The Neighborhood Angels by Teresa Maria Verde

My worst nightmare happened. My benefits got cut off. I was between doctors - my former doctor left the area and I had yet to find a new one. How would I survive until then? I lived moment-to-moment, as it was, on a limited amount of assistance, barely enough to take care of my basic needs. A few close friends, many of whom had little themselves, supplemented me regularly with extra food. I've learned that it's often those with the least who give the most.
"Freely you have received, freely give." -Matthew 10:8
At age 40 I experienced an onset of health challenges. I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Due to emotional trauma, both past and present, as well as weaknesses in my physical constitution, these health imbalances took hold for a decade or more, as I went through an intense healing journey.

Home sharing became my salvation for one third of my basic needs, housing. I miraculously met a woman named Patty, who had Multiple Sclerosis and was confined full-time to a wheelchair. She needed in-home care and I needed free rent. We were angels for each other appearing just in the nick of time. 

The remainder of my needs, food and medical care, came from the state welfare system. This involved a constant dance to hold on to the little that I was given. Although it was not nearly enough, I was eternally grateful for the help that I was receiving. 

It was at this time that my benefits ran out. I had no stamina at this point. I spent almost all day in bed and was completely unable to work. I was left literally with nothing. It was frightening.

Through it all I knew that I had to keep my faith that I held so strongly in life. While on the surface I was freaking out, on the inside I knew that somehow I would be okay. My faith was very strong. It always has been. 

"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.

When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. -Isaiah 43:1-2

At Patty's house I was blessed to live in a compassionate neighborhood. Some of the residents had lived there for 20 to 30 years. They had watched over Patty for years as her disease progressed. The annual block party, which brought everyone together, was quite an event. Everyone participated, there was an abundance of home cooked dishes and all communed until well after sundown. 

They operated as a caring community in other ways as well. During the Christmas season they chose a family in need to assist. Everyone donated a significant gift in order to give the family a true holiday.

So when word got out that I was in trouble, even though I was fairly new to the neighborhood (I had lived there only eight months), the block captain, in secret, mobilized the compassionate forces of the neighborhood to help me. I was told that one neighbor, who volunteered at the Salvation Army, would bring me food regularly- just inform her what I eat. To compound my difficulties I had abundant food allergies and was on a very restricted diet. When I saw how many allergy-free foods started coming my way from the Salvation Army, I understood just how much I was being blessed.

After a couple of weeks, already overwhelmed with the help that I was receiving and how God was providing for me, I learned the truth: that the Salvation Army was in fact the whole neighborhood. Each time one of them went grocery shopping for themselves, they bought a few items for me as well. Sally, the ringleader, was stock piling it all in her basement, doling it out to me in smaller more manageable increments. 

I was blown away! I cried and cried. Never before had I been given to in this way, receiving so much, by so many, when I was so desperately in need. 

After the word was out, they would come to me directly with their gifts and we would cry together. It seemed that they were all having quite a fun time with it. The joy of giving:

"A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed." -Proverbs 11:25
I realized how important it is to be able to receive as well as to give. I've lived life as a compassionate and giving person. I realized now that I had to learn the humbleness of receiving in equal measure. In my need I was allowing others the gift of giving. And I was balancing the score for myself. It seemed that it really was a gift for them almost as much as it was for me. ("A poor man served by thee, shall make thee rich." Elizabeth Barrett Browning.) The giving and the receiving were all rolling into one, as this miracle unfolded for me. I felt myself a part of something greater.

This went on for a full six weeks until my situation stabilized. I did find the perfect doctor - compassionate, competent and with a holistic orientation to match my own. He filled out the appropriate paperwork in order for me to resume my benefits. He is my doctor to this day.

I have progressed much on my healing path since those days. I have since moved out of that neighborhood, have my own part-time business and even found myself a loving and supportive husband. But those 40 days of being fed by the caring community around me, in a day and age when most neighbors keep to themselves (out of fear, privacy  or busyness), will remain with me as a gift forever.

Teresa Maria Verde