Shame on Me


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I thought about how awesomely eloquent I could make this blog post today.  I have something really serious to share and I knew that if I put enough time into writing this post, I could bang out some really great writing.  However, I realized with every minute I wasted coming up with the right words, was another critical moment lost.  So I'm going to forget about how my tone comes across and instead, shoot it to you straight and hope you listen.

I spent all day yesterday with a girl I met off Craigslist.  Long story short, she posted an ad looking for someone to give clothes to her daughter.  I was supposed to meet her at around 12pm, but she got caught up at the doctor and had to take 2 busses to pick up some medicine, and another 2 bus rides, as well as walk several blocks in the snow to get to the thrift store were we were scheduled to meet.  Eager to meet her, I took a leap of faith, hoped she wasn't dangerous and offered to pick her up from the southside of Richmond and bring her to the thrift shop to buy clothes.  She took me up on my offer.

I don't know why I didn't realize this, but she had her daughter with her.  Let's call her Molly.  3 year old Molly and her mom, let's call her Bethany, got in my car.  Of course Molly had no car seat.  We went to the thrift store and they had so little to choose from, we decided to try a consignment store down the street.  Molly complained a bit about her feet hurting, and 33 year old Bethany revealed that her shoes were a size too small and she walks a lot which is why she complains.  Bethany, Molly, and I spent the entire day together.  Here's the short version of our 7 hour escapade.

Bethany has stage 2 cancer, asthma, and chronic fatigue syndrome.  She left a physically abusive relationship in Baltimore with Molly's father last year.  She moved into an apartment and her house was foreclosed on so she was evicted.  Her sister lives in a 2 bedroom apartment with 4 children and she has no other family.  Desperate to keep her and Molly off the streets, she puts an ad on Craigslist and finds an apartment where the rent is $550 a month.  She makes 675 from disability.  The only places she can find in Baltimore are in such dangerous neighborhoods that she fears for the life of her and Molly if she moved in there so she answers an ad for a Virginia apartment and she's now living in Richmond with no friends, no family, and no way to work.  WIC and food stamps pay for their food.  But she has to choose between getting her lights turned off, or her heat turned off.  Her and Molly try and stay warm with an electric heater she had donated to them, but the windows in the historic apartment building she lives in are drafty and that plastic covering from Home Depot is too expensive so she has sheets tacted up.  They use a lot of blankets they received from the salvation army to keep warm while in the house. 

When asked how she intends to treat her cancer, she tells me that she needs chemo, but she can't undergo treatments because it makes you so tired that you'll be laid out for months, and there'd be no one to take care of Molly.  So instead, she does nothing but takes the medicine her doctor provides for her.

Molly is wonderful.  She's clearly smart, incredibly adorable and she has an awesome sense of humor.  Honestly, I have the exact same thing to say about her mother Bethany.  Gorgeous, smart and funny.  She reveals to me she doesn't trust white people, and even less white women.  All women, really.  She then admits, all men as well.  As we're talking, I buy her and her daughter a hotdog.  Bethany asks if it's salty because in addition to all her other illnesses, she has high blood pressure.  Molly devours the hotdog and seems ecstatic that I offered her a cookie as well.

We then go to Old Navy.  Bethany's never been in one before.  The clothes she says are just too expensive.  She reminds me that Molly would be fine with used clothes but I insist. She then says that she wouldn't even need my help if her father would just pay the $400 child support.

I had the best day with these two girls.  Giving to them was the highlight of my year.  I wanted to just shower them with love.  I did my best to not be a crutch, and allowed Bethany to purchase her own groceries from Kroger with her food stamps.

GIVE.  Not a little, not more than your neighbor gave, or your sister gave, but give way more than enough.  Give too much.   Give until it hurts.  Give until other people call you a martyr for how much you give.  Give until other people claim that you are giving just to feel good about yourself.  I don't care if you give out of guilt.  But give.  Abundantly, sacrificially, and way more than you feel is necessary.  Donating your sons old toys to the thrift shop is not enough.  Either is handing the guy on a street a $10 bill when you had a $5 in wallet. 

I'm writing about this story because I want you to feel guilty when you're going out to buy your well to do family a thousand dollars worth of gifts this Christmas. I know that statement rubs you the wrong way.  It makes my stomach flip just thinking about the life I live and the life Molly lives.  Because of my guilt, I immediately want to defend my charitable acts in the past as being more than enough, but after yesterday, I can't fool myself any longer.  I know that many of you will turn to your spouses and claim that I'm going a bit overboard.  You give "more than enough"  Keep telling yourself that if you makes you feel better.  I have an image of Molly etched in my mind.  What's even worse; I not only have the image of a beautiful Molly, sitting under several blankets with the heat turned off, or walking several blocks in the snow to catch the bus, but my mind races as I think about the children around the world who Molly seems wealthy in comparison to.  I realize how easy it's been for me to ignore poverty when it doesn't have a name, a face or a shoe size.

I stood in my warm 4 bedroom home this morning in the wealthy suburbs of Richmond and wondered how I continue to justify living in a home with 3 empty bedrooms when Molly and Bethany can't keep the heat on.  But I continue to acquire more stuff.  I continue to increase the size of my wardrobe, my television set, and my bank account.  I try and trick myself into believing that because we pay so much in taxes and tithe that we're giving plenty.  I'm quickly reminded that I'm only lying to myself.  I wonder how I am going to answer to God on judgment day when he asks why I upgraded my car to an SUV when I knew about the environment Molly was living in?  I don't know how I'm going to get myself out of that sticky situation.

I asked Molly what Santa was bringing her this year.  You know what she said? "I don't need anything for Christmas."  Bethany has already told her that she didn't think Santa was going to be able to come by their house this year so Molly has braced herself for it. 



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  • Jenny

    Jenny December 22, 2010

    Looks like God pointed you in the right direction… as always smile

  • Scott

    Scott December 22, 2010

    Matthew 25:31-46

    What will you do next, Jessica?

  • Judy Savoy

    Judy Savoy December 22, 2010

    I’m sorry I wasn’t at Patterson Ave. the day you were baptized (we were away that Sabbath). Someone said I should listen to your story and write a book about your experience, but I see you already write. I found your blog the other day and discovered you’re winding down your 52 weeks’ search. Will you spend the next year discussing things you discover in your Bible study? I enjoyed the story about Molly and Bethany.  Will you be taking them home for Christmas dinner?

  • Janice

    Janice December 22, 2010

    Jessica do you want to do Christmas for Bethany and Molly I’ll be glad to help. Maybe toys for Molly whatever you think. Give me a call Janice

  • Kate Deaton

    Kate Deaton December 22, 2010

    Have you found what you set out to find this year? I easily see you have united with your compassion and the community.

    With love and best wishes for your continued joyous journey,

  • Nicole

    Nicole December 22, 2010

    ...and that’s what it’s ALL about. I’ve experienced the presence of God and the growth in my own heart through serving more than any other thing. This rocks my world. I want to do something, just like you. being the hands and feet of Jesus isn’t a nice platitude for a crossstich. It’s literal. Way to go Jessica!

  • Jessica

    Jessica December 23, 2010

    Scott-my plan is to avoid being a goat at all costs!

    Janice—you are a God-send.  You too, Jenny.  Your generosity overwhelms me.

    Judy- it’s great to “meet” you.  I do plan on keeping the blog up after my 52nd prayer.  I am meeting Bethany and Molly tomorrow and I intend to ask them about Christmas.

    Kate-I found more than I ever dreamed.  I am so in love with Jesus, it’s silly. smile

    Nicole—have I mentioned how much I look forward to finally meeting you?!!

  • jenny

    jenny December 23, 2010

    jess - this is beautiful. you are one of a kind and i miss you so much!

  • Judy

    Judy December 23, 2010

    Jessica - Will you be at Sabbath School this week, so we can meet in person?  About your 4-bedroom house, maybe the Lord provided it for you just so you could help people like Molly and Bethany.  There’s another woman at Patterson Ave. church who rents her upstairs rooms to people needing help. Maybe you’ve met her already?

  • jess

    jess December 25, 2010

    Hi Judy. I’ll be at meadowbridge with Molly and bethany.  Hope you have a merry Christmas. Hope to meet you sometime soon.

  • Judy

    Judy December 25, 2010

    I accidentally erased my address from your email responder.  Didn’t mean it, and am signing up again. Sorry about that.

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