By Sarah Partee, 2016 OTN Intern
“I wish I had your life,” he turned and said to me. He was laying in a hospital bed with the murmur of the television in the background. It had been a long night. The small room smelled of untended wounds and unwashed clothes. It was early and I do not like getting up early but I had to see him: I needed to know he was okay.
“Why do you say that?” I asked. I had met Eli only two days ago at the “Outreach Wednesday” foot clinic in the park across from the downtown library. I had no idea how much of an impact he was going to have on me. I took him to the emergency room no more than one hour after taking a look at his feet. He had a nasty cut and infection on his left foot. It was so swollen I didn’t understand how he had been walking on it as much as he was. But he didn’t have a choice. He didn’t have a stable home.
Eli turned and looked at me sitting in the cushioned, guest chair beside his bed. “You have two parents who love you and who are still alive. My mom was murdered when I was a baby and my dad has been in prison my whole life.”
My face became warm and I tried my best to hide the tears that welled in my eyes. That was not the response I was expecting. I thought he was going to tease me about how spoiled and privileged I was—as he had done a few times the night before. He went on to tell me how he grew up with his sister in foster care, suffered abuse, and started doing drugs and drinking at too early an age.
The night before I had stayed for a few hours in the waiting room with him until his name was called and he was put in a hospital bed in the hallway. After receiving an ultrasound, they discovered he had a blood clot in his leg.
It was getting late and I decided to leave him that night, hoping that the doctors would keep him overnight. If he was released, where was he to go? He told me he’d sleep in the park that night if he had to. His aunt’s place was too far away.
I went home that night to my parents house in Brentwood feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. The heavy weight of guilt overtook me. I have everything. A big family whose love I have never questioned, a nice car I didn’t have to pay for, a private school education, a closet bursting with clothes for every event and season, a perfect childhood, an incredible church home and foundation. Eli has none of these things. And he is just one story, just one person broken from the world’s injustices.
I went for a walk to clear my head. I prayed for Eli and for everyone who does not feel loved, who does not have a supportive community. I physically felt my heart breaking in half. I began sobbing for the people I’ve met… my brothers and sisters. We don’t choose what we are born into. Why was I born into a loving and supportive family where I never had to worry about where my next meal was going to come from? Why are others born into situations like the one Eli described?
I thought back to a time when I had prayed, “Lord, break my heart for what breaks yours.” It hit me that night as I was walking: that is the most dangerous prayer I have ever prayed and it was happening right that very moment. My internship with Open Table had been one of the most eye-opening learning experiences I had ever had. I have been on a whole bunch of mission trips throughout my life—all over the country and world. But this poverty, brokenness, and injustice is in my backyard.
A part of me is thankful to God for breaking my heart for His children who are lonely, hurt, and discouraged. Another part of me is terrified to feel this way. I want to have this fire lit every second of every day so that I never forget. At the same time, I also want to gently put these feelings into a nice box so I can comfortably watch Friends tonight with a bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream.
I will never be the same after this internship. I am thankful for a whole lot in my life but that is at the top of my list right now. I felt God planting a purpose in my heart, a calling to love His children from all different walks of life. I don’t know how that will look for the rest of my life but there is nothing I am more excited to do. I keep praying “Lord, continue to break my heart for what breaks yours. Disrupt my contentedness and make me uncomfortable.” I know now that those are dangerous words—and I repeat them over and over again so that progress will march on.