I was bored. My son was driving me crazy, asking to visit pretty much every person on earth we know. Honestly, sometimes we would think he didn’t know anyone’s names until he starts to list them off:
- “Can we go to Ms. Danielle’s?”
- “Can we go to Andria’s?”
- “What about Sean and Caroline’s?”
- “Or Grayson’s?”
- “The Joneses?”
- “Can we go to Grampy and Grammy’s?”
And he continued . . .
The problem was, I had already asked these people, and then some, if they were available (they weren’t). All to say, after a short bit of business out of the house, we found ourselves driving around with nowhere in particular to go while hoping to hear back from somebody- anybody. What do you do in a snowy, frigid place with a preschooler and a newborn in-tow?
Thankfully, someone did respond with a “please come visit me.” But before we got that far, I decided that I should happen to drive in a circle, around and round to Starbucks. I haven’t been to Starbucks in over a month. I felt that after I did the whole labor and delivery thing, I should be able to celebrate with that cup of dessert-coffee that I NEVER GOT, which sounded so especially good while I was in postpartum at the hospital.
So we went to Starbucks. And there, near the exit of the shopping center, was one of those guys with a cardboard sign.
We- meaning you and I- we just LOVE the guys with the cardboard signs. They make us feel so wonderfully uncomfortable.
Considering I was purposefully driving around in circles with nothing to do, it seemed to me I would be rather a snob if I ignored the person with the sign. After all, he was actually giving me something to do that I could do with an infant and preschooler. I could get this guy some coffee!
I did have to get over my initial “I don’t want to spend $4 on a cup of fancy coffee for some guy I don’t know!” by remembering that I was about to spend that much on myself (and I’d be pretty pathetic if I couldn’t spend that much on someone else). After that, though, I was inspired. I bought him a vanilla latte to keep him warm as he probably would continue standing there in the cold, asking more people to look at his sign. Of course, they might not pay any attention to his sign if they thought he bought himself a cup of Starbucks before he went begging. But, I didn’t think of that at the time. I was just trying to be nice.
So I got a guy coffee. I rolled down my window and gave it to him. I even talked with him for a minute before the light turned green, driving off in one last circle.
Did this guy deserve a cup of coffee? No. Not really. He might not be poor. He was actually wearing the same decent sweatshirt my husband has (Although not warm enough for this weather). His jeans looked nice. He could have been lying about what he said on the sign- he had a baby and wife somewhere he was caring for. Maybe he was thrilled he didn’t have to buy his own cup of Starbucks today, like he usually does when he finished a begging stint. He might not even want a job. He could have been planning on hijacking my car, until he saw my newborn in it. Heck- he could be a serial killer!
His story could be completely fabricated. Well, except the part about where he came from- Romania.
Why? Because, who in their right mind would try to pull off that they are from ROMANIA?! Not just a little random? Romania is pretty poor, but we don’t know that. It is about as well-known as an armpit with deodorant on it. It doesn’t stink. It is hidden. We don’t really think about it and have no reason to begin thinking about it. I bet 50% of American’s don’t even know where it is! Maybe if he choose Syria, Russia, Sudan or Afghanistan at least there would have been a better chance it might trigger a memory as these of being in the news.
No one would choose Romania as their country if it really wasn’t their country. So he wasn’t lying about that.
But cardboard-sign-holder could have been lying about his language skillz. He was pretty excited to tell me in his very broken English that he even spoke a little French!
Yey! French! That’s just so nice. But I don’t know French and you probably don’t either. Maybe he should have moved to Quebec. But it is just a little bit colder there.
The thing is, he could be lying. But he could also have a legit story. He could be a refugee, he could be one of the minority groups, like the gypsies in Romania that are persecuted. Maybe he is even a Christian and came here because he thought there might be more freedom to believe as he wanted. Or maybe he came the same reason most immigrants come to the USA, for the promise of opportunity- jobs, education, life and the pursuit of happiness.
Our country’s advertising slogan works pretty well, you know.
Regardless, charity isn’t something you give to those who deserve it.
As more often than not, my pastor again preached another great sermon this Sunday. In fact, pretty much this whole series on First John has been excellent and challenging. (Click here, filter for January 2014, and go to Part 4 of the Love Illuminated series that began in December).
Despite being a VERY AMERICAN American (to my great annoyance sometimes), Mike actually called us “pull-em-up-by-their-bootstraps” type Americans out on Sunday. This is something I am always rearin’ to do, because I have seen this cultural worldview of ours create such damage in our country and our world (feel free to read other blog posts of mine under the tags USA or Poverty if you want to understand why this is so affecting).
Essentially, Mike was explaining, God gave us the ultimate version of charity. He offered life to the fullest for us, grace, forgiveness, and a relationship with Him despite the nothing we do to deserve that. And, in First John, it explains we can know we are Christians by whether we love others in this same way. We should even going out of our way to LOOK for people to forgive. We belong to the Father if we too unconventionally give charity- which is really just undeserved love.
Oh, undeserved love.
We all like receiving this love, but giving it is a whole different story. We give charity to those who deserve it. We love those we want to love. And in that, we are no different than the “heathens” according to Jesus. It is loving our enemy, forgiving our enemy that counts, setting us apart as different.
This is why the guy standing with the cardboard sign makes us feel awkward. We don’t usually process these feelings, but I am guessing most of the time we aren’t really frustrated with him. We are frustrated at the confusion he makes us feel as we try to guess his worthiness in the four minutes we are forced to ignore him at the stop-light. We have no clue whether he DESERVES us to stop and help him.
And, truthfully, we are a little bitter he is even asking for help. After all, most of us would prefer to go further in debt before begging with a cardboard sign. We are self-righteous, seeing that we worked for what we have, while he isn’t.
Then, of course, then there is the possibility not only does he NOT deserve it, but he “uses the system” and REALLY shouldn’t get any help at all. We are VERY unforgiving to all those who “use” the American system. Then we are unforgiving to our politicians who make it so us good, hard-working Americans can be taken advantage of. He represents a system in America that we see as broken in some way or another.
So, our anger might really have nothing to do with cardboard-sign-holder. But he brings up so much bitterness in us when we see him standing there.
After I came home from driving in circles, I really started to think about the meaning of charity. I probably didn’t do much for that guy holding the cardboard sign. I didn’t get him lunch or groceries or warmer clothing. I didn’t help him find a job. I don’t know if my cup of coffee did anything for this man other than just warm him up. Maybe, if I am lucky, my smile and “welcome to America” warmed his soul, too.
If nothing else, it made me think about forgiveness and true charity. I’m challenged to question myself- whenever I want to look the other way or don’t feel generous, I need to ask myself why I feel that way. I’m guessing that more often than not I will begin to discover I am not truly loving unconditionally, without discrimination, without first trying to prove someone else’s worth.
Their worth isn’t a reason to love them. Their worth is legit, because they, like me, were first loved undeservedly by the Father.
P.S. My Forgiveness
So who am I having to go out of my way to forgive this week? It wasn’t really the guy with the cardboard sign, who inspired this post. But it was the eye doctor who somehow managed to not order my husband new contacts for over a month after he bought them. While my husband has been patiently waiting, in pain, getting migraines, they forgot to do their job we paid them to do.
Yes! Really? A Freakin’ month?! I cry INJUSTICE! We should get those free, no we DESERVE those free! And the eye Dr. can just go to. . . the stupid idiots.
Obviously, I still am working on how to forgive them. Per my husband’s suggestion, maybe I should begrudgingly bring them flowers.
But a month….really?
True charity is giving and forgiving those who don’t deserve it.
I’m going to have to work on this one.
Who are you challenged to love unconditionally this week? To go out of your way to forgive? To show true charity to?