One is the Loneliest Number…

…but man, I suspect it’s a very common one.

This article and author have gone viral, and I picked up on it today through a Facebook post.  It’s an interesting article.  Response has been interesting as well.  She’s apparently been gifted with tens of thousands of dollars in the past week and is negotiating a book deal.  She has also had more than a few critics who challenge her self-portrait as one of crushing poverty and bleak subsistence living.  If you read her blog you pick up a few more tidbits of herself that don’t make her entire life seem like one long set of failures and economic obstacles.  
But that’s not really my concern.  What’s challenging for one person may not be for another, and I doubt there’s a foolproof, objective quantifier for what constitutes poverty and disadvantage.  So much of that has to do with who we are as well.
And what this author seems to be above everything else is alone.  Parents were unreliable.  Husband was (is?) helpful only to a point.  But no mention of broader community.  Broader family network.  Friends.  
No larger support network of people who could come along side her to help.  An assumption that she must die as she lives, alone.  
When  I began this blog what seems like a lifetime or more ago, community was a key interest of mine.  What is meaningful community – particularly meaningful Christian community?  How do we go beyond Sunday morning smiles to engage in one another’s lives in meaningful ways?  I’ve been blessed in the intervening years to see repeated examples of just that – Christians who are family not by blood but by community.  It’s a beautiful thing.
And, like this woman, I continually run into people who talk about the hardness of their lives and the difficulties of their conditions and situations.  One of the first things I talk to them about is community.  Have you plugged in to the Rescue Mission?  They’ll feed you two meals a day free, plus other services.  Are you a part of a church?  Yes, you’re welcome here.  I’ll make sure that you are welcome here – here’s my card to give to anyone if they hassle you.  Invariably the answer is no.  Sometimes Hell No.  Sometimes stronger language than that.  Sometimes there are promises to check out these options, but I never see or hear from them again.
People are people and community is hard and plugging in to a new place is hard and probably more so by multiples of a thousand if you’re homeless and struggling with basic hygiene.  Yet I continue to believe that it can be done, and that when it is done, lives can be changed.  Both in terms of desperation and economic issues, but more importantly in terms of hope for the future – not just next week or next year or the next decade, but for eternity.  
I’m happy that the author of the article has had an outpouring of financial and emotional encouragement.  The Internet makes it very easy to do that.  People become aware of a situation and it’s now so very easy to send five bucks or five hundred bucks.  Money can help a lot of things.  But it can’t replace belonging – temporally or eternally.  For that reason I’ll continue to encourage people looking for help first of all with invitations and directions to places where they can form community.  I’ll help out with a sandwich or some gas or a room to stay as well from time to time, but the most telling indicator of a person’s real need level, in my experience, is how they respond to information and invitations that won’t just alleviate hunger pains, but could change their lives.

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