On Friday, February 5, I had lots on my mind and lots to do as I headed to work at Trinity United Methodist Church. But little did I know God had other ideas about my day.
When I walked into the church office, our Preschool Director was there. She quickly introduced me to a young lady sitting in a chair. I did not recognize this person. But, I was told she had gained access into the building, and needed some help.
This young lady who I’m going to name Audrey, did not waste anytime in telling me she had already reached out via e-mail to our senior pastor. Audrey was surprised that she had not heard back from him.
So, I explained that COVID-19 had changed our day to day operations, and most of our program staff works from home.
With that said, I asked Audrey what was her need? I wanted to know if there was a way we might be able to offer assistance.
Quite simply, she was looking for shelter.
Audrey had been staying at the Regency Inn at the corner of Parham and Quioccasin roads. Her credit card had been compromised in her attempt to pay for lodging. Audrey believed this breach had been the fault of the management of the motel.
She further explained it would be the first week of March before she would receive her monthly distribution from some type of retirement account she had. But, Audrey also made it clear touching one of her pockets that she had $250.00 in cash.
My mind was trying to sort out fact or fiction, truth or not quite the truth. But, then Audrey had also tossed God into the mix.
This whole departure from upstate New York— south was on God’s shoulders. She described her trek like Jesus when he asked his first disciples to stop and drop what they were doing to follow him.
That is what Audrey told me, God had taken over her life, pushed her to follow his leads, and I could detect no hesitation in her commitment.
Now, hearing all of this, my brain is in a deep struggle.
So, I hit the pause button.
I asked Audrey to sit tight while I made phone calls to local agencies who might be able to offer her assistance.
At this very moment, I knew that the nonprofits and the systems in place to work with the homeless in the Richmond area were maxed out. But, I had learned enough over the years that it is about getting a homeless person into the system—that is the starting point.
I started with the crisis hotline and left my contact information.
Next, I called CARITAS, a local nonprofit that we have supported for years. They do practical, good work with the homeless, and now they have a new program and facility designed specifically for women. Left my contact information and a brief description.
Then, I reached out to a caseworker in the Social Services department in Henrico County. One of our Sunday school classes had worked with her in assisting two local families in December.
God must be watching my dials, the caseworker answers her phone.
I explain the circumstances, and I ask if she has a listing of local motels/hotels that rent to the homeless. She did, and she sent me the list via e-mail.
I saved the last call to our senior pastor. He picked up too.
Again, I gave him the background, and I asked if he had received an e-mail from Audrey. He confirmed he had received an e-mail from her. However the message only stated these words—“do not be afraid.”
I suggested that we consider putting Audrey in a room at one of the local hotels for five days. I would provide her the key phone numbers so she could get into the local systems, and I would gently explain to her this would be the only financial assistance the church could provide.
Our pastor agreed, and I headed back to the church office.
Back in the office, I pulled up a chair and explained to Audrey our plan. She seemed pleased, and I handed her a piece of paper with the phone numbers for the two nonprofits we needed her to call.
She was agreeable to this proposal, and once again, I departed to try and secure a room for her close by. I was sensitive to find a place near the bus line and also some restaurants within walking distance.
About three miles from the church at the intersection of Broad Street and Glenside Drive, I located an Extended Stay America. I made a phone call, explained the need, and secured a reservation.
Then, I sat down with Audrey again and informed her about the arrangements that had been made. Audrey reported she had made the two recommended phone calls, and I thanked her for her initiative.
In prepping for the drive over to the Extended Stay, I asked our church office manager to ride with us.
We learned a bit more about Audrey on the drive.
When we arrived, I found the office, confirmed the reservation, made the payment, and brought Audrey in so she could complete the required registration and be directed to her room.
With that, I made sure she had my information card, I wished her luck, and I departed.
At some point on the ride back to church my phone rang. We were stopped at an intersection, I did not answer the call. But, I assumed it was Audrey. When we arrived at church, I checked the the call, and it had been from Audrey. The message she left was simply one of thanks.
Two hours of my day were gone.
I spent the afternoon catching up my to do list, and thinking.
I thought about all of the needy people who had trickled into the building during the last ten years. Most, we never saw again despite their promises to repay us.
One person on a Sunday morning, we found out was a scammer. There are three other churches near us, and this person had visited all three and had been successful in securing a nice chunk of change from each.
But Audrey was different.
She was articulate, bi-lingual, sounds like she had a successful career at a community college, and yet, I wonder what was really going on inside her head.
The suspicious part of my brain, anchored by Deputy Fife took over.
Was she on the run? Had she committed a crime? Was law enforcement looking for her? Were her parents and her brother aware of this nudging by God to drop everything and follow him.
Was she a con artist? Had she really been at the Regency Inn? Did she roll some innocent companion for the $250.00? Did she use the God assertion for a soft touch like me, knowing that a church person would easily buy into that line of thought?
Next, I questioned myself. If I was any kind of real Christian, why didn’t my wife and I offer her the hospitality of one of the empty bedrooms in our home?
Was this God plucking the wiring in my brain? Was he nudging me to second guess my decision making?
Hey Bill, don’t use the Pastor’s Discretionary Funds to help Audrey, put her up at your house for a few days.
God continued—I thought you trusted me. I thought you cared about people. What kind of heart do you have?
About mid-afternoon, I took a break to check my e-mails, and there was an e-mail from Audrey.
The e-mail was basically a thank you note with a lot of heartfelt dignity to it.
But, there was also a paragraph where Audrey shared an experience in her life. In that experience, she put a stranger up in an empty room in her home. And in that paragraph, Audrey cited verses from the Bible to affirm her reasoning by opening up this room for a stranger.
After reading that paragraph, my brain really tore into me for how I opted to assist Audrey.
Before her checkout date, we exchanged a couple of brief e-mails. One was to confirm to her that I had spoken with a staff person at CARITAS about her.
As of this writing, we are four days past her checkout date, and I have not heard from Audrey.
Recently, our youngest daughter recommended that my wife and I watch the movie, The Dig.
The story takes place in England just as the British are anticipating war with Hitler’s Germany. A widower with a young son hires an excavator to unearth some mysterious mounds of earth on her property.
There is a scene when her son, Robert Pretty is in distress because he realizes his mother’s health is failing. Upon the death of his father, people had said to Robert that taking care of his mother was now his responsibility.
With his mother’s health declining, Robert sees himself as a failure, that he has let his mother and family friends down. He says— “And I failed. I failed.”(Moira Buffini)
The wise and patient excavator, Basil Brown, who is with Robert in this moment of self-torment says to him—“Robert, we all fail. Every day. There are some things we just can’t succeed at. No matter how hard we try. I know it’s not what you want to hear.”(Moira Buffini)
Screenwriter, Moira Buffini, words about failure ring true to me.
But they are hard to accept when God disrupts my day with a stranger.
Because I want life for this stranger and all the strangers in the world to be all right, ok, and safe.
I wonder what these words from Philippians 4:13 really mean to my heart now: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
After today, I wonder if I really can do all things through him who strengthens me?
How will I react the next time God disrupts my day?
Who knows maybe God is done testing me.
Perhaps, I failed his test today with this stranger.
Second guessing is part of the learning from the unexpected, disruptions, and interruptions in life.
And even though I might be frustrated with myself and God, I think he knows in future circumstances that I will not stop trying to help strangers— even if I fail.
Hey God, even though I don’t understand you—thanks for the disruption.