Learning from Another Mistake

At least I’m trying to learn from my latest mistake. It happened last Thursday. As usual, I went to Messiah to practice the organ for this weekend’s worship service. Mim came along and went to visit a friend who was recovering at home from a recent surgery. When I finished practicing we had a quick lunch at McDonald’s, and then stopped at Woodman’s to pick up a few groceries before driving home. After loading the groceries into the car, I pushed the cart to its corral in the parking lot while Mim got into the car. 

A small older car stopped in front of me on my way back to our car. The passenger side window was open. The driver, a young black man asked me if I could help them. A young woman sat in the passenger seat, and a small child sat in an infant seat in back. He showed me a bag of snacks and said a woman had just given them the snacks along with a juice box for the child. He said they needed to get home to Milwaukee, but that they didn’t have money to buy gas. Could I help?

I keep a small plastic box in the glove compartment of our car where I try to keep a few $5 bills to give to people needing help. But I wasn’t in the car. I did have my purse in my hands, so I opened it to see what I could give them. I had a few twenties, a ten, a five, and a few ones. Thinking of my usual stash of $5 bills in the car intended for people who needed help, I grabbed the $5 bill and handed it to them. Without really thinking I asked, “Will this get you to Milwaukee?” The driver said “No.” I replied, “Well, it least it will get you part way there,” and I returned to our car. The young family slowly drove off.

I told Mim what had just happened, and I felt really bad that I hadn’t given them at least a $20 bill instead of the $5 bill. I hadn’t really thought at all about their specific problem, and what would be the best way I could help them. And I certainly hadn’t thought about the price of gas these days. Mim tried to reassure me by saying that 30 years ago when she worked at night on the streets of Chicago for The Night Ministry, she was discouraged from giving money to people on the street. There were better ways to help them. I wasn’t sure that applied in this case.

I’ve been thinking about this incident, trying to learn how to respond more thoughtfully and perhaps more generously in the future. Then I remembered a similar situation about 10 years ago that I wrote about in this blog. Here’s the link: 


I’m sure glad God hasn’t given up on me, but instead chose to remind that I still haven’t learned the lesson God tried to teach me ten years ago. Maybe I learned it this time. 

Thank you God for being patient with me, and continuing to coach me.

2 responses to “Learning from Another Mistake”

  1. Oh, Marian, I wish I knew if you’d really made a mistake because I hear your pain and my own doubts echo it. Were you being scammed and even $5 was wrong because it just bought drugs or alcohol or did you fail to help a young family truly in need when you could have easily done more? I never know. I, too, have been told not to give cash out in situations like that, but then… what if? I don’t know the answer, but I don’t think you should be too hard on yourself. You are a generous spirit who always tries to do the right thing and that’s what counts, I think.

    1. Thanks, Mary. I appreciate hearing your thoughts about this. I guess we’re both wishing for true wisdom in situations like this, and all we have is limited facts, and we need to make our best judgment based on what we know and what we feel. And hopefully, we will continuously learn from our experiences so that our judgment improves over time. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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