We pulled up and I knew this was a bad deal. Windows to the hotel faced a gas station; weeds darted the grass; and nothing but the sign, Econolodge, let you know where you were. The place looked like low-income housing whose residents didn’t appreciate the little they had.
Inside the lobby I immediately saw evidence of the renovations the hotel advertisements boasted about: two new brown leather chairs and a table in the reception area, but the seating was the only thing recognizably new and inviting about the place. One front desk worker had on a t-shirt that advertised a city and her colleague wore two fitted thin-strapped tank tops with her bra straps exposed. When the tank top woman walked from behind the counter she didn’t have on shoes but instead pink footies. After signing my $100 plus receipt, we headed to the room on carpet with squishy uneven padding.
As we entered the room, I first saw through our open-dressed window; our view was the gas station, but the view outside was better than the view inside: brown-stained pea green carpet, plaster-peeling walls, cob-webbed lamps, a grimy tub and a mold-spotted sheet. The bulky TV, coffee maker and lamp all sat on a plywood dresser that bowed from the weight; the nightstand wasn’t big enough for you to reach as you lay in the bed; and the “closet” was a rack with hangers and an ironing board and iron mounted on the wall. I was appalled, desperately wanting to escape this nightmare before me.
“Flynn, I’m calling the other hotel to see if they have a room and I’m getting my money back from this place no matter what they say.”
“Do what you have to do, baby,” my husband said, always remaining cool yet encouraging me in my angst.
“Hi, I was wondering if you have any rooms. We stayed there last night but the only room you had for tonight when we booked was a suite that was beyond our budget, but I’m at the Econolodge and it’s horrible.”
“I’m so sorry. We are all booked. And when we put a call out for others, there was not a place available in a 50 mile radius. Do you have to be in the area?”
“Yes, we are picking up our son from Blue Lake.”
“Yes, you do have to be in the area. I am so sorry. What I can do is let you come to swim in the pool that way you can be here until you have to go to sleep.”
“Thank you so much for that. I appreciate that.”
“I should be here, but tell them you talked to Emma and she said you could come swim in the pool.”
I hung up the phone, dejected, frustrated, angry and helpless. I was in squalor conditions and even when I tried to get out of them, I couldn’t. Everything was blocked for me. I had nowhere to go. Even the slight pool reprieve didn’t change that I had to lay my head in a room unfit for anyone, especially those paying for it.
Flynn told me to remember that Jesus was born in a manger. “But he didn’t have to pay for it,” I shouted.
“If they were going to pay for the inn and there was no room there, they had to pay for the manger.”
“He didn’t pay for it. They just let them stay there. They didn’t pay for it!”
Though I argued and believe I am right, though the Bible doesn’t tell us about paying to stay in the manger, God wouldn’t let me stop thinking about how Jesus condescended and decided to live in such squalor conditions for me, that at least I had a non-leaky roof, a bed (with a changed sheet), and clean running water, the basics. I was stressed even though the room didn’t have bugs or exposure to the elements like the drain pipe where a girl and her mother live in Asia, or the homes among trash heaps in places like Mexico or the home of the multi-generational family living near me. Sometimes folks want to do better, but no matter how hard they try the way is blocked for them. The stress I felt for a few hours is the stress many of them feel daily and constantly. They do what they can, but sometimes they need help beyond temporary relief; they need help in drastically changing their lifestyle.
“You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” is what God told the Israelites in Leviticus 19:34 (ESV) and He commands us the same when he says “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). We have an obligation—whether it’s someone in a foreign land, illegal underage immigrants to our country or a family in our neighborhood—to have mercy. “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7—ESV). Their story could very well be our story. And if we follow God, mercy awaits us, too.
Take a Risk Challenge: “Thus says the LORD of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart” (Zechariah 7:9-10—ESV). Our mandate is clear. Let us go and show mercy this week.