I was on my way back to work around noon after a quick lunch break today, when I decided I’d stop in at my local Wawa (I hope you have one near you) to get myself a frosty-coffee-something-or-other drink. It’s a beautiful day in the 80s here in central VA and the weather was screaming for such a beverage. So I indulged.
I walked up to the front door, noticed the sign about masks regardless of vaccination and walked myself back to my car to grab one. As I walked back toward the entrance for that second time, there was a young woman standing outside the Wawa with a telltale cardboard sign. She stopped me and began to tell me how her husband had “just died on Monday” and she needed money so she could bury him. I was lock-brained in an instant and while wanting to absorb the information she was feeding me, found myself instantly in an inner mental wrestling match between compassion and cynicism. Have you had that wrestle, or is it just me?
In my response, I think I told her I want to help her, but let me first run in to the store and I’d be right back. I honestly wasn’t putting her off, I just wanted a second to get my thoughts together to decide what would be the best way to minister to her. As I put in my order for my drink, I pulled a bill of cash from my wallet and decided I’d hand that to her along with telling her that I’m a pastor, give her my email address, and if she needed someone to officiate her husband’s funeral, please reach out and let me know.
Let me just stop right here and say something else. I’m so very thankful for the spiritual community I’m a part of. It means my life and that of my family has a built-in network of love and support that will, at the drop of a hat, drop everything to help me and or my family in every and any tangible practical way. The fact that this woman lost her husband “on Monday” and here she was outside a Wawa on Tuesday begging money to bury him–setting aside all my skeptical thoughts about the truth/legitimacy of her story–it just made me thankful that I’m a part of a local church that I know would step in to tragedy and show God’s love to me and my family.
So I got my drink, paid for it, and headed toward the exit. I had rehearsed my response to this woman a few times and was ready to offer my help. I exited the building the same door I entered, stepped outside, and….no one. She was gone. I’ve got to be honest when I tell you that I was both relieved and let down. You ever have those two feelings at the same time?
It had easily been less than 5 minutes from me entering the Wawa so I knew she couldn’t have gone far. Determined to offer help, I decided I’d go looking for her. I lapped the entire Wawa, eyes darting all over. I looked at the storage facility directly behind the Wawa, I looked at the pharmacy right next to the Wawa. Nothing. As I pulled out into busy Hull St. traffic, I found myself looking left and right for any trace of this woman. Nothing. Vanished. Gone.
The skeptic inside me figures she hopped back into her Mercedes and headed to the next place she’d set up her sob story until she gets run off by management. But even still, I felt a sense of compassion and wanting to at least offer to step into a place of possible actual pain in order to be of some help.
That’s not how I normally live though, I confess to you. I don’t get up every morning looking for that good kind of trouble. But as I drove looking and not finding that woman and thought about it more, maybe that’s what I should be doing. “God, where is there trouble I can step into?” or “Jesus, who are you pointing me to that needs to experience grace, a listening ear, the gospel, and love?”
Think what you’d like about this woman and her story. But God used her in my life today to help me recalibrate. And I’m so thankful for that, and for her.
One thought on “Looking for Trouble.”
Sorry that it has been so long in catching up with you.
I always appreciate your thought provoking columns.
This subject matter has been a topic of discussion as well as opportunity to learn & explain an opportunity to help those who present a need or appear to be in need of help. In my experience the “knee jerk reaction” of many people aged (now) 55-80 (& up) is to be very skeptical of the example that you shared: people in (expressed) need, in a public place (high traffic areas to attract attention, even in spite of signs that warn of “panhandlers” etc. ), often with pets or children (to magnify sympathy to their situation).
In my (official) 21 years serving on ministerial staff & over 29 years previous in “Lay ministry opportunities” certainly, I have been “taken advantage of, or made an incorrect assessment of person’s character, also had much “push back” from Godly folks who want to help bur express a concern as to the “needy person’s story, character or other objections!
I’m sure you have dealt with all of these as well, but wanted you to know of my appreciation & support for your column as our personal response does not diminish our representation of Christ. Jesus’ Spirit directs us as best as we understand to help all people whom He loves and He alone knows; we just are moved by His Spirit to act in helping others as we represent Christ!
Thank you for the encouraging column! Blessings to you & your family!