Her hair was pulled into a single ponytail, nestled low between her shoulders. Wisps of hair framed her face. Her cheeks and forehead blackened from soot, remnants of her fire pit.
A faded blue floral dress hung loosely on her small frame; a grey sweatshirt peeked from under the neckline. Frayed jeans were pulled high on her hips, held by a shoestring in place of a belt. Her bare feet showed the dirt collected from navigating the dusty trails between her campsite and the rest of the world.
She shared a one-person tent with all her belongings – 2 black plastic bags and a small suitcase. She protected the tent against the wind, snow, and fellow campers by covering it with cardboard, reinforced by scrap wood, sticks from a dying juniper tree, and a black plastic tarp.
Her age was masked by the erosion of a life spent in bitter disappointment. She wore the tension of journeying from campsite to shelter on her forehead. The consequences of living under blistering sun and winter snow seen in the wrinkles on her hands and arms.
She was alone. Comforted by the occasional conversation but it was safer to remain solo. Unattached from the drama of relationships that for her usually resulted in brokenness.
Her life had a rhythm, a cadence that allowed her to survive the daily despair. Yet even with the comfort of her routines and survival strategies, there was an emptiness deep in her soul. A longing that was not filled by a warm shelter bed, or canceled by the patterns she religiously practiced. A relentless ache occupied her waking minutes.
I met Stella late one winter night. Dragging her plastic bags while pushing her suitcase. She limped through the doorway and down the hall. Her bags making a soft swishing sound as they dragged across the linoleum floor. She headed towards the bathrooms.
After a warm shower and a bowl of soup, we sat across the table and talked. She reflected on the challenges of her travels and the origin of her limp – a fall navigating a rocky ledge near her campsite. As she ran out of words, I asked if she had any specific needs. She responded,
She lifted her feet revealing calloused soles and toes scrapped and bruised from exposure. She went on to share,
“I used to have boots, but they were too big – I walked out of them. I need shoes.”
I motioned for her to follow me and we made our way to the clothes closet. A cramped and intimidating room where clothes were stacked and hung from floor to ceiling. Stella ruffled through the clutter. She admired a beige Columbia jacket, slipped on then off a pair of pink knit gloves, and then she found them! SHOES – light blue with black straps and soles.
I handed her a pair of hiking boots but she was determined. She slipped the blue shoes on her bare feet, a perfect fit. I offered warm socks and with the first smile I had seen from Stella’s face, they were rejected. Stella walked out of the space. She was satisfied. She had found the thing she needed most – shoes.
I watched from a distance as she gathered her belongings and headed to the door. I called to her,
“Stella, can’t you stay the night?”
She turned, smiled, and waved, disappearing into the bite of the cold night air. The door closed slowly behind her.
I stood motionless for a few minutes, watching her shadow pass by the window. Her head dipped low bracing against the wind. I wondered how such a small thing, a pair of canvas shoes, could bring joy. Stella’s life was hard, unimaginable. Yet finding them changed everything.
I see Stella infrequently, but each time she smiles and points toward her shoes. She remains content.
Today, I am sitting in the warmth of our home. There is food in the pantry, warm water runs from the faucets, and each night I climb into a bed with clean sheets – a scented candle situated on the nightstand to add comfort. Yet, Stella has something I long for – contentment.
I will be honest; my life is filled with striving. Working to obtain the next thing to satiate the longings. On the good days, I recognize that the thing I need most is a greater dependence on the One who provides all I need. However, I don’t live in the “good days” so even that awareness is inconsistent at best.
Yet watching Stella, pushing and dragging her life, has forced me to reconsider my approach.
Romans 12:2 tells us,
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
New Living Translation
My striving hasn’t worked. I still wake most mornings feeling like I’m dragging around the baggage from years before. Perhaps Stella had it right, she was focused on shoes, the one (most important) thing she needed.
I’ve come to believe that this transformed life that Jesus offers, a changed mind, is the one thing that brings real satisfaction. It takes all our experiences, broken interactions, bad decisions, and poor attitudes and uses them to point out our desperate need for His mercy and grace. It reshapes our hearts, motives, and perspectives and then allows us to be a powerful instrument to love other broken souls walking through the world.
Lysa Terkeurst, in her book, It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way – Finding Unexpected Strength When Disappointments Leave You Shattered, suggests,
…the disappointments we are facing can be used for good if we trust the heart of the Giver.
My prayer for you today is that you become painfully aware of the baggage you are dragging and pushing around in your life. That you realize that nothing you are striving for will bring lasting comfort. And through this recognition, you look to the only One that offers transformation, Jesus. Because resting in Him changes everything.
Be encouraged His BeLOVED there is hope.
God loves you.
“Stella, thank you for all you have taught me.”
In the book of John, chapter 4, Jesus meets a Samaritan woman. She led a life of pain and loneliness, was isolated from the other women, and rejected for her past. Yet, Jesus offers her satisfaction. Take a few minutes to read John 4:4-15 below and consider the questions that follow.
4 He had to go through Samaria on the way. 5 Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. 7 Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” 8 He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.
9 The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”
10 Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”
11 “But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? 12 And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?”
13 Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. 14 But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”
15 “Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.”
New Living Translation
(Please visit John 4 NLT – Jesus and the Samaritan Woman – Jesus – Bible Gateway to read the full story about Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman.)
Take a few minutes to consider the following.
- As you read the story of the Samaritan woman, what did Jesus offer her that no one else could offer? How did this radically change her life (see John 4:16-30)?
- Take a few minutes to think about your life. What baggage are you carrying? Can a deeper more committed relationship with Jesus help you find freedom? Can it bring true satisfaction?
- What step are you going to take to align your thoughts and actions with Christ?