After I confessed some of the stupid decisions we've made during our financial dry spell, a woman told me her family, in similar straits, went to Disney World: "We'd paid for the trip before my husband got laid off. We couldn't get a refund. To cancel seemed foolish."

I nodded, understanding. "But because we went," she said, "people wonder now—even after two years of unemployment—how broke could we really be?"

Once upon a time, I'd have wondered the same thing. I'd have judged and murmured, curious how an unemployed, broke person manages Disney World.

Just like how I'd have joined the ranks mocking Hillary Clinton and her "dead broke"-ness upon leaving the White House. I don't care how many millions of dollars in legal debt you accrued!How broke can you be with a presidential pension?

But this attitude changes fast when the questions make an about-face. Since I've gone public with my own family's story of going broke, I've faced down the same ones:

You live in a cushy suburb. How broke can you be?

You never sold your diamond engagement ring. How broke can you be?

You guys went camping. How broke can you be?

You color your grays. How broke can you be?

Didn't I see you in the McDonald's drive-thru? How broke can you be?

And my all-time favorite:

You got a book deal. How broke can you be?

Aside from the book-deal one (ummmm, see: Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde, Herman Melville, et al. Not saying I'm in their league. But if they died broke…), I've struggled to answer these questions myself, hemming and hawing, trying to explain, to justify.

Until handily, just last week, my fellow blonde-and-broke compatriot Darlena Cunha gave me the answer I'd been looking for for years. In "This Is What Happened When I Drove My Mercedes to Get Food Stamps," Cunha writes:

The reality of poverty can spring quickly while the psychological effects take longer to surface. When you lose a job, your first thought isn't, "Oh…I'm poor. I'd better sell all my nice stuff!" It's "I need another job. Now." When you're scrambling, you hang on to the things that work, that bring you some comfort. That Mercedes was the one reliable, trustworthy thing in our lives.

And while reading this may cause some bodies to squirm or some minds to smack down reasoning (certainly the Internet comment brigade tried giving her the what-for), Cunha's right. And Christians would do well to pay attention to her words. If we want to be compassionate. If we want to help. If we want to be more like Jesus.

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Because while selling cars or engagement rings, while immediately putting the family house on the market may make all the sense in the world to those in better-off financial situations, when you're in it, situations appear different. Especially for members of this recession's nouveaux pauvres, the suddenly impoverished who might not "look" poor or "act" poor (whatever that means), but who've had their pockets shaken loose by years and years of a terrible economy or bad financial luck.

And when the last bit of the retirement accounts, the college accounts, the savings accounts are sucked dry, when creditors hound, when we're overwhelmed with sending our resumes and fears of landing on the street, suggesting we can't really be broke—or aren't deserving of help—because we haven't sold off every last vestige of value is as cruel as it is rude.

But manners, as Cunha also points out, often get lost in our "charity." "The funny thing about being poor," she writes, is that "everyone has an opinion on it, and everyone feels entitled to share."

Indeed. I've seen this rudeness in strangers. (I'm talking to you, Woman Who Told The Pan-Handling Man Huddled With His Dog: "If you've got enough to feed that dog, you've got enough to feed yourself.") And I've been on the receiving end myself.

While I never got anywhere near as broke as the man with his sweet dog, I think I can speak for us both—and all of us who've come up short, financially: admitting to being broke, copping to poverty is terrifying, humiliating.

And though the degrees of disgrace and difficulty of circumstance vary widely from begging to blogging to pulling up at the public aid office in a Mercedes, the underlying feelings are the same. It's scary, shameful to admit being broke. Knowing we subject ourselves to judgment and rude comments only make it worse.

But here's where Christians can do it better.

To be sure, it's good to have wise counsel when going through financial straits—people who can advise and steer when fear clouds judgment—and certainly it's better to teach someone to fish and give them food for a lifetime, but sometimes, broke people just need that fish. Or that listening ear. Or that check without strings, those grocery gift cards given in love. Without being contingent on the sale of the engagement ring, the dog, the house, the Mercedes. The questions, the suggestions, can come later. If they must.

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Jesus was a notorious question-asker, of course. But not in the way so many of his followers are. Jesus didn't ask the bleeding woman how bloody she could really be if she managed to work her way through a crowd. He didn't roll his eyes at the 5,000. If you're so hungry, sell your sandals. Buy a sandwich! When Jesus forgives the paralytic, he doesn't ask first to make sure the man is even sorry for what he's done. Jesus just forgives—and then heals.

Cuhna ends her piece with: "We didn't deserve to be poor, any more than we deserved to be rich. Poverty is a circumstance, not a value judgment." Because this is true, when people are terrified, when bills can't be paid, when someone is begging on the street, when someone takes a deep breath and proceeds to say they are broke, that they need help, it is not the time to inventory their home, suggest which things could or should be sold off or to question how broke they could really be. It's a time to love, to be generous. To help take the edge and the terror off being broke.

It's a time to rush in with the overwhelming love and grace of our own Savior who lavishes us with gifts of grace we didn't deserve—no questions asked.

Caryn Rivadeneira is the author of Broke: What Financial Desperation Revealed About God's Abundance (IVP, 2014) and a Her.meneutics regular contributor. Find her on Twitter @CarynRivadeneir and visit her at