Had I not looked into her eyes, I would have thought she was the most hardened person on the planet. Muscular build. Dark, short-cropped, spiked hair. Multiple earrings. Black jeans, shirt, and vest. Tattoos snaking up her arm.
As I sat on a stone ledge, I pushed through intimidation and struck up a conversation with the teen girl beside me at a recent Pride in the Park festival celebrating homosexuality. My husband Chuck and I had shared a burden to reach out to this population of people with the love of Jesus. So, here we were, each of us capturing a glimpse into the world of the person beside us.
“I’m Eileen. What’s your name?” I said to the tall, dark girl.
She mumbled an answer. Another girl—smaller, with longer hair and splashes of color on her jeans and shirt—pressed close to the other side of her, gazing straight ahead. A live band played and sang on a stage several yards away. Couples lounged on the grass or in lawn chairs. Others strolled the sidewalk bordering the park.
“What brings you here today?” I dangled a toe in the conversation water.
She shrugged, but did not turn away. “I like to mingle.”
She was a teenager; I could understand her desire to be a part of a group.
“Where do you go to high school?” I ventured another question.
She rattled off a name, so I continued my pursuit.
“Senior,” she said, with a subtle spark in her eyes. Her friend remained cool, distant, and wary.
“Oh, that’s wonderful! Congratulations! What are your plans after graduation?”
Her shoulders began to relax. A bridge to this young gal’s heart was under construction. “Probably community college.”
“What are you interested in?” By now I was standing in front of her, feeling comfortable with our verbal exchange.
“Ah, maybe you’ll be a vet.”
A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. “Yeah, maybe.”
“Do you go to church anywhere?”
“Yeah.” She rattled off the name of a Baptist church in a nearby town and told me how she had been raised in that assembly of people.
Her openness propelled me on. “So, Susan (not her real name), what does your church think about you attending a Gay Pride festival?”
Another shrug. Then she looked me dead in the eye, a penetrating, almost questioning gaze that pierced me to the core. “I don’t think they care,” she stated matter-of-factly.
My heart dropped to my stomach and I felt sick. I was a Christian who attended a Baptist church. Conviction rippled through me. Who sat in the pew next to me that might feel the same way Susan did, but I had missed her or him, wrapped up in my own world, afraid to venture out?
With fresh resolve, I leaned in to Susan. Her brown puppy dog eyes melted my heart. “Well, Susan, I’m here to tell you that I care. I want you to know that Jesus loves you.” I reached to touch her hand just as the girl beside her tugged on her sleeve, breaking the spell of the moment.
Susan pushed away from the wall and started off with her friend. I knew our brief interchange was over, and I was sad. Caught up in conversation beside me, Chuck glanced over his shoulder and gestured me. “This is Mark (not his real name).”
I stepped over to enter into another exchange, wishing I could have spent more time with Susan, yet knowing that a spiritual seed was planted that prayerfully another Christian would water down the road.