About 5 weeks ago, a couple of kids knocked on our door and asked to play with our kids. They had recently moved with their mom into their grandfather’s house across the street from us. Since then, the neighbor kids have been at our house every day. They are sweet children, but I was wondering what was going on at home for them to be here every day. After getting the low-down from another neighbor, I learned that the grandfather had gotten out of jail a few months ago, his son (the kids’ dad) had passed away a few years ago, and the mom has had a rather transient life with her 3 kids, ages 4, 9, & 13.

At first, the mom (I’ll call her N for privacy’s sake) would send the kids over for a cup of sugar, butter, or corn. I felt really neighborly lending a cup a sugar. The first time. By the fourth time, I was feeling like a resentful distribution center. Around that time, two things happened. First, N began to come over to our house too. We began to get to know each other. I learned about how difficult it’s been for her to get a job, and the barriers she has that I completely forget about- no car, no access to the internet, no money for bus tickets, and limited minutes on her phone, plus a 4 year old at home. I also learned that they have been unable to pay their gas bill, and can only heat a couple rooms with space heaters. This is pretty common in our neighborhood, unfortunately. The second eye-opening event happened when Dylan and I read his daily calendar Bible verse. At the very time I was feeling a bit stingy with my commodities, we read Luke 6:35 together which reminded me to “lend, and expect nothing in return.”

Lend and expect nothing. Could anything be more counter to our capitalistic culture? I said the verse over and over in my mind. I have lent many times in our 5 years here, but I think that often I would lend, expect something, and get nothing. And I can’t remember ever getting anything back in all this time. Until now. Quite unexpectedly one day, N’s oldest daughter came over with a big bag of sugar from her mom. I never thought I’d see the sugar that I had given her the week before again. Her kids have eaten dinner here most every night for the last 5 weeks. And, last week, after N got her food stamps, she cooked dinner and invited MY kids over. [I need to explain how extraordinary this is. We’ve lived here for 5 years, and despite our efforts to be good neighbors and hosting neighborhood Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, Alden and I have NEVER been invited to any of our neighbor’s homes for dinner.]

For the last several days, I have been thinking about N’s family and Christmas. She had told me money was tight, so I paid her to help me clean for a few hours before a party. We had good conversation, and I asked her about Christmas gifts for her kids. She said they’d get gifts from their Aunt, but she couldn’t get them anything. I thought about how to be helpful, and so I invited her to shop at our church’s tutoring Christmas store for free, to join us for Christmas Eve lunch, and I’ve bought her kids some gifts. I shared the food donations we receive each week from our church. I tried to embrace lending and expecting nothing, while all the while trying to be conscious of not making her a charity case.

Yesterday, everything changed for me. There was a beautiful give and take that has completely humbled me. In the afternoon, I took her to get gifts from my church. She invited my kids to dinner for a second time. Her kids needed clean uniforms, so I washed them while my kids ate at her house. She texted me before bringing my kids home that she had a surprise for me. My kids arrived, and my girls jumped around excitedly with silk scarves on their heads. N had braided my daughters’ hair, and lent them scarves to sleep in. For readers who don’t know our family, my children were adopted last year, and they are biracial with lovely curly hair. I’d like to offer some self-justifying excuses at this point, but the fact is sometimes my girls’ hair is a mess. N saw that their hair needed help, and she just did it. But let me just tell you, as my excited girls are hopping around, I feel humiliated. I feel like she didn’t think I was taking care of my kids. I feel like she thought I wasn’t doing a good job. I feel like I probably have made her feel numerous times.

I realized in those moments that to help someone assumes you know better than them. And, no matter how hard I try when I help someone, no matter how much they may need it, it puts them in a humbling, or more likely humiliating, position.

N told me last week that she thought being around our family was good for her kids, and maybe it would be good for her too. She said “it may not be anything you do, or say, but just being around you will help me get myself together.” While I was grateful for her words, I am beginning to wonder that maybe being around her is good for me too. And maybe I’ll get myself together too and learn how to give and receive better.