A few years ago, a woman came into the church I was working at during one of our Holy Week
services. She came at the end of the service and stayed until it was over, sitting in a chair at
the back, bearing toward the door.
It was a simple service, held in the narthex of a Presbyterian church, chairs arranged in a semicircle
with a makeshift podium in the center. There were only a handful of us there, Psalms
being read, prayers being prayed. The doors were open and sun was gleaming in, brilliantly
illuminating the room, filling the white walls and wine carpet so the space looked reminiscent of
an over-exposed photograph. It was quiet, bright, full of peace.
She looked weak, her thinned, dyed hair, translucent skin and sunken posture an outward
expression of the hopelessness she gave voice to. On my way over to greet her, I learned that
she had been at the church before asking for money. That afternoon I had some extra time so I
put one foot in front of the other and walked over to say hello. I thought to myself, “I am
already overwhelmed, I really hope she doesn’t need too much…”
As I approached her, she started with,“It’s Easter soon. My boyfriend is sick and we can’t
afford a ham for Easter. He is really sick. I don’t know how much time I have left with him.
We’re both sick and all I want to do is get a ham for Easter and have a nice dinner. Do you have
any money you can give me for a ham?” Her words surprised me—not the fabrication I was
expecting. I smiled condescendingly, assuming she was making up this story so I would give
her some cash.
Reluctant to give her money, I could hear the rehearsed Christian injunction playing in my mind,
“If you give’em money, they’ll just use it to buy drugs or alcohol…”
I’ve never liked being cautioned in this way—a warning which exudes judgement and
assumption, believing one can see what only God can. Still, I could hear the words running
through my mind and taking up residence in my soul and I struggled to know how to respond.
I had my car close by so I offered to take her to the grocery store and buy the ham. I suppose I
expected her to turn down my offer, having exposed her fiction; instead, I was left trying to hide
my disbelief when she agreed to come with me. She finished by asking if I could take her home
At this point, I still didn’t think she’d actually buy the ham. I suspected she would come up with
some story about what she needed instead. I gave her some cash and asked her to meet me
at the car when she was finished. I waited awhile and then she appeared, bag in hand, too
empty to be holding a ham.
“I guess she made up the story after all…,” I thought to myself, disappointed.
She got in the car and began emptying out her bag—a soda, a bag of chips, and to my
astonishment, a humble bouquet of flowers. A bit bewildered at what was in front of me, I
looked at her and asked, “What about the ham?”
“Well Miss, you didn’t give me enough to get any of the hams there so I decided, since I didn’t
have enough for a ham, that I would at least get these flowers here to make it nice for Easter.
Aren’t they pretty?!”
She used what I had given her, when it wasn’t enough, to buy something beautiful—beauty that
would interrupt the sadness and sickness filling their home. Not drugs, not alcohol. I smiled,
smelled the fragrant blossoms and told her to come with me back into the store and we would
pick out the right ham together.
Our grocery budget is often tight; still, I felt confident we could find it somewhere. What
mattered in that moment was helping this woman prepare to celebrate Easter Sunday and
bring a small amount of joy to this couple, stuck in their apartment carrying so many burdens. I
smiled as I imagined it—for a just a moment they would have food and celebration and fresh
flowers adorning the table. Perhaps in some small way, they would feel Christ, ministering to
their wounds, filling their stomachs and their hearts.
On our way back to her apartment, she told me about her childhood, how she used to be an
artist and paint beautiful paintings. “But that was before…”, she whispered, her voice trailing off, chasing a memory.
She had me drop her off at a subsidized housing complex and told me she wanted to show her
friends what she had bought. She excitedly explained to me that she would share some of the
ham with them too.
I never saw her again. I don’t know what happened to her or her boyfriend. Did they save the
ham for Easter or eat it that very afternoon? I don’t know and it doesn’t matter. I know Christ
As much as I am sure that the ham was a gift, this encounter was as much for me as it was for
her. So much judgment revealed in my own heart; her response to me gently confronting the
sharp places in my own spirit where I had cut myself off from ‘people like her.’ Bias and
prejudice filling the space where human relationship should have been present. Embodied
encounters informing my conclusions through the dignity of the human spirit, instead of
shallow preconceptions that had morphed into judgment in the absence of human interaction.
Lord, thank you for this experience. Thank you for revealing my heart to me. Have mercy and
teach me to do better when I see you and don’t recognize you as I should.
Together with her husband and six children, Andrea Bailey resides in Milwaukee, WI, where she attends Ss. Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Church. Andrea has spent many years working with refugees & international people, teaching English and learning their stories. She has also spent the last six years in the adoptive community, listening, learning and experiencing the complexities, losses and joys of the adoptive journey. Both a keeper and teller of stories, she is striving to give voice to what she has seen and learned, sharing her experiences with others in order that together, we may find a way forward that is honest, transformative and faithful to Christ.