Saturday, May 20, 2017

An Unexpected Mother's Day Experience: Understanding Need

Much has transpired for me over the past week. I'd known for a couple of weeks that a group of religious families were being evicted from their homes. They were primarily comprised of many children and their mothers who have nowhere to go. Women in the Quiverfull Patriarchy Movement are often faced with the same problems. What transpired became a very healing experience for me on a couple of levels.

I'll unfold the experience over the next days through several posts.

Roughing It” with a Big Family

About a decade ago, my best friends with their seven children found themselves debt free, with excellent credit, and with a good chunk of money in the bank – but their living situation changed. They looked into renting homes and apartments, but basically no one wanted to rent to them. Mom was a stay at home, good GOOD mom, and dad was gainfully employed. The kids were all good. (I have on occasion borrowed a few of the here and there to help me and to do some interesting homeschooling ventures with them.) I love them all dearly.

They lived in the county just south of Baltimore, and though there were plenty of houses to rent, but no one wanted to take them. One home owner said that she would let them sign the lease, but she wanted a full year's worth of rent as a security deposit in advance of them moving in. It was a seller's market at the time, but just because of the family size, no one wanted to rent to them. You see, we both came out of the Prosperity Gospel movement, and we believed what all the televangelists would preach. God would provide for us if we had enough faith.

The family seriously considered spending the summer in tents at a campground, and that's where I believed that they were living during the rainy summer. The eldest child was sixteen and the youngest was three. (It became nearly impossible to stay in touch with them while they were in flux as they looked for housing.) They ended up splitting up their family to stay with different friends and relatives which was terribly hard on everyone. (“Luxuries” like a washing machine also proved to be invaluable.) After toughing out their lives in faith of getting a house debt free, they decided that perhaps getting a mortgage would not be such a bad thing. It was no longer a test of their faith but a matter of doing what was best for their family.

When I wrote to my friend to get permission to make mention of it here, she responded with this:
It was very difficult. Mostly because of my shame. I still can't think of it without cringing but it was like a shame crisis coming to a head so God could show me how it was ruining my life. So good came out of it. A lot of good. But I surely don't want to repeat it.

Better days some fifteen years later.

I cannot tell you of the nights that I laid awake, concerned and aching for my friends. A few years later, I helped a friend prepare to live out of her car after she was evicted in the event that she couldn't find housing for her and her daughter. As I searched for solutions for her, I learned that 4,000 children in regular attendance in her city's public school system were considered homeless. (Ironically, she worked for an elementary school but couldn't make enough money to pay her bills.) I also know that it's much easier to find help for a few people or families than it is to secure help for many people at one time. For both families, I feared about how easy it would be for one of them to be abducted. Everything that we take for granted becomes very important, and those considerations could fill a book.

I'm also grateful for the time that I spent in the Texas desert and the experience of scorpions in my house. One nearly killed my cat that already had a brain injury. We also had every kind of poisonous snake in the US there, and working middle shift, I was warned to listen for rattle snakes that were known to show up in the parking lot at night. The Brown Recluse, the hugest mean red wasps I'd ever seen, and centipedes that nearly scared the life out of me all lived in the same place I did. We also had three floods while I lived there because the desert ground cannot absorb that much water after a dry spell. Those who pitch a tent in the desert will face all of these challenges and more.

What To Do?

Regardless of any other consideration, children need to have a safe, warm place to sleep at night. When I kicked into crisis intervention overdrive mode to help with this group of displaced people, I focused on finding help through a nonprofit agency that could at least earmark a fund for humanitarian survival aid for these beleaguered families with nowhere to go. I thought of how hard it was for my friends to rent temporary housing, and I know how immediate and overwhelming those needs can be.

With Mother's Day in just a few days, I also made the most out of online sales to get much needed items. After some online research, I made some of what I think are my best retail purchases of all time to make the most out of what I had to give. That will be the subject of a couple of other posts yet to come.

Help from a Nonprofit?

None of the nonprofit groups that I asked for help wanted to get involved because it seemed that from the outside that the parents of the children had chosen their own fate and needed to abandon their religion before they could render assistance. I thought that those who could give money would be more interested in doing so if they could get a tax deduction for their gifts.  I don't count my time trying to secure this kind help as wasted because I was reminded again of how hard it is for many people to grasp.  Nearly every level of such an experience seems foreign to  people when they haven't experienced anything similar to this or have walked through it with a friend. I understand the many double binds that such situations pose, and I take for granted that others also understand what I do. To their credit, these nonprofit groups don't want to contribute to something that will prolong a bad situation by helping to sustain any element of it -- including helping kids who have needs.

Having spent time in several high demand situations, I often marvel at the amount of good that is done despite some of the awful things that can take place when most everyone's motives are good. I consider myself to have been “middle management” in one spiritually abusive church and had no true power to change anything. I was part of music ministry, a cell group leader, and the fill in secretary. I gave them my money and the lion's share of my time. I denied the ugly stuff partly because I was so busy to notice them and didn't want to see them. I'd also invested so much of myself into the endeavors, and I would have defended my pastor to the death out of loyalty. But then, one day, my eyes were opened to the undeniable abuse that took place within and because of that system. 

 Even after I left each high demand situation that I've been through, I spent years grieving and learning to adapt, processing just exactly what I'd ben through to better understand it all. (Some of those include church experiences, and some of them were relationships that I had with toxic people.)  Distance from such situations helps. Sometimes the “whys” about why certain things happened serve only to help me to identify with others.  That laid the groundwork for my best Mother's Day ever.

So I was brought back to the immediate concern of Priority One: getting supplies to people in need without the help of an agency. I had a list of what was needed, contacted friends who I know would be willing to send a care package for kids, and I did what I could to make the most of what I had to give.

More to unfold in the next post...