Progress is not linear. Never had this principle been more clear to me than that night.
I honestly never thought I’d find myself here.
Deepest San Francisco was shocking to my teenage brain. I knew I was somewhat naive but thought I could handle this spontaneous trip. My stomach turned with every scene. There was a person with a needle in his arm against the wall of the building. Another was puking in the alley. The people here were existing and I could feel the stagnancy of their situation. It had a smell too. It smelled like city intestines and putrid, seven day old roses. I hated the smell. I wondered if that woman in the gutter had tried getting up. She looked so tired. It looked like the gutter held her. Not lovingly like a mama, but angrily like a magnet refusing to let her go even if she wanted to. The way the men looked at me made my skin crawl. I needed to get to my hotel and soon. I was scared but the shocked portion of me was taking the helm which kept me in motion. Maybe we should go this way? After steering my suitcase around that corner I’d find something even worse. Thus it was that I descended into parts of humanity I hadn’t witnessed up close yet.
The scariest part and the blessed part of this moment were branches of the same tree. We knew where we were headed but we had no idea how to get there. The year 1997 was a bizarre in-between land, after computers became more common and before GPS and cell phones were the norm. It was the time of taxis, trains and addresses. And Lord help you if you didn’t have any of those things correct. I had the name of a hotel and that was it. I was in trouble and I knew it in my bones.
I weaved around the city streets certain that eventually I’d find my way down to Fisherman’s Wharf. The urge to cry was powerful but I refused. Finally, I rounded a corner and saw something familiar.
In the darkest part of a foreign city, on a random corner, in the cold of evening I saw two missionaries from my church. They were standing with scriptures telling these people, the ones who had forgotten or who didn’t care or that we hoped would disappear, that they are loved and known by God.
Then I started to cry.
I walked up to them and said “I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ and it’s really good to see you.”
Their eyes grew wide.
“I just wanted to say thank you for what you are doing.”
“Are you lost?” they asked.
“Completely but I’ll find my way eventually. Have a good night.”
I shook their hands and walked around the corner feeling buoyed up by the light of connection that I had just felt. Suddenly, I felt my suitcase being taken from my hands as both of the Elders jogged to catch up to me.
“It’s not safe here. Where are you heading?”
I told them. They walked me about four blocks away and put me on a bus.
“Don't get off this bus until the very end. OK?”
I promised I would and thanked them.
The bus doors closed. I sat in a seat next to a person who had a line drawn down their face. Half of them was distinctly male and the other half was female. This entire place was confused and confusing. I looked back out the window at the missionaries. They gave me a thumbs up and said “It’s going to be okay.” I hoped that the smell would leave eventually.
Here’s the deal…Progress is not linear. It weaves, bends, reverts, darkens, brightens, ebbs and flows. One day is brilliant and the next is sunk. Sometimes I miss walking in a straight line. I really miss thinking in a straight line. But that just isn’t the way life works.
Logistically, it makes zero sense that I progress at all. Right?? Back and forth. Up and down. How could you make progress if you’re just back and forth all day? Like a salt n’ pepper shaker, I should be just empty and still on the table.
I am a better version of me than I was a month or decade ago. Time is linear but progress is not.
I eventually found my hotel that day. I had people placed in my path to get me there safely. That happens to me often. The Lord puts people in my life to guide my growth.
But just like in life, that night my progress was not a straight line or direct experience.
Instead of a straight line I got a miracle.
I never met those missionaries again. I wonder if they know that for one night, they were a miracle to the scared girl who couldn't find her way.