Christian Short Stories
God Dwells in Gresham
By Web Ruble
Web Ruble writes: "Since retiring from newspaper reporting, which involved my doing many social service stories, I have been working Thursday noons at a Gresham, Ore., soup kitchen. Many stories of God's love exist there. This one is somewhat typical of the profoundly heart-felt ones."
Mary went about the noon hour waiting tables at the soup shop.
She’d place Christian treatises before each diner. At times, she’d pause, sit adjacent to him or her, listen to his or her story, and try to counsel.
Some down-and-outers would express mild appreciation for Mary’s attempt at help, but they’d also argue, “How would you know? You’re obviously not one of us (indigents).”
“Yeah . . . (he takes full measure of how she was dressed). You obviously are not one of us.”
“Believe it or not, last year at this time I, too, was ‘a client’ here.”
“G’wann . . .you were never homeless, out of work, and out of food.”
“Almost,” Mary said.
"Really? What happened to change . . . that?”
God and one of his angels saved me. I am eternally thankful. Now I am keeping my promise -- trying to help. . ..”
The man asked her story. When did recovery start?
“Ahh, I remember it well. April 15 was my turn-around day. Sunny. I was down to my last dollar.”
- - - -
Dressed to the eights -- a gray pants suit with a red blouse with ruffles, sensible but attractive pumps -- – Mary regally took her seat in a prominent booth at Mamie’s Sweet Eats, one of the better beaneries in town.
Mamie’s had a mystique for professionals in as much as professionals exist in Gresham, a town of about 100,000 on Portland’s east fringe.
Oregon was and still is a state without lots of professional jobs, or any kind of jobs for that matter.
Moreover, outside of Michigan, Oregon had the nation’s highest unemployment rate. However, neighboring states were but a fraction of a percentage point better. The dervish scarcity of jobs was everywhere. A blizzard of misery.
Mary once thought that perhaps things might have gone a little better had she stayed in Vancouver, Wash., across the river, but unemployment was sky scraping there, as well, and it probably wouldn’t have made a whit of difference.
She was had.
No job. No income. Few skills except she could do office work. At 29 she was one step from being homeless. And that dismal, cold condition would probably start next month (May) when she could not dredge rent money for her tiny, 2 1/2-room apartment.
Morale was in the toilet. As a matter of fact, she was despondent and on the verge of crying (again).
Mary didn’t want to crawl back to her husband who proved to be abusive and unfaithful, and who had given her the gate six months earlier. He was a heating-and-plumbing contractor in Vancouver, who made fair money when he worked. But he, indolent and uncaring, also hadn’t worked much in these frozen-steep recessive months. And, she didn’t want to go back to her parents in Kokomo, Ind. Besides they were elderly with health problems.
Move to Canada? It was no better. She had friends in Calgary. However, they said times were tougher than a cranky bulldog there, too. Besides, how would she ever get there? She had no passport. No money.
What to do?
Gifted with reasonable good looks -- perhaps a little tall and possessing a figure less than statuesque -- Mary was still trying to look confident. Even if she were someday soon to land a work-a-day job.
She also was gifted with an understanding. She knew that things usually went a little better if she appeared cheerful, confident, reasonably well-groomed, and dressed with a touch of class.
That’s the way she entered Mamie’s a year ago.
The place was half full. The lunch crowd had departed and the early dinner throng was just now arriving. She chose a prominent table.
Mary was trying to ward off health problems by eating properly, although she had cut meals down to two a day. She ordered a complete meal -- roast beef stew with vegetables, a side salad, and coffee. The waitress – displaying a pleasant face and old enough to be her mother -- took her order, smiled, and departed for the kitchen.
About five minutes later Anna the waitress placed the meal in front of Mary. Mary paused.
Anna returned a few minutes later. Mary hadn’t taken a bite. Instead, she sat there with head in hands crying.
“What’s the matter?”
“I haven’t the money to pay for this meal,” Mary said sobbing.
“Oh dear,” Anna said. “Can’t do it, huh?”
“Look. Sweetheart. Just eat and I’ll take care of the bill.”
“Yeah. I’ll work it out with Janice. She’s the owner. She’s kind. Understanding.”
“You’re wonderful. But I just can’t allow you to do that. I need to find a way. . .you’d think that I could afford it.”
“Well, no way. Now eat up before the meal gets cold. Not eating makes the cook angry. Besides, from what you told me you’re not in a position to even try to afford it.”
“Oh you’re so right . . . .I’m (sob) not.”
After the meal, Anna sat down with Mary. They shared lengthy tete-a-tete.
Anna, 55, a Christian widow who had dedicated her life to helping the indigent when not working at Mamie’s, weighed Mary’s attitude. Mary told her story. Finally Anna said, “Look . . .why don’t you come to live with me while you look for work. Although, I have to admit, there isn’t much out there. I have a back apartment over the garage. You can stay there. The only things I ask are: show up on time for the evening meal -- 6 p.m.; that you honestly and diligently look for work, and that you keep the place neat and clean. No boyfriends, drugs or alcohol, of course. Okay? I am busy doing volunteer work during the day. But you can eat a free noon meal every weekday -- and sometimes on weekends – at Zarephath Kitchen over on Ada at Powell near the Eastman Parkway. They feed people for free. It isn’t gourmet but the meals are square. And they ask no questions. ’Tis run out of Trinity Lutheran Church next door, but the program has its own board of directors and budget, and actually is operated by a coalition of local churches. Lots of volunteers . . .from every stripe. How about it? You game?”
Mary sobbed loudly: “Oh yes, yes. You’re so wonderful. How can I ever repay you? I promise to do as you ask.”
“Well. . . .you can repay me by helping somebody else on some other day. That’s the way it works. We help you now. You help someone else when the time comes. Okay?
“Absolutely,” Mary said. “Oh. God bless you.”
She reached into her purse and extracted a crude small wooden twig cross and gave it to Anna.
Yes, there are angels, life and God’s light… in Gresham. “Somebody up there likes me and led me to her, it and Him. I need to help others open their faith book . . .”
(© 2011 Web Ruble – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)
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