And Jesus was traveling around all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the Gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every malady among the people. Now having seen the crowds, He was moved with compassion concerning them, that they had been distressed and had been dejected, like sheep not having a shepherd.
 Matthew 9:35-36

Maddy’s heart seemed to be barely beating.

From the moment I saw her, slouched in a chair in the lobby of my Christian counseling practice, I knew she was very ill. I offered to help her to the couch in my office, but she refused my touch, pulled herself up straight, and followed me into my office.

Words weren’t needed, at least not at first. I could see the bones of her shoulders, arms, ribs, poking through her dirty blouse. By the time her shaking slowed and she caught her breath a bit, she sat still, shoulders hunched, tissues in her withered hand. Apparently only in her early thirties, she looked ancient. She had been abandoned as a small child by her cocaine-addicted mother. She had never known her father. I didn’t get a great deal out of her that first day. Mostly, she watched me, observing.

I’m not exactly sure how Maddy found me, or how she had the money to pay me each week, in cash; she kept this a secret, and I let her. Maybe someone had met her and pitied her, and had chosen to remain an anonymous savior. I honored her wish to keep their identity a mystery. But I knew that whoever this person was on the outside, they were most certainly Christ on the inside.

That first day, I knew Maddy required inpatient treatment. She refused.

“You need medical help right now,” I said. “You’re very sick, and unless you get treatment, you could die.”

“Dyin’ don’t scare me,” she said, and there was hollow truth in her voice, a truth I understood from my own past days of darkness: Addicts aren’t afraid of dying. Addicts are afraid of living.

“If you really want to die, Maddy, then why are you here?”

“I… don’t know. My friend brought me… she said she’d heard…that you could help.” And she stared off into nowhere.

“I want to call a place I know,” I said, “a place where some very good people work. You can go and stay with them, and they’ll take care of you. They really do know how to help you, Maddy. Will you let me call them for you?”

“No. No one can help me.”

“Yes they can,” I said. “They know how to help people like you…”

She winced.

“…and me,” I added.

The difference, all in one tiny word. And what little light was left in her eyes flickered like a not-yet-dead fire, just for an instant, back to life. She looked at me hard and long.

“I… will come back… here,” she said finally. “Only here.”

Maddy first exchanged sex for money when she was in her early teens. She could not recall exactly how the drug addiction began, or when, but over time she grew comfortable enough to speak of her homelessness, her rapid decent into the nightmare of crack cocaine. She did not look at me, but stared past, her bony hands writhing in her lap like warring spiders. Her voice droned as if she were recounting a tragic event that had happened to a complete stranger, her voice coming from a place within and yet separate from her. She told of her first time using the drug, and how everything had changed, all at once, and days and nights blurred together, and she sat in a darkened, filthy room and smoked till it was gone, then worked the streets again so her pimp would give her more. Night after night she huddled over her shrine of shame and worshipped, and time slipped away untouched and unwanted. Maddy had been snared, and drawn into the iniquitous and swift destruction of addiction, prostitution, darkness, and inevitable spiritual death.