Last night I helped out at my church’s annual school-supply giveaway. In years past, I haven’t had a specific task or job at this event, instead trying to do the thing that terrifies me most: socializing with complete strangers. I recognize that it’s a good thing, even a great thing, to reach out in friendship to new people, but it just isn’t on my list of gifts. Give me a table to stand behind. Give me a tray with hamburger patties. Let me fill up the drink dispensers. For crying out loud, give me something to do! I don’t care what it is.
This time I was part of the team manning the middle/high school area. We fill a specific number of bags with supplies for elementary kids and whatever is left or whatever doesn’t apply to the kids’ lists gets tucked away for the older ones. There were three tables filled with notebooks, folders, packs of paper, pens, erasers, even some art supplies. We opened the doors at 6:30. Everything for those in grades 6-12 was gone within 10 minutes.
That just blows me away, to know that that kind of need exists within my own community.
And that’s when my…confusion? Struggle? I don’t know what word to put on it, but a deep and heavy emotion welled up to the surface. A lot of the people who came through the doors last night, adult and child alike, were dirty. There isn’t a kinder word for it. Their faces were lined with the marks of hopelessness. I wanted to weep. I also wanted to sit down with each of them and ask them to share their stories with me. You see, I can’t understand why they were dirty and why they were hopeless.
It isn’t for lack of experience. I didn’t grow up with a lot. My parents joke about standing in line for government cheese when they were first married. Until age 19 I lived in a single-wide trailer. My clothes weren’t name-brand and neither was the food I ate. I didn’t have a cell-phone until I could pay for it myself. We never had cable television or the internet. My dad did all the work on the cars. My parents carefully budgeted every penny.
What strikes me about my childhood now is that my parents didn’t teach my brother or I to connect a lack of money with giving up. Our clothes might have been second-hand, but they were always clean and in good repair. We didn’t use expensive soap, but we bathed each day. My mom kept our hair trimmed and neat. We were taught to keep house by doing chores from a young age. Everything my parents did emphasized stewardship. We didn’t have much, but what we did have, we took care of. And I can honestly say that I don’t remember more than a handful of moments where I had a sense of doing without.
I want so much to look into the eyes of the people I interacted with last night and tell them that they don’t have to give up. The situation might be bleak. There might be job losses. There might be foreclosures. There might be crippling debt. But they don’t have to give up. They don’t have to throw in the towel. Each one of them is a worthwhile human being who can walk upright by the grace of God. Take a shower. Comb your hair. Launder your clothes. Remember that you are special!
This is especially important for parents. The kids in this world didn’t ask to be brought into it. They didn’t ask to deal with the ramifications of the adult world, whether its things we can control or things we can’t. They need to know that there is always hope, always something to be thankful for. They need to know that an empty bank account doesn’t mean they are valueless. They need to be scrubbed clean. They need fresh clothes.
I genuinely believe that bathing each day and keeping up with the laundry has significant impact on how you view yourself and the world around you. Despair threatens to crush us. Doing what we can to battle back, even if it is something as small as running a comb through our hair, is a dramatic act of faith and defiance. We say, “No. This isn’t going to lick me! I will keep moving forward!” Again, I speak from experience. I can’t tell you just how important it was to do things like take a shower and put on a clean shirt when I was walking through the darkest days of my life.
I want those people to know that they aren’t beaten. I want them to know the grace of God. I want them to know that He offers strength and mercy, fresh and new each and every morning. I want them to know that they aren’t defined by words like “poverty” or “charity.”
In the midst of all this, I found myself growing extremely angry toward the handful of people who were clearly taking advantage of what we were offering. I admit to being bent toward a judgmental spirit. I don’t want to be that way, and I fight it. But what would the Lord have His people do when those who are not in need take from the hands of those who are? Scripture has a lot to say about those who oppress the poor, and I can’t help but think that taking for yourself because you’ve failed to plan or simply don’t want to spend the money you’ve got on providing for your kids is a form of oppression. When I see people texting on their iPhones or driving into the parking lot in very nice cars… When I overhear them talking about trips they are taking… And then they take bags of school supplies…
It makes me sick.
I don’t know their stories. Maybe they’re putting on a show. Maybe they’re digging themselves into deep financial holes that they’ll never climb out of. Maybe I should be giving them the benefit of the doubt. But it’s hard. Really hard. I want to scream and smack them. I want to drag them over and make them take a good, long look at the people who are so desperate that the hot dogs they’re eating might be the only meal they get that day.
How can people be so impossibly selfish?
As the evening was winding down, I sat down to talk with a gal who’s going through an incredibly difficult time. She and her beautiful children have been vilely, cruelly abused. As she shared some of her story with me, I alternated between shocked and furious. I have ZERO respect, tolerance or sympathy for the babies (they don’t deserve to be called men) who hurt their wives and children. I would love to give this guy all the pieces of my mind. It is my fervent hope and prayer that he never gets to be involved with them ever again.
And yet…the Lord would have me pray for his salvation.
I have a hard time with that. I’d like to see him hit with a lightning bolt and sent to the darkest corner of Hell. And that, my friend, shows me just how little I understand the magnitude of the mercy that has been extended to me via the pierced hands of Christ.
There are days that begin innocuously enough but end with your soul in a tangle of knots. These sorts of days stay with you. They force you to look at what you believe and how you’re living that out. They echo across the weeks, drawing you back to assess and reassess.
I can’t pull these knots out myself. I am desperate for the perspective and wisdom of God. I need Him to show me how to proceed. I need Him to alter the rebellious parts of my heart. I need Him to alleviate this confusion.
Above all, I need Him to walk with me through the deep waters of these feelings.