"I hate doing this. It's very embarrassing. I swear I'm not hustling you and I wouldn't ask if I didn't have to. I just need a little money to buy some food and pay for our room tonight."
A dark haired mother held the hand of her five year old daughter and stood near my car in the Walmart parking lot. She had a flimsy backpack on and her daughter wore a thin sweater and jeans. It was near dark and chilly. I had to admit, the mother did look embarrassed.
Normally when I have someone approach me for money, ashamedly I feel annoyed. Sometimes I avoid eye contact until I absolutely have to speak to them. Sometimes I grumble at how young and healthy they look and how they need to GET IT TOGETHER MAN! Often I run through the inventory of lame things I'm SURE they are going to run right out and buy as soon as they collect enough money to do it. I always look them up and down and scrutinize each detail to assess how much they surely are lying.
I didn't do it this time. Something in me said that this mom was in trouble. I believed her. I got out my wallet and said, "I don't have a lot to spare, but..."
She assured me it was okay and she was grateful for whatever I could afford. I sorted through my bills and gave her a portion of what I had. She thanked me and hurriedly moved on to the next person, baby girl in tow.
I turned to my basket and crumpled a little inside. It was loaded. I picked up Jemma and buckled her into her expensive car seat in her safe and clean van. I took the several minutes I needed to load the groceries into the back, having trouble fitting it all because there was SO MUCH. I felt like an idiot. Had I not just said, "I don't have a lot to spare..."
I looked around and found the mother skittering from patron to patron, trying to get enough money. She was urgent. She was quick. Night was falling.
I was lead. I drug myself into the van and drove away. I watched her through my mirror. Could I take her home with me? Would she even come if I offered? What would Nic say if I walked in with these two? Would they be to embarrassed to sit at my table and share a meal?
I talked myself out of two U-turns. I systematically stacked up reasons why I should leave her and her daughter there. Then I went home and unloaded my food and ate at my table with my family.
I'm fairly sure I did the wrong thing. I thought about her for days afterward. I know I can't drag home every homeless person I find in the street, but my heart told me this was different.
So, this experience was fresh in my mind today as I drove home from preschool drop-off. I was about 2.5 miles from my house and I saw an elderly woman picking her way across the uneven and rocky dirt. There was no sidewalk for quite some time due to construction.
She was white haired and bent. I slowed down. As I passed her I looked at her face. She looked worried. She looked like it was hard for her to safely walk over the terrain. I kept driving, thinking she would probably be scared if I stopped and approached her. Then I remembered the Walmart parking lot. THAT'S IT! I CAN'T TAKE IT!
I turned around and found her. I pulled up onto the rocky dirt and rolled down my window. The funny part was I said "Excuse me, may I offer..."
"OH YES! I need a ride!" She didn't even let me finish! She hobbled toward my car and barely gave me time to run around to her side and help her in!
She DID need a ride. Girl was OLD! Her name was Eleanor. She moved to Las Vegas at the request of her son. He said he wanted her to be close so he could care for her better. Then he flunked out of AA. Then he found a woman and moved to Virginia. Then Eleanor's husband died. Now she has to walk 5 miles round trip to get her prescriptions. It takes her over 4 hours to do it. She had been walking for 3 hours when I found her.
I thought about how Jesus loved the widows. How he cared for them. I gave her our phone number and asked her to call us if she needs a ride or help in her home. I hope she does.
I hope I learned my lesson. I hope I follow my heart when it nudges me and don't explain away my opportunity to serve. I hope you don't find it distasteful that I shared this story. I hope you don't think I'm tooting my horn. I don't mean to. I just hope it helps you learn quicker than I did.
I hope Eleanor puts her feet up and eats a candy bar.