Monday, June 11, 2012

Parking Lot Tithing

I'm always up for supporting a good cause, which has lately led me to wonder if I actually have a neon "Sucker!!" sign over my head, or if God keeps putting me somewhere for a reason and that reason happens to include giving money away to a needy stranger.

I'm getting married in six months, and I work two and a half jobs so that we can not go into debt and have money to live on for the first seven months before B. finishes school and starts work. I've also been invited to 10+ weddings this summer, which makes me happy and my bank account sad.

Robert Frost understands me and "The Hardship of Accounting": "Nobody was ever meant/ To remember or invent/ What he did with every cent."

So what's a responsible girl to do? I keep my spending down where I can so gas money is manageable. I try to hold off buying wants because needs seem so unavoidable. I've also been approached a few times in the past month for money, and I feel like basic Christian charity has me give, because Christ is in all of us. Moreover, I'm more concerned with my intentions verses theirs, and I suppose it could be considered my unofficial way of tithing.

And tonight: tonight I went to the grocery store to pick up some chicken for my mom so she could make one of our favorite meals before my sister left for Europe for a month, and I was approached in the parking lot by a clearly desperate woman. She was carrying two soft bags, held a cigarette between two fingers, and swayed as she walked towards me.

I froze.

She told me how her boyfriend beat her with a brick and she's run out of money and then, one by one, how seventeen people in her life have tragically died in two years, and her parents are living in the Florida Keys.

I stared at the huge gash by her right eyebrow that really needed stitches (or at least steri-strips). I used to carry boxes of granola bars with me in the car, but I would get hungry and eat them. I'm staring at her: either the best liar or the most down-on-her-luck woman. I chose to give her the benefit of the doubt.

I think I was in a shock-like state when I fumbled with my wallet and realized I had less cash then I thought; so I gave her about $20 and felt like a chump because I don't have any more money, and I was worrying about money earlier today, and here's this woman with absolutely nothing.

Then she hugs me and I hug her back, and I'm not sure which one of us is going to cry first. And now I wish I would have taken her inside of Walgreens and bought her food and vitamins and band-aids. So she says "God bless you" repeatedly after taking my money, and I stand there with Heather on the line, not hearing a thing of what she just said. That kills me. At least I know what I'll do next time this happens.

I hope you'll join me in saying prayers for this woman, and all people like this in similar circumstances! Lord, hear our prayers

Update: My Dad asked me why I didn't bring her home with me. Lord, I pray I have the courage of my Father one day!


  1. as someone who has lived on thin budgets and had times where I haven't been working I can say you don't know what you need until you are truly dead broke. There were times when I was between checks and had to manage with less $50 in my account for a week. You learn to be creative with the most random food stuffs in your pantry/fridge. You learn that you don't ever have to eat out, and curiously your need to snack seems to disappear. As for giving to those on the streets, I never do it. Not for any selfish/financial reason but because I do not know where the money is going. Addicts can be deviously creative in order to get their fix and addiction can make a great actor out of anyone.

    1. I've live on a slim budget, though perhaps not as slim as yours. A few weeks ago, I was also approached by a man at a gas station with car trouble, trying to get up north. I don't know if he was telling the truth, but I gave it to him in the spirit of helping a fellow human. It wasn't much, but people can always do with a little kindness. You never know how your charity helps, be it in food or money. I think judging what they might be hinders helping them to what they could be; if they're going to humble themselves to ask for money, we can take a little pity.

  2. Wow - powerful story. Having lived in or around cities my whole life, and having a father from a poor area in New York City, I tend to be a lot less charitable and a lot more judgmental of people like those you described begging for money. It's just a natural suspicion I have. And I, too, pray for the courage of your dad! But you're right, as Christians we don't have the luxury of letting ourselves stay in our cynicism. Maybe they are making up stories and using it for drugs, or maybe they're not, but I like to think that I'm giving the money (or food) to Jesus and planting a seed of kindness!

  3. Your dad is amazing... I hope I can be brave enough to parent like him one day!

    As for being charitable on a budget, one thing we've talked about is keeping 'care packages' in the car that have peanut butter, water, crackers, etc.- things that won't go bad and we just hand a baggie out when we see someone in need, because we too worry about budget but want to make sure we are doing our part in caring for others. Another idea I read recently was to get a bunch of $5 McDonald's gift cards and keep them in the glove box. Not nearly as healthy, but would help an immediate need.

  4. I like the care package idea. We try to have some food available in the car to give away.

    And your dad is awesome. Seriously. Yes, unfortunately you need to be careful when you don't know someone, yet we are called to care for each other.