I was having one of those weeks. As a licensed social worker, I’m accustomed to tests of my patience. My demeanor is also somewhat tolerant, and I’m not usually too quick to anger as I try to appreciate peoples’ positive attributes before considering their faults. This particular week, however, was extraordinary.
We had a friend from college and her husband staying with us for the week. Since her husband was from the West Coast, he really wanted to experience Boston. His first priority was historic Fenway Park. I’m not sure if you are familiar with baseball culture in the Northeast, but one cannot just walk to the box office at Fenway on game day and expect to buy a ticket. The Red Sox sell out each and every game due to a tremendous local and national following. The team was on the road that week, so we opted to take a guided tour of the ballpark. Yes, in Boston one can expect to pay the same price to tour an empty ballpark as most would pay to get grandstand seats in most other stadiums. We were sitting outside of Gate A eating Fenway Franks and sausages (up here we call them sausages, not bratwurst) when a peculiar woman entered into our personal space. She started about five feet away, and gradually inched closer until she was within 10 inches of my person. I was feeding my newborn at the time, and was wary of her presence. “Can I help you?” I asked.”Yes,” she replied, “I’m looking for Theo. Theo Epstein. He told me to meet him at Gate A.” Theo Epstein is the General Manager of the Red Sox and with certainty did not ask this woman to meet her at Gate A.
I explained that he was not likely available, and she asked if she could wait with us at the gate. I explained that we were waiting to go on the Fenway tour, not for Theo Epstein. She asked if she could come. I explained that she needed to buy a ticket. She opened her cell phone and pretended to review an incoming text message (her phone was not turned on. I suspect it was also not activated.) Then she asked if she could watch my kids while we went on the tour. I explained that this would not be a possibility. She insisted that she was a children’s librarian in Somerville and quite qualified. Surprisingly, I still declined her offer. I shook her hand and told her it was nice to meet her. Mind you, I had passed my newborn off to my wife, who briskly walked in the other direction during this interaction, along with our five-year-old. I breathed a sigh of relief when the woman left. I’m compassionate, but I’m not ignorant. She was far from a thug, but when a stranger takes an interest in your children, the red flags come out. I was literally ready to tackle her had she come any closer.
Two nights later, I arrived home around 9P.M. My wife and five-year-old were at a relative’s home, but I had our newborn in tow. My sisters had just pulled into our driveway in front of me. We all exited our cars, and slowly turned around to investigate the activity on our corner, literally in front of our driveway. It was clear what was happening; it just took a second for it to sink in. A scantily clad woman was waving at cars as they drove past. Her face was sunken, likely from malnutrition and drug use, and her dress was tattered and dirty. She had makeup heavily caked on her face, probably applied sans a mirror. I told my sisters to go inside and I approached the prostitute. Slowly. Aware that a pimp may also be approaching from another direction. Again, I’m compassionate. I had actually prayed with an active prostitute/I.V. drug user just a few nights prior to this, but the context was different. I had performed and ministered at a street outreach, and the objective was to reach out to that population. Once it hit this close to home, within arm’s length of my children, my patience wore thin. I told her to leave. Sternly. She refused, as she was busy trying to entice clients. I told her again to get off of my property. Then I ranted. I ranted about how I have put all of my efforts into making my property presentable (it still has a ways to go) and that we bought our home in order to reach out to a block that most have written off as hopeless. I guarantee she didn’t comprehend a word of it, but she did go away. I felt a twinge of guilt, but my daughter was waiting in the car and I didn’t want her exposed to street elements of that nature. Not yet.
My prayer was for patience. I would love to share a follow-up story about how I provided to my new librarian friend the phone number of the best psychologist Boston has to offer (assuming her mental illness was going untreated). I wish I had a praise report about how I sought out a residential treatment facility for my neighborhood prostitute, and then arranged for her to be in a seat at church that very Sunday. That isn’t what happened, however. I was protecting my family in both circumstances, so my actions were justified, but I still felt sad for them both. Serving others for the sake of Jesus comes with the harsh reality that others may not respond to or reciprocate our compassion. Our sin and circumstances can be so overwhelming that hope isn’t even taken into consideration.
As a servant of Christ, we reach out to the lost as it is a product of our relationship with Him. His love was patient, as He pursued society’s most undesirable members and showed them His unconditional love. I’m eternally grateful for Christ’s perfect example of such righteousness.
“Love is patient, love is kind.” (1 Corinthians 13:4a NIV)