There comes a time in every person’s life when a little assistance is required. When they encounter a gap in the road, no way around, no way across the chasm they are confronted with. Poised on a precipice which separates who they are from who they could be if simply given the chance to reach the other side. The distance may appear to them impossible to traverse, but the canyon they face may in actually be quite small and crossed fairly easily with just a bit of help from another.

Recently while having dinner with a few friends I was relating a seemingly insignificant incident which occurred this year involving a couple of members of my family and was quite shocked at one friends response to it. A little background is required to get a clear picture of the situation. My sister has only two biological children, but has “adopted” dozens of others simply by opening up her heart and her home to them. They come to her when they need a bed to sleep in, a shoulder to cry on, or a prayer said on their behalf. As a result my parents are also now considered “grandparents” by dozens of hard-core, tattooed and pierced teenagers. My mom delights in cooking them special vegan and vegetarian dishes, not an easy task when you grew up on southern cooking. But she’s quite creative and the kids are always surprised and appreciative when she makes them something they can enjoy with the rest of us. She prepared her first “Tofurkey” this Thanksgiving to the delight of many who had not been able to find suitable sustenance at their own family’s celebrations.

The story I told my friend was this. Last March Dawn and I were in Nashville visiting some friends but not all of the kids in her small town knew that we were not in California that weekend. About 4 AM Dawns cell phone rang. It wasn’t one of her two kids or even one of the other four who were living with her at the time; it was Adam, Josh and Joseph. It had been snowing in the local mountains all day and always up for an adventure they decided to take a drive to check it out. They brought with them no chains, no snow tires, just excitement and the ignorance of youth.

It continued to snow all day and late that night as the boys tried to make it up and over the last hill before freedom was theirs, the reality of the situation smacked them square in the face. They ended up sliding into a snow bank and armed with nothing but their wits could not get themselves out of it.

These boys are from San Bernardino, where it rarely gets below 50 degrees so they weren’t exactly dressed for 25-degree weather and 10 inches of snow. Being in the mountains they also found themselves without cell phone service. So there they sit at two o’clock in the morning dressed, well – like teenagers from Southern California. Luckily the people who live on this particular stretch of road are used to stranded motorists and actually sit on their porches when it snows to watch the “lowlanders” slide down the hill into each other. My mother and I were rescued in the exact same spot, by several teenagers who lived on this street not one week earlier. Not only did they bring shovels to dig us out, but also their mom took my kids inside her home and gave them hot chocolate while her heroic children rescued us. So when these boys walked up to a house at two am, knocked on the door and asked to use the phone, they were welcomed in with open arms.

At four am in Nashville Dawn gets a call, “HELP!” She explained to Josh the she was two thousand miles away but that she would call her dad who lived near by in the mountains to see if he could help. So, at 2 am my 66 year old father, drags himself out of bed, puts the chains on his truck, loads up some coats, more chains and ropes and he’s off to rescue some teenagers he’s never even met. He couldn’t pull their car out that night so instead he loaded them into his truck and brought them home for the night. The next day he took them back to their car and called a tow truck, which managed to pull their car out of the snow bank. You would think when talking to these boys now about their little adventure that night, that they had been lost at sea for a week with no food or water and that my father had come steaming to the rescue bringing the entire US Navy with him.

When I related this story quite casually, to my friend Steve his first question was to inquire which of Dawn’s kids it was. “It wasn’t one of her kids” I said “it was friends of her kids”. “Why were they calling her then?” he asked indignantly. I just sat there and stared at him confused. “Because they knew she would help.” I said. He couldn’t believe it. “They’re not her kids she shouldn’t be helping them, they should be calling their own parents.”

This little story tends to makes Steve sound like a jerk but in truth he really isn’t. Which is exactly the reason I guess that I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from him. I argued, to no avail, that they were after all somebody’s children and human beings deserving of help no matter how foolish their actions may appear. He was unwavering. They should not be rescued. In his opinion they should have been taught a lesson. I tend to disagree that being left in a car overnight in below freezing weather is an appropriate response to a teenager’s reckless need for adventure; after all, it’s exactly the type of thing my father would have done at 16 – or 66 for that matter.

It may not seem like something very significant, it wasn’t to Dawn or to my dad, they have rescued people out of much more dire circumstances I assure you and on occasion have been in need of some rescuing themselves. They are always there when someone needs help, even at two am when it’s snowing – it’s just their nature to help someone when asked.

Upon hearing Steve’s reaction I began to wonder why it is such a difficult concept for so many in this day and age to understand, the simple idea of being a helping hand.
I do not understand the argument that a teenager in crisis is not my problem. If I don’t take action when no one else does that teenager may fall through a gap and become everyone’s problem. Prisons today are filled with good people who were left to fend for themselves when no one showed up to help bridge the distance. Stranded on the wrong side, I have often wondered who they may have become if they had managed somehow to reach the other side.

I have heard many people question the worth of not only my parents life spent dedicated to other peoples children, but now Dawn’s tireless efforts on behalf of these kids. She works a full time job, which is over an hours drive from her home, yet she sees her real work, her purpose in life when she walks through her front door.

She has tried to bring others in to help on occasion, but they usually want signed releases from parents saying it’s ok to feed their kids, or take them to church or to a concert. One person even mentioned getting liability insurance! Perhaps a prudent coarse of actions considering the wild and crazy Tuesday nights they all spend at Bible Study in her living room. These kids don’t come with disclaimers, they come with broken hearts.

Most people just stand in awe of her – as do I. Many have given not only praise and prayers for Dawn’s home, but furnishing, food and occasionally a little financial help. But it’s the few who never give, but seem overly concerned with the details, not having any understanding of why she does it; she gets no grants no subsidies after all. It’s those few people asking the value in it, the purpose of it that confounds me.

Numerous people have asked me why she does it. Because they are there, they just show up needing her. Does she get financial help? No. What about the parents of these kids? That is a question I do not have an answer for. Some come from wonderful homes, some have survived home-lives I cannot begin to relate to. But here they find complete acceptance of their music, their tattoos, the searching for their own identities.

My sister has on her wall the lyrics to a song entitled “Mercy Live Here”. She practices it and simply put that is the answer to why these kids keep showing up on her doorstep.

Mercy Lives Here
Words and Music by Derri Daugherty
From The Choir album:
Oh How The Mighty Have Fallen

An empty street in Ohio
Lookin’ to kill some time
We stumbled into Cairo
Egypt must be divine
And the jukebox plays
While a little clown sways
Hey it’s two songs for a dime

Mercy lives here
Oh mercy lives here
At home with the saints and the sinners
Mercy lives here

A girl in the corner is crying
The silver haired lady’s alone
And the queen of the boulevard’s trying
To hustle somebody home
The smokin’ man shakes
While the broken girl aches
And the clown starts to sing his song

He sings mercy lives here
Oh Mercy lives here
At home with the saints and the sinners
Mercy lives here

Mercy, oh mercy
Mercy, oh mercy

Dawn’s cupboards are always bare. Several rooms in her house smell like “teen-age boy”. She gets very little sleep. But she would never turn her back on someone in need. My parents and I help out as much as we can; however we can. Most of the time it’s just prayers, hugs and a shoulder to cry on, but sometimes it’s a snowy midnight rescue at five thousand feet.

Occasionally Dawn will find herself rescuing a child on the edge of that precipice, most often not even aware that they are about to fall in. It is those times, that we can look back and see days, weeks, even months later, a clear picture of the broken road they were on, patched like quilt work, every stitch directed by the hand of God. It is in those moments that I truly understand how a simple gesture, an outstretched hand, can not only mend a heart but fill the gap as well.