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How far should we go?

Our neighbor approached us yesterday afternoon and gave us some disturbing news.  His girlfriend was the victim of a kitchen fire in their home several months ago and as a result of that fire has to go to a burn unit in Georgia for skin grafts.  Because of her injuries the poor lady was given prescriptions for pain medication.  I have had several sun burns over the last 49 years and I know how badly they hurt.  I can not imagine how a 2nd or 3rd degree burn must feel. 

Our neighbor told us that his girlfriend noticed that some of her pain medicine was missing.  It came up missing after the lady we were helping, visited with his girlfriend on several occasions.  At the time they did not put two and two together but after they found out that we had to ask this lady to leave our home they realized what happened.  I find this news particularly disturbing especially since the person that supposedly did the theft was a guest in my home. 

This is not the first time that Katy and I have helped someone in our 21 years of marriage.  On several occasions we have allowed folks to stay with us.  People who were down on their luck and needed assistance.  I remember one woman that we gave shelter to.  At that time she was in an abusive relationship and her husband liked to beat on her when he drank.  He threw her out of a car going 50 mph.  It is a miracle of God this woman was not killed.  Katy and I extended a helping hand to her and let her stay in our home.  We wanted to help her and give her hope and provide her with a safe refuge.  In doing this we put some simple rules in place in order to provide her with some guidelines to living in our home.  One of the rules was to let us know when she is going to make a long distance phone call.  This was back when phone companies actually charged you for long distance.  We also asked that she not have any male friends at the house, not even her husband who had a history of abuse. 

I am not sure if I remember how long that lady stayed at our house, but before we knew it our phone bill was much higher than normal and we found out that her husband had been in our home on several occasions, despite our telling her that this was not allowed.  The same man who tried to kill her on several occasions. This same lady wound up moving back in with this man and continued the abusive relationship.

Fast forward to June and July of 2011.

Our neighbor dies and Katy was very close to this lady, and had become her care giver.  The massage therapist that had entered into our neighbor’s life towards the end needed help moving.  She needed help moving out of a half way house.  Katy decided that she liked this lady and wanted to help her.  Then the help to move turned into a need for a place to stay.  My first reaction was to say no. Not only no but heck no.  My reaction was borne from past experiencing of helping others and getting taken advantage of.  My answer in the morning was no, because I was fearful of having the same experience.  That afternoon my heart softened and after much introspection and prayerful thought, I allowed this lady to spend four days at our house.  I realized that if we did not open our home to this lady that she would be sleeping on the streets of Charleston.

One week later I realized that four days would not be enough.  I realized that this lady had things in her past that were going to handicap her from finding immediate employment.  I felt as if there were hope for her and that if we were patient and gave her some more time that she would make the necessary adjustments to her life and there would be a positive outcome.  Yes, that is the eternal optimist that I am.  I always want to believe that people are inherently good and not evil.   After spending 10 years in street ministry in Houston Texas and 12 years in law enforcement nothing surprises me.  I realized that our reaching out to this lady could wind up a failure. 

Why would we reach out to someone who struggles with drug addiction and alcohol addiction?  Why would we allow someone into our home that has a criminal record?  We do it because we love people.  We do it because we want to do more than just telling someone we will pray for them and that God will take care of them.  We do it because we feel like God uses people to reach out and touch the lives of others in a tangible way.  We do it because perhaps we may be the only Jesus that someone experiences in real life.  We do not do it because we want to pat ourselves on the back and expect a reward.

I too have been in some pretty bad situations thanks to poor life choices.  I have spent time behind bars as a young man who made a stupid decision.  I spent time in a street rescue mission, and I slept under a bridge with three plastic bags of belongings.  I know what it is like to have nothing and lose everything.  I know what it is like to have no one to turn to for help.  During those times in my life God used the church, and people, to reach out to me in tangible ways to help.  Because of those times in my life, I remember how God touched my heart, and changed me from the inside out.  Because of the grace and mercy of God I decided to change my life and make better decisions.  It is because of those things that Katy and I chose to invest in the lives of others.  We do it because we want to make a real difference. 

On July 4th we decided that our helping this lady was only enabling her to continue making bad decisions and that our helping her was not really helping her.  We realized that her past run with multiple addictions has left her in a place where she needs professional help.  This is the type of help that we are not equipped to provide nor do we want to provide that level of care in our home.  I know that if people do not want to change within themselves that no matter what you do to help them, they will continue down the road of destruction.  Katy and I know that we did what we could and that her being out on the streets is not our fault.  Luckily for her this lady did get her drivers license renewed and someone made a sweet deal on a car.  Now she is not on foot but has the ability to drive around.  I suppose that was one victory that happened while she stayed with us.  The fact that she stole pain medications from our neighbor really angered me.  Here she was in a place where she desperately needed someone to reach out to her and she chose to steal from our neighbor.  The fact that she did that leads me to the conclusion that she is a taker and an abuser that uses a smooth tongue and false words to make people believe she is a good person that just needs help. 

That leads me back to the question.  How far should we go with helping our neighbor?


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  1. gale keech says:

    James & Katy,
    When you figure out the answer to that question, let me know……most of our being taken advantage of have been by relatives. We’ve had many many people to live with us (friends & relatives) ..I have officially said ” There’s no room at the Inn. My neighbor informed me that in the 10 plus years that they have lived across the street from us, that she could count on 1 hand the times we’ve lived in our home alone during those 10 yrs.
    So yeah how far do we go in helping people????

  2. An excellent question. I think we are called to give with an open and unselfish heart, expecting nothing in return. At the same time, we must guard our hearts and our homes from those who may take advantage. I think we give to the point that we determine it is helping, and pull back the moment we realize we’re (unknowingly) enabling. People need mercy and grace sometimes… so they can understand the love of God. But God gives us all free will, and at some point, the individual has to want to help themselves. If that desire is not there, there’s not a lot we can do. I still believe in the power of planting seeds… it reminds me it’s okay to let go.

  3. Thank you for responding, Gale and Angie. 🙂 I need to be more dillenget with checking the responses and approving them. I am not used to readers actually commenting. LOL…. I promise I will get better at this….