… go I. I had a very moving experience this morning. The reader’s digest version of how it came to be is I had offered to help out a woman who Alan and Tricia Graham were helping through Mobile Loaves and Fishes. She needed someone to drive her to the Travis County Health Office where she needed to file some paperwork for rental assistance. When I received the mail from Tricia on Saturday in response to my asking what I could do to help, I was a little unsure of whether I’d be able to do it given all that is on my plate these days.
I went Mass yesterday morning – after having read a follow up mail from Tricia asking whether I had any luck with finding someone to help – and the Gospel reading was from Matthew 25:31-46. Its a fairly long reading, but to sum it up: *** And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.? *** I thought about this as I thought about the mail from Tricia and immediately called Tricia following Mass and told her that I would help. It wasn’t because I felt guilty if I didn’t do it – it truly made me want to help. How simple it would be for me to give up an hour or two of my time for a woman trying to keep from being homeless and lose her newborn baby to CPS.
I told Tricia I would pick up the mother between 8:45 and 9:00 am. I was doing alright until the directions I printed off didn’t have a map and so I had to wing finding where she lived a little. She and her husband live in an RV park on the east side of town. I found the RV park and then had to find the trailer which was a little difficult given that the numbers on the posts are pretty teeny weeny! I found the trailer and knocked on the door. A woman called out to me and I apologized for being a few minutes late. When she came out of the door I introduced myself and we started on our way to the Travis County office. It was out by the airport, so we had a few minutes to chat in the car along the way. Alan and Tricia had been looking after her young baby as they sort through the challenges with CPS.
Carrie, the mother, was a very pleasant woman who I found out very early on in the ride was only a year older than I am. She looked weathered and worn and I would have thought she was older. We started talking about all sorts of things and then we arrived at the Travis County office. We went inside and she told the receptionist there that she had some paperwork for her case worker. She then came and sat down next to me and we began to chat a bit more. I asked what she was doing for Thanksgiving and we started to talk about all sorts of things. She was trying to continue to breastfeed her little daughter, but finding it difficult since she wasn’t with her all the time. What came to light as we continued talking was that this baby wasn’t her first. In fact, it was her seventh. She gave her first up for adoption, her second passed away when it was 2 weeks and 2 days old, the next four were taken by CPS and she was trying very very hard to keep this little girl. She was very understanding about the need for CPS to look after the best interest of the baby and seemed to harbor no ill will toward them for the situation she was in. She was very pragmatic about doing what she can to work through the situation.
I asked where she was from and she told me she was born in Waco and lived in Dallas until she was moved to Austin and sent to CPS here in Austin. She graduated from High School while living at a CPS campus and was then homeless once she graduated. She’s been homeless on and off since then and she’s now 38. She’s married and has been with her husband for the past 8 years.
I learned a lot about Carrie in our two and a half hours together this morning. I learned that she is wishing for a bigger trailer for her family and has that at the top of her Christmas list. She looked at me and said, ‘Well, there isn’t anything wrong with wishing.’ to which I replied ‘Nothing wrong with it at all as long as we are thankful for what we have.’ I learned that she loves to cook and would love to have a slow cooker for Christmas so that she can make beef stew and other meals. We shared ideas for recipes. I learned that Carrie very much wants to continue to breastfeed her little baby, but is worried about her milk drying up as she can’t be with her all the time. She is willing to pump to provide milk for her daughter to have instead of formula – but doesn’t have a breast pump to do so. She would love to take her daughters on long walks, but needs a stroller to do so. Carrie and her husband have lived in the trailer provided by Mobile Loaves and Fishes for 16 months now. She wants very badly to make a new life for her family and to bring her daughter home to be with them.
She was thrilled as we left the Travis County office as they had approved her rental assistance and she calculated up the money that she and her husband would have in order to be able to stay in their home. It wasn’t much money, but it would be enough to keep them there for a short while. As we drove toward the Mobile Loaves and Fishes office on the west side of town we could see the hills off in the distance with their fall colors on display. Carrie commented on how beautiful they were. We cut through a local shopping center to avoid traffic on the thoroughfare and she commented again on how pretty it was. I’d always thought about the beautiful hills and the beautiful colors that are displayed in fall, but having been in and out of the shopping center so many times, I had forgotten how pleasant it really was and how beautiful the landscaping was.
As we arrived at the Mobile Loaves and Fishes office, Carrie was the proud Mama as she took me inside to see her beautiful little girl sleeping in her vibrating bouncy chair. She was clearly happy to be able to spend the time with her daughter. I said goodbye to Carrie and left her with the girls at the office and wished her luck. My wishes for luck were vague – but to me it meant that she could learn what she needed to know to be able to be reunited with her little girl.
I got into my car and went to buy some coffee as we were out at home. I kept myself together until I got my coffee and got back into my car. As soon as I sat in the driver’s seat I began to cry. I thought about the blessings in my life and the stresses that I have and they all seemed so moot and insignificant to the challenges that lay ahead for this well meaning woman, her husband and their beautiful little baby girl. In these uncertain times when we hear so much about massive numbers of jobs being lost and we think about the uncertainty of what lies ahead, we often think about what would happen if we lost it all. I think spending this morning with Carrie was a reality check of what COULD happen. It could happen to any one of us. I felt an immense fear as I thought about this, but then I thought of Carrie. In the time we spent together, Carrie never seemed worried about anything. She really just seemed to take it all in stride – that was something I can definitely learn from Carrie.
When I arrived home, I stopped and looked around with tears filling my eyes and hope that I never for one minute take the blessings that I have for granted and that I continue to have the opportunity to serve those like Carrie in the days, months and years ahead.