She said, "I like your shoes."

I broke the rules today. And approached a stranger. This was not the original plan.

Earlier this afternoon I was doing laundry and stopped to take a break and do some swinging in the courtyard. A young 8-year-old friend on rollerblades joined me, and I was going to blog all about the wonders of playtime and sunshine. Then I went to the grocery store. On the way home I crossed the street at a spot where I always go straight. Which put me on the corner with Shelise.

She was frail with red hair and dark roots. She was looking down and pushing a heavy-looking lawnmower, attempting to balance a broom and dustpan on top of it. As a rule of city living, I avoid strangers. I was a few feet behind her; I waited patiently for the light to turn green so I could cross the street, get back to my apartment, unload my groceries, put the laundry in the dryer, and then write all about how happy I feel when I play in the sun.

Then I heard her say quietly to herself, "What in the hell did I do to deserve this? What have I done? Why do I try?" Another rule of city living, do not approach people who talk to themselves. So I let her stay a few feet ahead of me. Then the broom and dustpan fell off of her lawnmower. And God pushed me a few feet; truly. I have no idea how I ended up right beside her saying, "Do you need a little help? I could walk with you."

"Oh. Sure. I...I'm just going a few blocks," she said as if I was not nearly as strange and awkward as I felt. So we walked a few blocks, me holding some of her mowing gear and feeling totally unsure of what I was doing. "My name is Shelise," she said, introducing herself. "I'm Emily." We shook hands. And suddenly there was the Spirit, making her way into the encounter.

I feel that I was very inadequate for the remainder of our 15 minutes together. I wish that the tale I had to tell was amazing. That somehow I was able to solve the terrible mess that is her life; that I found her tons of lawns to mow and people started looking upon her with compassion instead of disgust. That I helped her put about 20 pounds onto her tiny 36-year-old body, and that I somehow reunited her with her parents and children for Mother's Day.

None of those things happened. Instead, I said ridiculously stupid things I learned in seminary classes like, "That must be really frustrating for you" and "I think a new chapter is about to begin." To which she responded, "It's a lot more than frustrating" and "When?"

Earlier today I got done writing a sermon that is supposed to be about hope. Having hope. And here I was, confronted with a hopeless woman saying things like "I just want to give up." And I couldn't think of anything helpful to say that really made realistic sense. All I could think to do was keep walking beside her. In the end, she sat down under a tree for a rest, and we shook hands before we parted and stared into each other's eyes. I told her I would be praying for her. I said, "Thank you for walking with me. Don't give up." Shelise said quite honestly, "I'm not trying to, but I want to." Unsure of what else to say, I started to step back toward home. She said, "I like your shoes." We smiled. "Thanks."

The whole thing has left me feeling haunted. Haunted by the calling I feel inside toward a life of ministry. How can I lead others through a world I fear I might never understand?

Shelise, I really will be praying. And I'm sorry.


  1. you are so sweet. i am sure you left an impression on her that will last a life time.

    and i like your shoes too :)

  2. Oh sweetie. What a powerful experience. And even if it didn't seem like you were able to help this woman in that moment, by walking with her and listening to her, I imagine you helped her in so many ways that you'll never know.

    (((big love and hugs)))

  3. thanks for this post, emily. i really hate that our city culture demands us to ignore others. why do we do this? i'm really glad you broke the rules. i'm going to work to break them a little more myself.