Leaking Love: 40 Years in the Wilderness Taught Her How to Survive. A Moment of Mercy Empowered Her to Live.
“Won’t you look down upon me, Jesus; You’ve got to help me make a stand.
You’ve just got to see me through another day.
My body’s aching and my time is at hand and I won’t make it any other way.”
James Taylor, Fire and Rain
Her name is Cindee Leak. And that she definitely does—leaks love. And lots of it.
If you can tell how well someone loves by the way they hug, then Cindee is your go-to person for extending no-holds-barred love—exuding the God of mercy and grace from every pore.
If you knew her story, you would get it. Cindee has had a hard life. Made poor choices. Done not-so-good things.
Welcome to the human race. At some point or another, we’ve all made bad choices. Some poor choices have different—and more obvious—consequences, but all choices exact some sort of toll.
For Cindee, that toll was being homeless—for years on end. But it wasn’t just about not having an address…or a bed to sleep in. Or going without regular meals. Or not having a door to close so that you didn’t have to live out your failures for the entire world to see.
It was about what was festering inside.
A Filthy Stinkin’ Leper
On the outside, her circumstances were undeniably rough. At her lowest, Cindee was eating dry Top Ramen “like a rabid rabbit” while pushing herself around in a wheelchair. On the streets. With dysentery. A filthy stinkin’ modern-day leper that not even hardened criminals and crazy people wanted to be near.
She would try to bum food and drugs off people, but most stayed clear—except for the scoundrel who stole her wheelchair as she lay sleeping.
Usually she slept with one eye open—using her purse as a pillow and a strip of leather tied to a stick as her only weapon. On that particular night, however, fatigue had descended on her like a blanket of heavy fog—making her vulnerable to those looking for easy prey.
It’s the way of the streets. The good, the bad and the ugly, though for Cindee it was mostly ugly. Cindee calls it a “You do for me and I’ll do for you…maybe” kind of ethos—a faux community.
Visitors to Her Planet
There were those who did help. Some were street friends, but mostly they were visitors to her planet. After she would beg God to “bring me manna, Lord” the benevolent visitors would show up with a sandwich, a kind word and a prayer.
“It keep me going,” she said. “Those sandwiches and those prayers. And meals at the Mission…when I could get there. But I was still lost. Still alone.”
It was no country for old women.
She had long passed asking the question that she used to ask—to no one in particular, “Does anybody really care?” By age 60, she was convinced no one did.
“On the streets, if you’re not doing what they wanted you to do—like, for example, demand you take your food stamp card and go buy $40 worth of food to share with people, well you were pretty much screwed. And I wouldn’t do that, because I was 60 years old, and it was all I had.”
She did have some good moments—even blissful ones.
The Good Ol’ Way
One of Cindee’s magic moments came as she lay on the edge of the river. There, down by the rolling river with its forceful resolve and fierce calm, she found a peaceful getaway from the filth, the stares and a survival-of-the-fittest ethos that left the weak to fend for themselves.
She was high, but it wasn’t a “ridin’ high in April and shot down in May” chemically-induced high. Instead, her “high” looked like a discarded plastic bucket with a handle that you stick in the river and use as a fridge. And other unaccustomed “luxuries” she managed to acquire during her wanderings.
“I had killer bedding, pillows. I had a couple of weapons, and I had barbed wire. In that moment, the world was my oyster.”
To a bone-weary woman who has seen too much and had so little, these simple provisions were like sleeping on silk sheets at a 5-star resort. As she lay her pained body down on the newly acquired thick bedding, she was suddenly baptized by bliss—ushering in a “gonna go down to the river to pray, seeking the good old way” kind of religious experience.
For Cindee, that “good old way” was a taste of normalcy—shades of a home life she once had where instead of eating dry Top Ramen on the street, she was cooking it on a stove for her children. She would lay down at night on a real bed with a real pillow and had plenty of food stored in a real fridge. And she had a bathroom…and a door.
More than anything, she missed having that door—her portal of protection that she could shut against the outside world—giving her a sanctuary against the scrutiny…and the judgment.
Cloak of Invisibility
Cindee’s river reprieve did not last long. She was soon back on the unforgiving streets of Redding. Back to scrounging and hustling. Not that the One to whom she prayed never answered her prayers. She knows He did—with a sandwich, a cup of cold water, and a kind word. And by preserving her life. Because she knows that without Him, she would have been dead.
Still, she hid—running from, rather than to, her God. Shame and isolation were her cloak of invisibility. She hadn’t yet learned, as Sarah’s servant Hagar had discovered when she was banished from her home—wandering forgotten in the desert—you cannot hide from the “God who sees.” He is neither repulsed by our sin nor surprised by the state we are in. His love follows—and hounds—us, even when we are not quite ready to be found.
Jesus Doesn’t Live Here
Growing up, Cindee had little knowledge of such a God. While her home life was relatively normal and happy, her mother and father did not subscribe to any sort of religious belief system. The only exposure she had to God was at a Nazarene Bible Camp.
“It was my choice, even as a young child, to go there and I loved it, but it didn’t have the impact it should have perhaps, because it wasn’t within my home.”
Cindy felt empty, her life purposeless. Despite the happy exterior of their intact home, her heart was restless—hungering for something more.
At age 19, that restless heart became a broken one—at first shattered, then shuttered, by an event that would send her spiraling into a state of perpetual numbness.
CLICK HERE TO READ PART TWO OF Leaking Love: Cindee’s Story