers with shorter bans had utterly failed. The combination of her personality and mental illness were too much for us to handle. So a “permanent” ban was reluctantly imposed.
During this ban she still came around to Manna House once in a while. One of us would serve her out on the sidewalk, away from other guests and volunteers. Sometimes this service was as simple as a cup of coffee. Sometimes it involved more complicated negotiations about clothing items she wanted.
Kathleen and I would also see her around midtown on occasion. Each encounter was always fraught with some anxiety. This guest can move from friendly to volatile in a manner of minutes. Then she disappeared. Months passed without seeing her, until this morning, when I went down to the end of the driveway to talk with her.
I greeted her and asked if she would like a cup of coffee.
“Already sent somebody in to get me a cup,” she replied matter of factly. For this guest going around the rules comes easily.
“Glad to hear you’ve got coffee coming. How have you been?”
“I nearly died a few weeks ago. Sunstroke. I was in the hospital, ICU. They thought I wasn’t going to make it. And I almost didn’t.”
She looked at me as if to emphasize she had been on death’s door. And then added,
“None of us know when we’re going. Could be anytime. Wasn’t my time. Will be sometime.”
“I’m grateful it wasn’t your time.” She smiled when I said this, and then asked for some socks and a shirt.
“I can get those for you.”
Sin’s power is death. I see the power of sin in how this guest nearly died. The summer’s heat and humidity and the lack of shelter, of a place for her to stay, had nearly killed her. And maybe even our ban from Manna House had nearly killed her.
As she sat on a bench in the front yard of Manna House to put on her new socks, she said, “Look at my feet. All swollen and red. Guess it’s from that sunstroke.”
A pair of socks is a small grace. And she liked the shirt I brought out. I knew she likes shirts that are big and hang down around her. I had brought out an XXL. Perhaps another small grace.
I knew the big grace was that despite all she had been through, despite her being banned from Manna House, she was talking with me. For a moment she trusted me enough to share her life, and extend a gracious welcome to me.
We were in a very small space of grace where Manna House boundaries and her ability on this day to be pleasant intersected. Sin was all around us, and in us, and yet this was a moment in which grace was abounding.
Jesus said the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. So small I can easily miss the abundance of grace in the Kingdom as it grows and pushes against the power of sin and death.
I left this guest sitting in the coolness of the morning on the bench as I returned to the back yard. Death had to wait for another day.