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Thursday, September 14, 2006
How Much Is Too Much?
Hi ladies,

I have a question for you all that can only be asked clearly by telling the story behind it.

We have a family living in a very old-outdated (should be condemned) rental trailer down from our house. The man (Jerry) came up one morning asking if my husband could take his wife to the next town (20 miles north of us) for her to get their baby some formula from her home (she was in the process of moving in with him from this northern town). My husband was in the process of mowing our grass but told me about their need so we decided I would go to the local grocery store and buy a can of formula and give it to them. That was that.

The next day, Jerry came to our front door wanting to borrow our phone. My husband let him use the phone. This started becoming a daily thing. My three kids would say "he's here..." as he knocked on the day door in and day out wanting to use our phone. One time, after I handed him the phone to borrow, he asked me to look up the number for a local pizza delivery business. I apparently had become his conseierge! In the meantime, we have seen him in his front yard on his cell phone. My husband finally asked him what was going on about the phone situation and Jerry explained he needed to call his parole officer (yikes!) or another time to call his mom....never an emergency state, mind you.

One evening he asked to borrow a saw. We let him. Another evening he interrupted our dinner/family to ask for a pot to boil noodles in. That was quite frustrating for me and I said 'no'. He has used the phone several times since then and every time my husband and I grow increasingly frustrated with his frequent visits to our front door.

The last time I have seen him was a night about 7:30, my husband was gone to a meeting, and Jerry knocked on the door to ask if I had any sugar. I said that yes I had sugar but no he could not have any. I explained that we wanted to be good neighbors and help them when they needed it but sugar was not an emergency. He just stood there and blinked a minute and I was quite nervous thinking "oh goodness...he's gonna freak out on me" but he just said "ok..sorry" and walked back down the hill.

So the question comes: How much charity is too much? Based on my details above, how does that sit with you? I'm quite torn over it really. I realize that when people need help, the kingdom thoughts are that it doesn't matter WHY they need help but it is our duty to help them. On the other hand, I have three small children who I do not want opening the door to people that, I'm sorry for sounding biased, but are out on parole. You see how the circle goes in my head, right?

Any opinions?


posted by Michelle K at 8:21 AM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 9/14/2006 10:35:00 AM, Blogger Doxallo


    I don't want to sound harsh....not at all really.....I understand the frustration to being interrupted and all that.

    Here is what ran through my head while reading -

    Was it emergent for you to hang on to that cup of sugar?

    Does it have to be an emergency for someone to knock on your door at 7:30 in the evening?

    Would it be different if it was the man next door in his 3-piece business suit?

    Some things to consider:

    how much do you really know about him? have you been to his house? Invited him to church?

    Perhaps if you seek him out, you'd see what his needs are, what his situation is, and you may naturally see ways of meeting his needs which are more on your time schedule, it may prevent him from knocking on your door all the time :)

    Also, has your church body been made aware of his needs?

    Are they (and you) praying for him, or WITH him or with his wife?

    Frankly, I'd be inclined to take hubby and go visit this guy, in his own home and very openly express feelings, thoughts, concerns, etc. This may be a prime opportunity for your family to really make a difference in someones life. For your children to witness it.

    I happen to have a distant relative who I never really knew growing up - at age 16 or 17 he was involved in a crime - in a sort of non-participatory way...and he ended up in prison for over 20 years. He got out about 2 years ago and I've never met a sweeter kinder man. He is so grateful for the small things in life...he's happy to have a job, he actually works two jobs. He began attending church services in prison, he took come classes....he still attends church, he hopes to continue college....he got married this past July to a delightful young lady, she's a middle school teacher. They are a joy to watch..with what little they have...build a life. Grateful beyond measure for what they have. Granted that's probably the exception...but it doesn't sound to me like you know very much about this man, and if you do, you didn't make that clear.

    I'd encourage you to pray and then boldly minister to this man and his family. I am reading a book entitlte Chasing Daylight by Erwin McManus. In it he comments on the idea that many of live the christian life sort of lamenting how ordinary our lives are...and yet when God presents a moment when we might do something big and bold for the kingdom, we let it pass by. We're afraid or too busy or something....we lament our impact and yet when God calls we answer with 'right now? but I'm busy..I've got this thing...'

    I'm not saying I would feel one iota differently than you do, know that.

    I'm challenging myself here and its just such a coincidence that your current situation resembles what I was reading last night. Maybe its a challenge for both of us. To rise to the occassion.

    Just some thoughts,


  • At 9/14/2006 12:35:00 PM, Blogger lydia

    How much charity is too much?

    Anything else you give (other than your friendship, of course) that family before looking more deeply into their circumstances.

    They might be trying to take advantage of you.

    They might simply have poor interpersonal boundaries and not realize that what they're doing isn't appropriate (IMO).

    One or both of the parents may suffer from a mental illness, which could explain their living conditions and odd behavior. (Then again, so could other issues like poverty.)

    They might honestly need financial and social assistance.

    The answer could easily lie in more than one of these factors. People are complicated.

    My advice?

    1) Get more information about them. Do they go to church? How are they known by the community (i.e. is it commmon knowledge that one or both of the parents has a physical or mental condition that could contribute to some of the things you've seen? I'm not telling you to gossip about them, of course :) )

    2) Set firmer boundaries. For example, tell your children not to open the for anyone who isn't grandma or a police officer. Or tell your neighbors that your family isn't available for visiting between X and Y hours.

    3)Start locking your doors...but not because I think your neighbors mean you any harm.

    From reading your I just got the impression that you leave your doors unlocked and as a city slicker I just find that sort of thing rather strange. :O ;)

  • At 9/14/2006 12:41:00 PM, Blogger lydia

    And to explain the reasoning behind my advice (as it seems a bit asocial now that I reread it):

    Here in Toronto people don't know their neighbors.

    I grew up in small towns (which is where I assume Michelle lives?) and I know things are often different in rural areas.

    But where I live neighbors never stop by to use the phone or borrow a cup of sugar.

    Even good friends don't stop by one another's houses unnannounced up here.It just doesn't happen.

    So part of my reply stems from some pretty big cultural differences between Canada/the States and rural/urban areas.

  • At 9/14/2006 02:05:00 PM, Blogger From the Margins

    In this challenging situation, especially to one's faith walk, I think Janice has offered us all a beautiful piece of missional ministry in her response. So many questions & answers to yet pursue, and all filled with so much God-In-The-Moment potential!

    I'm praying for ya, Michelle K.

  • At 9/14/2006 02:18:00 PM, Blogger Amy


    I'm with Lydia, but I'm also from a bigger city (Denver). I think having a conversation and developing some type of relationship or understanding allows you to better gauge their needs and set healthy boundaries for you and your family.

    I'm guessing you're feeling torn because you do want to meet this family's needs, especially if those needs are legitimate. Yet, I'm a personal believer in boundaries, or at the minimum an understanding of extenuating circumstances. I don't think that we only meet needs in emergency situations, but that it is OK to to put parameters around what you're willing to do. It's healthy for you, but it can also be healthy for those you're trying to help.


  • At 9/14/2006 02:28:00 PM, Blogger Swandive

    Janice aka doxallo's response is so beautiful that I have nothing else to add, other than my sincerest blessings to you in this struggle. There is alot to think about when thinking about "charity". The Lord tells us to be cheerful givers. May you and your family come to a place where your neighbor is equally as much of a blessing to you as you have been to them.

  • At 9/14/2006 02:29:00 PM, Blogger Michelle K

    Thank you all for your great responses. I love the ideas being brought out here.

    To answer some of Janice's questions: No, I haven't invited them to church. We haven't attended one ourselves since April since we've been trying to sort out all of our own "why do we do what we do?" questions. I haven't had much of a conversation with them at all. My husband has spoken a bit more but still only briefly. We haven't inested in them as a family and I know it's because we're plain lazy and self centered. I feel much convicted, in a good way, by your replies.

    On the other hand - I do wonder about personal boundaries, being taken advantage of, even being an enabler but those questions could be better answered if we did talk with them to assess what they needed and just how much we could help personally as well as directing them to resources available for them.

    I do know that they on state assistance as Jerry has made mention of that.

    We do live in a small town, but we DO keep our doors locked. My kids announce that he's here as he knocks on the front door. I have spent too much time at home with the kids without my husband home (as he has been to Iraq twice) to not leave my doors unlocked.

    We do need to continue to question our motives of being reserved from them and I do feel that 98% of it is self-centeredness and "my space" ruled. Thank you all, again, and please continue to bring up comments and suggestions as they come to you. I want to do the right thing, the kingdom thing, but I do wonder about the being taken advantage of aspect.

    I do know that he's not making long distance calls from my phone - I've checked on that! His explanation is that his cell phone is pre-paid and when that runs out he comes and uses our phone. Not important, just a side note I guess to explain why he has a cell phone.

    I've also been told that he had gotten an elderly lady in the community to take him to the Dollar General on three different occasions and her having spent about $80 on him each time before she finally said 'no more' Again, was she taken advantage of?


  • At 9/14/2006 03:02:00 PM, Blogger Doxallo

    "I've also been told that he had gotten an elderly lady in the community to take him to the Dollar General on three different occasions and her having spent about $80 on him each time before she finally said 'no more' Again, was she taken advantage of?"

    Only she can answer that Michelle. I tend to think of the elderly as being really limited in funds and I am sometimes reminded that there are those sitting on large savings.

    You're asking good questions in my estimation. . . including boundary questions. Its all good food for thought and I applaud your courage to consider it all AND to discuss it openly here.

  • At 9/14/2006 07:18:00 PM, Blogger Michele L

    That is a difficult call. One I would pray about it, envolve some of your good friends, and talk with you husband about what boundaries you have. I for one am a huge giver. I would help everyone if I could. However, I am still careful and cautious when my kids are around.
    I had a similar situation, and it was extremely hard because it was my own brother.
    A few years ago he lived on the streets for 6-8mths. He started acting "funky" due, partially to drugs, but especially because of lack of sleep. The whole family tried to help over and over. It just didn't work. He even got a paid for apartment for 6 months (so he could save his money)and couldn't keep a job, and had not saved one dime at the end of the 6 months. He would roam my neighborhood, and at night I would see my motion lights on outside, and he would be sleeping in my yard. It broke my heart....but for years we had tried. Due to his actions, my husband would not let him sleep here. My daughter was a newborn. I would let him in to washup and eat a little, but it became daily, and a big strain on us financially. I finally confronted him. He was really upset, and didn't come around for awhile. Eventually, he was arrested for breaking and entering. We loved him, and didn't treat him bad, but we didn't bail him out or help him, when he got out of jail (7 months later). After that, though, he "got on track", for the last couple of years he has done well. Kept a job for a long time, found a nice girlfriend, etc. I am proud of him and we have a much better relationship. I don't know if we had continued to help, if he would have ever gotten to where he is? So, very difficult, and I think situational. I don't think that there are exact answers for these situations. May God grant wisdom.

  • At 9/14/2006 09:15:00 PM, Blogger From the Margins

    "So, very difficult, and I think situational. I don't think that there are exact answers for these situations. May God grant wisdom."

    True, true.

  • At 9/16/2006 08:36:00 AM, Blogger Michelle K

    Jerry has been back to use the phone since our 'sugar encounter'. Actually last night during the kids bathtime he was back up again. My husband did tell me that the other day Jerry was using the phone attempting to sell a car that was left in his yard that he doesn't own! Uhhh..... no, that won't work. So my husband had a conversation with him about how he can't do that, obviously, and talked with him about jobs, being responsible, etc.

    I have to throw in here that my husband has a strong social background with working in paramedics for 14 years, a police officer including teaching police officers at the police academy, national guard experience and bodyguard training that allowed him to go to Iraq twice for 3 month intervals providing bodyguard protection for needs there. All of that to say, I trust him in his assessment of what is a need and what is enablement and allowing someone to not need to grow and change while they live off whatever system is available. To some that sounds judging but between his experience and his natural discernment, I feel better that HE is talking with Jerry and not me. I just get all paranoid and freeze up wondering if I'm doing too much, not enough, etc.

  • At 9/17/2006 06:38:00 AM, Blogger Helen

    Wow...difficult situation.

    Janice is right that hanging onto a cup of sugar is not necessarily an emergent thing to do.

    But nor is always giving a person whatever they ask for, so that they just keep coming back again and again and don't take steps to become less dependent on others.

    Michelle, I understand that when you said 'no' about the sugar it wasn't about the sugar, really. It was about you realizing it was not a good idea to always say 'yes' to this man.

    I'm glad your husband has got involved now. I would suggest: set things up so only your husband deals with him. Your husband can say to him something like "I'm not comfortable with my wife letting other men in the house while I'm not here." (Or whatever - I'm not suggesting you lie - think of something true which sets a boundary that works for you)

    Michelle, in saying this I'm not suggesting you're 'weak'. I'm only saying that you have a lot on your hands already with three young children and it's not unreasonable to ask your husband if he can take on the burden of dealing with a man who either doesn't know what's reasonable to ask of others or doesn't care.

    Michelle, I love your heart that you want to help this man. I hope you and your husband can figure something out so that him living near you doesn't add significant stress to your life. It's not 'selfish' to do that; it's simply being a good steward of your time and energy which I'm sure you want your family to receive the best of. And after that you allocate them according to how God leads, which doesn't necessarily mean you have to say 'yes' to the most persistent people who cross your path.

  • At 9/18/2006 08:23:00 AM, Blogger Michelle K

    No, I don't take your comments to suggest that I am weak. I'm definitely not suited for these types of situations. Frankly my intial response when I'm in the middle of four other things and someone asks me for something is to yell "leave me alone!" so this experience has been good for me to try to stop and examine my motives.

    That's why, early on, I didn't resist (too much ;-) to my husband letting him use the phone, etc. But when he came up for the pot I talked with my husband about needing to explian some sort of boundaries to the man.

    Thank you all for your suggestions and encouragement and thought provoking questions. I am enjoying this group greatly!


  • At 9/22/2006 01:52:00 AM, Blogger Charlotte Wyncoop

    You're not the only one out there with weird "friends."

    I have a gal that has tracked me down for the last 11 years, every time we move, change phone numbers, etc. She tells me each time she calls me that I'm her best friend.

    I keep trying to remind myself that God can make something of even this. I think that God brought her into my life to prove to me that I could get outside my comfort zone and learn to love people I don't like and wish would go away.

    Good luck, and take heart! Your husband sounds like a great partner as you struggle through this. And God will make something out of it...


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