My friend called me, she’s a teacher, “There’s a family…a little girl in my class, she and her mom are living out of their car. It’s four little girls and one boy.”
I ask around, the usual stuff, the local shelters, ask my growth group.
“They are welcome to the trailer on our property,” Heather texts back. “I have to check on water and electricity, it’s old, but it’s open.”
I call the mom, she’s kind.
My phone buzzes from a text, “The trailer is NOT ready for a family, we need to work on it…we need more time…”
“Andrew can we if they have to?”
We are still driving home from the mountains, he nods, “Yes.”
I call Mallory, the mother, back, “Hey, so the trailer needs another night before it’s ready, but you guys are welcome here if you need, just let me know, we have a room for you guys.”
It’s 7pm, we are nearing our house.
“You know, I will take you up in that, it’s been getting pretty cold at night, so it might be nice for the babies and us to have a place.”
“Oh yeah,” I agree, I had been feeling the chill in the air, too, “It has been cold, ok great, come on over, you can use our washer/dryer and we have a big yard for the kids.”
“Oh it’s funny you say that, my mom was going to go sell some chocolates so we could get some quarters for laundry.”
“Oh great, yeah, no, come use ours.”
We had taken the kids to the mountains all day for apple and pear picking. We put Finley to bed with Poppy and Elijah in their room, they fall right asleep.
The little girl staying with us for respite care, Olive who is 14, and Maria help me clean up the living room and kitchen. “You girls want to sleep on the couch out here tonight so they can have your room?”
“YEAH!!!!” they squeal. They change all the sheets on their bunk beds and Finley’s twin bed in there. We clean up all the toys, Maria vacuums, I put some Serenity oil in the diffuser, we lay out blankets and Andrew throws a thin pad onto the ground that he had dug up from under the house.
“Do we have anything thicker?” I ask.
“That’s all we have.”
The girls settle on our couch reading their new library books, Andrew and I join them with tea. We didn’t know when they’d arrive. It’s close to 10om, and we see red break lights, our house is always hard to find. I run out to tell them they are here. A mom steps out of the car, and I’m confused.
“Are you Amy?” she asks me, smiling. She’s beautiful, peaceful, well dressed. She looks like a PTA leader, hair pulled back into a neat pony tail.
“Hi–yes, I’m Amy…” my mind is blank, what was her name? This isn’t what I was expecting, they don’t look homeless, I hear noises inside the shiny red mini-van. The side window rolls down and four sets of little eyes look at me grinning, the little two are waving, “Hi!!! Hi!!!” the little girls wave at me from the dark car.
“Hi cuties! Mallory, you can just pull down the drive way, my husband parked up top, so there room down there.”
She gets in the car to turn it around and I run back down through the dark to the living room, “She’s so nice,” I whisper to Andrew. Maria is so excited, she’s jumping up and down, “They’re here!!!”
Olive sits quietly on the couch.
“Ok girls, they’re here, let’s go, lets go see if they need help coming in, help with the kids.”
Maria’s gone, she’s bolted out the door and is already greeting them.
Olive sits, “It’s cold out…” she shrugs. The part of the world she is from it very much interested in looking out for number one, it’s cultural, not cold hearted.
“It may be cold, but who are you thinking most about right now, you or the family of 6?”
She considers, “I guess me,” coming to her own conclusion, and gets up to help.
Our living room is suddenly full of little girls with long eye lashes, and perfect little bob cuts. They are smiling and happy, the littlest gets on the rocking horse, “HORSEY!!” her big sisters help.
Mallory walks in, “Wow…your home is beautiful, it’s so cozy!”
Andrew and I blush, it’s usually much easier to shrug off what seem like socially expected complements like this, this one sticks like a thistle into a part of us.
Olive sits on the ground with wooden puzzles with the 3 year old, I notice her kindness.
They sit, we offer tea. “Let me show you your room, Mallory,” I tell her.
The room that I had been complaining about for 2 months, no–longer than that. We have two bunk beds in there for the two 14 year old girls, and a twin bed for Finley. An armoire, a desk, a dresser, Finley’s small art desk. We had converted the sides of the closet into book shelves. For months I’ve been asking the kids, “Are you guys crammed, squished in here?”
“We LOVE IT!!!” they tell me, they sit and play lego friends together on the carpet, they read together. It’s my issues, the space, but–I hold onto that issue. I don’t drop it, I don’t forget it. I can’t–I reason. I had my own room growing up–although I was also very lonely at times–but 3 kids in one room. What I bummer! I complain often in my mind… God, we’re open to taking a child in need, why can’t you give us more space. Please change this… I torture myself by perusing zillow at intervals of deepest lack of contentment.
I walk them down the hallway and into the room. Mallory walks in, her children slow their pace and look in silently around from behind her knees, she covers her face with both and and starts to cry. “It’s so beautiful…” she tell me.
I was going to say something, my mouth open, but I had nothing. I start crying too. It’s so humbling, I wasn’t expecting to feel this way.
Maria walks in, the little kids climb on the bunk beds filling the room with sound, “I’ll sleep with Chloe!!” says the oldest girl, 9, about the baby.
Mallory looks at all her little girls and says gently, “Girls, it’s bed time, we need to do a babywipe wipe down before we get into bed.”
“Or you guys can use our bathtub for a bubble bath if you want, we have towels and soap.”
Ava, the seven year old’s face lights up, “A BUBBLE BATH!?!?! Mommy, can we please!?”
“Well…it’s been over a year since the kids have had a real bath, we may just do that…”
“Yes! Please do–we have a really nice bath tub…” –wait–what am I saying, it’s not really nice, it’s tiny, it’s old– and we only have one–I’ve always wanted to change it, or even have one for me one day– “Well, I mean we have a bathtub, I don’t know if it’s ‘really nice,’ but you’re certainly welcome to it.” I think my own feelings about things were changing.
Maria and I lay out towels, I run the water, the bubbles filling from the costco sized soap pump sitting in the corner of the tub. The girls get in 2 or 3 at a time, the mom washing each one as the bubbles build around them in the warm water. The brush glide through their clean hair perfectly, making little lines.
I send a text to my growth group at church, “They are here, and I can’t even describe…very humbling, so kind…”
Heather texts me in a panic, “We are going to need some major help on this trailer–there’s no way it will be ready by tomorrow night on our own. The next day was labor day, though, everyone would have something…”
She sends a group text late that night, the day before labor day when everyone has time off to be with their family; “If you guys can, we’d love help, the electrical, the water–it’s dirty…the family, homeless, 5 kids…”
Text after text, “I’ll be there.”
“We’ll be there.”
“I’ll bring diapers.”
“I’ll bring cleaning supplies.”
“I’ll bring all the electrical cables and supplies.”
Andrew and I wake up, it was still dark out, I open my eyes, it’s still early morning blue. Finley, Elijah and Poppy are at the sides of our bed. Poppy has a lot of daily morning joy, it’s not quiet. The family’s room isn’t even half a foot from ours, it’s kitty corner. “Shhhhhhhh–come here guys, come her, shhhhh….” sit up, sort of. I’m tired.
“WHAT!? WHAT, MAMA!!!!” Poppy explodes in her morning joy, then puts her finger to her mouth with a knowing nod, proudly mimicking me, “SHHHHHHHHHH,” she yells smiling at how clever she is.
“Come here, shhhh, remember that family we told you about, they are sleeping, let’s please let them really rest, get some good sleep, they are all clean and warm and cozy….let’s just be 100% silent right now…” After a short while, a sleepy eyed cherub face walks in our room, Poppy squeals, “Come ‘ere!!!!” The girls start playing my little ponies, these two three-year-olds have found their new best friend.
Andrew is up cracking all our chicken’s eggs into a pan and and has a bowl of waffle mix. I take longer to wake up, so he gets breakfast duty. I tell the sleeping girls on the couch to go into the kid’s room to keep sleeping. Pretty soon everyone is up, but even with 10 kids in our small house, everyone is calm. Some kids sit quietly at the kitchen table while we serve fruit, the big kids are outside playing. Andrew serves up a big breakfast, we had everything we needed already, which was huge–but that kind of thing happens.
After breakfast, the children each have a best friend, they are climbing trees, playing puzzles, Maria is the teacher of ‘school’ and reads books to sitting kids circled in the grass. Olive and the oldest, a boy, go to the same school. They build legos together on the carpet.
Mallory, Andrew and I sit on the couch drinking tea, still waking up. We hear about them living in the shelter. It’s good shelter, gets people rehabilitated, but it’s a rough crowd. Mallory never thought she’d be homeless, she used to do commercial real estate, then was a stay home mom. At the shelter they wake you up by banging on the door, the people next door would be cussing out their three year old, “It was too much for my kids, my daughter said, ‘We’d be better off in our van, mama. Then we could wake up peacefully, we could just be us.'”
Andrew and I agreed, they may be homeless, but they were special, peaceful, loving. The children were kind and happy. The shelter may cause more harm than good. But they needed help.
She held her mug with both hands,”I think what God is teaching me most of all is to be humble, to be content. I know this isn’t forever. It’s just temporary. We’ve been living in our van for 7 months. But it’s not forever…”
Andrew makes a huge salad and sandwiches for lunch. Mallory bathes her children again, I do as well for mine. We start her laundry and do dishes. Finley, Olive, Ava and Samantha are up and down the driveway on bikes. Poppy and the two tiny girls play dress up. We pull out a Sorry game. The children are happy, exuberant, all of them, together. I see the older ones shining in their play, then in their care.
I’m getting texts from our growth group at intervals, “WE HAVE LIGHT!!! THE ELECTRIC IS ON!!!” They have been there all day, they hadn’t stopped working, and there was still much more to do.
Andrew teaches Samuel, the 11 year old and only boy the drums, he learns quickly. His small frame is swimming in Andrew’s clothes as his clothes are being washed, but he never complains. He is kind, but there’s a part of him that seems more down than the rest, the oldest. “Hey Sam, do you think it would be a good idea to get your van cleaned this afternoon?” I ask him.
“No….no I don’t think so, it’s too dirty, no one would wash it.”
“Hah, yeah they would, that’s what you pay them to do. Andrew could take it, you wouldn’t even have to see it, just give them money, and they all do it.”
“Oh, I don’t know–it smells…”
“I’ll ask you mom, k?”
He smiles and nods. I love a middle schooler who isn’t afraid to smile.
“Hey Mallory, I wanted to ask you, just think about it, I know it’s been your home, so I want you to really consider, but what do you think of a car detail. We could take all the stuff out, put it on tarps and them Andrew could take it in?”
“Oh my gosh–this thing–this thing–” she looks at the bags of clothes, the neatly stacks tupperwares of items labeled stacked in the back.
“Andrew could go, we could stay home with the kids, finish your laundry, get dinner ready…”
“He wants to?”
“Oh wow, ok, let’s just do it. Let’s do it!”
“Let’s do it, girl!”
I call to Olive, “Olive, I need your help, get bags, and help me get EVERYTHING out. Everything between the seats, every cupholder, under the seats.” She and I put gloves on and start filling bags. She works hard, never complains, but fills bags with every kind of thing. Life as a family of 6 in a van for seven months.
Finley asks to help, I’m surprised, he can be sensitive to smells, but he lasts a bit, fills a bag. But Olive never gives up, shes on her hands and knees reaching under seats.
Andrew gets the keys, “I’m off!!” “Can I come?” Olive asks, “Sure, let’s go!” and I pick them up so they can do a 1.5 hour detail. Mallory and I organized her stuff, “Oh I’ve been looking for this!!!” She gets organized. We talk about life, she says things to me that encourage me in meaningful ways. In many ways it’s me who looks up to her, I respect her, think highly of her. Her words mean a lot.
We make a big dinner and eat it outside. We always ask each kid, “What were your two highs, one low, and one feeling of the day.” The kids are laughing together sharing. All of Mallory’s kids say their one feeling today is, “Happy!” “I’m so happy, and I love having so much good food!!!” Shouts Felicity. “Good food, huh? I LIKE this girl!” Andrew and I tell her, we’re all laughing, Poppy the loudest with no understanding of why.
The kids run off to play and Mallory tells us on her own, “My highs today were taking a shower and having a clean car. It was like Christmas and my birthday all in one. My low was Ava’s tantrum. And my feeling is…comforted. We smile, “We’re so glad.”
Heather texts…”We thought it would take a miracle, but honestly every person gave it their all. Everyone gave 100% and there was a joy in the air working together for them the entire time.”
One husband said it would take a Christmas miracle to get it all ready by that night when he got there that morning.
But I think God was in store for miracle for everyone that day. Right after dinner, we start to load up quickly, “Let’s go before it gets dark.”
“I LIKE MY CLEAN CAR!” Shouts the three-year-old. “I just like it!”
“I LOVE YOU GUYS!” Mallory says.
“I’m actually bummed you guys are leaving, that was so fun having you, but I know you guys are going to an amazing place, just follow our car.” We drive for 20 minutes and pull into the lot. There are goats and chickens, 4 acres, a zipline, trees and space to run. The trailer is HUGE, HUGE!!!!!
Even Andrew and I marvel at it. Mallory gets our of her car and is crying. The children are screaming as they run inside. We walk in and it’s sparking, a big kitchen, a living room. The girls are running down the long hallway to the bedrooms, two rooms. They find clothes and diapers collected and laid out for them. “IT’S HUGE!! IT’S HUGE!!!” They keep yelling. There’s a bathtub in the bathroom. The oldest boy has his own room, he smiles but can’t say anything.
Jeremy, Heather’s husband had been working all day, “The growth group really pulled through, I can’t even tell you what all went into this, it was so much work, we had to dig trenches, one mopped this floor about 6 times, it was so dirty– and everyone did it. It was incredible.” Their twin sons start running around with our 5 kids, and their 5 kids. Felicity, the oldest girl– ‘little mama’ of everyone, always so careful about everyone’s feelings, puts on a helmet as Jeremy takes her on the zipline and she shrieks with joy. The joy of a child being a child, free from worry as she glides through the air, arms up, head back.
‘You can’t force these things. They only come about through my Spirit,’ says God-of-the-Angel-Armies.
While changing lives, God also changes stubborn, petulant hearts, like mine. We told each of our kids how proud we were to be their parents, we saw God working through each of them.
Mallory is in a good place, with good people, and with a little team now in her corner. And God did it all. No way anyone could have planned and done what needed to happen on their own, and it came together at the exact moment. Everyone’s own little Christmas miracle–on Labor day.
GG, we’re honored to know you guys.
“Because a loveless world,” said Jesus, “is a sightless world. If anyone loves me, he will carefully keep my word and my Father will love him—we’ll move right into the neighborhood!
j. 14. 23