a hug and a prayer

February 16th, 2009

She arrived 30 minutes early for her appointment. She had never been there before; she didn’t like to ask for help. She’s always worked, always paid her own way, never looked for hand-outs.

Her electric bill had climbed to $800. She had paid $400 on it but they were going to cut off her electricity in 2 days. A call to the company told us that she only had to pay $37.20 to keep it from being turned off; the rest could be paid within the next month.

She didn’t have $37.20.

She recently left her job to take care of her daughter who had just gotten back from the “mental hospital.” The 15-year old had been cutting herself after being molested by a family member. She didn’t tell anyone about it until later. Now her mom doesn’t want to leave her by herself in the afternoons after school. She’s afraid of what her daughter might do to herself.

She couldn’t take a leave of absence from her job but has an open invitation to come back anytime. But the shifts are at terrible times; they don’t work with a school schedule. She doesn’t want to leave her daughter alone. It’s a risk she’s not willing to take.

Every program has limits, parameters. We can’t give everybody everything they need; we probably have the means, but not the hearts.

In this ministry, $150 is the most it can give, once a year. He told her we could pay the $37.20 this month, or pay $150 for the next bill to give her a little more help. He thought it would be more helpful in the long run to pay the larger amount next month.

She didn’t have the $37, and didn’t want to ask her 2 other daughters for help. But she eventually did, and they each agreed to pay half. Next month she has a pledge of $150 to put toward the electric bill. It’s a band-aid, but maybe it will help her catch up, or even get ahead.

I put some food in bags for her, her daughter, and 2 grandkids that she takes care of. Milk, eggs, spaghetti, canned fruits & vegetables, cereal, baby food.

She was grateful.

Some of the people that come in are working the system; with some you can’t tell if you should believe them or not. She seemed for real; I think she was. There’s a bit of uncertainty involved, but is it really our place to judge? Everybody makes mistakes. The difference between people I know and the people that come in for help is usually that the former have a well-off support system, and the latter do not.

She left with a pledge and some food. Maybe even some hope.

Five minutes later she came back.

“I have one more question – can I have a hug?”

Of course, we said.

“Can I pray for you?” he said. He put his arm around her and prayed for her, and for her daughter. Tears ran down her face.

Afterward she looked relieved. Uplifted even, maybe.

She left again. We sat in silence for a moment in the church library before talking again. We hope she’ll be ok. We hope she gets on her feet, hope her daughter is ok.

I recently heard that someone once said that I wouldn’t find what I was looking for in a church.

But I have.

I know I’m not changing the world. I know that there are flaws. But to be a part of something like this – to take a few hours out of my month and see these people and hear their stories and do the smallest thing to give them some help and some hope – I wouldn’t trade it.

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