Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Not Enough

[Sorry, blogger spacing issues AGAIN.]
I think I know part of the reason why lots of Americans look the other way when we drive up to a corner and see a person standing there (or sitting in a wheel chair) begging for help. We look the other way because we feel helpless to do anything. Giving a bit of change will make no lasting difference in that person's life. If we look into their eyes and make a connection, we feel a greater sense of responsibility for the predicament they are in.
Case in point:
Tonight, I pick up Eric late from work. He's been working lots of extra hours. I'm having a bad pain night (fibromyalgia). Subway sandwiches it is. I have no makeup on so he runs in for the sandwiches while I sit and wait in the car. I see a couple coming towards me, the woman in a wheel chair. I turned my eyes away from them so it didn't appear that I was staring at the woman in the wheel chair. But they were walking TO me. When I realized that I rolled down my window. The woman has an envelope with change in it and asked if I could spare any change. They are trying to buy some food, they say.
In my rich American mentality, I say, "Oh? Where are you hoping to eat?" I'm thinking they are trying to get enough money to go to a fast food place and was going to offer to buy them a meal. As I dig in my purse for change (didn't have any bills) the woman says, "No child! People will go into those places and spend as much on one meal as we will on a week's worth of food!" She says this, as my husband is inside one of those places spending what is a week's worth of food money, on one meal.
I am still digging through my purse. I come across the pile of gold dollar coins I was saving for the kids. I got them when we were at Silver Dollar City last fall, and was going to save them as keepsakes. Not anymore. "Here ya go. I just have these 8 gold dollar coins but I hope it helps." She was very thankful. I ask, "So you need food? Because we've got a pantry full at home and you're welcome to come and see if there's anything you could use." The couple--Mary and Robert--look at each other and say they'd be thankful for that. Where did we live so they could start walking our way? No, I tell them, "I can give you a ride." Smiles abound and they start breaking down Mary's wheel chair. Along comes Eric with our rich-American lazy/tired parent meal. He goes with the flow as I tell him that this couple needs some food so we're headed home.
On the way to our house we learn that they live all the way across town, in a motel room, with 3 children and 1 grandchild. Six of them in one motel room. It's the end of the month and disability just doesn't get them through the whole month. This time of month they come to a side of town were donations are better, and hope they get $30 a day to pay their motel room bill for another day, plus a bit extra to buy food. Takes them 3 hours each way just to get to our area. Their 18 year old stays at the motel room with their 8 and 9 year olds and 3 year old granddaughter. They say they were short today, until I rolled down my window.
We drive up to our house. Mary and Robert get out and stand on the lawn. They didn't at all assume they were invited in (which makes me sad). "Come on in!" I introduce our kiddos. They come in and stand. "Take a seat!" Mary is obviously in a ton of pain walking as far as she did from car to our house (Muscular Dystrophy). They sit on the couch. Before long Kendi and Bright are picking flowers for them, and blowing kisses. I'm looking for reusable bags to put groceries in.
They are limited in what foods they can take because they only have a microwave to cook with, and a small fridge to keep a few perishables. Thankfully, this is one time when our family's poor eating habits come in handy! Ha! We learn that our families eat a LOT of the same types of food.
Pop tarts, canned veggies, stuffing mix, oatmeal packets, ramen noodles, and animal crackers all go into the bags. Bologna, cheese, and butter come from the fridge. A loaf of bread. "Do you like cream of wheat?" "OH!", she says, "We LOVE that with some butter and jelly, but that stuff is so expensive!" In it goes, as I think about how my kids turn their noses even at the flavored maple and brown sugar variety. Soup goes in (but I find myself being selfish, thinking about how I don't want to give away all of MY favorite flavor). Vienna Sausages are staring me in the face. This "nasty, good for nothing" food that I buy for my kids' snacks, because they love them. I am almost too embarrassed to ask if they want them. "Do your kids like Vienna sausages?" I say. "OH YES!" Robert says. "We LOVE to eat those with Mac and Cheese when we have them!" In they go.
I have a 5-pack of Pepsi sitting in the pantry. We buy it for when my mom visits. It just sits there between visits. "Do you all like Pepsi?" "Oh yes! That is Robert's favorite drink!" I hear about the Pepsi 3 or 4 more times, about how excited they are to have the Pepsi; about how they will have one tonight when they get home.
We fill up two big Aldi's bags of food and then Mary mentions something about getting all of this stuff home. I ask them if I can take them to the bus stop. That won't work. Because of our side trip they've just missed the last bus of the night from our area (the one that would get them home 3 hours later). They ask if I can I take them to the bus station downtown? For a moment I got selfish. I thought about my toasted Subway sandwich getting cold, and about the cost of gas. "Of course," I say. Of course I can.
During the drive to the central bus station I learn that they've been living with their family in the motel room for 8 months. Robert used to work in Odessa, in construction and oil. When he was laid off they moved here hoping for better. It didn't work out that way. Mary has muscular dystrophy. She counts herself healed though, because the Lord has allowed her to remain on this earth with her children long enough to see them grow. Robert is disabled too, but I didn't learn in what way. So this is life. They make it as long as they can with their checks, and the end of the monthly, every month, they come this way and try to get $30 a day to pay for the next day's rent.
We exchange phone numbers. I tell them to call me if it's ever a matter of not having food to eat, because we always have food to eat. I tell Robert I'll let friends know of his handyman skills. Mary and I hug. We say goodbye.
I drive away and sob. SOB. What did we do? We gave them some food they can use maybe for the rest of the week, and a 1/3 of a day's rent. We did NOTHING of significance for this family! Mary and Robert will be back in our area tomorrow, praying they get the $30 they need for Thursday's rent. They will continue to struggle.
I think to myself about what we could do to make a lasting difference in Mary and Robert's life. But I hear my inner whisper going, "You can't do anything to REALLY make a difference--not without sacrificing in a way that HURTS." And it's true. I will give Mary and Robert the keep-sake coins from our vacation. I will give Mary and Robert whatever they want in my pantry. I will give Mary and Robert a ride. I will even give them my phone number and let them know where I live. I will give those things because NONE of those things is even a sacrifice. That is just me giving from what is already an over-abundance of wealth! When I give someone the food I was expecting to feed my children tomorrow--THAT will be a sacrifice.
Tonight my appetite is ruined. I sit here and contemplate Mary and Robert's life, and what my Jesus would expect me to do to change it. He would expect more than what was done today. He would expect more than planning to offer rides when they need it, or gifts at Christmas for the kids. This whole thing has inconvenienced me. And this is why Americans look the other direction when they see someone begging on the side of the road.


Lisa Olsen 8:21 PM  

Thank you! Thank you for making this post, and thank you for setting such a good example of what is just a fraction of what we can do to help. It makes me want to be a better person, so I wanted to thank you for your post and your example of a Christian spirit. :-)

C and G 8:24 PM  

Well written Anita - thanks for talking about this hard topic and for being transparent too.

Saw a quote yesterday that has kept me thinking hard the last 24 hours "live simply that others might simply live" - Gandhi

A. Gillispie 8:30 PM  

C&G, it kept running through my mind that my living room is bigger than the average motel room--and they are sleeping 6 in their motel room. Puts perspective on me thinking about how we are "outgrowing" our 4 bedroom 1800 square foot house. I also find myself being thankful that we live in an area where there are homeless/in-need-of-help people on the corners. How much more would I be sheltered if I lived in the "rich" suburb I find myself being drawn to? It's just so much easier to pretend these realities don't exist.

Amy 8:46 PM  

This was a great post and I hear what you are saying about sacrificing hurting, but what you did was NOT insignificant. You gave these people things that maybe didn't "hurt" you to give, but you also gave them caring, concern, and the knowledge that somebody cares. There is hope and good in the world and you gave that to them too. You also gave them a HUGE gift in that they know that if things got really bad and there was no food, that they can call you.

You may think of it as small, but one of my favorite quotes is from Mother Teresa... "We can do no great things, only small things with great love." I have it in my email signature even. This IS a way to make a difference. Please don't sell it short. Sure, we can ALL do more, but you did something very, very loving and good. I know they went home feeling more cared about than they probably have in a long, long time.

Fabu (aka Amy Ferrell)

Alysa 9:17 PM  

We own a 3bedroom/2.5bath 1600 sq ft townhouse. When talking about adoption, people ALWAYS ask us "so you will be moving, yes?" My mom (who is a missionary in Russia) always tells "having a big enough house is an American problem". It makes me think of Matthew 19:24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. It is really difficult to give up our many many riches. I think the more we have, the more difficult it is.

Arnold family 9:31 PM  

Thanks for sharing. It is so hard with all the need in the world and it gets so over-whelming, but you acted and that is what Jesus wants. He doesn't want us to look away as I usually do. If more people acted they could count on tomorrows money and food. Thanks for your wisdom and insight.

Holly Arnold:)

Kristin 9:53 PM  

I second what Fabu said. And I know you aren't looking for a pat on the back, but you did make a difference and you were the 'hands and feet' today. Way to get your hands dirty!

Gina 10:05 PM  

You did something wonderful. Know that. Most people would have just given the change and not done anything else. Sadly, I am almost sure that is what I would have done. Worse yet, a lot would have said "no" while they sat in their $50,000 car. You have given this family a great gift. They know, that if their children are truly hungry, you have food. And they have your phone number. The little things do add up even though they will never be "enough". You may not be able to save the world, but you DID help several people today.

Eric 5:53 AM  

I know you know this, but what you showed them that means so much more than the ride and the food and the money is the love of Jesus. Just keep on loving people.

A. Gillispie 7:55 PM  

Thank you for all of the comments. That all just hit me like a ton of bricks last night. Just imagine how much more Christ must hurt for His hurting children! Amy, reminding me of the Mother Teresa quote was a good reminder for me.

CarrieT 11:09 PM  

Your actions really are a spiritual challenge for me because I tend to be the type who says "well, there are shelters and charities and these people should go there to get help." (no flames, please! I am just being honest!) I rarely give to people begging for a handout because I think maybe they'll just use it for alcohol or something. Yes, we should give wisely BUT your testimony here is a reminder that sometimes we should just give joyfully and abundantly as we see needs right in front of us. Thanks for the godly example!!

Carrie T.

Ericka 8:04 AM  

ohmygoodness Anita. Wow.
You amaze me. I know you are so humble, but wanted to reach out and tell you that you. are. awesome.
Thank you for caring for the 'least of these.'
So proud and humble here.
Will be praying for all this morning....

Michelle 5:25 PM  

OK...reality check....do you know who is responsible for the little voice telling you that you didn't do enough? The voice that says that you can't change someone's life with showing kindness and sharing your poptarts and vienna sausages? THAT is the voice of the enemy!
Your actions and the kindness you showed is life changing and that little voice may not let you believe that now...but you don't know what every little act of kindness you sow will reap.
Throw on one of my favorite casting crowns songs...The Voice of Truth...and remind yourself that YOU do A LOT everyday and especially on this day!
Stopping for the one in front of you that needs your help IS doing ENOUGH and IS LIVING the word!

The enemy wants you to feel insignificant and helpless and inadequate - you are none of those things and your actions are certainly none of those things!

Robin Dodd Photography 9:13 PM  

You rock ANITA!!! That's all.

Robin Dodd Photography 9:14 PM  

You're whole family! Beautiful spirits!

All My Beans 2:50 PM  

You are amazing and this post was exactly what i needed. SO many days, when I bemoan the economy and our need to tighten our belt a wee bit tighter, I actually forget about the fear of poverty and how frigid a windy day can be. Imagine not knowing if you will have shelter fro one more day? I am so thankful for YOU...