“When we walk through the door, the problems become people.”
“Mr. Rob, my grandmother’s in trouble.” Wednesday afternoon at 5 o’clock, former StreetLeader Ricky Dixon called me from college. Ricky’s been involved with UrbanPromise since day one,14 years ago when he was a sassy six year old in our first camp.
“I’ve tried everything and everyone and I don’t know what else to do. Can you help her?”
Mrs. Dixon is 75. Her East Side house has been home to dozens of grandchildren and great grand children, a safe haven for her family through a lot of storms. Ricky stayed there Thanksgiving break because he considers it home.
Ricky explained that her house had become buried in the clutter and keepsakes of all these kids and families – clothes, furniture, papers, toys. Her phone had been turned off and her toilet was broken. He was afraid she might lose her home. It’d been a long day and I admit I wasn’t feeling very charitable, but the tone in Ricky’s voice was urgent.
“All right, I’ve got a meeting at 7 I can’t miss, but I’ll go over before that and see what we can do.” The challenge would be how to approach Mrs. Dixon. I knew from my own Mom, senior citizens are very sensitive about having their dignity stepped on with “help” they didn’t necessarily ask for or agree to. If I could just get in the door, that was the key.
At 6 I packed up to head over when a staff member poked his head in my office. “Did you know a cable blew down in the parking lot?” “A cable. Really?” I did reconnaissance on the cable. Sure enough, a big, fat black cable was draped across our metal back doors, our metal rainspouts, and snaked across the main walkway to our school. I really needed to get to Mrs. Dixon’s before 7. This was not helpful.
It was cold, dark, and windy. I’ve had lots of unexpected adventures in the ministry. Hanging a 1000 volt power line was about to be a new one. Leo from Malawi offered to help me. I loved it – an organic chemist from Delaware and a theologian from Africa were hanging power lines in the dark together. By the time we’d rigged a solution involving chartreuse craftwine, hammers, and duct tape, it was 7 o’clock. I had to go to my meeting. Mrs. Dixon had to wait.
Somewhere in the back of my mind I was getting suspicious that God was orchestrating things.
My meeting lasted until 9. I called Ricky for a huddle. “Ricky, if I knock on your grandmother’s door now she’s going to freak out. Nobody knocks on doors on the East Side at 10 o’clock in November.” I was hoping Ricky would be reasonable and let me off the hook for tonight.
We taught Ricky well at UrbanPromise. He’s a strong leader, a man of action with an urgent objective, and he was not going to let me off the hook. “She’ll be fine. Give it a try.” Yeah, I thought, you’re not the one who has to face your grandmother… I relented. “OK, I’m heading over now.
Driving into the East Side the only people on the street were men, standing on corners, alone. At each stop sign they stepped toward my truck with an inviting smile. They were working and I might be a customer. I parked at the end of Mrs. Dixon’s block, said a short prayer, and started apprehensively down the sidewalk. I could see my breath. Those guys on the corner are working hard, I thought.
Directly across from her house I turned to cross the street. Instantly, before my foot left the curb, a beam of light sliced out of Mrs. Dixon’s door. Her slippered feet shuffled onto her stoop as she gazed down the street. My jaw dropped. Mrs. Dixon had no idea I was in the shadows across the street. Why in the world did her door open at that very instant? My biggest hurdle was no hurdle at all. God had it planned the whole time, power cable and all.
“Mrs. Dixon!” I shouted. “How are you?” “Oh, Mr. Rob, how are you? Would you like to come in? It’s cold out here.”
Once the door was open I could do something to help. In addition to her disconnected phone she was behind on her gas bill. Her carpet, once a teal green, was midnight blue – 28 years as a refuge had left their mark. Her kitchen ceiling was collapsing because of a leak in the bathroom above. Her toilet didn’t work. 75 year old Mrs. Dixon had to heft a bucket of water to pour down the toilet each time she wanted to flush it. The sink next to the toilet was collapsing, nearly rotted out, leaking into the kitchen. She had to stoop over to empty a basin she used to collect the sink water. Worn out furniture, worn out kitchen, worn out rooms. Most troubling, after 28 years without missing a payment, she was now behind on her mortgage.
She’s weaker since she survived cancer three years ago. For years she’s worked at a senior center, long after most of us would hope to be retired, but recent memory lapses scared her and she had to stop driving. Mrs. Dixon has worked hard all her life and never asked for a handout. Even now, she only asked if we could help move the heavy things. I promised that we would do more than that. (Good news! Progress has already been made)
As I went to leave these were her words: “As long as God gives me breath He has a purpose for me and my job is to figure out what it is and do it. There’s no room for complaining.”
Good advice for all of us.
When the problem was words in my head, I knew I should act, but only because I felt I had to. But when I watched Mrs. Dixon lift that bucket, when I considered what she had done, what she had given, when I walked through the door into her life the problem became flesh, the problem became personal. This is what Jesus did for all of us. He made who God is personal. He showed us. Love, sacrifice, hope, life.
Ricky gave me leadership. Mrs. Dixon gave me vision.
I can do with less. I was inspired, convicted even, to act.
This is our Christmas invitation to you: be inspired, act, make our kids personal.
Consider what you can do carefully, with your heart, not separate from, but partners with, Ricky and his family, and the hundreds like them whom we serve every day and who are already making a difference. When things are personal, priorities can change in good and fulfilling ways… especially at Christmas. We need your help, please be generous.
It’s a sacrifice to get to the door, but it’s worth every minute inside.
Peace to you and your family this Christmas.