She walked slowly from her door to greet me at my truck, she looked physically uncomfortable. She appears to be much older than I am but she’s actually a few years younger. Poverty ages people. I was prepared to not like her. I had seen on the online database that she was a “frequent flyer” to the food assistance network and it appeared that she has been “working the system” for a while. She had also been less than truthful when we spoke on the phone and there’s nothing that pushes my “dislike button” worse than folks who are dishonest.
The groceries I had for her had spilled in the bed of my truck. As we were trying to gather them up we were laughing together at my efforts. Being 5’4” tall is a handicap when you have an 8 foot bed on your truck. Oh to be just a few inches taller. As it turns out, laughter is a great tension reliever. I look up and thank God for the icebreaking humor even if it was at my expense. I had paperwork for her to fill out and sign and asked if we could go inside to sit and chat for a moment. She was very kind and asked me inside.
The first thing that struck me was the smell of smoke. I’ve a very sensitive nose and it took everything I had to not to go back outside just to escape the smell. Unkind thoughts of giving food to someone who claims to be in need yet whose home reeks of cigarette smoke circle in the outskirts of my critical thoughts. However, I’ve learned through the years God calls us to love and not judge and simply push those thoughts aside. As I spent a little time putting the groceries down in her kitchen lacking both a refrigerator and a stove I realized the smokey smell was different than tobacco smoke but I just couldn’t put my finger on the source.
We sat on her loveseat in her living room and I looked around. Her home was in much better shape than many I’ve visited. I commented on her good choice of picking a home with good windows and doors for winter insulation. She nodded and filled out her paperwork. As she handed back the clip board I asked her if she had a moment to chat or would she just rather I leave. Once again she was kind and polite and asked me to stay. Unfortunately I could see in her eyes she was building her protective personal walls framed with mistrust and negative past experiences. I swear I heard her secretly say, “Well here it comes, the Jesus sell”.
I said a quick prayer. Please God, let her not sweep me into her pile “do-gooder Bible thumping Jesus freaks”. Please let her hear me and know I am sincere.
We talked a bit about how she got to this point of need she was experiencing and that she had been living this lifestyle for a while. I was attentive and sympathetic. I’ve heard many stories. Her details may be different from the last story but all of the stories have a common denominator of struggles, illnesses, job loss, etc. As we talked I noticed shredded boxes close to her fireplace. I came to the conclusion the smoke I smelled was from her burning boxes and different combustibles for heat. I begin to feel the weight of the armor I’ve erected around my heart but manage to keep it securely in place for a bit longer.
She had the need of food, I had food to give. Those were the only two pertinent details God needed me to know today. I’ll do my job, offer heartfelt encouragement, make my exit, and go home. It’s my day off, I can still salvage a few hours of rest this afternoon. Maybe I’ll put up some more Christmas decorations.
Honestly, I’ll admit I work hard at making sure my “heart shields” are securely in place when I visit folks. Having been a nurse I have learned to hear people’s pain but not let it affect how I do my job. It’s the only way I manage to not get drawn into the drama of dysfunctional lives. But I wondered how many lectures and Bible verses she’d had thrown at her from previous agencies. I wondered what I could say that would encourage her and break a hole in the mistrustful heart she was guarding. She laughed when I told her I wasn’t there to force Jesus down her throat. I did, however, share with her the same thing I share with many. It’s a brief witness about God our creator and He doesn’t create junk, He creates beautiful masterpieces. I told her she was a beautiful and smart woman that was created for a purpose. If we ever meet again I’ll continue building on this theme to nurture the seed I planted.
After inviting her to come and help give back to her community by helping prepare meals in the kitchen and I took my leave. On the way out I noticed a wooden chair in her yard and next to it was a saw. I looked back at her and she said she’d been sawing up her furniture and using it for heat.
It was then that a large liberty bell sized clang, clamor, bang and smashing sound rolled through my entire being as my crusty armor fell from my heart. In an instant I realized the smell in her home was from burning furniture. This woman isn’t a “frequent flyer” working the system, she’s a survivor. She doesn’t need my pity, my judgment, nor my disdain. Without my heart shield up I am exposed to feeling her pain for just a moment until I could distance myself by driving away.
I then ponder on the message God gave me when Forever Fed first began. “Be the Church without walls.”
During my afternoon of rest I calculate how many trips it would take for me to get the wood from my woodpile in my back yard up the hill to my truck. I figure about 6 trips will do it.