FOCUS – The kettle worker, the “kick me” sign, and me
It is well before the appointed time for my alarm clock to ring, yet here I sit, at my computer, unable to keep my eyes closed. I never have trouble sleeping, and I like to tell people that that’s what a clean conscience will do for you. But this morning I suffer from the corollary: a guilty conscience is keeping me awake.
I think it was the heat that initially woke me. There is a light dusting of snow on the ground outside, and our heater is on. But our heater pumps a disproportionate amount of heat into my husband’s and my room. In order to keep the kids’ rooms warm, our room is often much too hot.
As I threw my covers off, I thought of one of our kettle workers, who is sleeping in his car this very moment. How cold is he? How cramped is he? I confess I hadn’t given him much thought until I lay in my overly warm room. Of course he is one of God’s precious creatures, of no less value to God than myself or even my beautiful children. Why have I not found a way to help this man?
My husband runs the kettles, so I don’t know the kettle workers much. I’m not even sure of this unfortunate man’s name. But he came to me the first day of kettles, telling me how he had no place to sleep. I asked him if he had tried the Army shelter downtown, or one of the many other shelters. First he told me they were always full. Then he told me he didn’t have the money for a TB test so that he could get in. I thought, “Another guy who won’t give me a straight story.” He asked for a hotel voucher and I informed him that I was unable to provide one. Unable to think of any other means of help, I sent him from my office. Maybe because I felt he hadn’t been completely candid, maybe because I was tired, maybe because I was “multi-tasking” at the time, he left my mind as quickly as he left my office.
Then last night, as the kettle drivers, my husband and I sat counting the kettle money, he came up in conversation. By all accounts, he is an amiable man–a good man. My husband said he was going to give him the money for a TB test so he could go to a shelter soon. I wonder now how I got to the point where I could sit around clucking my tongue at the sad situation of some man without working harder to help him. Thousands of dollars passed through my hands last night, yet it would have been against the rules to pull some out and take it to our man in his car. I don’t like that, but those are the rules. I think about my own budget, about Christmas being right around the corner. Perhaps Rob and I are the only option. I mentally tighten my purse strings.
Lest you think me completely cruel, understand that I have been burned before. There was the time, for instance, that I emptied every dollar out of my bank account to help a single mom of four. All I asked in return was that she allow me to pick her up for church on Sunday. When I went to find her, I realized she had given me a fictitious address. And only a couple of months ago, a woman in need of some money sneaked into a closed part of the corps, rigged the toilet to start a flood, and stole my purse when I ran out of my office to tend to the emergency. She went on quite a shopping spree with my checkbook. That lady had not even given me a chance to help her.
Although I have always considered helping others as one of life’s greatest joys, I recoil when I fear someone will take advantage of me or of the Army. It makes me feel like a kid in school whose classmates have surreptitiously taped a “kick me” sign to her back. Over time, I’ve adopted the attitude that if you come to me for help, you’d better need it, and you’d better appreciate it when you get it. But I am beginning to suspect that this attitude is not altogether Christlike. Jesus knew he would be ill treated when he “did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness” (Phil. 2: 6,7 NRSV). Though he was almighty God, he allowed himself to be treated abominably. More than anyone else, humanity has taken advantage of him. If we follow his example, we will lay ourselves on the line. We will be vulnerable. And we will be hurt. Can I do this willingly, as Christ did? Am I willing to strap on the “kick me” sign?