Thursday, July 19, 2007

A cup of cold water in my name....

I don't normally blog about almsgiving. It's supposed to be done in secret, after all. But this, well, this story must be told, because it is a story of failure. Sin.

My neighbor called out to me one day, just as I was frantically searching for my daughter: Do I have a washing machine and dryer she can borrow for a load of laundry? I said no, and kept going...looking for my bike riding, independent kid.

Well, the next day, she came into my yard. I was on my back porch. She strikes up a conversation about her hard luck life. A small, shriveled person. Probably my age or five years older, but looks twenty years older. Has a daughter the age of my kids, though, who does not live with her. She has substance abuser written all over her face and body. I wonder what kind.

She asks about the laundry again, and I offered to wash a load for her and bring them to her apartment when they are dry. She asks me for money: A hundred and twelve dollars. I say no. Do I want to buy some stuff off her. I say no. She asks to use my cell phone. Free long distance. I let her. Sitting there, listening to her call her dad and ask for money. Finally she asks for a dollar..."I want a beer" with a sheepish look on her face. I give her a beer instead. She drinks it and chats on the phone.

Later that evening I dropped off her clothes. Liquor bottles everywhere, and no rent money. Figures.

Well, the next day she's back again. With an empty, scummy coffee cup. Can she use my phone again, and do I have some coffee? I brew her some, while she makes the call to find out if her dad will send the money. I ask her if she's eaten today, and of course she has not. I make her a sandwich. I'm running late, need to get out the door, so wrap it all up. She asks if she can have some coffee grounds and sugar to take with her. Fine! I give her some of that, too. Does this woman think we OWE her? My resentment starts to grow a bit. She's making me late for my appointment.

So, she leaves, and I go back into my bedroom to change clothes, and I hear something. I come out, and there she is IN MY DINING ROOM! She asks me for money. Fine, here's two dollars, and do me a favor, please! DON'T come in my house again!

OK, boundary set. "See you tonight," and she leaves. I dread "tonight". That was Wednesday. On the following Sunday I am on my back porch, reading, and here she comes again. "Things sure have been quiet around your place these past few days..." Oh, is she spying on me, or what? "Yeah..." "Hey, you got any spaghetti noodles? I have this sauce, and no noodles. I'm hungry" Well I'm tired and ache all over.... "Nope, no spaghetti noodles (you came into my house, lady, and I don't like that.) "Well, I borrowed your broom, and used it to sweep out my kitchen." I look. The broom that is usually kept on the back porch, is over by the fence. Niiiice. I just blink at her, astonished. "You got any macaroni noodles I can have?" No. I do not have any macaroni noodles you can have. (Yah, those are for my to feed my kids with.) "What you been up to?" she asks. "I've been sick." "You got the flu or something?" "No, I have a chronic incurable disease." She hops up and fetches the broom she'd dumped by my back fence and puts it where it belongs. "Oh, well. I was going to ask to use your phone, but since you're sick, I'll leave you alone."

Thank God for small mercies. I feel slightly crappy about my lack of generosity, and slightly pissed about the broom. I opted not to tell her that that's the broom with poop on it.

A few days later, there she is again. Can she borrow the phone? Sure. One quick call, I'm expecting a call. She makes two calls. But they ARE quick. Sigh. She sits and chats. She'd be happy to help me out: do some cleaning, whatever. She wouldn't ask much in return. Just some coffee or a coke, you know. I thank her and tell her I'd keep it in mind. (not that I have any intention of EVER letting her into my home to look through my stuff, you know)

She gets up to leave. "You don't happen to have a coke I can have, do you?" "Sorry, we don't drink coke." "What?! but it's good!" "It's really bad for you," I say, as I see her out the porch door.

Not five minutes later, there she is again. She's holding a glass full of ice cubes. Got milk? She's asking for milk! For crying out loud! NO! I do NOT have any milk you can have. And by the way, you constantly asking for stuff from me really bothers me. I was blunt. But I didn't yell. I wanted to yell. About coming into my house, about borrowing the broom without my permission. About boundaries. About rehab, or something. Should I help you out one more time? Here, let me make you a cardboard sign to you can expand the reach of you begging to the larger community. That's what was in my heart. Not what I say. I just tell her it bothers me, and she leaves. Without milk.

And I learned that I'm not as generous as I liked to think I was. And I learned that it's easy to give alms when it's on MY terms, but when it's on other's terms, I have a very short fuse.

And I'm wondering about addiction, enabling, and how that factors into almsgiving, and neighborliness. I've never given it a thought before. I've always said that hey, if I were homeless, I'd want a drink, too. Pinching pennies for meth hits? I don't know. Will she break into my house at some point, to get what she feels like is her due? I don't know. I wonder. I wonder about almsgiving and boundaries. Is there a point where it's enough, or does Christ call us to just give and give and give and give?

I feel dirty in all this. And I'm going to confession on Saturday and hopefully I'll have some more light. Because right now I don't ever want to see this woman again. Not to mention try to "be Jesus" to her, or see her as the "least of these" Christ to me. Nope, the love is just. not. there. O Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!


Mimi said...

Lord have Mercy, Lord have Mercy, Lord have Mercy.

I wish I had a simple answer, but as you know, it isn't a simple problem.

carmen said...

Wow. That's a tough situation with no simple answer.

Joi said...

I have felt this way too. Where is the line drawn between helping and enabling? You have always been a giving person. It sounds as if this lady is looking for a handout. Don't feel bad about putting your family first. That is the way it should be. Remember, dear Alana, the Lord helps those who help themselves.

Love, Joi

elizabeth said...

wow. i agree. that is really hard. thanks be to God that we have confession, where we can seek guideance. this is a complex thing; will seek to pray for you this morning for wisdom. thank you for sharing.

Alana said...

Actually, Joi, you are quoting Benjamin Franklin, and not Holy Scriptures, when you say that "God helps those who help themselves".

And since there is never a time when God does not have compassion and mercy on us, the sinful and unworthy, and since Scripture calls us the "be perfect just as your Heavenly Father is perfect" there is at least a striving towards that goal of being so filled with the Holy Spirit that we CAN love the way that Christ loves us...even to those who are "undeserving". But this comes about not by our own efforts, but by the grace of God working in our hearts and lives. All we can do is open the door. And sometimes, something happens that makes even a supposedly open-to-God person realize just how easily that door likes to slam shut, or perhaps just how little the door to God actually ever gets opened.

The question becomes not whether to help this woman, but what is the most life-giving way to help her. And then the bigger question becomes: What do I do with my own black heart in the process? The Sacrament of Confession is a good place to start. But only a beginning.

Caldonia Sun said...

Sounds like there is addiction, maybe mental illness. Also sounds like this woman would completely suck the life out of you, if possible.

Your first duty is to your family and their well-being. I don't think you are not expected to let your family go without their needs being met to prop up an addict. If she chooses to buy alcohol over food, that is her choice and that is what you may have to tell her, bluntly. She is a steward of what she is given and is responsible for using it wisely, just as the rest of us are.

If I sound harsh, it's because I was formerly married to an alcoholic and I know the tricks and the way they make you feel guilty for the problems brought on by their own poor choices. You are not the one with a black heart.

(... CS steps down from her soapbox and goes away ...)

Alana said...

Thanks CS. I totally know what you are saying is true. Trying to find my way through.

Perhaps me being blunt and telling her she was bothering me made her go away...

perhaps not. Too soon to tell.

DebD said...

Like Mimi said, there is no easy answer. I think confession is the best thing to do.

Dollymama said...

Thank you for sharing this story! I appreciate your humility in telling about it. I had a moment this week when someone wanted to drop their child off here for free babysitting, and my first reaction was that I didn't want him to come. No real reason except that he can be a little annoying. And then I thought of how "annoying" an adopted child might be, or my current children can be, or how people go to the other side of the world to be missionaries in a neighborly sort of way...and I decided I could help them out even though I could have justified it.

"what is the most life-giving way to help her." I think that's the biggest challenge you've got ahead of you. Seems to me that learning the answer to this is going to be partially trial-and-error. Don't beat yourself too much about the educational journey, but keep being open to caring for those God puts in your path.

I am so alive said...

You know, the questian is, if it realy helps to give her all the things she wants. Jesus was not produsing consumers, but produsers. Jesus would give her what she needs. That does not mean all the things she want. We are christians, that means that we are no man pleasers but God pleasers.

Anonymous said...

I know this is a very old post but I just read it today... 12-19-09 I pastor in Princeton Il. and tomorrow the 4th Sun of Advent I am preaching on Giving good gifts this Christmas...We are following the "Advent Conspiracy" and plan to take an offering to buy a clean water well for people in Haiti. I plan to use your blog in the sermon. I wanted you to know and also to ask your permission... It was inspiring on many different levels.
BTW... What ever happened to your neighbor?

<>< Rev. Root

rocket38 said...

Thanks for your honesty. I am preparing a talk about how saying "thank you" binds a community by recognizing the divine image of the giver (you in this case).You certainly missed out on "thanks". You mentioned going to confession about your "selfishness" I presume - I think all you needed to confess is that you're not God - which God knows anyway (but I'm a slow learner about that too!). When I was depressed I couldn't say "thank you", because it was giving, an I had nothing to give. I'm sorry about that, but I know God knew that. God knows, and accepts your limits too. On behalf of your neighbor can I say "thank you". God demands of that we do what we can, not what we can't.

Anonymous said...

If someone is "using" and not working a program like AA you will not be able to point the person in a new direction or a new way of thinking. The addiction has its hold on them and you are wasting your time and generosity on them (which can be fine, as long as you realize you're doing it mostly for your own sense of peace and generally jus enabling the behavior). I love the way you described the struggle. You are dealing with it in an admirable way. No need to be so hard on yourself.