A Christmas parable of sorts

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This morning Chris told me about a woman he passed on his way inside city hall yesterday. The woman was sitting on the steps wearing a pair of sweatpants and a tiny, inadequate coat. She asked him for some money.

"Sorry, I don't have any," he replied, before hurrying in for a meeting.

The image of this woman in the cold bothered him to the point of distraction throughout the entire meeting, but what bothered him even more, he said, was his dismissive reaction. Chris isn't a rich man, but he pulled what little he had out of his pocket and had it ready to hand to her as he left the building, but she was gone.

This has weighed on his heart heavily and he feels ashamed. Every single one of us has been that woman - maybe not in severity, maybe in a different form, maybe with a different problem, but each of us has been in a position where we have needed something from another. I know we have. We all have instances similar to this: where we see a person in need but yet we wonder if the need is real or if they're hustlers.

No matter our lot, we can always give to need but yet if we give to the hustler we feel as though we're essentially being robbed and we have less resources for those with true need and even less for our own. So we've all developed a practice wherein we try to quickly assess a person's needs. Do their pants look too new? Are their shoes too shiny? Because if they are then they surely must not be in need and, you know, need is an arbitrary definition that changes depending upon circumstance. You're behind a woman in line at the grocery store who's dressed in nice clothes and paying with food stamps; is she a hustler? Maybe. Or maybe she's too embarrassed or too proud to dress down to the expectations of need.
 
I've been in Chris's position many times and many times I've walked on by without saying a word. One day we were in the McDonald's drive-thru line and a man tapped on my window. He said he needed gas money as he'd run out. Could I help him? Two little pairs of eyes watched from booster seats behind me. I needed to choose my next move carefully. I'd just spent the afternoon at the grocery store poring over my list, making sure I had the necessary coupons and bought inexpensive and sale items.

He may well have been hustling me. He may have been lying about why he needed money. I reached down into my purse, opened my wallet, and handed him the only note I had, a five dollar bill. He thanked me profusely, looked straight down the barrels of my eyes and said "God bless you for this. I mean it." And then he walked away.

I didn't give him money because I wanted to buy a blessing from God. I didn't do it because I thought it was another test of faith that I had to ace. I did it because who on earth am I to judge this man? Me, a person who once had to leave her grocery cart at the store because my card was declined. Me, a child who had to borrow notebook paper growing up because I was too poor to buy any. I've been on the other end of this situation and I craved anyone, anything that would give me the dignity to bear it.

I don't want to come off as preachy by any means, but while everyone is out celebrating the birth of Christ, please remember what exactly that birth meant. Many years ago someone did pass by us when we were in need. He didn't pause to critically assess whether or not we were worth saving, worth helping, He just did it anyway.

Have a wonderful Christmas and best wishes for an equally wonderful New Year. I'll pop in sporadically with a photo or two before resuming regular posting after January 1st.



17 Comments

Thanks for this reminder.
Merry Christmas.

What a great reminder of God's love for us and how we need to show that love to others. Thanks for posting this. Have a Merry Christmas!

amen and amen.

THIS is why I still love your right wing conservative I could pitch you thru a window somedays self.. =0)

that and your cute when your snarky

Beautiful post! I have also given to that person on the street corner, simply because of the young eyes watching from the backseat. Those are teachable moments.

a lovely post, and so very true. thanks for the reminder - it's the heart we give with, not what happens to what we give, or the heart of the person we give it to.

Great post. In this "horrible economy" it's so easy for everyone to forget that we are here to help one another. A very humbling lesson! Merry Christmas.

Really thoughtful post..this is a great reminder for everyone. Where would any of us really be without the love and support of others? God's grace comes in many forms and we can his hands if we open our hearts enough.

Cutie kids too.

Very thought provoking post.

I generally don't give money to individuals on the street, preferring to give to charities I've vetted (to make sure the money is actually GOING to people who need it)!

However, I try to go out of my way to make sure my actions are good to everyone I meet. I hope that kindness and a genuine smile, no matter what someone looks or acts like, will set a tone of respect that is sometimes lacking.

Having been that person at one time, I am now very conscience of folks. I have come to realize that even if I am being hustled God is peering into my heart in my actions. Wonderful Post.

Feels kind of good to be Jesus with skin on, doesn't it ...

Living out in the country I rarely come across people in such visible need, looking for money, panhandling or whatever.

But this city I went was offered a tour of a homeless shelter in San Francisco and met a variety of the residents.

I will never walk past the homeless or needy again without doing what I can. It was a life changing moment. One every person should have the opportunity to experience.

Lovely post.

Merry Christmas.

I'm a message-by-song kind of guy. And the one that sticks to me the most is one by a group called Big Dismal "Just the Same" - Here's just an excerpt from the song:

I don't want to be the one to break you But could I please borrow some change You see my car's broke down and I need some gasoline It's cold out here do you know what I mean (Did I let you down, Did I throw away all your expectations)

So I reached in my pocket and I grabbed some change, I said it's nice to meet you, what's your name, You look like you could use a friend

'Cause I'm not like all the rest 'Cause I know what it's like to be down on your luck, And you and me we're just the same. [cont]

Anyway, I think you get the idea.

If you were at Jefferson/44 McDonald's, there's a 90% chance he was lying, but that doesn't even matter. The guy's life was a little better that day, even if he did spend your $$ on some booze.


perhaps he made way for another person to be generous to that woman and she left. perhaps someone who needed a few good deeds in his or her life.
in an age when many men are easily distracted by women and other things, it's a fine quality for him to feel bad about it. says a lot about his character. good for his sons.
PS, the video is too cute. missing teeth and the soft voice from Ewan. i had to replay it just to hear him, ha.

My husband and I will not give money to someone who is asking for help, but we will tell them that we will help them get what they need. If they are hungry we have taken people into the grocery and bought them food. If they need gas, we have offered to accompany them to the closest station and fill their tank. It quickly separates the truly needy from the hustlers. We had someone who was asking for food decline a trip to the grocery and their excuse was whisper thin.

If you are truly in need, there are no lengths that we would not go to help, but if you are shaking me down, I plan to call your bluff.

I too believe we've all been in need at one point or another whether it be monetary or not. It's very hard to determine someone's circumstances in a few seconds so I give change or a dollar unless I honestly do not have any money with me. Sometimes I do feel like I'm being scammed but how do I know for sure. Either way, I know I'm helping them in some way. It just may not be the way I think I'm helping them.

Thanks for the reminder.

I recently witnessed the difference a little kindness can make. My friend came up short on gas money and was forced to cancel family plans for Christmas. She works hard but barely makes it to the next check.

Christmas was saved when one night a distant acquaintance, not knowing her story, handed over money to "buy herself something nice" this year.

My point here is that people who could just use a little break are all around, but are too proud to speak up. We should all remember the rough times....it makes us better people.

God bless us all in 09.

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