Sandy and I have kept in touch via cell phone, and last night our family decided to meet up with her at McDonald's for dinner. We found her sitting alone in the booth in the very back of the restaurant. Her face was sunburned and she looked a little worn out from the heat, but her bright blue eyes smiled when she saw us.
It wasn't easy finding out what she really preferred for dinner; it's her natural default to shyly ask for the cheapest thing on the menu. And even that takes some probing. But our heart was to give her whatever she wanted; whatever was her favorite thing. I took the approach of an interviewer and asked, "Sandy - in your opinion, what is the best thing to eat here?" She played along and answered, "Filet-o'-fish."
Sitting across from her, looking into her eyes, I tear up myself, as I consider her situation in life. I try to hold back my tears but I'm not so good at that these days. She's not either and this unites us in a strangely warm way.
I shared with her that I often considered doing my own personal experiment, by holding a sign that says, "Homeless: Help." For a brief afternoon, I could see how people would treat me. She chuckled and agreed to help me by sharing her experiences of having to do this for the last few days. All day. I got her permission to share her story.
Since 2007 she has been living on the streets, in a shelter, or in a car with her boyfriend who recently left her - taking her few personal belongings with him. She has never held a "Homeless" sign before. It's awkward for her. It's embarrassing. But she doesn't know what else to do. She quit school in the 9th grade and aside from taking care of a home she once shared with her husband before his death, she has limited skills.
She has filled out several job applications at local businesses but no one has called her back as of yet. In the meantime, she needs money for food and a place to stay, so she picks up her homemade sign that reads, "Homeless: Please Help" and stands outside. One day she didn't get "a half a penny" but yesterday things were a little different.
- One woman stopped and told her that she needed a rich man to come and take care of her.
- A man gave her a dollar and then told her he would give her more money if she would get in his car and do things for him.
- Another man didn't give her any money but promised money if she would get in his car.
- Lots of people drove by and gave her the middle finger.
- Several people yelled, "You're a b#*$#."
And though most people just drove by her, the most common verbal response was:
- "You're lazy, just get a job!"
And if we're honest, even if we don't say it out loud, isn't that what most of us are tempted to think or already thinking about people holding signs?
Tim Keller's book "Ministries of Mercy" prepared my heart so well as I've begun a friendship with Sandy.
We had a great little dinner, talking about our lives, laughing at the children, and trying to figure out how we could be of help to her. She is trying to get a job and the type of work she feels she could handle include caring for pets, stuffing envelopes or other simple office tasks, and cleaning houses.
After dinner we were able to get her a few items we thought she could use, along with a drawstring backpack to carry her belongings.
It was strange driving away from her, knowing she would more than likely be sleeping on the streets on in a vacant truck she discovered the other night.