Yesterday, we filled the Suburban to the top, no nook or cranny missed and made the trek to Fort Worth. It was M’s big moving day. M is one of the Mom’s whose girls we hosted twice through Safe Families. I have written about her multiple times because she is a favorite of mine. Over the year we have known each other, we have become family. Watching her come full circle, now moving out of the shelter and into an apartment of her own was overwhelming in the very best way. We had talked ahead of time about the possibility of me taking pictures and telling her story. She eagerly agreed, wanting people to understand that all poor people do not cheat the system. She often gets grouped into that stereotype. She hates it so much that she didn’t even want to accept disability for her daughter who has muscular dystrophy because she didn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea or think she was trying to live off of hand outs. She wants people to know about the world of poverty and how impossibly difficult it is to dig yourself out when you’re doing it the honest way.
I had big plans to take lots of pictures to share with you guys…but mostly it was like any other moving day with things to unpack and children to wrangle so I barely got any. But mostly, it looked a lot like this:
We unloaded the Suburban. Kevin brought in his tool box and did all the assembling while M and I kept the kids under control and went through boxes. She cried when she stood in the kitchen and realized it was hers. I’ll never forget that. We listened to the kids say that they were hungry and I watched her get uneasy. She had already confessed that with her recent $0.75 raise at work that she lost half of her food stamps. She confessed animosity towards the girls at the shelter who don’t work at all and get 3x the support she does while she works long hours in a nursing home kitchen half the time and as a CNA the other half. We talked about how the right thing and the easy thing are seldom the same but that God honors integrity.
We went through a couple of things that were donated from a nearby nonprofit. We figured we’d be able to find the girls something to eat from the box of food they brought. As we sorted through, a lump formed in my throat and I got sick to my stomach. The boxes of donations screamed to me that women like M are not of any value to the world. How can she know her worth when all she’s ever experienced in her life is other people’s throw away stuff?
Those bananas had a thin film of white mold along the backside of them…which was gross, but nothing compared to the green fuzzy mold that had accumulated on the bread and tomatoes. The small bag of canned food held promise, until we read the expiration dates mostly consisting of 2010 and 2011. I blinked away tears and we put away a can of tomato soup, a couple cans of veggies, a small bag of cheetos and an orange. M immediately peeled the orange and cut it into 5 equal pieces for her girls and my kids and I wanted to scream, “STOP IT! Don’t you give that food to my kids….you feed your babies!” but instead I thanked her for her generosity. The kids continued to play and we sorted through the bag of non-food items that came along with the other donations. She already moved the couch to the dumpster and we quickly saw why. It smelled like urine and bugs had made their home on the inside of it long ago. That someone could say “give this to the single Mom moving out of the shelter, it’ll be fine for her” blows my mind. Donations like that show her what society thinks of her. I hate that. What are we saying about her value that it’s even acceptable to give her these things? Still, not an ill word spoken from her. I asked her how she felt about all of it and she just said “I don’t want to complain, I’m grateful for everything.” The last thing to go through was a plastic bag. And she pulled out 3 shoes…nope, not 3 pairs of shoes, literally 3 shoes.
M is a single Mom who works long hours, has an almost 2 year old who is constantly on turbo and a 3 year old with special needs. There is no such thing as fancy dresses or going out anywhere. But these were the 3 shoes. They were 4 inch lacy heels and at this point all we could do was laugh. We made jokes about how there should have been a piece of paper included that said “Can you please throw this stuff away for us?” and also some more crass jokes about the types of occupations one might have needing shoes like that. And sorry if it all sounds offensive or ungrateful, I just wish you could have seen her defeated face overshadowing her grateful, humble words. We’ve got to do better.
If they knew M, they would have set aside the best of the best for her. If they knew her story, they would have known she is worth more than moldy food and mismatched shoes. She moved from Puerto Rico leaving an impoverished area, but also all of her family and security, behind. When she left Puerto Rico she had 0 high school credits. The first thing she did when she got to Texas was find an alternative school that would let her work at her own pace so she could get her diploma. It was really important to her that she got to have a diploma instead of a GED. And what takes most kids four years to accomplish, M accomplished in less than a year. She worked tirelessly to complete all of her classes and at the age of 19 received her diploma.
She knew she was on the right track, and when she fell in love she thought she’d get all she dreamed of when she moved from Puerto Rico. First an education, then a family, and then her dream career. She started her family, marrying who she believed to be the love of her life and basking in the security of it.
They had their first baby when things took a turn. There was fighting…so much fighting. It got worse when he started dealing with his anger by self-medicating. One day, she had no choice but to get the police involved. She said she would press charges, but was afraid she would get in trouble, too because admitting abuse meant she exposed her baby to that abuse. The officers assured her that they would never punish a victim, but the next day CPS came and took her baby away. Her husband in prison, her baby in foster care, she was lost. Soon after she would find out that she was pregnant again. She sold everything she had to afford an attorney. She spent all of her savings and went into debt to fight for her daughter. She took all the classes required of her to have her parental rights restored and in the process lost her job. When the judge ordered she be reunited with her daughter he told her, “I want you to know that this almost never happens.”
She had her daughter back but had nothing else left. And so came the shelter. When we met her, we were taking in her girls who were then 9 months old and 1 1/2 years old. She said she’d never use a program like Safe Families, but then she broke her foot. The girls couldn’t stay at the shelter alone so it was either us or CPS. She didn’t have much of a choice. She was guarded and protective. I didn’t understand why she wouldn’t just let us in. I didn’t know that the last time someone came and took her baby, she lost everything to bring her back. In time, we began to trust each other. We became friends. We started talking because we genuinely enjoyed each other. No because she was a charity case, not because she wanted anything from us, but because God was molding the most wonderful friendship. And then one day she found out that my Daddy is Puerto Rican and all bets were off. She was sold. And we became family.
We’ve rejoiced with her when she got her CNA, and got a better job. We’ve mourned with her when she lost said job because it wouldn’t work with her childcare hours. She called me crying when her daughter was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy and I cried to her when I was stressed out about Layla’s struggles. She has nothing to give and yet she always says, “If you need anything, I’m here.” And she’d give me the little she has without a second thought because that’s just the way she is.
Kevin snuck out and ran to Walmart and when he came back we started unloading groceries. M’s tired face softened and she was mostly silent. I couldn’t tell if she was embarrassed or overwhelmed but I didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable so we left the groceries in their bags and I just hugged her really tight. I told her we had to get the kids to bed but that we loved her and would see her soon. Kevin would later tell me that the girls immediately started tearing into the yogurt because they were so hungry. M would later confess that the girls were just going to have that bag of donated cheetos for dinner. When we got in the car we talked about how therapeutic it is to serve others. We talked about how easy it is to love someone who is so different than you and how it’s so obvious that love comes from God. We talked about how easily we can take for granted our own full pantry until we see an empty one.
Then my phone rang. We were maybe 10 minutes out and it was already M. She was sobbing. She said that she didn’t want to cry in front of us, but now she couldn’t stop. She told me that no one in her life actually meant it when they said they loved her or that they were there for her. She said this is the first time. She said she had been sitting there while the girls ate wondering how she was going to repay us. She said that she hoped I knew that she was always there for us, too. And I begged God that the little that we’ve been able to do for her would help show her that she has value and worth.
I told her that everything that we’ve been able to do for her has been because the Lord has provided for us and that He was using that provision to provide for her, too. And that He loved her so much, that even if He hadn’t sent us, He would have sent SOMEONE. It’s not because we are good people or because we just have so much extra to give, it is because He loves her so much that He has sent help. We talked about the way God brought us together to be family and that He is a good Father who takes care of his children and where we might fail her as family, because we are human, that He will never fail her. I pray she comes to know this deep in her soul.
I pray that God will send helpers to the M’s all over the world. There are so many. And I pray that all of you reading this will learn the faces and the names of poverty and take them by the hand and walk with them. And I pray that it changes their lives and changes your life the way it has ours. I pray that when you drop your boxes of donations off to the shelters or the food pantries, that you think of the single Mom moving out on her own for the very first time and that you will put the best of what you have in that box and that in return, she will feel like she has worth.
Until the next blog…be blessed.