When the good we do is enough

When I left the athletic club the other night it was pouring the rain. I mean pouring. I needed to go by the grocery store but decided to forget that and just head on home.

As I pulled out of the parking lot, I eyed a girl directly across the four-lane. It was dark enough that I would have missed her if she hadn’t been wearing that white hoodie. She had on a backpack and a knit cap, too, but she carried no umbrella. The closest apartment complex was two blocks uphill.

I tried to cut her off at the red-light to see if I could give her a lift but she was lickety-quick. I thought about just going on home. She’d probably refuse the ride anyway. Still, she had two bags in her hands and even if I gave her a ride a block away, I’d want somebody to do that for me, if I were her.

And I’ve been her.

Without a car. Walking between the grocery store and home, long ago, when I had children to deal with and not just sacks of things.

So I turned the car around in the DMV parking lot, pulled back out on the highway. We were both headed south now, in the same direction at least. But she was on one side of the roadway and I was three lanes over.

I drove up the road a bit to the next parking lot on the east side of the roadway, pulled in, turned around, rolled down the window and waited for her.

“You need a ride?” I called out as she approached.

She paused.Curious and suspicious, I suspect. I don’t make a habit of picking up people but sometimes I get this prompting and I definitely had it on this night.

“God does not desire reluctant obedience,” Bonhoeffer said. Sometimes you have to go with the prompting even though it makes you look ridiculous. Or like some sort of weirdo.

Leaning in to see me better, she said, “I’m headed to Stanfield.”

Three miles south.

“That’s okay,” I said. “Get in, I’ll take you to Stanfield.”

Sometimes I wish we had a way of alerting kids to safe people. Florescent pink halos that appear magically when needed would be a nice touch, I think. God should have thought of that. Fire Red ones that blink danger for all those unsafe people.

But nope.Sometimes we just have to trust.

My friend Hugh says that the homeless have to trust more because they have no back-up. They don’t have homes with locks on the doors to keep the scary people out.

A lot of people think of the homeless as the scary people.

My mama always got after me for picking up strangers. The girl could have had a gun in her backpack. I thought of that, briefly. I know I wouldn’t want my daughters doing the things I do. I’d worry, like my mama does. I gave a man a key to my apartment once and he practically moved in with me. That’s a story for another day.

She opened the door and shuffled her backpack to her lap. There was a dog in it.

A very wet dog.

I can’t remember the dog’s name. Her’s was Amanda.

She told me that without looking at me. She never made eye contact, not once. I knew not looking at me was the only way she knew to protect herself. We do it all the time. Pretend we don’t see someone — at church, at work, outside Wal-Mart, at the choir concert. If we don’t see them, then they don’t exist.

It’s hard to be in the situation where you are the one needing the help.

I’m noisy. You know that already. Amanda didn’t but she kindly answered all my questions, without ever once turning her head in my direction. She dropped out of high school, got her GED. She lives in a camper trailer with her dad. She found the knit hat in the middle of the highway. It’s very nice and she’s very pretty. Deep dimples and olive skin. Big eyes that no longer see wonder in the world. She’s looking for a job. She says the unemployment office has been of little help. She’s tried Wal-Mart but you have to apply online and for some reason or another the computer locks her out and the clerks at Wal-Mart aren’t of any help to her.

Online job searching is its own depth of hell. If you’ve never had to do it, be thankful.

“How can I be of help to you?” I asked, really wondering what I could do.

“You are helping,” she said. “This ride. This is helping.”

Of course, I meant more — how could I be of more help?

Those of us who follow the promptings are often too hard on ourselves.

I know my friend Hugh gets frustrated that he can’t do more for his homeless friends.

My husband is one of the best people I know and he’s hard on himself. After nearly 30 years of teaching and coaching, he frets that he hasn’t done anything really important in life.

Veterans who survive the war are hard on themselves. They live their lives in service to others, trying to find a way to apologize for making it through the war that killed their buddies.

Pastors are hard on themselves. It’s not enough to pray and prepare, now they have to have a brand, be market savvy, have an online presence, if they expect to grow a community. And once they get that community grown? Then what? How can they possibly manage to shepherd so many?

Moms and dads are hard on themselves. It’s not enough to nurture a child. Now you have to push them  to excel in everything because, well, left to be children, they will undoubtedly turn out to be slothful and homeless.

Life’s hard.

It rains on the person walking and the person with a car.

We should look each other in the eye more often and acknowledge that sometimes the good we do is enough.

For now.

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  • Reminds me of “T”, the guy who came in at the end of worship a week ago. I hardly recognized him, although he remembered me from the Bible study five nights earlier. This time he had on a baseball cap and a black eye. His speech was clearer and very coherent. He needed to get to his 10 PM NA group, and he was desperate for a ride. He had people who could pick him up if he had a phone. I let him borrow mine as I set about my half of cleanup before mopping. He laid out a handful of cards and a couple of brochures from shelters, agencies and churches. He started dialing, and I listened to his pleas. He made perfect sense, spoke respectfully, stated his location and his need.

    One after another, it came down to “no room in the inn”, so to speak. Finally he handed back the phone, the battery nearly run down, as he went through the clothing box looking for something warm. “I need to get to my group, and I’m terrified of relapsing. I just can’t afford to do that again.”

    I’ve been hit up for spare change, bus fare, train fare, coffee moeny, beer money, money for milk for a child just around the corner or a mother in Eugene. Most of the time I say no, especially since I help people in other ways.

    This time, I wasn’t even asked. He didn’t want to ask. That’s why he asked for my phone to call the resources he knew of. And he apologized profusely because for a minute he thought he’d forgotten to return my phone. He hadn’t.

    I broke the rules and gave him four bucks for bus fare because I couldn’t leave Jean there alone and drive him. At the Bible study, he had been high on something; but he still knew more Bible verses than just about anybody I’ve ever met. I pray those words continue to guide him.

    If I were in his shoes, would I have any idea whom to ask for help? How would I feel if they all said no? What would I do if I dialed and they all had no resources to spare, no room in the inn, no rides to give? Eye contact would probably be hard. Real hard. And I might stop trying.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Roger: Hugh taught me that the difference between me and the homeless are the numbers in my cell phone — the people who provide community for me.
      People who would say to me, Come, sleep on my couch, if I needed it.
      The homeless lack that option, that community.
      Thank you for helping restore it.

  • I’ve done that. Picked up strangers knowing full well what a dangerous thing it is to do. But sometimes you can’t ignore the prompting. So glad you didn’t.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      I wish I ignored it less than I do. Too busy trying to weasel my way out of obedience usually.

  • Scott Eaton

    Thank you. This was a good reminder today.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      For me as well, Scott. I’m hard on me, too.

  • It’s hard to ignore those prompts. I’m ashamed to say sometimes I do simply because I have such a suspicious mind. I’ve seen too much crime as a child and an adult. I was raised near Gary and was taught to be suspicious. My mom was a librarian who worked for the Gary school system in the 70s and 80s. One day on the way home she stopped to help a woman who appeared to be struggling in the pouring rain. When she stopped and got out of the car, two men ran out from behind a building, pointed a gun at her, grabbed her purse and jumped in the car with the struggling woman and took off. She got to the next business that was open, about 2 blocks away and convinced them to call the police.
    Long story short, she did get the car back a day later, with slight damage and never got the purse back. Lost everything. My dad was very upset with her, but thankful she wasn’t harmed.
    I have more of those stories about growing up in that area. Scary stuff. It’s part of why I moved to the South.
    I totally respect and admire what you do, Karen. I pray God continues to keep you safe when you do these acts of kindness. Please be careful.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      What a terrifying story. Sometimes, usually after I’ve done a stupid thing — like giving the guy the key to my apartment — I realize the danger I’ve put myself in.
      Glad your mom got her car back but I have to tell you, Gary, it never occurred to me to move South to avoid crime. 🙂

  • Gloria

    Thank you for giving Amanda and her dog a ride Karen. I was thinking that but for grace of God that could have been any of us. God bless you and keep you safe!

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      I hope he has an Army of Angels ’cause that’s usually how many it takes to keep me safe.

  • The rain poured, you pulled over anyway, ripples have been set in motion that will reach all the way to the shores of eternity. Thank you for simple obedience.

    Love this post, Karen. The story and the encouragement to go and do likewise.

    Love, Jeanne

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      It’s the complex obedience I struggle with…

  • I picked up an elderly man a while back and gave him a ride home. I knew it was a risk, but life is risky. I have decided to let my life be God’s adventure. Someday, it could lead to my ruin, but when I am done, at least I will be able to say that I did what I could.

    I think it’s great that you are living God’s adventure and that you are willing to be a part of His work in the world.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      I hope the adventures outlast me rather than me outlasting the adventures, April.

  • Paul Woodhouse

    Wonderful! I would change the last two words of your blog to this, “Forever.” Thanks for sharing this edifying writing!

  • Debbie

    “Love one another as yourself” – this cannot be taught, it can only be shown. Even God couldn’t teach us to love, He had to show us.

    A little something is always better than nothing.

  • Linda

    Would that we lived in a world where it would be unconditionally safe to help people who needed a ride, a place to stay for the night, a meal, a helping hand, a world where there was more trust than distrust …