But during this trip to the grocery store, she left without paying.
And what happened next made headlines.
She was arrested for shoplifting, yes. But then the arresting officer went back into the grocery store and bought the woman $100 worth of groceries because the woman told her she had no food in her house and her kids were hungry.
“Desperate,” the headlines called her. A single mom. With hungry kids, kids who hadn’t seen food, much less eaten it, in too long.
Hungry enough to steal food and shown grace by a stranger.
It happened in Florida, but it could have happened anywhere. Victor Hugo wrote about it 150 years ago. It’s a heartwarming story.
But it bothers me.
The police officer was hailed a hero, and one story I read said the news got even better for the single mom: her story inspired others to give $700 toward food and she was offered a job.
Good news, indeed.
But here are my questions: Where were these people when the cameras were off? Where were the neighbors and the friends and the school personnel who might have known these kids were hungry? I say “might” because I know how easy it is to hide your struggles, even when it hurts so much you’re sure someone can see it on the outside. The woman was shoplifting food because she was desperate to feed her kids.
That’s not a situation that happens overnight.
Where were they?
Where are we?
Where am I?
While people — children, adults, elderly — go hungry, we bicker over politics. We shut down governments for reasons I still don’t understand. We argue about policy while people starve in their homes. In our country. Where it should be easiest for us to help.
We are quick to criticize corrupt governments who keep food and aid from their desperate, hungry, impoverished countrymen, but are we any better?
We debate who should receive food stamp assistance and for how long, as if we understand what it means to be poor. And we label those who struggle to make ends meet as “lazy” and create a Facebook group that makes fun of anyone on welfare. We’re outraged when we feel “our” money has been misused to buy food we don’t think poor people deserve.
And yet, we applaud a police officer who looked a desperate woman in the eyes and couldn’t turn her back.
Shame on us. We’re hypocrites.
And I speak for myself.
Jesus very clearly said we should give what we have to others. If we have two shirts, to give one away. A cup of cold water to someone “less.” To invite to dinner those who cannot invite us back.
My kids have more coats than they can wear. An abundance of clothes, toys, shoes and books. Our cupboards have food.
And the apostle John’s words condemn me.
If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? (1 John 3:17)
Long before she was desperate, she was needy.
And I wonder who saw and looked away.
But I can’t fault others without faulting myself.
I see them. The ones with needs I could meet.
And I don’t do it.
Maybe I’m scared of how they’ll react. Or I know what it’s like to be embarrassed by your needs and I don’t want to draw attention to it.
But the truth is we’re all needy. And we need each other. <Tweet this>
And it shouldn’t take a splashy headline news story for us to see it and to act.
Every day people are desperate and don’t know how to make ends meet and their stories don’t make the news. And every day there are people working to meet those needs and their stories don’t make the news.
I’m not telling you, or me, to do something newsworthy.
But do something.
It might not be enough. It might not solve the problem. It might be the wrong thing.
But it’s something. And it might be just the thing that keeps the desperation at bay for another day.