New King James Version (NKJV)
7 Two things I request of You
(Deprive me not before I die):
8 Remove falsehood and lies far from me;
Give me neither poverty nor riches—
Feed me with the food allotted to me;
9 Lest I be full and deny You,
And say, “Who is the LORD?”
Or lest I be poor and steal,
And profane the name of my God.
Standing in line at the grocery store, I saw her struggling to keep her baby quiet, fumbling in her diaper bag for coupons. The woman behind me sighed as we both saw her pull out her WIC vouchers. The mother was young…really young. Maybe 18. As she turned to the side, I saw her swollen belly carrying another life, a brother or sister to the wriggling baby in her arms. The mother looked tired…too tired for 18. She was carrying the weight of the world and the world was offering her paltry vouchers for milk, eggs and cheese.
Impatiently, the cashier snapped that the vouchers only buy 3 packages of mozzarella cheese, not four, and that she had picked out the wrong size jug of milk. The mother’s shoulders slumped forward. Sometimes you know you are witnessing the undoing of a person…the last little bit of hope being drowned out by ignorance or indignation. I reached down into my own cart and silently exchanged my milk jug for hers. Startled, she looked at me and attempted a little smile. “Thanks,” she managed weakly, “this is my first time using my vouchers.”
The woman behind me sighed again, this time noticeably. I asked about her baby…sweet little boy. She explained that he was teething and neither of them had slept well in a few days. I nodded sympathetically. I had been there myself…about a million times. Mothering can be fatiguing. The cashier handed her a receipt and she began to walk away. I called out to her, “Hang in there. It gets better.” This time, a genuine smile.
As I waited for the cashier to finish ringing up my items, the woman behind me began to talk to the cashier…”And did you see that her baby had on Gap clothes? I mean, if she can afford clothes like that, why do we have to buy her milk?” The cashier nodded in agreement. I paid in silence and walked slowly to my car. I could see the young mother a few rows over, struggling to get groceries and baby into a beat-up Chevy. This girl and her babies were walking amongst us all, but cut off from us by their poverty.
Recently a friend made the comment that “the poor are always with us.” I think he was referencing Jesus’ statements here, here and here. But it made me think…the poor may always be with us, but are we always with the poor? Seeing that young mother–so like me and yet so different–made me question if I was willing to do more than exchange milk jugs with her. Would I be willing to really, truly be her friend? Not the sort of friend with an agenda…agendas that begin and end with my own need to feel benevolent. No, the sort of friend who is comfortable, relaxed, willing to let her be who she is while still seeing her potential. Am I willing to overcome the barriers poverty creates to really befriend another person?
We received a letter from our Compassion International child this week. It is a special joy to me to read her letters, to know that she is doing well. I think of her as another one of our children, so knitted is my heart with hers. She truly lives in poverty. Supporting her, learning about her, being allowed to be a part of her life has changed the way I mother, changed what I value. She lives in a small hut with a dirt floor–she and her mother, father, three brothers and two sisters. Every morning, she walks 2 miles to carry water for her family. She is the only person in her village who owns a book. She has two dresses and one pair of shoes. There are no vouchers for our CI daughter and her family, no assistance for them if they run out of food.
But we are with them, praying for them, telling them they.are.not.alone. There is no shame in their poverty. There is love and compassion and fellowship with the body of Christ…even if that fellowship is from halfway around the world.
Are we really with the poor? Whether it’s an African family in Uganda, or a young mother in our own community, are we with the poor? Yes, open your checkbooks. Yes, speak out against poverty and social practices that produce economic injustice. But more than all of these…be with the poor. Not in spirit only, but in real fellowship. Reach out in love. Have real, meaningful relationships with those who have less, have nothing. Tell them that they matter enough to know.
Tell them–show them–that this Jesus that we serve–that we know–is real and has come for all of us.