Last week I locked my keys in my car in Echo Park.
Echo Park is lovely now, but it was known for gang activity in the not too distant past.
Rush hour was easing, and the sun was setting.
My friend, Gloria, and I stood on the sidewalk and waited on the locksmith.
Gloria is a great person to be locked out of a car with in the middle of a city. She just stood there laughing.
No stress. No anxiety. No worry. No fear.
We were trying to visit the Aimee Semple McPherson Parsonage and Angelus Temple. Everything was closed, so we couldn’t go in. But we walked around and took a few pictures. Fifteen minutes passed. Then thirty. Then an hour.
I looked at Gloria standing by my mini van in high heels on dirty concrete. It was hot. We were thirsty and tired. And the crowd around us was changing as the sun went down.
I started singing. “I have decided to follow Jesus.” It seemed appropriate standing outside that temple. It seemed a declaration of a choice. Also. I once saw Jen Hatmaker sing it in a moment of exasperation, and it really made me laugh.
Gloria started singing with me, and we stood there on the sidewalk with people walking by all around, just singing.
We made it through a couple of verses and then couldn’t remember the third. Gloria said, “Oh, I’m so thirsty. I wish we had some water.”
As she said it, a woman in a pink sports bra walked right up to us and said, “Do you work here? I really need some water.”
It was so odd, like she almost repeated what Gloria had said. And she came out of nowhere.
Her arms and chest were covered in scars and faded tattoos. She was a beautiful woman, but older than she seemed at first. The short top was a few sizes too small. She was bursting out of it on every side.
“I tried to get a drink of water at the pharmacy. They said they don’t serve hookers in there.” She was indignant. “I’m not a hooker. I’m a dancer.”
We asked her name. “Lupe,” she said. We told her ours.
She talked on in frustration of how she had been treated all day. As she walked through town because her car broke down. She was going to sleep in it that night. She had been to the temple before, and the people were nice, she said. She thought they might give her water. She was visiting from Vegas, looking for a better job.
Gloria asked Lupe if she felt safe in her line of work.
“Oh. Well. No one’s ever tried to kill me, but they try to rape me in the parking lot when I leave. I learned to change clothes before I go. Now I just wear an old sweat suit, and it’s fine.”
“Wow,” we said. And we just kept chatting. Kids. Shoes. Lupe liked Gloria’s dress.
We were just three women talking. She said she was thirsty and hot. We were, too. She said her feet hurt. Ours did, too.
As we stood near the church, two other women and their children walked up and tried the door, and found it locked, like we had.
They had tourist maps in their hands. The gold crosses around their necks shone nearly white. They walked by us.
Gloria and I are always friendly, we can’t even help it. We spoke to the women.
They sped up walking. They would hardly look at us. I saw them staring hard at Lupe, and they almost covered their faces with their maps. They mumbled something in reply to our greeting and walked quickly away.
Lupe just glanced at them and then back at us. She seemed unfazed, but their behavior was so unnecessary. It was weird.
We talked a little more with Lupe, but she wanted to walk in a public bathroom outside the temple. We felt like we needed to wait with the car. We told her we would give her money. We wanted to pray with her. She said she could use prayer. We said to just meet us at the car when she came out.
She walked in the bathroom, and we walked back to the car. A few minutes passed, and we wondered if we should check on her. We walked back to where we could see the bathroom door, and we saw two men walk in.
Gloria and I always find pennies. They remind me of something Heidi Baker always says, “Stop for the one.”
As we left Echo Park, Gloria bent down and picked up the filthiest penny I have ever seen from under a bus bench. It looked like it had been wrapped in bubble gum and rolled in dog hair and dirt. But, under it all was glowing copper, no doubt. Still a penny. Still forged with a purpose. Still valuable.
I don’t know if Lupe had planned a meeting with those men or not, but she never came back to us. We met some policemen later, near the time we finally got the car unlocked, but they didn’t seem worried about her.
I pray she is safe. I pray she knows she is loved. I pray she sometimes thinks of two women who enjoyed spending time with her outside of a church. I pray she goes back there and tries again. And the doors are open. And she finds what she’s looking for.
What she’s really looking for.
I pray I get another chance. To love well, to reach out, to go one step further in serving and in boldness.
And I pray for the women who passed us by. As lovely and clean as those women were, they were the opposite of pretty, dressed in judgement. Walking in fear.
We can always do better. I pray they can try again, too. That they get another chance to minister to a stranger. That they find what they are looking for.
Really looking for.
God is love.