I awoke to the scraping and scratching of a garbage can against cement. Peering through the blinds to confirm what I embarrassingly feared to be true, I saw our elderly neighbor slowly dragging our recycle can out to the curb. She walked gingerly, lugging the large blue bin behind her with each step.
Ugh… I forgot to remind the boys to do that yesterday… I thought, dismayed she took it upon herself to do it for us when we're plenty capable. Let’s just file that under “reasons I wake up feeling like a failure” and call it a day.
I groggily lumbered downstairs and asked the boys to please take out the other bins so she didn’t feel the need to do that, too, and make sure to thank her. They trudged outside while I started making bagels for breakfast and put on a fresh pot of coffee. It was a lazy morning, and, not expecting anyone, I was happy to lounge around in my pajamas.
But I had barely gotten the kids settled into their seats at the table when we heard a soft knock on the front door. My son opened it to find our neighbor.
She handed him a coupon for one of the local pizza places. She said she wasn’t going to use it but thought we might. “Aw, thank you!” I said, joining them. “And thank you for taking out our garbage this morning! That was really sweet of you.”
It wasn’t a big deal, she assured me as we chatted. I thought about inviting her in, but standing there partially obscured by the door in pajamas, I let self-consciousness get the better of me and said nothing.
“Is that coffee I smell?” she interjected.
“It is!” And before I could even squeak out a polite, “would you like some?” she asked, “would you mind if I borrowed a cup so I don’t have to make one cup for myself at home?”
“Absolutely.” I replied. “Come on in! Why don’t you sit with us at the table--we’re just eating breakfast.” I walked with her over to the table, wiped a good handful of crumbs off the end spot, and pulled out a chair. “Can I get you a bagel, too?”
“Well, I certainly won’t turn it down!”
She’s missing some teeth but has enough to gladly accept a soft breakfast, which I came to understand may be the only meal she’d eat today because she’s not working this week and money is tight. Time off work is only a “vacation” for the middle-class. At seventy+ years old, she walks a mile uphill to work every day (quite literally) and realized this week that the $8/hour she earns isn’t “extra” like she previously thought. She needs it to make ends meet, so she’s eager to get back to it. She has no other choice.
She meandered over to the sink and put some cold water in her coffee. “Did I make it too strong today?” I chuckle. No, she just doesn’t want to overstay her welcome, so she’s cooling it off.
“We have nowhere to be,” I tell her. “You’re welcome to stay as long as you like.”
She’s wearing an oversized yellow shirt, which is quite filthy upon closer inspection, and a pair of stretchy pants she haphazardly cut off to make shorts. She tells me her washing machine broke and the clothes are piling up in baskets and bins all over her house. “Could I give you a ride to the laundromat?” I ask. She can’t afford it right now, she says.
And as we sat there together, I found myself incredibly grateful she was brave enough to beseech a cup of coffee because it created an opportunity.
It was an opportunity to bless her, an opportunity I would’ve missed had it not been for her boldness. Because sometimes we need a push to step out beyond ourselves.
It ended up being an opportunity for her to have some breakfast and fellowship with people big and small before she returned to the drudgery of her tasks at home alone.
It was an opportunity for me to behold the pain and poverty of someone in my own neighborhood and help shoulder the burden alongside her. I may not be able to change her circumstances, but I sure can provide a hot cup of coffee and a listening ear.
This may sound weird, but I already know that God is going to provide her with a washing machine. I don’t know how or through whom, but I do know His heart for the poor.
My husband and I were sitting at the kitchen table the other night putting the finishing touches on our support letter, our very first attempt to raise money toward becoming full-time urban missionaries (if you missed the email or the Facebook announcement, you can view the letter here). It’s something we’ve been working towards for over a year now, always on the side, part-time, on a voluntary basis. But God is calling us to risk more, to go all in, and raising support is the first step in that direction.
Let’s be honest here for a second--it’s a difficult, humbling process. While we certainly need all the prayer and support we can muster, we also really, really need financial backers for our missions work to be sustainable.
“I just hate asking other people for money.” my husband said.
I know. Asking for money just feels….awkward, and it’s been holding us back for some time now.
But then I told him about the encounter with our neighbor earlier, how her being brave enough to ask for something she needed created an opportunity for me to step out of my comfort zone and bless her.
Her asking created an opportunity for her need and my resources to collide. Otherwise, I would’ve had more coffee than I could drink myself and she would’ve walked away hungry and thirsty. Even more, we both would’ve missed the opportunity to share our lives with each other and come out on the other side richer for it.
So I guess that’s what we’re offering you here today: an opportunity.
An opportunity to step out of your comfort zone, and in doing so, bless our family as we seek to pursue urban missions full-time with Envision Cleveland.
An opportunity to come alongside us as we minister to the poor and vulnerable in our own neighborhood and beyond. I promise, we will both walk away richer for it in ways money could never buy.
An opportunity to invest in the city of Cleveland and its people, whether it be physically via a missions trip with Envision, in support and prayer, or with a one-time or ongoing financial gift to our family. Think of it as us borrowing a cup of coffee a week. Or a cup a month. It’s really that simple.
I believe God has been working behind the scenes for over a decade to prepare our family for urban missions, and it will be my privilege to begin to share some of our story here on the blog in the months to come. I hope you’ll follow along with our journey to see what God continues to do in our family and in Cleveland, and if you’re interested in receiving our missions updates via email, you can sign up here!
And as always, please feel free to share! :)