by Bob Lupton It happens every year about this time, I can count on it. When Christmas day nears I can expect a half-restored muscle car to rumble into my drive, engine revving to announce its arrival, and if I don’t come out immediately, a persistent knock will come to my back door. It’s Eddie, my neighbor from down the street. He’s on a mission. He will tell me about some poor widow woman who works 70 hours a week at a Waffle House just to keep bread on the table for her three little kids. Or it may be a man who has terminal cancer, no health insurance and no way to support his family. Or a three year old whose father is in prison and whose mother has just died of a drug overdose. Eddie lives in a world where tragedy seems to be a daily norm – the world of the working poor. He often reaches into his own pocket to help, some would say to a fault, given his struggle just keeping his own utilities turned on. You don’t make much income driving a quick-snatch flatbed truck repossessing cars.
But there is one time in the year when Eddie’s heart badly over-rides his reason. The thought of enjoying a Christmas meal with his own family in their own home, complete with adorned tree and adequate presents for his four kids, when another family not far away is despairing – well, the very thought is just too much for Eddie’s tender heart to handle. He must do something. Something significant. And so he figures out what a hurting family (or two) really needs – a week’s supply of groceries, special gifts for the children, or perhaps money to get their heat turned back on. Ignoring the bills that have stacked up in his own household, he takes a hefty chunk of his Christmas paycheck, comes to my door to see if I’ll match it, then heads out to play Santa for those whose needs are more acute than his. I’m moved by the stories he tells me, but even more I’m touched by his caring heart. Eddie gives out of lack rather than abundance. Of course I’m willing to join him in his Christmas mission.
Eddie is poor. At least at first glance. He lives in a volunteer built house. His wife suffers from a debilitating nerve ailment. He works long, sporadic hours driving a tow truck, a job that provides no health coverage. Unscrupulous people often take advantage of his good nature, sticking him with towing bills that he has to cover out of his own pocket. But he is not naïve. He has a nose for a deal, especially when it involves cars that need to be sold quickly. His wheeler-dealer instinct nets him tax-free wind-falls from time to time, when he can lay hands on some ready cash to jump on an opportunity. He has developed to an art-form the juggling-act of bill-paying, though not infrequently a creditor’s threats will throw his system into chaos. But Eddie is a survivor. He somehow always gets by. And in some ways he is actually quite rich. He knows about faith – the simple, practical, believe-God-to-get-me-out-of-a-jam-type faith. He practices almost instinctively (though he could not articulate them) some of the core values Christ taught – giving a second coat and turning a cheek and lending without expectation of return. He is rich in spirit for he knows the fulfillment of sacrificial giving. Yet, being rich in spirit is not the same as enjoying a peaceful existence. No, Eddie’s life is far from stress-free.
I have tried in the past to help Eddie (many Eddies) assert better control over his life. Help him get on a budget, get his bills under control, set some savings aside for the unexpected (though highly predictable) crisis. It never worked. Stacks of doctor-hospital-medication bills continually pile up, too high water-gas-electric bills, too many car repair-insurance-gasoline expenses, unending clothing-food-child-rearing costs. And then there are the needs of the less-fortunate others that are forever tugging at Eddie’s heart. No, there is no way his chaotic life can be brought under manageable controls. Not for long. He has to live by faith!
I’m not sure I have helped Eddie much but I’m quite sure he has taught me a great deal. Like before I go rushing in to rescue a poor person, to save him from an impending crisis resulting from unwise decisions, perhaps I should ask “Who needs rescuing here?” Does my comfortable, stable, orderly lifestyle afford me a safe and elevated platform from which to judge (or misjudge) lesser ones? Could the financial security which I have worked so diligently to accumulate actually prevent me from experiencing a life of true faith? Does my “good common sense” (or middle class achiever values) make me blind to the Kingdom, the Kingdom Christ said would be harder for a rich man to enter than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle? I think I need Eddie in my life to remind me about the ways of the Kingdom.
PS: Eddie died a few months back. Cancer. But his impact on so many (including me) lives on.