Fifty-Cent Fortune

I walked into the church that day not feeling like helping anyone but myself.

I was exhausted from working all weekend and being up with my grieving daughter who had just lost her first pet. Not only was I beat, but my head throbbed with the pain of a sinus infection, and to top it all off, I had something wrong with my eye that made wearing my contacts unbearable. So, I had to plop on my old glasses that have been hopelessly mangled by my toddler and are held together with craft wire to keep the lenses from popping out.

Yeah, it was a Monday with a capital “M.”

God, I prayed, I have nothing to give anyone today. Please let me have a quiet day. I just need a break.

God thought I needed a lesson instead.

From the moment I walked in the door, my phone rang off the hook, mostly with people coming to the church with desperate financial needs. As soon as I sat down with one person, the phone would ring again with another need.

You’ve got to be kidding me, I thought. Is this supposed to be funny?

I was feeling pretty sorry for myself until I sat down with a guy I’ll call Bob. Bob had nothing. No home. No car. No job. No family to fall back on. He found himself facing an uphill battle trying to rebuild his life from scratch.

“I’m down to my last 52 cents,” he told me. “And I’m just running out of options. I have asthma and I don’t even know how I’m going to get my next inhaler.”

There wasn’t really much I could do for him, but I spent a good couple of hours trying to figure something out.

While running around the church talking to people who might be able to help Bob, I ran into a lady we’ll call Judy. Judy and her family were about to be evicted from her apartment, and she had been all over the city looking for help. Understandably frustrated, she went off on me, and I just let her go, knowing the only thing I had to offer this lady was the chance to vent. She wasn’t really mad at me. She was just mad at her situation.

Now, here’s where it gets cool. Bob was sitting in the room with me when Judy was letting me have it. At the end of the whole thing, she went out to the lobby to make a phone call. That’s when Bob walked up to me, gave me his last two quarters and said, “Give this to her. She needs it more than I do.”

I caught up to Judy, explained the situation to her and gave her the quarters. You would have thought I’d handed her a gold brick. It wasn’t the amount, of course. It was the gesture.

It reminded me of a time when Jesus watched a widow slip her meager savings into the offering while the rich and the proud made a big show of their gifts. Jesus said she gave more than the others because she gave out of her poverty. What little she had belonged to God.

I remembered what I’d told God at the beginning of the day. I have nothing to give anyone. Bob had taught me otherwise. No matter how spent, exhausted or poor I felt I was, there would always be something more I could give to others. A kind word. A listening ear. The change in my pocket.

I guess a God who gives up His own Son kind of sets a new standard for generosity. So, the next time I’m feeling too wiped out to care about anyone other than myself, I hope I’ll think of Bob and his priceless gift and let it remind me to dig a little deeper until I find something of value to offer the people God sends my way.

Too Early For Santa?

It’s not even Halloween and the ladies in my office have already started their “Secret Santa” club. Basically, they make a list of things they like, draw names out of a hat and spend the next three months surprising each other with anonymous gifts. At random times, I’ll hear someone scream “Secret Santa!” at the top of their lungs and know that she must have scored a present. Immediately, all the women gather to watch her open it.

Fortunately for me, they figured since I was the only guy in the office, I didn’t want to go anywhere near such a girly venture, which was absolutely true. Imagine explaining that one to my wife. Yeah, Honey, it’s this really cool thing where I buy another woman dozens of gifts to make her feel special. Isn’t it great?

So, I was off the hook for last year’s Secret Santa Girl Club, but eventually they all felt sorry for me and started leaving random gifts on my desk. I think I was the only one who had the true Santa experience, anonymous giving with no possibility of reciprocation. It was awesome.

A couple of weeks ago my wife and I were having lunch at a local steakhouse called Malone’s. It’s one of the nicer restaurants in Lexington, so we’ve only eaten there a couple of times since we’ve lived here.

At the end of our meal, the waiter came to our table and asked, “Did you know that couple who was sitting over there?” He gestured across the room to an empty booth.

I shook my head.

“Well,” the waiter said, “they just bought your lunch.”

Secret Santa struck again.

Whoever had taken care of the check just decided it would be fun to make someone’s day. How cool is that? I mean as hard as it is to give your money away, it’s even harder to do it in secret. No one’s going to pat you on the back or shower you with heartfelt thanks.

Stealth giving offers no remuneration except the simple virtue of being generous.

That’s why Jesus was all about it. He said when you give, don’t announce it with trumpets. Just do it quietly. Be sneaky about it. If you’re in it for the attention, that’s all the reward you get, but if you want to honor God with your generosity, just do it for Him. Pleasing God and growing in your faith will be way more satisfying than showcasing your sacrifice.

I like the idea of secret giving, but not the practice of it. When I actually go to do it, I feel resistance in my soul. Covert goodness does not come naturally. If I’m going to commit an act of kindness, it would be nice if everyone knew about it, right?

Hey, look at me! I’m actually not being selfish for 30 seconds. Check it out. I’m really spiritual over here.

Maybe that’s why secret giving is just what the doctor ordered. It’s the perfect prescription to remedy two of my most fatal spiritual diseases: infectious greed and chronic pride. It’s sad when I realize how much time I worry about my stuff and what other people think of me. Anonymous generosity neutralizes both issues and sets me free to live and to give.

Maybe this week we should all take a cue from the couple who bought my lunch. Keep your eyes open for a chance to make someone’s day. Pay for a stranger’s meal. Send an elderly lady a bouquet of flowers, or maybe just slip a $20 in an envelope and leave it at a deserving door.

I guess the women in my office had it right after all. Secret Santa is always in season.