Thursday, October 24, 2013

"Giving with Honor and Compassion" by Garris Elkins

As a boy, I enjoyed getting into my father’s Chevy pickup truck and driving into town.  During these trips I would watch my father and learn about life. Most of these trips would involve a lunch where we sat at a counter on stools laughing and talking.

On one of these trips, as we walked along the sidewalks of downtown San Jose, California, I noticed a man who we would be described today as homeless.  He was dressed in clothes that appeared tired from living in them as his primary shelter.  The man looked down at the street not trying to catch anyone’s eye. He looked lost, tired and hungry.

I noticed my father pull a $5.00 bill out from his wallet while he was still a long way off from where the man was standing.  Dad then crumbled the bill up in a small wad and put it back in his pocket.  We began to walk once again and when we passed the man, dad reached into his pocket pretending to get something and allowed the crumpled bill to fall out within sight of the man.

When I saw the bill, I started to tell my dad that he dropped the bill and he gently told me to be quiet.  A few blocks down the road I had to ask my father what had just taken place.

Dad went on to tell me that he didn’t want to put the man on the spot and embarrass him.  I knew my father’s personal story of living through the Great Depression and having to leave home and hop freight trains, crossing America looking for work.  He said it was hard for a man to beg.

When we walked past him, the man bent over and picked up the crumpled bill and looked at dad. Men who have walked through tough times have a way of communicating that the rest of us don’t understand.  That day my dad said, by his actions, that he saw the man’s need and wanted to give without making the man feel less and without making a show of what he had done.

I love that part of my father’s life.  He was able to see the need of others with eyes of compassion and understanding.  Watching how my father dealt with the man’s need taught me something.  

That day, I learned my first lesson about honor in giving. There are times I give when the giving makes me feel good about myself.  This kind of giving is usually more public.  Others see it and think more of me. With that wadded up $5.00 bill, my father taught me to give in secret in a way that does not put the one in need in a demeaning place. 

Many years later, I would find myself giving to people in a similar fashion because I saw this kind of giving first exampled to me by my father. 

As a young police detective, God radically touched my life.  When that personal Pentecost took place, I found myself weeping for several weeks at the forgiveness of God that had been extended to me.  

The first thing I wanted to do was give.  I wanted to give back to life the joy I was experiencing in God’s love.  One day, as I drove my unmarked detective vehicle through a poor section of town, I was drawn to a certain house.  The house looked and felt like the man on the street the day my father “dropped” his $5.00 bill.  It was tired, dirty and exhausted.

Looking at the house, I began to weep.  My tears were tears from the heart of someone who had just been forgiven by God.  I was compelled to express my love of God in some tangible way.

I drove to a local supermarket and filled two grocery bags with food and drove back to the house.  Looking around to make sure no one was near, I walked across the street and placed the two bags of groceries on the porch.  I then pounded loudly on the door, rang the doorbell and ran back to my car where I sat and waited in hiding.

In a few moments the front door opened and a little boy appeared.  He looked around then looked down into the bags.  A huge grin spread across his little face.  He turned to speak to someone inside the house to come outside. The person who met him on the porch, I assumed, was his mother.  Together, with joy on their faces, they picked up the bags and went back inside.

They couldn’t see me as I sat parked across the street.  A police detective knows how to remain hidden.  What I could not hide that day were the tears of joy streaming down my face watching the mother and son pick up the bags of food. 

Later, when I gained my composure, I thought of my dad and the lesson he taught me about giving in compassionate and honoring ways.  The day I gave those two bags of groceries, I was giving them as a man who had just been forgiven for much.  I was living with the stark realization of my own need and this has helped me to see the need of others with eyes of compassion and honor.

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