A Different Kind of Poverty

21 Sep

Clarence’s quote from “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

At the food bank where I volunteer, I met a woman whose entire future hinges on her coming up with about $400 in six weeks. Tears filled her eyes as she explained the situation to me. She’s an addict, and she’d been arrested. The judge had given her the opportunity to prove herself sober by taking a drug test each week. He’d ordered her to complete a course. If she did those things, he’d dismiss the felony charges, and she’d walk away with a clean record.

She’d stayed sober, but the drug tests are $50 each. She took the course, but to get the certificate, she has to pay $75. And her lawyer won’t give her any advice, because she has no money to pay him.

Her whole life was on the line for the sake of about $400.

I asked her if she had any family who could help. Nope. She’d burned all her bridges with her family, and they wouldn’t help her any longer.

I inquired about friends, but apparently the people she was closest to were other addicts, and they didn’t have the money to help her and, since she’d quit using, she’d cut off ties with them.

“I know it’s my own fault,” she said more than once. “I brought it on myself. This is what I deserve.”

What she deserves? The thought of getting what I deserve gives me chills. I don’t want justice when it comes to my own sins. I long for mercy and grace.

I have a God who offers both, and I shared that truth with her and prayed for her. I wish I could have done more, but aside from the strict never-give-money-or-rides-to-clients policy at the food bank, if I gave money to everybody who needed it, I’d be a client myself.

So after I gave her some phone numbers to organizations where she could seek help and counsel, we prayed together, she got a few grocery sacks of food, then we sent her on her way.

I couldn’t stop thinking about that woman’s poverty. It wasn’t just her extreme financial need—that’s one kind of poverty, to be sure. What bothered me more was her poverty of spirit. It was her poverty of hope. It was her poverty of relationships.

Tweet this: Poverty comes in many forms: of hope, of spirit, of friends. Even those without money can offer love.

I thank God for the scripture, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:30). She was a woman who understood her own poverty, and I continue to pray that the Lord will reach out to her in her need.

I walked out of the food bank that day thinking of all the people I could call upon if I were in need. I have a family who loves me. I have friends who love me. I have a church that loves me. If I needed $400 and told a few people, I’d have it by noon. Not because I’m something special, but because the Lord has blessed me with wonderful and generous people in my life. And I don’t deserve them. In fact, I deserve no more than that poor woman at the food bank does, but the Lord has shown me mercy and grace despite my egregious sins, and a lot of that has come in the form of the wonderful people he’s put in my life.

So I thank God today for my family and friends. And I hope I always remember that not everybody in the world is as blessed as I am. I pray I’ll be on the lookout for people suffering from poverty—of money, of hope, of relationships, and I hope to have the courage and selflessness to reach out to them when I meet them.


DSC_8915-25edRobin Patchen lives in Edmond, Oklahoma, with her husband and three teenagers. Her third book, Finding Amanda, was a finalist in the ACFW Carol Awards and won the 2016 Bookstores Without Borders Lyra Award in the Women’s Fiction category. Its prequel, Chasing Amanda, is currently offered for free at all major retailers. When Robin isn’t writing or caring for her family, she works as a freelance editor at Robin’s Red Pen, where she specializes in Christian fiction. Read excerpts and find out more at her website,


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