Monday, May 06, 2024

Normal does not mean OK


I often wonder how I live such a normal life. I know they say that “normal” is only a setting on the dryer, but you know what I mean. I have a beautiful person I love with whom I share a house, a family, and even our ministry. Basically, what often feels like a charmed life is an ordinary life in which many good things happen. There have been bad things also yet I am surrounded by loving support. I hear so many stories from people whose lives do not seem charmed and who are not surrounded by love and support. I honestly do not know how they make it. But how do I carry these sacred stories and remain in this delusional sense of "normal"? Because that is definitely not OK.

At Pantry last week, a mother with an adorable 4 year old son came to get groceries. The two of them appeared like a normal mom and child yet I soon found out that they are living in her car because her husband filed for divorce and kicked her and the boy out last November. He kept two of their children and filed for child support. Her IRS return was garnished as was and is her paycheck. Each month she must pay $1000 in child support all the while unable to afford to take care of the little one she has with her. She has tried countless days in a row to get a referral from 2-1-1 for Gateway 180, a shelter for women and children in St. Louis. I tried. I reached out to people I know who can often get people into special places. They had no luck. There was no room anywhere for her and this little boy. What is OK about this story?

On Sunday, a 30-something woman came to me asking if I can help her get furniture for the apartment she was temporarily sharing with her brother. If she could get furniture, she could get her children back from their paternal grandmother with whom DFS had placed them temporarily. That was just the surface story of her problems.

The longer she talked the faster she told the story. She and her children were renting an upstairs apartment from an older man. He had hired her to be his caregiver. She quickly found out that he wanted her to give him half of the income she received as his care giver in exchange for rent. From what I could understand, he also wanted more than money. It ended up in a physical fight and she received a black eye. When the police came after she called them, they told her that they could arrest her for attacking the man. The social workers from family services were called and her children were taken from her. She was confused as to what she had done wrong and terrified she would never see her children again. The grandmother told her that she planned to hand the children over to their father, the same father who had kidnapped them and kept them for three years. Their mother had only had them back for the last few months. You can't make this stuff up.

Sunday was a two-for-the-price-of-one day. I met a very young woman for the first time. She asked if we had any feminine pads and she wondered if I had a pair of pants. I suppose this is a common enough story to which most women can relate. Meanwhile, the rest of the story, this precious young woman who is about 5’1” and weighs maybe 100 lbs told me she is homeless. She apologetically asked if I had a backpack or a sleeping bag. I almost lost it as I realized she had a big bruise under her left eye. She saw my face as my hands sort of cupped her face. She said, “Ms. Barbi, please don’t cry because if you do, I will.” She then comforted me that she was going to be ok, that everything would work out. 

There is not a goddamn thing ok about women and little children living on the streets. We claim to be a “great” country, but we are actually a stiff-necked people who are willfully ignorant because it allows us to wrongly think none of this could happen to us. Out of sight out of mind. It allows us to think that we are normal when in reality, those of us who live lives in comfort and perceived safety are actually the abnormal ones. We are OK, not normal.

How can I be OK, knowing the horror stories of so many people? These are only three sacred stories I have heard in the past 5 days. How many have I heard in 10 years? How many have I turned into a beautiful story to share with the readers to evoke compassion, to get people to do something? I keep thinking that if I share these stories that it will make a difference in the hearts of those who read them. I keep thinking that I might make a difference.

These are not happy stories. I may call them sacred stories but these are tragic tales. Maybe the outcome will be good. Maybe the young woman is right. Maybe they all will be ok and everything will work out. Maybe all I am is a story-teller and that is my task.

Maybe. Yet even as I believe that Jesus is always with me, Jesus being with me as I get slammed in the face with a man’s fist or tossed out of an apartment or trying to find a place to safely sleep outside doesn’t really make that terror go away. Maybe in hindsight. Maybe there is comfort in believing. But what I know is that all our lives would be better if we cared that there are women with and without children living in dire circumstances being asked to do any number of things just so that their lives might continue. Our lives would be better if we really knew what Jesus meant when he said that we are to love one another. 

Normal or abnormal, it is very difficult to believe that we strive to be One in the Body of Christ when we ignore that people are out there in the elements, hungry, wet, cold, and scared and we do nothing. There is no love in willful ignorance.

Normal is not ok. 

Normal does not mean OK

  I often wonder how I live such a normal life. I know they say that “normal” is only a setting on the dryer, but you know what I mean. I ha...