The toughest part is that sometimes, I have to be the bearer of bad news. We can't help everyone who walks through our doors.
On days like that, it's easy to get down. Whether I'm met with tears or harsh words (yes, people do lead with feelings of anger sometimes), it hurts not being able to help.
But yesterday, something happened that reminded me anew why I'm blessed to do what I do.
The woman had called the night before. Her message was a bit generic, saying she'd fallen on some hard times and needed help.
I jotted down her name and number before leaving for the evening.
The following day, there were more messages and more issues to address. Before I knew it, the clock read 6:30, and as I did a quick review of the message book before heading to my small group meeting, I realized I'd never called her back.
I dialed her number and explained who I was, where I was from, and that I was returning her call, apologizing for the day long delay.
Once again, she talked to me in general terms about needing help. I stopped her and asked where she lived.
We assist residents from 14 towns, and often receive calls outside that area. It sounds terrible, but sometimes I'm grateful I'm able to sort people out due to geographic location, simply because there are so many requests for help.
She told me the town and I launched into my spiel. "I'm very sorry, but we have limited our assistance to a 10 mile radius around the church, and you are too far. You should call 2-1-1 to get information on organizations and churches closer to where you live."
I could hear the desperation in her voice.
"Please don't say that. No one seems to be able to help me. Do you know where I am right now?"
"In my car, outside a Wawa. I'm looking for a friendly face to approach and ask if they'll buy a sandwich so I can go home and feed my daughter. I'm a teacher. I ate today with the kids, but my daughter hasn't had a meal."
I felt a lump in my throat.
It can be easy to become jaded in this line of work. People can take advantage or look to you to bail them out of their bad decisions.
But I felt this woman was different. She was speaking from the heart.
She went on to say something about her husband not being around, but I didn't really catch it.
I asked if she could come to the church right away. I told her I'd open the food pantry so she could get some things.
She arrived half an hour later and we walked to The Pantry where she shopped timidly, obviously trying not to take too much. I told her to take what she needed and asked about her husband.
The young woman stopped and turned toward me, tears streaming down her face. She shared how her husband was an alcoholic, in his 3rd rehab, but this time it was Christian-based and she prayed it would make the difference.
She went on to say "You know, I have faith, but I've been on the edge lately just trying to make ends meet. Tonight, sitting in my car, I asked God to show me He was real and send me an angel. Then you called. I had forgotten I'd even reached out to your church. When I saw the number pop up, I almost didn't answer because I didn't recognize it. But you were that angel."
I thanked her for the kind words, but told her I wasn't an angel, I was just doing my job.
"You are an angel" she insisted. "You know what angels do, right? They spread light. You provided light for me on a very dark night."
We both started to cry, and then she pulled out her phone to show me a short video of her husband. He was at Adult Challenge in Vermont. Adult Challenge is the adult side of the Teen Challenge ministry. That particular campus ministers to adult men caught in the web of alcohol and drug addiction.
The men were all dressed in black pants, white shirts and dark-colored ties. The camera panned across the group and she pointed him out. They were singing "my chains are gone, I've been set free".
Once again tears streamed down her face and she spoke softly "I pray this time his chains are truly broken."
Eventually, conversation moved to The Pantry, the church services, and finally, she asked how I came to be there. I shared a little of my story.
She looked at me with the biggest smile and said "you've done all that and you don't think you're an angel of light? God is using you - and you were sent to be my angel today."
When all was said and done, we had spent an hour together.
She left with food and the promise of returning on Sunday to check out the services.
I left the encounter encouraged that I'm not laboring in vain.
Perhaps, we were angels to each other.
And I love that God used my unintended delay in returning that phone call to meet her need at exactly the right moment.
When it comes to being a light, God's got a corner on the market. "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." James 1:17