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Meeting Brentley

Thursday April 18, 2019

This story I’m about to tell you is going to sound crazy.  I’m going to look like/sound like some weirdo religious zealot, but I promise I’m not.  Tonight, the kids and I had a serious, God Friended Me moment.

After dropping Averi off at soccer practice, Keelie, Kacy, Caden, and I were in the van on our way to take Keelie to 4H. On the drive over, the song God is a Woman by Arianna Grande was playing on the radio.

Kacy asked, “Is God a boy or a girl?”

Keelie answered, “God is the father, so he’s a boy.”

“I don’t know.” I said, “I don’t think God is male or female, kind of like “A” in that movie (Every Day), we watched last weekend…I think God is just Love.”

We had a discussion about what God being love meant and I said, “There is a bible verse that says, when I was hungry, you gave me food…”  I parked the van and looked up the exact bible quote on my phone and read it to them. (Matthew 25:35-45)  “If you think about God being Love, it makes sense, right?”

It was just a quick conversation until it was time for Keelie to go to 4H.

Then, we had to go back and pick Averi up from practice and have a quick dinner.  We went to a buffet restaurant.  As we pulled in, I noticed a guy standing in front of the car that we’d just parked next to, he mouthed the words, “I’m sorry.”

I thought, he thought we were mad at him.  I shrugged my shoulders and shook my head. “You don’t have anything to be sorry for-”

“I’m sorry.” The guy said again. “I need help. My wife is pregnant and I’ve been laid off.”

He looked to be in his early 20’s, he was wearing a Michigan baseball hat, jeans, a jacket, and looked fairly clean. He had a 616 tattoo on his left hand.  He didn’t look like the typical panhandler I’ve seen on the corners.

“We’re staying at the Motel 6 and we’re $78 short for the weekly rent.” His voice cracked. “Is there anyway you can help me? Any amount will help.”

People panhandling for money always makes me uncomfortable. Not that I carry that kind of cash on me anyway, but if I did, I’d be worried they’d use the money on drugs or alcohol.  And there’s no way I was going to put a stranger’s motel bill on our credit card.

Shaking my head, I started to say, “I’m sorry,” but stopped. Looking in his watery blue eyes, I could see that he was on the verge of tears. I asked,  “Are you hungry?”

He nodded and his lip quivered.

“Would you like to join us for dinner?” It came out before I could even think.  It’s something I’ve never done and typically not something I’d do without Wade there, it was just Kacy, Averi, Caden, and me.  Wade was out-of-town for work.

He nodded again and covered his face with his elbow, trying to hide his tears.

“It’s ok.” I said, getting teary-eyed too. My heart broke for him. “What’s your name?”

“Brentley.”

“Well Brentley, it’s nice to meet you.” I shook his hand and introduced myself and the kids, “Is your wife here with you? She’s welcome, too.”

“She’s at the motel.” His voice cracked. “She’s not feeling too good.”

“Ok, maybe we can get her some take out then?”

“Really?” He wiped his eyes with the palm of his hands. “You’d do that?”

I nodded. “Let’s go in.”

As we ate dinner, the kids and I bombarded Brentley with questions,  but he kindly answered them.  He was 23 years old and dropped out of high school to go to work. He has younger brothers who live with their dad. His mom was “not a good person,” and he was raised by his grandma.

When his grandma got sick, he helped her until she passed away. “I really miss her.” He cried.

Brentley had to pause multiple times during our conversation to regain his composure.

His grandma was living in low-income housing and when she passed, he and his wife had to find somewhere else to live. He had a job making trusses, (until he was laid off), so they moved into the Motel 6 for a weekly rate of $338, until they could find a place of their own.

“We’re on a waiting list for housing through the Salvation Army.” He said. “If we can get in, it’ll be a lot cheaper than the hotel… It’s been really hard to save money, especially since I got laid off. I don’t know what we’re gonna do if I can’t come up with the $78 dollars by tomorrow morning.”

I started racking my brain, who did I know that could help him?

One of the kids asked him about his wife and he smiled. “We’ve been married for seven months. We’re having a baby boy in July. He’s the one good thing going in our lives right now.”

His wife had cancer on her spine a few years ago and was treated with radiation twice. The cancer came back and is now in her liver, but they can’t give her any treatments until after the baby is born.

I texted Beth, my dad’s partner of 25 years. She’s a social worker that works with the homeless in Ann Arbor, but I figured if anyone would know who could help this young man, it would be her.

She texted back with some suggestions:

  • Any church
  • Salvation Army
  • Family shelter (though those tend to fill first)
  • Grand Rapids Housing Authority: hopefully he could get on a waitlist through GRHA.  It would be his best bet for long-term affordable housing.

Then she said, “Tell him not to give up, even if people are less than kind to him.”

I gave Brentley all the numbers and advice Beth sent.

As the kids grabbed dessert, Brentley got a box and chose some things off the buffet for his wife.

The server dropped off our check and we all read our fortune cookies aloud.

Averi’s said,”Very nice things will happen to you in the future.”

Mine said, “You are innovative and inventive.”

Caden’s said, “You are entertaining and friendly.”

Kacy refused her fortune cookie and insisted that Brentley give it to his wife instead.

When Caden asked Brentley what his fortune said,  Brentley shook his head and his voice cracked. “Your family home means a lot to you.”

Wow.

As we said good-bye, Brentley said, “Thank you so much for dinner. I’m so full… I haven’t felt this way in a long time.”

”You’re very welcome.” I said, “I just wish we could do more.  Please be sure to call those numbers. They can help you.”

”I will,” he said, “but I think I need to ask some more people to help, just in case.”

We had to hurry to pick Keelie up from 4H.  We waved goodbye to Brentley as we were pulling out of the restaurant.

“Mom,” Kacy said, “We showed him love. We gave him food when he was hungry. I think we made God happy.”

“Are you guys happy?” I asked.

“Yeah!” all the kids cheered.

We told Averi about our prior conversation about God being Love and the bible verse: ‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink…’

We started turning a corner and Averi shouted,  “Mom! Look! It’s a love sign! Not a stop sign!”

Kacy and Caden both pointed out the window.  “I see it!  Right there!”

“Where? I don’t see anything.”  It was raining and I couldn’t see what they were pointing to.

“The sign, Momma!” Kacy said. “I think God is saying, I love you. He’s happy!”

I looked around, still not seeing what they were seeing. “What sign?”

“We passed it.” Averi pointed over her shoulder. “You know, the sign that says when you can walk, it looked like this!”  Averi held up her hand and showed me the sign for ‘I love you’ in sign language.

I got chills.  “No way!”

“Turn around, Mom!” Kacy said, “You’ve got to see it!”

I turned the van around on the first road I could, Wendell Street. I noticed the name of the street because I had a friend from high school, named Wendell, who was killed in a car accident a few years after we had graduated.

We turned around and sure enough, the lights on the two middle fingers were out and it did look like the ‘I love you’ sign.

FB383C53-1ADF-4862-9793-4BA0F1293A14
Averi took this pic with my phone as we were driving in the rain, it’s a little blurry, but can you see the ‘I love you?’

“See! We told you, Mom!” Averi took a picture of the sign with my phone as we drove by. ”Got it! It’s a little blurry, but now we have proof!”

Averi called her Grandma Beth to tell her about meeting Brentley and the I love you sign. I casually mentioned that the street that I turned on was Wendell St. and Beth said, “You know, there was a song about a homeless man by Arrested Development back in the 90’s-”

I knew the song right away. “Yes! Mr. Wendal!” (Click to hear the song) “Wow…that’s a lot of coincidences.”

As we continued talking about Brentley’s situation, Beth said, “It’s never a quick simple way in which folks end up homeless.  I swear, every story I hear breaks my heart.”

You don’t realize how lucky you are until you meet someone like Brentley.  I hope what I did helped, at least a little. I hope he can find a job and claw himself out of the hole he is in, but I doubt he’ll be able to do it alone. He needs a support system.

Beth told us about a man that she had just found an apartment for, “He’d been homeless since he aged out of the foster care system, 23 years ago.”

Can you imagine: no family, no place to call home, and not having one person care about your wellbeing, for 23 years?  Add in a learning disability and a person is just screwed.  It’s heartbreaking.

So, my question to the universe is how? How can we take care of the least of our people when there are so many? How can we help change the trajectory of Brentley’s life, the life of his unborn son, and all the other people like him?  We have to think of something.

Nicci

 

 

 

 

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