We will call her “Hagar.” Hagar walked into my office, shutting the door behind and covered her mouth as she spoke. “Fr. Brian? I need help. I spoke with one of the ladies at DHS who has helped me, and she suggested you. I guess you guys do weird things for people.”
I laughed a bit and acknowledged that we have met some strange needs the last several years.
So she proceeded to tell me her story. “All of this, I guess, is my fault. I understand if you won’t help, but I feel like you need to know the true story. I got hooked on drugs in high school. Instead of hitting the books, I was smoking, snorting, and injecting whatever I could get my hands on. I paid for the drugs by whoring myself, I guess you would call it, stealing, and sometimes working a real job. I don’t know if you have ever suffered from addiction, but my next high became my whole focus. Where could I score it? How was I gonna get it? You know?”
I nodded my understanding.
“Anyway, I focused so much on my drugs that I didn’t pay attention to much else. My family pretty much disowned me. My bosses would get tired of me missing work and fired me. Decent guys, you know, the ones we should marry, might go out with me once or twice, but once they learned about my addiction, they checked out. So, I ended up dating a bunch of addicts, too. Some of those guys would be pissed if we couldn’t score, like it was my fault. Anyway, between not brushing my teeth and getting smacked around a good bit, I’ve lost all but a few teeth.”
In truth, she is now in the single digits for teeth. So I asked what I could do to help her.
“Well, I’m clean now. I go to Narc-Anon. I have a job. I’m trying really hard to stay on the right track, you understand. Anyway, it is hard to get someone to hire you when you look like this.” She dropped her hand and tried gamely to smile. “Anyway, I am eligible for the I-CARE or CAC, whatever they call it.” She was referring to the dental care the state offers for the indigent. “What I need is two things. I need an x-ray of this side of my mouth. And I need a referral for the program from a real dentist. This lady at DHS thought for some reason that you might know a dentist who might help because your church helps battered women and prostitutes. If you could speak to one of them for me. I’d really like to try and get in that program and keep, you know, making things better. Maybe I can get new teeth and a new job and, you know, sort of make something with my life.”
“I told her I would do my best. I couldn’t promise anything. I had no Discretionary Funds right now, so I would be dependent upon dental goodwill.” She looked crestfallen. “It’s not fatal news,” I continued. “I just need a dentist who might be willing to do this for you now and wait for me to get some funds later this month.”
“You think anyone would do that? For real?”
“There are some good men and women around here. I can think of a couple right off the bat. I hate to impose upon them, but this is important. I’ll do my best.”
She burst into tears. “Are you kidding me? Just like that, you’re going to pester a dentist about helping me. Why? Didn’t you listen to my story? Don’t you know who I am? What I have done? Why would you do something like this so, so, so easily?”
“You want the real answer or the nice answer?”
She thought for a second and then said “the real.”
“God is all about our futures, our futures with Him. You ever heard the story of the Prodigal daughter?” She shook her head. So I told her the story of the Prodigal son except made him a daughter. When I got to the “And do you know what the Father did when he saw that daughter coming back up the road to home?”
“Man, I bet he was pissed at her for spending all her money on clothes and drugs. You know he gave her a good beating.”
“He told his servants to prepare a feast. The daughter who was gone had come home, and everyone was going to celebrate it.”
“What’s that got to do with me?”
“Well, Hagar, I look at you and see you somewhere between slopping the hogs and getting back home. I’m not quite sure where you are in that story, and there is a lot that could have happened between those two points. But you’ve gotten sober. You have asked for help. You have started trying to reclaim the life that you so freely wasted.” She continued to sob. “I look at your teeth the way God looks at you and your heart. I know, from dealing with women and bad men how men use facial beatings to put down women. These evil men want women to think they are ugly and worthless, that they are getting what they deserve. You are in a pastor’s office in a house of God, and still you are trying to cover your mouth, as if I or God haven’t seen much worse. And here’s the lie you have believed for some time now -- you think no one, but especially God, could ever love you if they knew you.”
She wavered between sobbing and trying to speak.
“How can I ever repay Him or you?”
“You can’t. It’s called grace. And we in the Church all live under it, or at least we are supposed to live under it. Some days, we do better than others. But then we repent and ask Him for grace to try and do a better job of honoring him.”
“Doesn’t He ever get tired of us failing or whining?”
“I don’t think He thinks of it as whining or failing when we recognize our sins or weakness. I think, more than anything else, He just wants us to be like that girl in the story that I just shared. He wants us to realize we are His and that He wants nothing but the best for us.”
“That seems too easy,” she answered.
I agreed. “Yes and no. It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that we need His grace in our lives, that we cannot fix our problems ourselves. It’s kinda like that dental work you may have to experience. You can’t correct it yourself. It may hurt a bit. But in the end, if the dentists do a good job, you’ll have a wonderful smile. He’s wanting to do the same for every bit of us, both our appearances and our hearts.”
We sat in silence for a few moments.
“You think God really wants to do all this for me?” she asked.
‘For all of us, Hagar. For all of us. Now, let’s see if I can get a hold of Dr. Jim or someone else to help us . . . “