It was at least the fourth phone call from the grandma in the trailer. There was no heat, no electric, no cookstove, little furniture. Mostly there was no hope. A $2100.00 electric bill needed paying before they could have the electric hooked up. On oxygen, she was using a gas run generator to run the necessary things to keep the house livable. Six adults lived there, and most of their stuff was in storage, and only one had a drivers license. There was no vehicle.
Certain Man has helped this family for many years, and sometimes we would like to tear our hair and gnash our teeth. The health issues of the Grandma is what keeps us from cutting them off and leaving them out in the cold. That and the fact that this next generation truly is just living what they’ve learned. Poor choices repeated over and over again add up to so much sadness and struggle and poverty and brokenness. And it isn’t that Certain Man hasn’t instructed and exampled and been encouraging and kind, but they just don’t get it.
So, last night, the food was all. There was an inch of fuel left in the generator. Things were desperate. She has to have her oxygen. Certain Man groaned within himself, considered and prayers were offered, desperate pleas for wisdom and such. And he came to the conclusion that we needed to do something to help. So we sallied forth, and carefully bought five gallons of fuel, and groceries that could mostly withstand no refrigeration or could be cooked on a hot plate. There were also two gallons of milk and a gallon of juice that would take the available space in the two dormitory refrigerators they had stacked on top of each other.
On the way to make the delivery, Certain Man stopped at another house where there had been a young woman with a passel of children, her own and her siblings and a boyfriend. He wanted to check if this family was in need of a Thanksgiving box this year. The pit bulls bellowed and brayed and the holes in the driveway were deep enough to swallow a small car. Certain Man maneuvered his truck around the mammoth holes and turned off his headlights. Everything was swallowed in darkness. He turned them back on.
“I’m staying here until you know something,” I said, thinking of a stiff little baby I had tried to cuddle on our last visit. It didn’t look like the same family lived here. Certain Man made his way up to the gate. The dogs barked and barked and finally a woman came to the door and then came out to talk to him. He seemed to be gone a long time. When he came back, the stories were once again disappointing and sad. But this was one house that didn’t need a Thanksgiving Box this year.
On the road again, I was feeling grumpy. Sick to my bones of the broken children, broken hearts, broken lives, poverty, bad choices and feeling so impatient about the adults who just don’t get it.
In the quiet of the van, I reached over and took Certain Man’s hand. “Do you mind if I pray” I asked in the darkness.
“Not at all,” said my good man.
And so I prayed. I prayed for wisdom for him and the situations that face him over and over. I prayed for the family and that there would be redemption. And then I felt convicted of my attitude.
“. . . and Lord Jesus,” I prayed. “Help us not to be condescending or to look down on these people. May we be loving in what we say and do tonight and free us from feeling better than they are.”
And then we were at the trailer. The lights were dim, and the adult son was standing at the door waiting for us. He and another person came out to help carry and to discuss about the five gallons of fuel for the generator. Between Certain Man and the two of them, they took most of the groceries and the fuel and went in. I looked at the remaining two gallons of milk and the one of juice and a light bag of groceries and decided that I could manage that load. I picked them up and made my way to the trailer. Certain Man came out just as I got there and would have taken one of my gallons, but I had a firm grip and I was doing just fine. Three steps up to the trailer with no handrail and then a final one into the trailer.
I lifted my right foot to make the final step, realized too late that this step had an extra almost three inches over the others, caught the front of my sandal on the metal lip and down I went like a cow on wet cement. I was dimly aware of a very satisfying splatting noise as three plastic gallons of liquid hit the floor, and the general alarmed outcry as I landed pretty much on my hands and knees on the floor of the trailer. My first concern was whether there was any spillage. There was none.
“Miss Mary Ann, oh, Miss Mary Ann!!! Are you hurt??? Are you okay???”
Behind me, I heard my husband say, “No, she is NOT OKAY!!!”
This deserved attention. “Yes, I am,” I said with great conviction, “I really am. I am not hurt.” Helpful hands picked up the gallons of milk and juice and carried them to the rickety cupboard, and someone rescued the bag of groceries. I assessed the damage and got myself up.
“Are you sure you are okay?” I was asked over and over again and I reassured them in like manner. I wasn’t injured much at all. It felt like there might have been a brush burn on my one knee and the palms of my hand had a stinging sensation, but other than that, there was no bleeding, no skin missing, no bruises.
Except for one thing. My condescension had taken a terrible blow. It never reared its ugly head one time while Certain Man discussed practicalities and possibilities and how he could best help the family. It is hard to look down on people who have witnessed the embarrassment of you being sprawled all over their living room floor. I stood there in the cluttered, chaotic living room with the smells of poverty all around me and wondered at God’s incredible grace to me and my family.
And wished that God wouldn’t take me so much at my word.
Then acknowledged that I really did deserve that comeuppance.
“Oh, Lord Jesus. May it be with a humble and grateful heart that I remember.”