[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.