The persistent knocking at the front door finally penetrated my brain as I ran a brush through my still shower-wet hair. Checking to make sure I was actually decent, I ran down the stairs and threw the door open, hoping it wasn’t too late. The young Gypsy mother on the threshold laughed as she saw me, realizing why I hadn’t come sooner. Laughing with her, I invited her in.
As we stood in the hallway, mop bucket and temporarily displaced furniture surrounding us, and me still clutching the hairbrush, she told me why she had come. Her oldest daughter, who is thirteen, had fainted last week in school and would need to have some medical tests done. She really had nowhere to turn for help except the church. Her husband is in prison and her only income is social assistance from the state and the small tips the children earn helping shoppers unload their shopping carts.
As she continued her story, I ceased caring that my hair would soon dry in unruly bumps and waves. She said when she went to her daughter’s school to get her, the teachers had grilled her suspiciously, “Don’t you feed her?”
“Of course I feed her, what do you think I am?” she had protested. “I give them the best of whatever we have. If someone suffers, it’s me.” But the teachers had gone on to admonish her how dangerous her daughter’s condition was.
“They said that if she had fainted when she was on the stairs, it could have been really bad. They won’t let her come back to school until she has the tests.”
Just another day in the life of this young mother of four. One more hardship piled on the mountain of hardships she already faces. So often she cries out to the Lord, asking how she can go on. Sometimes her oldest daughter hears her and starts to cry too. “Don’t cry!”her mother tells her, “Mama just has a problem.” “I can’t help it,” her daughter says, “When I hear you cry it makes me cry too.”
I think about our contrasting situations as we talk. She has walked over to see me, even though she had been in intense pain the night before with some kind of infection. I had just taken a hot shower and my clothes dryer was providing background music to our conversation, while where she lives, she doesn’t even have running water. My husband is a godly man who is there for me in every trial, while hers can only ask forgiveness for all she is suffering without him, and promise to walk with God when he gets out. And the contrasts go on and on.
I climb the stairs to find the church benevolence funds and return to give her what she needs. We talk more about her 11-year-old son who has never learned to read. She talks about how smart he is in math, but he just can’t read. All the other children laugh at him. Of course she can’t help him, because she never learned either, and now, even if she wanted to learn, how could she fit it in, with caring for four children alone, without any modern conveniences, with all her health problems?
I let her pour out her heart. She shares how God alone is her strength. She says she is so thankful to Him. If she has even a potato to eat, she is satisfied. She turns to go, but I grab her hands and say, “I want to pray for you.” We go together to the One who is both her refuge and mine, laying her need before Him. I pray with the words I can find, bad Romanian grammar and all. But when we open our eyes, I discover the bond of love between us has grown and He has comforted her. She leaves smiling.