..”Herschel? Yea… uh huh… uh huh. OK. I’ll meet you down there. Sure off airways and Lamar.”
I look over at Kevin wondering who he could possibly be speaking too.
“While you were gone, this couple knocked on our door asking for money because they just got evicted from their home” he explains.
“So you’re meeting them downtown to give them money?” I say incredulously.
“Yea- they are going to stay in a half-way house for a week…”
So where exactly are you meeting them?”
“Oh off airways somewhere close to a gas station…”
“You’re going alone?”
“To give them cash?” I demand.
And so begins an interesting exchange between Kevin and me. I firmly explain that Kevin will not be going to meet this Hershel person downtown by himself with cash, and to call them back and tell them we’ll get them a hotel.
We call. Herschel doesn’t understand.
I can hear the sense of desperation in his voice. The tone. The strain.
“But uh, you see this place is close to the kid’s school, and we get meals here.”
Looking at Kevin… “oh so there are kids now?” I roll my eyes.
Kevin calmly explains the proposal. Again.
They meet us at a hotel. We pay for the hotel. They get a night free. He isn’t having it, so Kevin is soon speaking with Herschel’s wife.
“You see sir, we don’t have enough gas, why can’t you just meet us over here?”
I interject angry… “Kevin! Give me the phone.”
He hands it over, and I begin explaining to Herschel’s wife about the hotel, and the meeting them there, and how I’m frankly not comfortable with my husband meeting strangers to give them cash…
She gets angry and hangs up. Then calls back.
“OK, OK, we don’t have enough gas to get to where you’re going. So how about this place?”
She suggests a different location. At least more reputable.
“What’s wrong with the place we suggested?” I say.
“We don’t know how to get there…” she frustratingly explains.
“You mean you can’t pull it up on GPS? On your phone…?”
“ma’am. This. Is. A. minutes. Phone.”
And on we go again about hotels and how she can’t get there and they need help…. blah, blah, blah…
I finally interrupt.
“Look ma’am. It’s almost 10 o clock at night. I don’t even know you people, so surely you can understand that I’m concerned about my husband’s safety. If you want our help… you’ll do it on our terms.” I say, matter of fact.
I hear her breathing through the phone.
“Do you know where River Inn is?” she asks me quietly.
“Yes I do.”
“We have enough gas to get there, she says. We can get there, and we’ll take a room” And so we’re off., 10 o clock at night heading towards their hotel…
We put on shoes at 10:15 on a Sunday evening, and I grab my gun. Slip it into my vest.
“Just in case” I murmur at Kevin sheepishly.
And we’re off in the car heading to this hotel. It’s late in the evening, and I’m mostly complaining asking how they could get evicted, and how does that even really happen to a couple? Why aren’t they working or staying with family? I’m blabbing all the way to the hotel wondering how this couple could have allowed themselves to get into this kind of position.
We pull up into a run-down hotel next to a beat-up red Durango with the back windshield completely busted out. There’s a garbage bag that’s been duct-taped over it.
We step out of the car at the same time Herschel and his wife do. Herschel’s a big, strong, tall man with nice eyes, but he won’t make eye contact with us. He sticks out his hand.
“Sorry to meet you all like this.”
And his wife, she’s eight months pregnant, rubbing a small hand over her big belly. She doesn’t say anything, she just looks tired.
“We appreciate…” Herschel begins.
“We have five children,” his wife interrupts, desperate, “we have five children and we can stay at a boarding house within walking distance of their school for a whole week if we only had $40/dollars. They even cook one meal a day there…If all you want to do is pay for a hotel tonight, we will accept it… it’s just…
“Well it’s just that same amount of money would let us stay somewhere for a whole week.” Herschel finishes.
I look down. This time it is me who can’t look them in the eye. I’m so ashamed.
“How about we follow you over to the gas station, fill up your car, and then Kevin can get you guys out some cash?”
And it’s settled between us there. We drive across the street, and I watch Kevin and Herschel talk as Herschel pumps his gas. They go inside, purchase a box of chicken and Kevin hands over the money. We smile, shake hands, and wave. Wish them luck. I hand Herschel my business card.
“You know I can help you get on with my company. It is hard work, but it pays fair.”
He thanks me. Herschel shakes Kevin’s hand. And that’s the last we see of them.
I’m quiet on the drive home. We arrive at home, and suddenly I’m looking at our small little house, and our comfy bed, and our freshly polished floors… and I’m ashamed.
We hop into bed quiet. Kevin’s the first to break the silence.
I don’t know why I always assume every poor person I talk to is somehow lying to me, Shelby. I’m always listening to every word they say, and just waiting for parts of their story to contradict the other parts. I don’t do that with anyone else. I always assume everyone is telling me the truth… until it’s a poor person asking me for money.
And so we pray together, right there in our cozy home. For a family of seven with a baby on the way sleeping in a boarding house for a week, a walks distance away from the children’s school. We pray for forgiveness over the way we judge them, the way we treated them, and we ask God to give us more chances with them.
Because frankly even if I lost my job, lost my home, lost my ability to work- we’d still have community. Church family who would take us in. Blood family who would let us live with them until we could figure it out. People who would pitch in so we wouldn’t go hungry, go without water, or go without shelter. The reality for me is, no matter how bad it could get- I’ve got a long way to go before I’m knocking on someone’s door begging for money. And most of that isn’t because of what I’ve done, but where I was born, and what family I was born into.
And I know what you’re thinking because I was thinking the same thing. This couple could be lying. Could be alcoholics. Drug addicts or worse… They could be lying, filthy, dirty Criminals.
Or they could be poor. Disenfranchised. Without family, social support, jobs, and options.
That’s what it means to be poor, doesn’t it? To be completely out of options. Always under high stress, constantly solving problems, always thinking about where your next meal is coming from.
Wondering where you’re children are going to sleep this night. Not next year, not next month. Tonight. Wondering how you’re going to have a baby in a month. Wondering if you’ll eat breakfast in the morning… always wondering how you’re going to make it through the day.
The experts tell us never to give money to beggars. And we even talk about being smart with our money- and teaching poor people how to fish, rather than giving them a fish. We read all these books on empowering people, on educating people, on fixing poor people.
But when someone is sent to our very doorsteps, we judge their situation through our own eyes. We say, I would never have allowed myself to be in the predicament they are in. We rationalize. We assume. We judge.
But God has another way of dealing with the poor. Those people without options.
He takes up their case. He introduces himself in scripture as the one who “defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.” (Deuteronomy 10:18)
The psalmist writes of God’s way of dealing with the poor in several Psalms, but in Psalm 72 it reads, “For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.”
I don’t know what you will do the next time someone asks you for money. You may walk past them, you may tell them no, and you might think them undeserving of your help (just as I did.)
But I hope, just maybe, the next time you see a poor person- poor physically, poor spiritually, poor emotionally—someone under high stress, always trying to solve problems, and completely out of options… I hope you’ll remember these words.
30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do well to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:30-36)
I’ve got a long way to go to be like my father. But maybe this can be the start.