Yesterday I thought about skipping church to work on some of my to-dos. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to focus with my mind swirling. I waited until 25 minutes before church started to jump into the shower. At that point, I told myself I needed to slow down and enjoy an hour of inspiration. And guess what? Inspiration found me during a sermon about mercy, which was befitting for the rest of the day.
In September, I met a beautiful little boy with a big heart. He has lived in a motel with his mom and three siblings for the past three years. I visited them during Christmas time and couldn’t believe that a family has to live like that. This family needs mercy, but from who? Because if mercy means someone is punishing or harming them, then who is to blame? Well I know I would start with their landlord who refuses to do anything about the mold in their room, the old carpeting, and beat up walls while still charging $200 a week.
Yesterday, I learned more about this family’s situation. After her minimum wage shift ended, she met me at a diner. Over the next three hours we cried, laughed, and embraced one another. We chatted about common parenting challenges like two old friends. Common ground comes easily when you slow down. We learned we had much more common ground to walk together than a quick judgment might lead you to think. I learned her manager needs to give her mercy in the form of less late night hours followed by early morning scheduling. She is a single mom who shook her head while expressing how tired she is.
She cried while telling me she is turning 40 next week. The tears didn’t come from a place of vanity. While many of us worry about wrinkles and weight, she comes from a deeper place of concern. She tries to hide her pain, hide her story. Her life doesn’t leave room for wine nights with friends. Her life doesn’t leave time to have any friends. When her manager caught her crying last week, she simply said she was crying about turning 40. That was just a tiny bit of the truth. Her hurting eyes told me much more as she continued to tell me the real story. Forty wasn’t supposed to arrive like this. By 40, she had hoped to provide her kids a better life, their own beds to sleep in, and to be making more than minimum wage. She wishes she could slow down, but knows she is always one step away from a homeless shelter. Our one hour meeting turned into three because neither of us wanted to leave the table. I slowed down and gave her my ear and heart. And you know what, she did the same for me.
While eating, I made myself slow down because I noticed she wasn’t eating. She cut her sandwich into fours, ate one piece, and then later asked for a to-go box. She said her boys would love the sandwich. At that point, I ordered three more for to-go. I told her to enjoy an early 40th celebration meal with her boys. It was the least I could do. I wanted her to be able to slow down that evening and not worry about a meal for her family. I realized the stresses I thought I had paled in comparison.
Judgment can come easily when we don’t slow down. We oftentimes throw judgment around without even knowing we are doing it. Think about your lack of patience when you get slow service at a restaurant. After learning about her challenging upbringing, her bad relationship of fifteen years, her lack of education, and her lack of family support, there is no room for judgement. What there is room for is mercy. How do we collectively help people like this family. And this is where I feel limited and helpless. But what we all can offer is a compassionate heart. We can slow down and think about our neighbors and get to know them.
I pray 40 brings her to a better place, emotionally and physically. We have another lunch scheduled. I smile thinking about it. It’s interactions like these that bring purpose and a deeper connection to the lives around us. I am grateful for my friend and her son.