It was a Monday afternoon. My phone buzzed with a text from an unknown number. I glanced at it long enough to realize that it was sent to me in error, so I closed the message and went about my day, racing home from yoga for a quick shower, before getting A from school and beginning the Monday afternoon marathon: homework, snack, ice skating, dinner, bath, book, bed.
Later that night, marathon complete and another week underway, I was lying in bed preparing both my mind and my phone for the next day. One last scroll through Instagram and Facebook, one last look at email, one last glance through my texts.
I stumbled back across the message from an unknown number:
“This kiki Ms Michelle this my other number my other fone don’t get service in here but this one does we are at salvation army but Wednesday morning is the last day for white flag cause over Nite side is pack Wat do we do now. I’m try to see if we can go back to the mission for the 14 days plan they have I’m patiently waiting and praying”
A few months ago, Adellyn and I were at a stoplight where a homeless man was holding a cardboard sign asking for food and money. “Mom, why is that man holding that sign? Can we give him some money?” A asked from the back seat. I found myself stumbling over my words, trying to explain why he was there and why, that day, we couldn’t give him money.
She’s brought up that conversation multiple times since then, to the point that when she was writing her 2017 list, she added help people so we would remember to do something to help the people we sometimes see at the stoplights.
I stared at the text, an actual text from a woman, likely a mom, who goes by the name Kiki, desperate for a place to sleep.
I put my phone on my nightstand, turned out the light and stared into the darkness for a long time that night. Part of me wanted to delete the text. It wasn’t meant for me anyway, I wanted to convince myself. I could hit delete, pretend it never happened. I must admit, I was all ready to make up little gift bags with hand warmers, bottled water and granola bars to keep in the car for A to hand out to people at stoplights who needed them. At the time, it sounded like a good idea.
But if someone has a need and I can help, isn’t that the core what loving people is actually about?
The next day, I replied.
Hi Kiki. My name is Kelli and I think you accidentally texted me in error yesterday. I was so saddened to get your text and wondered if you’d be willing to share any more of your situation? Do you have children? Do they have winter coats? What are your most pressing needs?
And with that text, a friendship was born. Kiki’s real name is Takeisha. She has a beautiful 8 year-old daughter and a gorgeous 2 year-old son. She’s endured a life that has been one continuous uphill climb. She is a warrior. The latest challenges have left her on the street since November and out of nights to stay at shelters.
I asked a few more questions. And what happened next was exactly what Frederick Buechner was referring to when he said, “Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It’s the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too. ”
Takeisha had recently applied for a program with Passage Home, an organization working to end homelessness. Her acceptance into the program would mean financial counseling and assistance, help with child-care and job leads as well as housing assistance. That same week, the organization had received a phone call from her pastor, Ms Michelle, who Takeisha was trying to text when she accidentally typed in my number. By the time they heard from me, asking what could be done to help, they had already put a rush on her application.
In the meantime, the intake specialists and her case manager were able to find her a safe, warm hotel that provided breakfast. I made a few phone calls and told a few friends. These women were like ninjas and we pulled together enough money to pay for her hotel, ensuring she would have a place to sleep for two and a half weeks while the paperwork, appointments, inspections and funding was processed. Instead of spending her days scrambling to find a place to stay and worrying about where her children would sleep each night, Takeisha was able to focus on completing what she needed to do to meet the program requirements, all the while telling me that her dream was to be able to help other families in similar situations one day.
This past weekend, Takeisha received the keys to her very own apartment.
Early on, there were moments when I wondered if I was crazy for responding to her text and days when I wondered if we were doing “the right thing.” There were moments in the middle when we didn’t know how long it would take for the organization to secure housing for her and how long was too long to help.
So much of my story includes times that I’ve needed help, too. Help that I couldn’t repay. Help that I couldn’t earn. Help that came with no strings attached. And because my story would be strinkingly different without the support of the people in my world, Takeisha’s text was for me, an invitation to pay that forward in my own small way.
With continued help from my ninja friends, we were able to buy Takeisha a shopping package at another amazing organization, the Green Chair, where she was able to go shopping with her case manager for gently used furniture and everything she needs to set up her new home.
Sometimes helping people means donating resources to organizations, sometimes it means being peaceful advocates for causes we believe in. Sometimes it means rolling down the window and providing a snack bag at a stoplight. And then sometimes it means getting in the trenches, without any idea for how long and at what cost, because a neighbor, a mom, a fellow human being with a name and a story sends you a text and asks for help. And somehow in the midst of it all, you come out on the other side feeling like you’re the one who is honored to call her, friend, inspired by her resilience, and grateful for the way your lives have crossed paths.
I heard from Takeisha the day after she moved in.
GM Ms Kelli we sleepy wonderful lastnite.