Earlier today, on the way home from a meeting, I dropped by a store and picked up flowers, a card and a small gift for Valentine’s day. I was going to hide them and then, before Beth got up in the morning, put them on the kitchen counter. She was going to be surprised and happy and this brings me great joy. I arrived home and put everything on the counter. I fixed my lunch and sat down. Not long after there was a knock on the front door. I went to see who and it was Beth. She had gotten off work early today and as she came inside I remembered the flowers, card, and gift on the counter. “Don’t look on the counter!” I yelled, knowing it was too late. Her surprise of coming home early ruined my planned surprise for tomorrow.
Life is full of well…surprises. For a while, I was irritated things didn’t work out the way I anticipated but it occurred to me that its hard to give a gift of love with frustration in your heart. I shook it off and told her; “Happy Valentines Day!”
She did say she wouldn’t open the card until tomorrow.
It happened several weeks ago but has happened before many times and chances are will happen again. A stranger, someone we don’t know and not sure we want to, approaches us and asks us for assistance. This last time it was at a gas station when a long, matted hair, holes in his shirt and pants man, with a gas can in his hand asked me to buy him some gas. I always feel vulnerable and suspicious when anything similar to this happens and try to take a look around without being obvious. I was almost finished filling my tank and told him to set his canister down and proceeded to give him enough to almost fill it. When I finished he said; “Thank you,” took the container and went back to where he and another person were sitting. I opened the front door, sat in the driver’s seat and told the story to Beth who had watched from inside our car.
It’s been a rule of mine for as long as I can remember to not ask or demand from someone what they will do with money, gas or whatever when I give it to them. I understand some people take advantage of others and use people’s generosity for nefarious purposes. I know others need genuine help. I also believe in serving angels unaware and there’s no doubt I can’t tell the difference between the three. When I give it is a letting go of the abundance I sometimes have and allow others to use it as they deem necessary.
Assisting another in need is often vague. However, giving to another isn’t about how they use the gift but having a heart that’s willing to help.
Excuse Me –
Someone asked me today; “Who’s your favorite killer?” I did a double take and asked in return; “My favorite what?” “Color,’ came the response, ‘favorite color?” “Oh!, blue,” I said. I was told I needed to work on my Tennessean listening skills.
It was a good laugh at my expense and a good reminder about listening. Each of us come from a unique background. We often forget that when we are speaking and listening to someone. People speak using words we don’t use, wouldn’t use, aren’t sure how to use. Folks speak with biases, colored by experiences, influenced by generational cycles of positive and negative cultural, religious and familial understandings.
This is why it is so important to listen with our whole being, not casually while we mess with our phones, distract ourselves with “more important” things or not honor the person who is speaking with mindfulness and focus.
Listening is a sacred gift we can give one another.
It’s The Thought –
I sat with one of my regulars for a session yesterday. We made small talk at first asking each other about what’s happened in the last week between appointments. He told me about his weekend and I mentioned the rain and how this negatively impacted my work on the front porch extension. As I said this his eyes lit up and he said; “That reminds me!” and he put his hand in his pocket and brought out an object and slid it across the table.
He continued; “I know you don’t charge for these sessions but I wanted to tell you how much I appreciate you helping me.” I looked down and it was a gift card for a local home improvement store. I smiled at his graciousness and then slid the card back to him and replied apologetically; “I’m sorry. I can’t accept this gift. We are a non-profit and can’t accept personal payment of any kind but I appreciate your generosity and the thought behind the gift means a great deal to me.” Even as I think about his desire to tangibly say; “Thank you” it brings a big smile to my face.
I have no idea how much the gift card was for and it doesn’t matter. What matters is his appreciation for the times we’ve sat together and worked through some tough issues to help him become the best man he can be for himself and his family. The old adage; “It’s the thought behind the gift that counts” is true and was a wonderful gift that I will value for a long time.
Get Moving –
“When they rise for the Work of God let them gently encourage one another, that the drowsy may have no excuse.” #RuleofSaintBenedict
The excerpt above was from my morning reading of the Rule of Saint Benedict today. It made me think of Beth. My beautiful wife can be described in many wonderful ways but being a; “morning person” isn’t one of them. When the alarm sounds, threatening to awake her from rest she’s not getting up without a fight. Finally, after several snoozes, she sits up, head down, exasperated sighs filling the air, one foot and then another are placed upon the floor. She shuffles to her closet, then to the kitchen and then to get a shower. Everything about her says; “I’d give almost anything for another hour of sleep!” There are a few approaches I have to help her get through these dreaded times. Some days I can engage her in a conversation, others I can be playful but mostly I’m quiet allowing her to locate the rhythm of her day. After 26 years of marriage I almost always pick the right approach to get her moving but there are some days when I choose poorly and quickly back off when it’s clear I’m pushing the wrong buttons.
Wisdom teaches us that folks have different speeds on the path of life. Each of us finds our own rhythm and we must be careful to allow others to move at their own pace. Our gift to others is not making them go as fast or slow as we want but to offer the gift of grace and love when our lives intersect for a moment or a lifetime.
dandelion, sitting on a hill
rooted, grounded, in place, until
a mighty force arose and lifted
carried your essence far from home
floating in all directions at once
never letting you settle
dropping and raising
bouncing between stillness and gales
yet in the chaos, swirling turmoil
your beauty decorated the wind
the gift of recognized breezes
making that which could not be seen
now traced over meadows, fields, hills and valley
where you take root again is unknown
until then your untamed spirit
alights upon my shoulder for a glimpse
of what it means to be unleashed
Yesterday, during worship service, a young woman in another section and a few rows up, began having a coughing fit. She tried to stifle the sudden, sharp expelling of air from her lungs but her body convulsed with each suppression.
I’ve been there. Sometimes those coughing fits come on so quickly and violently you’re at a loss at what to do. You don’t want to cause a scene, disturb everyone by getting up and excusing yourself but you also don’t want to continue being a major distraction. I watched her weighing the options when the small, frail hand of an elderly lady reached across the aisle and handed her a piece of candy. It wasn’t done in an exasperated thrust or with the roll of an eye or an exaggerated sigh. She gently and surreptitiously extended the soothing lozenge, they exchanged smiles and the young woman accepted the gift. A simple act and beautiful acceptance.
I’ve thought about this scene several times since yesterday. Too often, those in need are embarrassed, shamed, forced to find help, go through great lengths and navigate many obstacles to find assistance. Folks with hurts, habits, hangups and shortcomings are looked down upon, cause frustration for “those who have it all together,” know how to behave, can take care of themselves. The “haves” begrudgingly give to the “have-nots” and make sure many are aware of their feigned and forced magnanimity.
To be aware of the need of others, to give secretly, to aid not for recognition or reimbursement but because we can is true generosity wrapped in lavish grace.