Winston Churchill said, “men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened”. I felt I had stumbled upon truth when I saw this video and I would normally scurry off like most men, but something about it persisted in me. At first, I felt a bit sheepish about entertaining the thought. I mean, are we allowed to talk about having celebrations with prostitutes in Christian circles? Wouldn’t it upset the well manicured universe we’ve built up here to climb down there and get dirty? I shelved the idea, hoping to avoid dealing with it altogether.
Then I went on a “missioncation” to Brunswick, GA (for the uninitiated, a “missioncation” is exactly what it sounds like – half mission trip, half vacation). There, as a part of our daily duties, we served at a food pantry. While sorting canned goods, my ears perked up when the pantry worker casually remarked, “Happy Birthday, Diane”, to a beleaguered (read: retired prostitute) looking woman who was leaving with a small bag of groceries. She smiled sheepishly and squeaked a quick “thanks”.
God, why are you doing this to me, I thought. It was one of those fight or flight moments; my heart rate quickened as my mind raced; what should I do? Suddenly, I was gripped by an inexplicable urge. I dropped my tomato soup and raced across the parking lot to catch up with her.
“Diane! Diane!” I shouted like a mad man, running full steam at the frightened woman.
“Hi, my name’s Kevin. I want to do something with you,” I stammered, realizing how bad that must sound to a woman who has been propositioned more than once.
“I’m a pastor!” I said excitedly, thinking this would somehow make everything clear. “I mean, I want to do something for you. I mean, it’s your birthday, right?”
“Yeah, it’s my birthday next we–“
“Awesome! I want to throw you a birthday party! Can I throw you a birthday party? Can you come back this afternoon?”
I barely waited for the answer. I skipped back to the pantry like a kid at Christmas. I found Heath, a local pastor and volunteer at the pantry, and told him my idea. He was immediately as jazzed as I was. My kind of guy.
We drove to the local grocery store and, as we walked the aisles, (Heath telling every passerby at the top of his lungs in a thick southern drawl that we were throwing a party for a prostitute) I got the rundown on Diane.
“Yes sir, her father, he sexually abused her and her mother from when she was 8 ’til she was ’bout 30. Physically, sexually, you name it. She stayed because her mother was disabled and needed care. Her brother, who coulda been her son I suppose, if you know what I’m mean, got sick of the abuse. One day, he snapped and killed Diane’s dad. So they lock him up for life and Diane’s mother dies not even a year later. Diane, she’s been on the streets since then. Don’t that just break y’up inside?”
“Wow,” I said. What do you say to that?
“That ain’t all neither. Now she got cancer and I reckon she ain’t not long for this world.” He paused as we perused the birthday cakes. “You know what? I bet you she never had a birthday party. I’ll take that cake right there, m’am. It’s for a prostitute. We’re throwing a party for her,” Heath said proudly to a confused clerk.
That afternoon, Diane showed up and we threw her an awesome party (I bet Jesus would have even shown up), complete with streamers, hats, cake, music, and games. She grinned and cried as we sang her happy birthday, but the real pleasure belonged to me. As we cleaned up, Diane asked if she could keep the “happy birthday” plates so she could keep them in her house to remind her of her first birthday party. I tried to hold it together, but tears of joy reddened my eyes as I had the feeling (maybe for the first time) of the terrifying, shocking, stunning, divine, staggering grandeur of a face to face encounter with a living God.