I have only recently become acquainted with Agent V, who is of late Agent Mamma DJ’s room mate. Thus she has become a de facto partner in the Fat Beggars mission to the streets of Lubbock – a fellow prayer warrior and hands-n-feet minister. But I don’t know her real well, and it is likely that some of the facts I think I know about her are a bit skewed. Nevertheless, I have a story to tell (a picture to paint, which I am sure in the broad brush strokes is accurate enough).
Agent V, a lady in her mid thirties, grew up in Lubbock with a Baptist background (so far very typical). Somewhere along the way (I suspect due in part at least to giving her heart to a troubled young man), she became addicted to meth. Eventually, her life became deeply troubled, but being young and resilient, she began fighting her way out of addition and poverty by pursuing (again, in part) a college degree on line. But as anyone familiar with addiction knows, and familiar with all sorts of jams it brings with it, for most recovering addicts, recovery is a matter of 3 steps forward/2 steps back ON THE GOOD DAYS! Point being, she has not moved on a straight line at all. Desperation hunts after her around every corner.
In recent months, she came to live with Agent DJ, who also knows all about addiction and recovery and fighting her way out of poverty. Agent DJ, who herself is only one step away from the streets and living in a precarious situation (which I will not describe in depth, but involves living in a small camper trailer with yet another room mate) took Agent V in with her.
(I would love to stop right there and preach a thundering sermon to all my rich, white, middle-class, “Christian” brothers and sisters who keep an unoccupied spare bedroom in their massive homes with a nice bed and matching dresser, with nice linens and matching drapes, with doilies and sometimes even an attached bathroom sitting empty night after night. I won’t preach it here because I want to talk about the other reality just now, so I will leave that Shalom-Seeking sermon for another time. (Or you could just read through the archives on this blog. I am sure you will find variations on it scattered all through.) But I note here AS LOUDLY AS I CAN, that this fellow sojourner with practically nothing to give, takes Agent V in where she stays.)
Okay well, with that bit of backstory and the almost-sermon out of the way, let me refresh my regular readers here by recalling that a month ago I posted here asking for help getting Agent V to her job interview (which you can read here: https://fatbeggars.wordpress.com/2018/02/23/can-i-give-her-your-number/) and then posted the praise report when she got the job (which you can read here: https://fatbeggars.wordpress.com/2018/02/24/praise-report-from-the-streets-job-starts-monday/). And then hopefully you will also recall that I pointed out that Agent V, a lady working her way out of addiction and poverty, is now faced with walking nearly two hours to and from her new job.
Think about that.
And so just last Wednesday night, I had the opportunity to get free a while, and instead of attending the Seeking Shalom class, I went out to actually seek Shalom by paying a visit to Agent DJ and Agent V. It turns out, these ladies, after securing the job for Agent V, have now moved out of the camper trailer they shared with a different room mate, and started renting (to own) another camper trailer next door. It is a smaller place, a real fixer-upper, but it gives them more freedom, privacy, and space.
And so I asked Agent V about the job. And as I queried and probed, a story of real hardship began to take shape, but the story of her determination also came out as well. And in my view, this story needs to be shared.
It turns out that Agent V has worked every single day with no days off until Tuesday the day before I showed up. That is a solid month of work every day! This is good news, of course, but within it is hardship, and though she answered me with a smile, being pleased with herself for holding down the job and for thus affording the new digs and a few other needful things, I began asking about the challenges.
I asked if she is walking to and from work each day, and she said “yes”. Every single day, she has had to get up and leave for work two hours early and start walking. Some days a Good Samaritan stops to offer a ride, but when this happens the person doing it is usually a stranger. One day it was two men she did not know. This of course presents significant risk for a vulnerable lady walking along the road, but she took them up on it, and it all worked out. However, the down side of getting a ride in this way (as opposed to either driving herself or scheduling to get a ride) is that she then shows up to work between an hour and an hour and a half early. It is no fun to sit around waiting for time to punch in. It helps to have cigarettes at those moments, because a smoker’s area is available to her, but since she only makes minimum wage, she only affords herself one pack a week!
(Now… to all my nonsmoking friends – especially those who never smoked – let me say… I KNOW! I already know what you are thinking, and you are right. Absolutely right. And I will not try to persuade you differently. However, I will say too, that if you struggle with the addiction to cigarettes (or ever have) then you should be capable of a deep empathy here that does not make sense logically or reasonably to those who never have.)
Going home is often the reverse situation. I did not ask if she has a coworker who gives a ride, but it is clear that if that happens, it is not regular. Thus the usual routine for Agent V is to get up early and leave home two hours before work, and when work is done start the long walk that takes two hours to get back, meaning a third (or more) of her work day is spent walking. In my view, that is work – work for which she is not compensated at all.
The job is low pay. Minimum wage, and to some ways of thinking, that is appropriate, but for Christian believers who have our worldview shaped by Jesus and perhaps specifically by his parable of the wages in Matthew 20:1-16, the “normal” sense of fairness about wages will not do. She may be a late comer to the field, but in the Master’s vineyard, she gets the same pay as the rest of us who have toiled all day. Thus, in God’s economy (Shalom anyone???) she should find grace (a raise?), not judgment or contempt.
I asked if the boss treats her well. And there again, the despair hunts after her. It turns out the boss is not nice, at least not to her. Now, I am aware that this part of her account is highly subjective. But subjective does not necessarily mean she is wrong at all. It just means I cannot objectively trust that it is accurate. However, there were details that lent themselves to her assessment, alright.
For one, the boss is not American and not white, but she is. That in and of itself is not an indicator, but if I say he is of middle-eastern background (not naming his race or nationality to help keep this story confidential) and that most of the other employees are members of his family, then the margin for possibility opens up. I can easily imagine a man of from the Middle East being a bit harder on his nonfamily employees, especially the females who don’t have a car and who are apt to mooch a smoke again and again.
This coupled with the fact that some of the chores Agent V describes being assigned when no one else is assigned them, does give credence to her assessment. It’s not airtight, but highly plausible.
However, the fact that this boss does not believe in taking days off (which apparently affects everyone, not just Agent V) demonstrates that he is a hard boss. And for those of us Christians, again, we think there is something to be said for Sabbath Rest! Well, at least those of us not trying to blend American, Capitalist, business sense with Christian ethics see value in Sabbath Rest, AND we see it playing a role in “seeking Shalom” too.
Keep in mind, Agent V is grateful to have this job! She sees it as a blessing! My Christian brothers and sisters who pay $25 a head to sit around watching video seminars and attending weekly classes to help them determine “effective” charity also see her job as a blessing!!! And so do I!
This job ENABLES Agent V to pay rent on a new place she shares with Agent DJ. It ENABLES her to put food in their fridge each week. And it ENABLES her to imagine a future where she can get back into her college program that has been in hiatus for the last year due to hardship. So, yeah, this job is a blessing, by anyone’s standard.
However, the girl could use a bit of encouragement.
Can I get an AMEN???
I look around at all my “Christian” brothers and sisters who worship in multimillion dollar facilities praising the God of creation and Shalom and think that out of all of them, surely one or two could arrange to give Agent V a ride to work each day, and maybe a ride home each evening. That would be HUGE! That would be a fantastic way to encourage her.
Oh, and Agent DJ – who is seeking Disability Benefits (and has been at it for years), sells papers on Sundays, when she feels strong enough for it, and has taken a few odd jobs here and there that don’t break her down – has a car left to her from a deceased friend. But it is tied up in storage, and she needs to get proper paperwork ironed out and notarized, AND must pay a back fee on the storage to get it out. But once these hoops are jumped through, she is the proud owner of a decent set of wheels that also will get Agent V to work and back as well as get DJ where she needs to go.
And there are perhaps a hundred little needed things that would help these ladies get along in life as they work their way out of addiction and poverty. Little things, and a few big ones too. But things that my church friends have plenty of… stored up in attics, storage units, barns, woodsheds, and garages collecting dust. If word circulated among them, surely some of these needs could get met quite easily! And every little one would be a deep encouragement.
But it requires that you CARE.
(Oh, and that you read here, too.)
Can I give her your number? I asked that one month ago today. No one gave me a number to pass along. But it’s not too late. Agent V is still working. Agent V is managing without your help, so far.
Look. She is a recovering addict beating the odds here. I know that not every choice she makes is “the wise one”, or the choice you would make or I would make. But even that is a bit subjective on our part, actually. Nevertheless, she is a go-getter, out there beating the odds. I would think that someone “seeking Shalom” would want to meet a few needs there. I think they would want to ENABLE this one! I think they would want to encourage her and help bear her burden just a bit.