I worked a longer than normal day yesterday and was emotionally drained after wrapping up an interview with a 13-year-old girl in foster care, wishing to be adopted.
I sank into the driver seat of my car after "clocking out" and hit the gas trying to get to some food quickly.
I eat way too much fast food. On this day, I decided to opt for a salad instead of a burger at Wendy's. The thought of having to wait the 10 extra minutes to get home to eat it wasn't exciting, but neither was the idea of complaining about wobbly bits for another day.
So here I am, trucking down Lake Street when I notice three kids and a woman trying to cross this busy street with overflowing suitcases in tow and arms full of personal belongings. They are trying to get to a bus stop, but keep dropping what appears to be all they have.
I start to ask myself questions: Are they running away from someone? Do they have anywhere to go? Do they need help? Should I turn around?
I knew the answer to that last question and felt God stirring it up in my heart.
Still, I continued on my planned route into the long drive-thru line at Wendy's to get that salad. I could see other drivers pass this family - slowing down and craning their necks around to see what was happening as more personal belongings fell out of their bags.
Someone else will stop, I thought.
It took about 10 minutes to get through the line and get the salad. My stomach was rumbling!
My eyes are still glued to the bus stop family and at this point, I can see the teenage boy who had been carrying the largest suitcase wiping the sweat from his face.
It was hot. I looked at my car temperature and it said 87 degrees.
Turn around, Britney. My heart started racing.
I put my salad on the floorboard and pulled into a parking space directly across from the bus stop family. We are separated by five busy lanes of traffic.
I step out of my car and simply holler, "Do yall need help?" during a traffic lull. "Desperately," is the response I hear from across the street.
I get back in my car, zip across the street to the closest parking space and before I can even get out of my car, this family of four is hauling everything toward me.
Lord, give me the words to speak and calm my nerves, I pray.
I introduce myself to the family and they introduce themselves to me...sweaty, exhausted and dropping shoes and shirts from their overflowing bags.
I get the rushed story: they are homeless, but have a meeting at a Section 8 housing office about a possible place to stay. They've been in Lake Charles for a few weeks after leaving another Louisiana city to get away from a bad situation. (I'll keep that city and their names private for their security)
I don't get many details. The children's father is dead. They have been staying at a temporary shelter for homeless women and their children, but had to leave after reaching the maximum number of days to stay. They've spent the past couple of days in a hotel and on the streets with what little money they had. They've been on a waiting list for a couple of weeks for a place to live, but didn't get a call until today. They need a ride to the housing office.
We take off: mom in the front seat, a teenage son and daughter in the back with little sister wedged between them.
Our first stop is Little Caesar's to get a couple of pizzas and drinks. The kids slowly eat one piece in the car, tearing it in smaller pieces. I tell them the pizza is all theirs. "We want to save some for later," they say.
We arrive at the housing office and after a long wait, the mother is told the only available unit is dirty. She volunteers to clean it. A few more minutes pass and a call comes in to the housing manager.
A small three bedroom unit is available.
We head over there and mom goes inside to check it out as the kids and I wait in the car. She walks out beaming. "It's so nice. We'll take it," she says.
The kids and I can't wait to see it with our own eyes. I guess I don't really know what I was expecting to see when we walked inside.
This is "nice?" I thought. There is no A/C or ceiling fan...in any room. It's hot. And tiny. And a roach just ran out of a burner in the kitchen. And the floor looks like it's rusting. The bathtub looks...no comment. The windows are thin and I can hear music blaring from a car outside.
But the kids all say, "This is perfect! This is such a good day!"
We unload the car and I notice that the only items being unpacked from suitcases are clothes and a couple of toiletries. "Where are you going to sleep tonight?" I asked them. "The floor. It's okay, we're used to it," says the oldest girl.
I felt the tears rising to the surface and told them I needed to step out to make a phone call. Matt had no idea what his wife was up to today.
I break down as soon as I start explaining what's transpired over the past two hours. We agree that we can find some extra bedding from our house for them, give them our air mattress and buy them a window unit air conditioner.
I feel helpless and overwhelmed. I know people have extra beds, food, clothes and more that they would be willing to donate if they saw this family's need, but how do I connect them? Matt tells me to call our sweet friend, Becky, who has helped other families in need and might be able to direct me on where to find these emergency items.
The next hour was the most amazing reaffirmation of my faith.
Becky tells me she's got her two young kids with her, but she's ready to help. She calls a man named Tom who is the main facilitator for Boulevard Baptist Church's Mission in partnership with Trinity Baptist Church.
The Mission isn't set to reopen until August...but Tom says he and his wife, Sue, will be there in 30 minutes to open it up.
I load the family back into my car and we head that way. Becky sends out a message to a few guys in our Sunday School class who have trucks. One of them, Scott, drops what he's doing and immediately heads to the Mission.
Let me tell you: if you live in the Lake Charles area and need to clean out your closet, kitchen and old furniture - this is the place to donate it. It is a Mission and a ministry.
The mother and her children can hardly take in all the generosity. They start grabbing clothes, shampoo, soap, toilet paper...even a TV! There's one twin mattress set there for the taking and Scott loads it - knowing that at least one person will be off the floor tonight.
At some point during this "free shopping spree," Tom got a message from another Trinity member with some emergency items to donate. Her father recently died and she was willing to give some of his belongings to this family in desperate need.
At this point, we're all sweaty and running on adrenaline...and God's blessings.
Scott hands me a chunk of cash to help with the A/C purchase and any other items. I start making my list with the family. "What do you need me to buy at the store?" I ask. The answer for each: underwear. That's it...
We caravan back to the apartment and after unloading everything, the mom says, "This is such a blessing. You just don't know." Her oldest daughter tells me, "This day is such a beautiful day now."
The reality is still impossible to avoid. There is nowhere to sit. No sofas, no dining room table and chairs.
We are still short three beds. The bugs are continuing to reveal themselves.
I tell the family I'll be back with Matt and an A/C, along with a few other items after he's done with work. I say goodbye as they start relaxing in their new living room...on the bare floor.
Then Tom calls me. A furniture store has three twin mattresses they can donate. He also has a used sofa we can get to the family the next day from the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at McNeese State University.
Thank you, Lord for providing!
On my way home I call Matt. He hasn't heard from me since the emotional breakdown a couple of hours ago. He tells me he's ready to not just buy emergency items for the family - but the stuff that will make this apartment feel like a home for the family that started the day off homeless.
Cue the largest shopping trip of our lives!
We return to the apartment with a packed vehicle - full of food, dishes, pots, an A/C, bedding sets and a side table. Matt meets the family and gets right to work to cool off the apartment that is uncomfortably hot at this point.
The family and I start unloading everything and finding a place for it all. The mother tells me how the shower curtain and soft mat make her feel like she's "in a nice hotel." The kids make their beds...even though it's just a twin mattress on the floor. The living room now has one piece of furniture: a side table.
When we get in the car, I realize it's almost 8:00 P.M. For a morning news anchor, that's equivalent to midnight!
When we get back to our house, my mind is still racing with what we need to help secure for this family. I know a dining room table and chairs is a top priority so they don't have to eat on the floor.
We will find it. The Lord always provides.
When I pulled out of our driveway this morning at 3:15 to head to work, guess what I see in the neighbor's yard next to the garbage can...
Yep, a dining room table and chairs.
Matt pulled them aside before work. He also told me he spent part of his morning scouring local job listings for a housecleaning position - something the mother is hoping to find. There's an opening where he works and he personally brought her an application this morning. While he was there, Tom showed up with another helper to unload the sofa. Their next stop was my house for the salvaged dining room table.
I finish the morning show, totally distracted and get a text from my Uncle Jody that he's brought our old microwave from Dry Creek to Lake Charles for the family. That's a saved trip for us and a huge help for the family!
My reason for sharing this is two-fold.
First: We see needs every single day.
I am so guilty of walking past them or looking past them, rather than turning around and doing something. We don't all need to bring strangers into our cars...I know.
But we do have to recognize when we could be the difference-makers for someone in need.
When my Grandpa Clayton was alive, one of the Bible passages I can remember him sharing and living out was Matthew 25:35-40.
"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."
"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go visit you?'"
"The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'"
Secondly: we are each uniquely equipped to serve.
While I was behind the steering wheel that turned around to check on this family, the blessings that came about are because of other fellow believers stepping out.
Becky strategizing to get the Mission opened up and resources flowing.
Tom and Sue heading straight to the rescue of strangers.
Scott using his truck to haul a precious bed and donating money for other needs.
Matt immediately getting on board with the commitment to help, installing an A/C and job hunting.
The local furniture store owner donating mattresses.
Uncle Jody taking the time to dig through Maw-Maw's storage shed for a microwave and going out of his way to deliver it.
Romans 12:4 says, "For as in one body we have many members and the members do not all have the same function."
I'm so thankful for our different functions that can come together as one body.
I don't know what's next for this new family I didn't know at this time yesterday, but I do know that they feel loved. They have a home. They have a place to rest their heads.
They know they are not invisible.