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"..as Christ to me. Nope, the love is just. not. there. O Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!