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.
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…”
“…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.
Maddy always showed up for our sessions on time. She would shuffle in, gray and hollow-cheeked, and listen intently as I spoke. Slowly, she offered more tragic information. Born into a world of darkness, she had never known feelings beyond fear and shame. She had never been nurtured, never loved; she had been beaten and sexually abused, somehow surviving on the street in the graceless universe of chaos and addiction and violence and loveless love.
As far as Maddy could recall, her mother had also been a prostitute; one night she went out, and never came back. The biological father had apparently been black, and Maddy’s skin was the color of honey. She had a thin scar running from her left temple to the bottom of her cheek, drawn on a face so weary it was difficult to see much of the pretty girl she had once been. But she was in there. She was still in there.
For several weeks she never shed one tear, never laughed. Sorrow had beaten and numbed her. I knew, too, that she was still using; she’d never have been able to detox on her own. But I took a chance. And over time, despite her outward appearance, I began to recognize someone inside. The door would usually only open briefly, then close. Each time we met I attempted to draw one step closer to a frightened and wary little bird… just before she flew away, out of reach.
Still, she kept returning. Something kept her coming back.
One day, Maddy seemed particularly blue and distant. I began worrying that she was losing interest in our relationship, losing hope.
“What’s wrong, Maddy?” I asked.
“Thinking,” she said.
And something crept into a corner of her painted lips. Something resembling a smile. A deep, sad smile. I let her remain silent for what seemed a long time.
“Birthday,” she said at last, and I could barely hear her.
“Birthday.” She looked up. “Today is my birthday.”
I sat still, temporarily at a loss for words.
“Today is your birthday?”
“I… think… so,” she said, looking down at her hands. “April second. Not sure what year…” Again, looking up: “Not sure. But April second. Seems like that’s it.”
The ghost of a smile faded. “Anyway, don’t matter, does it? Not even sure how old I am. Don’t matter…”
“How do you feel, Maddy?” I sensed the little bird, tensing for flight.
“Don’t make me feel nothin’,” she said. And the brief spark in her eyes died. “I don’t feel a thing.”
And I knew she was right.
Counselors are supposed to remain emotionally unattached from clients. But Maddy nonetheless played around the edges of my mind a lot during the next week. It wasn’t just my fear of losing her, losing what little connection we had made. Maddy’s slow but sure flight towards death brought things up from within me that I thought had been buried. There emanated from her a kind of haunted and cold wind that brought with it a heart memory, a soul-deep remembering of a time when I, too, found myself barely balanced between seduction and salvation. A knowing: We are all the same, broken. And though some of us might look better or act better on the outside, we are each of us capable — in the blink of an eye, the beat of a heart — of falling.
We need. From the beginning to the end, in need of our Christ. In need of someone to reach out and touch us in our ugly leprosy… and be Jesus to us.
I knew she might run away at any time. I prayed to God for help. I asked that Jesus might use me, to embody His embrace.
Then one night, lying in bed, right out of nowhere, He answered.
The whole thing came in one flash, complete.
The next morning I got up, went into the kitchen, and found the little box my wife kept in a drawer. I took it with me to the office.
At the beginning of our session together, I asked Maddy to wait a moment, and I left the room. She was sitting on the couch, very much alone, when I came in carrying the cupcake. A cupcake, on a saucer. A small pink candle stuck in the white icing, my hand cupped near to keep it from going out. I sat it on the table in front of her.
“Happy birthday, Maddy,” I said.
She looked at the flame. I could see it, just for a moment, reflected in her brown, broken eyes. She looked at me. “What?”
“Happy birthday. A little late.”
“What?” she said again, a whisper, staring back down at the cupcake. Her mouth began to tremble. “I’ve… I’ve never had…”
And the door cracked — and then flew open.
Her tears began slowly, as if they’d forgotten how to flow. Then, like rain, hard and cleansing rain, violent and beautiful.
And laughter and wailing mixed together, choking on words that wouldn’t come, mixing like raindrops on their way to earth, on their way home.
“I’ve never… had… anything…”
Maddy held out her arms.
Then, finally, she let Jesus hold her.
Jim Robinson is a successful songwriter, musician, speaker, author, and recovery counselor. A graduate of Christ Center School of Counseling and Addiction Studies, Robinson is founder of ProdigalSong, a Christian ministry utilizing music, speaking, counseling, and teaching to convey healing for the broken spirit. Jim’s web site, www.ProdigalSong.com, contains information about his ministry, numerous recovery resources, and additional articles he’s written. To subscribe to Jim’s monthly newsletter, click here.