I spent 4 hours making calls to people on Capitol Hill on Monday. What was most heartbreaking for me, was that most Republican offices I called, didn't care about what I had to say, because I don't live in their state. I would explain that someone I care about, is from their state and currently furloughed, but most bluntly told me that if I didn't have a vote in their state or district, they were not interested in my taking up their valuable time. One was even more blunt, and told me that unless I was a Republican, they didn't care about what I had to say. I explained that as a non-affiliated voter, who has voted for both Republicans and Democrats over the years. The woman then told me, "Honey, if you can't commit, then you are the most unimportant kind of voter there is."
I still made calls to each senator and representative who has furloughed friends or family members living in their states or districts, but more so I could feel like I had tried, and not because I expected anyone to listen to me, or even their constituents, at this point.
I am glad some friends have savings accounts, so they don't have to worry immediately. Several friends have accepted my help in trying to get access to resources that they need. Ironically, most of the things they need, food and rent assistance, are being cut off by the sequester, and made worse by the government shut down.
One friend called me on Monday, before I called her. She was so scared about dealing with her land lord, that she asked me to be in on a 3 way call, so I could speak for her, after she inevitably started crying. We left a message for him, and asked if he would call me, since I could easily make a three-way call. He didn't call me until Tuesday night, but we weren't able to get ahold of her at that point. He asked me why she wanted to have me on the phone call. I told him it was mostly for moral support, and to help with brainstorming. He was a little confused, and so I reminded him of who her employer was. He immediately understood, and said that he could talk anytime before noon on Wednesday, but he would then be getting on a plan, and wouldn't be available until late Thursday night or Friday morning. We missed the window for Wednesday, and so we spent several phone calls praying together, mostly for peace for her heart, and for our country's lawmakers to reach a compromise.
|Some people are just awesome!|
My ray of hope came not from Capitol Hill, but from a late Thursday night, and early Friday morning, call with her landlord. He started off the conversation by telling her what a wonderful woman she was, and how much he has enjoyed having her, and her children, be his tenants. After letting her explain her situation, she asked him if he would be willing to work out a payment plan, depending on how much time she was out of work, and whether Congress retroactively paid furloughed workers or not. She was audibly crying at that point, and asked me to share four options that she and I had come up with, that she thought she would be able to do, depending on how long it lasted, even if she didn't get paid for the time off. She had written me an email, explaining why this particular house is so important for her, and the schools her kids get to go to, and that she knows that there isn't anything comparable that she could find, and that the landlord has been very reasonable in the yearly rent raises, when they have renewed her lease, keeping it below $50, and not raising it the last two times, because he knew that her wages were frozen, and she had kids getting close to college age. I asked her if she would be willing to let me share a couple paragraphs from the email, and she asked me to. By the time I was done, the landlord was crying as well. He asked if he could have a few hours to think about it, and he would have an answer in the morning, (Friday) and since their rent was due on the 5th, he assured her that no matter what they decided, he would not expect a payment then, since he knew this month was going to be hard no matter what.
At a very early hour for me, but 8:00 am their time, we were all on a 3 way call again. He said that after reading through the email I had sent him, with the 4 options that we had come up with, and thinking about our conversation, that he just didn't feel like any of the plans were the right think to do. He said that he went to bed, praying to know what God wanted him to do in this situation, and when he woke up at 3:00 am, and reread the email, that he knew what God wanted him to do. He explained that as a devout Catholic, he had been on several retreats, where he spent 2-4 weeks in a monastery, praying, singing, and living a monastic life. One of the times he went, he and his wife were having marital problems, and he went into the retreat, asking God what he needed to do, to heal the rift between him and his wife and their two teenage children. At the time, their family lived in the house next to the one she was renting. His clear answer to prayer, had been to buy the run down house next door to their family home, and move into it, until his wife invited him back home.
During the 6 months he lived in the house, he and his sons had remodeled the entire house, even strengthening the foundation, which had some water damage. As he continued to work on the house, he also worked on his marriage. He and his wife met with their priest twice a week, once at the church, and once at a family dinner in their home, on Wednesday nights. It gave the kids a chance to be part of the process of healing, and more importantly, it showed his wife that he not only respected her need to heal, but that he wasn't running away from the hard work of remodeling the house, and remodeling their lives. For the first two years that each of his sons were in college, they and several roommates were allowed to live in the house, to save money on rent, and to make sure that they had the support they needed. Thursday night dinners continued, with all of the roommates invited to join the family. The priest who had originally come to help save a marriage, now came as a friend, and as the bridge that helped a number of students who aged out of the foster care system, to find a place to get college, and an adult life figured out, with inexpensive rent, and a "mom and dad" who were not far away. After his wife died, eight (8) years ago, (from breast cancer) he felt like both houses were too big for just him, but that they both need to have families living in them. He moved to the condo that he lives in now, (although he travels as much as he is home) and still does architectural work, building safe bridges and highways, all over the world.
He told us that when his wife died, they had about 15 years left to pay on one mortgage and 10 years left on the other. They had mortgage insurance, and so after her death, the mortgages were repaid in full, and that is why he is able to afford to keep his rental rates reasonable, and it allows him to choose families who he feels spiritually directed to rent to. He said that he wanted to make a counter-offer to her, and that he hoped she would accept it. He told her that as long as she pays the utilities, he won't expect a rent payment until January 2015. He knows her kids are getting close to college age, and so once she starts working, he would like her to split the money that she would usually pay in rent, and instead put it in college savings accounts for her sons. He will match any money she puts into the accounts, between now and whenever her sons finish college, whether she keeps renting from him or not. My friend was audibly sobbing at this point, and just kept saying, "Am I dreaming?" and "This can't be real, this kind of thing only happens on Secret Millionaire."
He let her calm down a little, and then he said that he had a favor to ask her, although her willingness to do it would have no impact on the things that he had already offered her. He asked her to consider talking to the priest at the Catholic church, who called him on Wednesday, and told him that a foster child, who the landlord knew well, and had been supporting in a variety of ways while he was in high school, was going to age out of the foster system in February, and the foster family he was with, wasn't willing to have him stay until he started college after all. If the young man, and her sons seem to get along well, he asked her to consider having him be a part of their family, at least until September, and maybe longer. He would pay for all of his expenses, and add additional amount to his contributions to the college funds for her sons.
The young man is an amazing singer, who has a full-ride scholarship to a fairly prestigious university, and while he could probably find another solution between aging out, and starting the program in the Fall. However, the priest was hoping to find a family, with other siblings, who he might be able to make some deeper connections. The priest had called to ask the landlord if he had any ideas about a family for this young man. Wednesday night he didn't, but talking to us Friday morning, he said he felt that God had put them together. My friend emailed me a few hours ago to say that the brunch with the landlord and the young man went very well, and that her sons were already talking about which of the two extra bedrooms he should have, and figuring out how they can go to Mass with him, along with the LDS 3 hour block. (My friend says that she and her sons will not push him towards attending with them, but they want him to know that they will support and learn about the Catholic church, and attend Mass with him whenever he wants to go.)
She just texted me a picture of the receipt that her landlord gave her this afternoon. It showed her rent paid in full, and rent was next due on January 1st, 2015. The envelope also had gift cards for a local grocery store and the gas station down the street from her, each with 1/4 of the amount of her monthly rent. post-it note simply said,
"The world needs more people like you and your sons in it. Over the last 5 years, you have never been late paying rent, and you have made sure the property is kept in good shape. Our lives have become entwined even more this weekend, and listening to the three boys talking about which rooms to clean out, reminded me of many happy times when my kids were that age, and my wife was trying to get them all together to say a prayer before eating.
I know that you pass it on when you can."
This isn't really the end of the story, its just the beginning. I'm honored to have such a wonderful friend, and to have the chance to play a very minor roll, in one of this week's miracle.