Les Miserable at the gas station

As I drove into the gas station, I saw her squatting on the curb with her head down and covered by a gray hood. My first thought was that she was crying, and a tiny voice said maybe she was homeless and despairing on New Year’s Eve. While I was filling up my tank, I glanced back and saw that this small-framed girl was fingering her cellphone, and I assumed she must have been a high-schooler. Satisfied, I turned back to the gas tank.

As I was topping up the tank, I heard a soft lonely voice behind me. “Can you spare a dollar for a hamburger?” It was the gray-hooded girl, very thin and shivering like a waif. A wisp of black hair crept onto her plain face, right next to a black eye. I immediately felt sorry for the girl, and found myself wondering if the Lord had sent her over to talk with me.

Now my position in regard to homeless people has been that they can go to the Salvation Army or other places whose mission is to provide such people food and shelter. Although I donate to established overseas missions, I generally do not give money to individual homeless in the USA because I cannot know how they will spend it. Despite this attitude, I felt I should be more open with this waif. Before answering her question, I started to grill the girl…….I am a scientist after all, and wanted to find out the facts.

“How old are you?”
“Are you homeless?”
“Yes, but right now I am staying in a hotel with friends”.
“Are you a runaway?”
“Yes, I left North Carolina with my boyfriend, but we have broken up.”
“Did he give you the black eye?”
“Yes, before we broke up.”
“Do you have a car?”
“No, I walk mostly, or take a bus if I have money”.

“Have you told your parents where you are?”
“No…..my mother is on drugs and my father left her”.
“Are you on drugs?” I asked.
“No…….yes, but only meth”.
“You don’t take other hard drugs?”
“How do I know you are telling me the truth?”
She hesitated a moment, before pointing at her shoes and offering sadly:
“Look at my shoes…..see how worn they are”.
In fact, her shoes looked more like bedroom slippers, and the toes were indeed worn out.

“Can we call your parents?” I prompted.
“My cellphone has died”.
“I will call them, if you give me the number”.
She gave me the number, and I called on my cellphone. The voice at the other end said “The number you have called is out of service”. I wasn’t too surprised……

Homeless in Albuquerque (Albuquerque Rescue Mission).

I was silent, wondering what I should do, when the waif looked up at me through her long thin face.
“I need to go. That’s my friend over there”. And she trudged off.
I turned to see that she was met by a round-faced overweight girl of about the same age. As they began talking, the waif pointed at me. I walked over and began to grill the friend, who was better dressed, including makeup, and could even smile. She stated she was from Denver, but that she knew the waif via the ex-boyfriend. The only way the two girls could get around Albuquerque was by bus or by walking, she confirmed.

“Where are you staying? I enquired.
“In a small hotel not far from here”.
“Is the girl staying there also?”
“Yes, she is”.
“Are you paying for the hotel?”
“Yes, with some other girls”.
“Are you on drugs?”
“Definitely not”.
“What will happen to the girl?” I queried.
“She can come with me to Denver when I go home next week, if she wants to”.

A thought struck me like a fist in the belly. How can I act like an angel to this girl? I have written a book about a coangel, and how she provided help and hope to us humans. I pulled out a $50 note, and gave it to the friend.
“Would you use this to help the girl”.
“Yes I will, and thank you”.
The shivering waif tried to smile, and added a bleak “Thank you. God bless you”.

“Stay right there for a moment”, I directed. When I returned with a light winter jacket which I always kept in the car, the waif put it on and zipped it up. Meanwhile I felt like the Lord was saying to give the friend another $50, and I did. He reminded me it was a lot less than what I had spent on myself while vacationing in Phoenix recently.

The waif illustration on which the original emblem for Les Miserables was based (Wikipedia).

Les Miserables is playing this week in theaters across America, and it begins with the story of a poor woman who dies and leaves Jean Valjean her child, also a waif, to look after. I think to myself that maybe I have helped the gas-station waif just a little bit……. unless I have been hoodwinked.

However when I sit down in the seat of my car, a flood of tears comes with the thoughts “Does this sad little homeless girl have any chance in life? What more could I have done? Should I have invited the waif to my home to stay in a warm quilted bed, and eat the luxuries that I feed myself every day?”

Post-script: Jean Valjean had been a convict for many years. After he was released, it was virtually impossible to find work because of his criminal past. Taking a risk, a priest invited him one evening to stay in his home. By morning Valjean had gone, and stolen some expensive silver candlesticks.

However, the gendarmes caught Valjean and returned him to the priest’s home, anticipating the priest would file charges. To their surprise, the priest revealed he had given the silver candlesticks to Valjean, and the gendarmes had to let him go. That single Christ-like act changed the life of Jean Valjean into a saint.

Dear reader: I ask for your advice. What would you have done in regards to the homeless girl at the gas station?

The Gray Nomad.
Probing the practice of Christian believers……

“Whoever stops his ears at the cry of the poor will cry out himself and not be heard” (Proverbs chapter 21).

“The benevolent person scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his deeds of justice and goodness and kindness and benevolence will go on and endure forever” (2 Corinthians chapter 9).

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18 comments on “Les Miserable at the gas station”

  1. Paula says:

    I recently was approached by a young woman with two small children in a grocery store parking lot. She asked me for money and I talked with her a bit. She and the boys were staying in a hotel near by and were out of money and food. I gave her money and my business card since I work for a housing agency. She did call the office the following Monday and we were able to refer her to an agency that works with families. I have worked in the field of homeless for many years and I am sure that I often get duped. I think when the Lord tells you to help someone, it really doesn’t matter what they do with the money. For me, it is about listening to God and being obedient. I see that person for only a few minutes but God sees the entire lifetime and you never know how a small act of kindness – a smile and a few dollars – may help change someone’s life.

    1. IanPalmer says:

      Paula, your words “For me, it is about listening to God and being obedient. I see that person for only a few minutes but God sees the entire lifetime” are powerful. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Marie White says:

    Ian, you were a blessing even if the money was not used in the way you would want. You let God lead your heart and He will bless you for your compassion. Maybe the girl never had anyone really care for her and your gift to her will someday make a difference in her life. I saw Les Meserable last Saturday and really enjoyed the music and the story. Keep the blogs coming.

    1. IanPalmer says:

      Your thought Marie “Maybe the girl never had anyone really care for her and your gift to her will someday make a difference in her life” is profound, and something I have not thought about enough. Thanks.

  3. Kim says:

    Being sensitive to The Lord in each situation …that is what I try to do. God bless you Ian, in regards to your generosity to the two ladies. 🙂

    1. IanPalmer says:

      Good advice Kim….thank you for this.

  4. anne-françoise van den bulke says:

    Dear Ian, I sincerely think that you showed the right response by wondering “what would an angel do in such a situation?” If we consider that we are God’s sparkle living on the earth to work on behalf of Him, it is the question we should always answer when we meet someone who needs help. We are, like the angels, the working hands of God on the earth. God bless you Ian not only for what you did for this young girl, but also for helping to raise people’s awareness.

    1. IanPalmer says:

      Anne-Francoise, your statement “We are God’s sparkle living on the earth to work on behalf of Him” is poetic and powerful. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Kim McGrath says:

    Ian, What a touching story. I could just picture you and the girl at the gas station. You have such a compassionate heart. Heard a sermon on the radio about a man that closed the door on a poor hungry young man. God said to him, “You just shut the door on me.” The minister went back and had the young man come in, gave him new clothes, food, and some money. He told the young man to come to this address and he would get him set up for school. The young man thanked him and promised he would. Of course the poor, young man never showed up and the address he gave the minister was bogus. At first the minister was mad that he had gotten “taken” by this young man. But God said to him, “He was hungry and you fed him. He did not have clothes and you gave him clothes. You did as I had asked.” So that is what the minister focused on. God says to help the poor and that is what he did. Ian, that is what you did too. You helped a poor, scared girl and I am proud of you!

    1. IanPalmer says:

      Hi Kim. This is a good perspective that you offer on the situation. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

  6. Marlene says:

    Ian, keep on being such a giving person. I read your blog and was very blessed by your compassion and willingness to help the little girl. You may have made a difference in her believing there are good people in this world. I would like to share a true story about Lorne (my deceased husband):
    He was always so compassionate if anyone was hurting or in need. I have received numerous letters and many have shared how he helped them in times of need. Once we were in Las Vegas with several couples. We had eaten dinner and all of us were walking to our cars when a man started following us, begging for money to eat. Every couple ignored him. When we walked past him I saw Lorne reach in his pocket and hand the man some money. I never saw him turn anyone down that was truly in need all the years I was married to him. We all have many faults, but our Lord loves a giving person who reaches out to another. At that point it is between the person receiving and the Lord. They know and He knows. Jesus reached out to the weak, the lonely and the sick. You reached out when a little girl needed you. Thank you for being compassionate. God bless you. The Lord knows your intention and is pleased.

    1. IanPalmer says:

      Thanks Marlene for sharing the story about your husband Lorne….such personal stories are always special.

  7. Julian Pfitzner says:

    I think i would have done something similar, Ian. I recently gave a similar amount to an aboriginal lady in Australia who had trouble finding somewhere to stay. Back in 1973 my wife and I gave money to a Native American and we were told that we shouldn’t have. “He will only use it for alcohol”. There is always a risk that we get it wrong but my motto is “I would rather be had than hard”. There are situations where people are almost ‘professional’ beggars. One sees them in parts of Europe and in India and it is best not to support them. I don’t think this was the case in the situation you describe. Cheers.

    1. IanPalmer says:

      Julian, thanks for the insights. I love your motto “I would rather be had than hard” in regard to these requests for help by the poor and needy.

  8. Nicida L. Maerefat says:

    Regarding the poor girl you helped. You will never know if you were hoodwinked……it is very sad but it is a fact…..but you must feel good for what you did. It was a very generous gesture from you. They are so many people in this world hurting for so many reasons. It is very painful to see since we cannot help that much. But with just a little help as you provided, you hope that it makes a change in that young girl’s life.

    1. IanPalmer says:

      You are right Nicida, and I have come to appreciate this more and more: there are so many hurting people in the world. I wonder if thats how God sees this world? And if He does see it that way, shouln’t we too?

  9. John Korstad says:

    Thanks for sharing this Ian. Sally and I saw Les Mis last night. Excellent movie with a genuine, powerful Christian message. I HIGHLY recommend everyone to see it.

    I admire how you responded to that young lady. It’s always difficult to know what to do in situations like that. When I pray for the Holy Spirit to guide me, I’m amazed by what I sense to do. Sometimes it’s providing clothing, shelter, money, encouraging words, or something else that they best need. Sally and I have been in all of those situations and have always been blessed. Over our 40 yrs of marriage we’ve had non-family members live with us for many more years than we did not. This has always been a ‘stretch’, but also a tremendous joy! 🙂

    At other times it’s discerning a ‘fake’ and saying “No”. That happened several times and I wondered if I was being hard-hearted, but in almost every situation, the Lord showed forth the reason(s) – such as the time a man approached me when I had about 10 ORU students with me while waiting in the university van in a drive-through lane of a fast-food restaurant. The man said that he and his wife and baby were desperate and needed money. Even though he sounded sincere and the need seemed great, I sensed that I should say “No”. The man ran away just as a policeman came to our van to arrest him as a charlatan.

    We always need God’s discernment!

    God bless, John

  10. IanPalmer says:

    John, your words are empowered by your experiences of selflessly taking people in for years and years. Wow! Thanks for sharing this.


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