Recently I was on holidays with my husband in the USA. We used Uber for most of our journeys around and we met a variety of interesting drivers. But none were as interesting as T.
T picked us up in Los Angeles and we had a one and half hour trip with her. T was full of life and enthusiasm and never stopped talking. T was African American, 45 years old but didn’t look a day over 30. She had 5 children with multiple partners and had her first child when she was 15 years old. She said she’d had a particularly stressful year this year with her 22-year-old daughter doing “bad stuff”.
Remembering my early 20s very well, my struggles with health, university and boys, I thought perhaps I could dig in deeper and relate to the struggles her daughter was going through and offer some comforting words about how she can pull through.
“If you don’t mind me asking T, what bad stuff is your daughter up to? If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s ok”.
“Oh, she got done for accessory to murder”.
My heart dropped. Why did I ask? Always hesitant of Uber but agreeing because of my husband’s preference, I wanted to glare at my husband for basically getting us into the situation where we were in the car with a mother, of well… basically a murderer! Taking a breath, while also subtly glancing for any guns in the car (Aussies don’t do well with guns), I questioned,
“T was it someone she knew or was it random?”
T went on to explain that her daughter was driving the car with her boyfriend and he was a gangster. The driver in the car next to them was shouting aggressively and so T’s daughter’s boyfriend pulled out his gun and shot at the car. The car crashed and the young passenger, who was the driver’s girlfriend, died as a result.
Angry that he had lost his girlfriend, the other driver fabricated that T’s daughter was provoking her boyfriend to shoot. T’s daughter ended up in jail, leaving behind her 5-year-old daughter with T. T barely managing to look after her own 5 children now had a grandchild to look after who was acting out because she missed her mum.
Eighteen months later, T’s daughter was declared innocent and her sentence was revoked. But when she came out of prison, she was jobless, in a state of shock and no longer spoke.
Taking my privileges for granted
T grew up in the projects (a place of persistent poverty, gang involvement and crime). She’d witnessed her nephew being shot and bleeding to death in front of her. Her mum was addicted to drugs. As I sat there taking it all in, I felt so sad that generations brought up in drug abuse and broken relationships seem to be forever bound in its chains.
T was trying her best. She’d taken up Uber to make some money, but she was struggling to meet her rent. Because she worked so long she was hardly there for her children. She had abusive relationships and admitted she failed her children from what they’d seen but that she did what she had always known.
I imagined T’s 5-year-old grandchild, without her mum for 18 months. What memories would never fade for her when she grew up, what anger and resentment would linger? What kind of mum would she turn out to be? I looked at my husband, both of us into our second degree, and I realised I’d taken a lot for granted.
I’d attributed my ability to be a fairly ‘good’ person, the ability to have a job, an education and loving relationships as something that I’d worked for, or worse, perhaps deserved because I was ‘good’. I’d not considered how that would have all worked out if my starting point was being a daughter of someone addicted to drugs. I wondered how T could find God in a life of chaos, where she would even have time to read God’s word when she was just trying to survive.
But then the unexpected
“But Jesus got me through all of this. Yes, it’s been a hard year with my daughter, but all my kids know God and that’s the best thing I can give them. All I’ve ever known is fake love. Fake love with partners, fake love even from your kids that manipulate you for money. But real unconditional and constant love from my Lord. I’ve never had that from no one.”
Again looking at my husband, I thought about the many times he’d shown me unconditional love. So did my family and friends. T had no one other than Jesus to give her that example yet she spoke about her faith with so much more joy than I did.
Lessons from T
A few minutes ago, I was wanting to jump out of the car upon hearing about her stories of murder and growing up in gang violence. Now I was completely humbled by her faith and could see God’s love even more clearly. I witnessed her joy at a God who loves unconditionally, forgives, who renews and restores and gives abundant life.
I was moved to see God finding T even in the most difficult of circumstances. T shared God had provided her a job in security and because there weren’t any threats, she used her time at that job to read the bible twice through in a year (admittedly, more than what I’ve done in my life).
Again, I was humbled, ecstatic that God provided her the opportunity to know Him even during her chaos and, at the same time, ashamed that I doubted how God could possibly reach out to her.
On the other hand, T didn’t doubt God’s provision, forgiveness or unconditional love for a second. T wasn’t the kind of person I wouldn’t have sought out as a friend (let’s be honest, I would have kept far away) but God knew she was exactly the sister in Christ who could teach me a thing or two. My husband and I continued to talk about God and church with T and we promised to keep each other in prayer.
1 Corinthians Chapter 1 verses 26-31 states: Brothers and sisters think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’
It was a reminder that God loves to use the weak, the unqualified, the unlikely and the unexpected. Moses with his stutter, Paul who persecuted Christians, David who murdered, Mary a young woman, Abraham in his older years, Rahab who was involved in prostitution yet commended for her faithfulness and shared the same lineage as Christ. There are countless of stories, describing people like T, you and me – a reminder that in our weakness, God can use us, so that the only thing we can boast in, is the Lord.
Melissa Ramoo is a physiotherapist and studying a Bachelor of Theology at Morling College in Sydney. She is now serving as a student minister at St Anne’s in Strathfield. She is married to her husband Roshan and has a Boston Terrier named Hercules who is completely doted on.
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