Today I am thinking about Mrs. Himes, and there is a reason. More than forty years ago, I was assigned to her. I had moved to Portland to attend seminary and work in a student ministry. We wanted to make a difference, reach the more desperate, and turn our spiritual convictions into godly actions. She was part of a county list of people living in impoverished conditions. She lived off of a busy avenue and across from a major Bible college. And yet, ironically, I am not certain anyone nearby knew she existed. She was a homeless person who happened to have a home.
I reached her door once I worked my way past the overgrown weeds and hedge that practically concealed her home. It was clear she had closed herself off from the outside world. I knocked, and though she was hesitant to open the door, especially to a stranger with a bucket and some cleaning supplies, she permitted me to enter in to her wretched existence. After explaining my intentions, I began to work on walls covered by years of grime and cobwebs. Because the blinds had been permanently shut, and few lights were in operating order, I could not tell if I made much of a difference. It felt a little like emptying the Pacific Ocean with a spoon. I can still remember how overwhelming were the smells.
Over time, suspicion was replaced with trust. A relationship began, and I occasionally returned to help the woman. I will never forget the time months later she called to let me know she was being evicted and asked if I could move her. This meant going beyond the familiar to the scary–to the back bedrooms. Who knows what creatures–or skeletons–existed back in those darker regions? But one afternoon I left seminary and drove a U-Haul truck to the place and moved Mrs. Himes to some government housing.
My last memory of her is Thanksgiving. It was a couple of years later. I was now married, and I told Heather about Mrs. Himes and suggested that we visit. Recognizing my voice, but still cautious, Mrs. Himes opened the door. Immediately, the same smells escaped through the crack of the door, and I could see enough to know her new environment had become very much like the one she once occupied. The address was different, but everything else was pretty much the same.
So why am I thinking about her? Someone recently asked why I am writing a book about Jesus’s conversations in John. What is the passion driving this three year project to describe life under an open heaven? Is it so I can say I am an author with a published book? I hope not. When I think hard about this question, I come back to stories like those of Mrs. Himes. The reality is that I have seen many versions of her over the years. We all of us have lived in some form of confinement. All of us are held down by something–small dreams, appetites that rule our lives, legalistic faith, low expectations of what God is doing, or sinful habits that cause us to miss our divine moments. Coming to Christ should be–has to be–about being set free. About opening the windows and letting the Light replace the darkness. About allowing the aroma of life to replace the aroma of death. About getting past the walls.
Still, even with new birth, we have this tendency to remain conformed to old habits, accept limitations God never served up, be driven more by fear than by trust, and live as if the heavens are still closed.
I wish I could write about the final years of Mrs. Himes life, but I moved on and never went back. Hopefully someone else stepped into her life and helped bring some light into the darkness . Hopefully she did not die alone–and yes, I hope the expanse she could have experienced this side of eternity is one she has entered into with Jesus.