One of the Invisible People goes to my church.
You know who I mean. You walk past them when you’re bustling down busy city streets. They’re sitting on the curb or against a building, their faces weathered and dirty. Sometimes they hold a cup, sometimes not. They watch you while you do everything you can not to look at them. Or maybe you look at them, but you refuse to actually see them — the life behind their eyes, the spirit that resides there. You refuse to see the memories they carry or the way their parents sniffed their necks when they were babies. You choose not to wonder if they have people who love them, or who loved them once.
She has the sort of face that should be photographed because of the story it tells and the secrets it keeps. The stories are in her smile — a smile that twinkles in her eyes, but the eyes seem to inhabit, perhaps, another place. A realm just a little left of here; not far, but not near. The secrets are in the lines of her leathery skin, tucked inside — completely human, yet entirely untouchable for their pain.
One of the Invisible People goes to my church because it is a warm, welcoming church full of diversity, where CEO’s sit next to stay at home moms, where multitudes of ethnicities and races and cultures represent. My church is the kind of church where nobody questions her presence in the busy lobby, at the cafe tables. She is as welcome as the CEO’s, as the PTA moms. That’s how my church rolls. She sits, she has coffee, and every once in a while I look her in the eye and smile, and I make myself falsely proud.
But then yesterday happened.
She was sitting with her free cup of coffee as she often does, this woman who has refused any help we have offered. She just wants the warmth of the lobby and her coffee, the envelope of the the Word being preached. She doesn’t want a home, she doesn’t want a place to stay — she doesn’t even particularly want to shower. She just wants to come and sit under the wings of Jesus every once in a while. And that’s okay with us. So she sat at her usual table, but this time, something was a little different.
This time, she brought a friend.
He had the same sort of leathery skin, the same rumpled hair, partially tamed in the rare argument with a comb. The same look in the eye — he was here, but elsewhere, too — although more here, and a little angrier, than she was. He looked uncomfortable as one can only look the first time in church — or the first time in a long time. For all I know, it wasn’t his first time, but sometimes it’s easy to feel like every time is your first time in church, isn’t it? To feel like an alien in a homogeneous nation in church?
This was one of the days I looked at her and said hello but it was mainly so I didn’t have to look at him and smile. This time I didn’t feel falsely proud. I felt convicted. How often had I taken my health — mental, physical, spiritual — for granted? As I go to my warm home, messed and sticky from the activity of relatively well-behaved children and a husband who loves me, I think, “Who have I invited into the fold recently?”
I thought it was beautiful, that she invited her friend into the enveloping wings of Jesus, the warmth of His people, His lobby, His table. I wonder if, after He comes again, and we all sit at His beautiful banquet table for the feast He has prepared, will I get to sit near her? And will her friend be there too, because she invited Him?
Who have I invited recently? Who will be an honored guest at that feast because of I choose to be a tool of God?
And I have been convicted to remember this image of her and her friend at that banquet table. This is the way God sees them: present and in the moment. Skin smooth as silk, clean and soft. Hair, luxurious. Wearing the finest of linens, smiling from the inside out in a radiant glow of life everlasting.
When I look at people — as I stand on long lines for holiday shopping, as people complain about me or yell at me or misunderstand me — I want to remember to see them the way God sees them, the way He created them to be. I will try to see not the ugly they have to wear to get through this earthly life but the fine linens and radiant light that God wants to wrap around them.
And this I will see only because once, God showed me one of the Invisible People, and to see her Invisible Friend.