Tag Archive | generosity

Kindness or Foolish Generosity?

5dollarThere, I did it again. Two and a half years ago I gave $5 to a stranger who asked for a dollar or two to buy gas to get home for Christmas. I was at a McDonald’s parking lot just off the interstate between Cambridge and Wisconsin Dells.

This time was just a couple weeks ago. Mim and I were walking down West Mifflin Street in Madison, just off the Capitol Square.  We were headed back to the parking garage to get our car after attending a wonderful Saturday morning piano and organ concert at the Overture Center. A woman, probably in her 30s, approached us and asked, “Can you give me $2 so I can get a bowl of soup?”

Purse - WalletMim said to her, “I don’t have my purse with me,” and looked at me. So did the woman.  With all eyes on me I lifted my tiny wallet out of my little purse dangling from my wrist, and pulled out my wad of folded bills. I always keep my money in order, so my smallest bill was on the outside of the wad. It was a five. I peeled it off and handed it to her. “I don’t have any ones. I hope this is OK,” I said with a grin on my face as I handed her the $5. She looked at me a little strangely and took the bill. She said, “Thank you,”  and we walked our separate ways.

Wallet with $5 in wadAfter a few steps Mim asked me, “Do you think we’ve been conned?”

“I don’t think so,” was my reply, “but even if we were, I’m sure she needs that $5 bill more than we do.”

I didn’t think any more about the incident for a couple weeks. Then last week, it popped into my mind again. I have no regrets for giving $5 to the woman, whether she used it for soup, or not. But I started thinking about what would have been the best way to handle the situation. I guess my most obvious options were to A) ignore her and keep walking toward the parking garage, or B) give her some money. But I wonder if there are any better options.

When I lived in Chicago and worked in the Loop, I walked by people asking for money every day. I never gave a dime to anyone. I rationalized that my money would go farther by giving it to church or other social service organizations, which I did. In retrospect, I think I was being very unkind. By simply ignoring everyone who asked me for a quarter or a dollar, I made it perfectly clear to them that I didn’t care about them or their problems. Which I guess was true. My actions proved it. As I look back, I’m surprised at how hard-hearted I was.

homeless womanI suppose that some people who  walk up and down the street asking for a dollar or two are desperately trying to get money for drugs or alcohol, and that giving them money is simply delaying them getting into some kind of treatment program. And I’m certainly not skilled at identifying which people on the street are really hungry and need a bowl of soup, and which ones are focused solely on getting enough money to support their addiction.

Living where I do now, I don’t meet people on the street asking for money every day – maybe just a few times a year is more likely. But it happened a couple weeks ago, and I know it will happen again sometime. When that time comes, I want to do what our pastor is constantly encouraging us to do – to be Christ’s hands in this world – I want to be kind like Christ was. But what does that really mean today?

Floey smiling profileAs I was thinking about this, I turned to my usual source for wise insights. I asked Floey what she thought. “Hey, Floey. What do you do when someone you don’t know asks you for some help?”

“What do you mean, Mom? What kind of help?”

“Well, what I’m really asking, Floey, is what should I do when a stranger comes up to me on the street and asks me for a couple bucks. I know you don’t carry money around, so it’s not quite the same thing for you, but what do you think I should do? The person apparently needs help, but that’s the only thing I know about her.”

“Does the person make you feel scared? When a scary stranger comes up to me I growl at them and start to back away. I don’t want to hurt them, but I don’t want them to hurt me either.”

“No, Floey. The kind of stranger I’m talking about is someone who really needs some kind of help, like maybe just a couple dollars to buy a meal. She might be a homeless person.”

“Oh, then the answer is easy. Give her what she needs, if you can. Remember when you first adopted me last year, and we talked about my Native American roots – how I came from an Indian reservation in Minnesota?”

“Yes, I remember talking about where you came from, Floey.”

“I told you that in my Native American culture, the greatest sin of all is stinginess. The reverse is also true. The greatest virtues are love, kindness, and generosity – the opposites of stinginess.”

“I guess if I believe that, too, then the answer should be obvious – I should give the stranger what she asks for, if I can. I should be loving, kind, and generous.”

“Yup. That’s what I’d do. I’d give her what she asked for, if I could.”

“But what if I’m being conned – and she just wants me to give her money because she’d rather ask for it than work for it?”

“You can’t know that. You don’t have that piece of information about a stranger you’ve never met before. You only know what you can see and hear at that moment – and that’s what you’re supposed to act on.”

“Thanks, Floey. That’s good advice. I think I’ll try to keep a few dollars handy in my pocket whenever I can, just to be sure I can be loving, kind, and generous the next time a stranger approaches me on the street and asks for a couple dollars.”

“I think that’s a good idea, Mom. Now do you know what I’m going to ask you for, even though I’m not a stranger?”

“I’m sure I can guess. Yes, Floey. We can go on a walk! Thanks for helping me finish this blog post first. Now let’s go sniff out an adventure.”

Floey sitting smiling 07-06-15

Floey – ready to go for a walk.

The Worst Sin of All according to Floey

Floey sittingMy new dog Floey and I are still getting to know each other. Christmas Day will mark the one month anniversary of Floey’s adoption date. Mim and I and all of our 93-year-olds are so happy that she joined our family. Floey loves all of us, but it’s clear that I am her favorite. She follows me everywhere. Right now, I’m sitting at my desk, and she’s sitting close beside me.

One day last week as I was reading my daily devotional book, A Book of Wonders, by Edward Hays, I decided to ask Floey what she thought about what he said. The title of the reading was “The Absolutely Worst of All Sins.” He said that in our culture, we tend to think of sexual sins as the worst sins of all. Then he added, “Yet among preliterate hunting and gathering cultures, like the Native Americans, children were taught that the worst of vices was stinginess. Not sex, but greed in all forms, was abhorred.”

I knew that Floey had been born on an Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota. I wondered if any of their early Native American moral code had rubbed off on her. I asked Floey what she thought was the worst sin of all.

“That’s easy,” she replied. “Stinginess.”

“That’s amazing,” I said. “You didn’t hesitate at all with your answer. Why is stinginess worse than murder, or rape, or anything else?”

“Just think about it, Mom. You know that love is the greatest gift anyone can give, right?”

“Yes,” I replied, and she continued, “What is the opposite of being loving? It’s being stingy, right?”

“Floey, you’re really smart for a pup who’s not even a year old yet.”

Floey sitting - profile“Tomorrow, December 24, I’ll be 11 months old, but I’ve lived and learned an awful lot in those 11 months, and I’ve done a lot of thinking about what’s good and what’s bad in life. When people, and all other creatures, as well, are kind and loving and generous, the world is a better place for everyone.  But whenever someone is stingy, they’re looking out only for themselves, and the world is a little less good for everyone – including the stingy one. They start worrying about getting and protecting their fair share rather than contributing to the good of everyone.”

“Wow, Floey. You’ve really done a lot of serious thinking for a pup so young! Since we’re having such a good conversation, let’s change subjects and talk about something I’ve been thinking about lately – the commercialization of Christmas. What do you think about that?”

“You’re not really changing subjects with that, Mom. The commercialization of Christmas is the best thing to happen to temper the sin of stinginess.”

“How’s that?” I asked.

“What do you think about when you go Christmas shopping?”

“I guess I think about what each person on my list would like to get, and where I might find that gift for them.”

“That’s all about being generous, not being stingy, right?”

“I guess so…”

“Think back to your earliest memories of Christmas shopping. Tell me about them.”

“Those are good memories. Let me start with some background. It seems that every year in December we get some foggy days. Farmers call it ‘case weather.’ We just had some foggy days last week. Remember?”

“Yeah. I remember. But what does that have to do with Christmas shopping?” Floey asked.

“I’m getting to it. I grew up on a small farm. We had about 20 cows and between 300 and 400 chickens. My dad supplemented the milk and egg income with a cash crop – tobacco. Raising tobacco was somewhat controversial because my parents were opposed to smoking, but tobacco was the most lucrative crop we could raise. Essentially, tobacco is what paid for all the “extras” in our lives, like new clothes, piano and organ lessons, and when we were older, college tuition.”

My family history with raising tobacco goes way back. This picture shows my great uncle Fletcher (2nd from right) taking a break from stripping tobacco with his buddies.

My family history with raising tobacco goes way back. This photo from 1898 shows my great uncle Fletcher (the handsome one – 2nd from right) taking a break from stripping tobacco with his buddies.

“Raising tobacco was a lot of work, from planting it in the spring to harvesting it in the fall to stripping it in the winter. That’s where ‘case weather’ came into the picture. When tobacco was harvested in September, six to eight stalks were strung onto a lath. A lath is like a thick yard stick that’s about five feet long instead of three feet. The laths were then hung in a tobacco shed, the tobacco plants hanging upside down, to dry out. In December when we got several days of foggy weather (case weather), the dried tobacco was moistened from the fog. My dad took the laths of tobacco down from the shed and brought them into the barn. The barn was warm and humid from all the cows living in it. My brother and I had the job of stripping the tobacco leaves off the stalk, leaf by leaf, and laying the tobacco leaves into a press that bundled the leaves into bales of about 40 pounds. Every evening and every Saturday during case weather Danny and I spent many hours in the barn stripping tobacco for two cents a lath. That’s how I earned money for Christmas shopping.”

“Okay, Mom, now I see you’re getting to the point.”

“I worked really hard stripping tobacco the couple weeks before Christmas every year, and I usually earned between five and ten dollars. I felt rich! When I knew how much money I’d earned, I made out my shopping list. Usually, it included Old Spice After Shave for my dad, pretty candles for  my mom, stationery for my sister, and a model car for my brother. If I’d earned enough money, I might get everyone some candy or nuts, too. I always spent all my money on presents for them. It never occurred to me to be stingy and keep anything for myself.”

My family - everyone I bought Christmas presents for when I was a kid.

My family – everyone I bought Christmas presents for when I was a kid.

“That’s exactly what I mean, Mom. The commercialization of Christmas isn’t all bad. It reminds us to be generous to the people we love.”

“I guess you’re right, Floey. I’ll try to think of that when I see all those commercials on TV telling us to shop, just like I think of stripping tobacco for Christmas shopping money whenever I see fog in December. In both cases, I can remember that God wants us be loving and generous – and not be stingy.”

“You’ve got it, Mom. See why I’m proud of my Native American heritage. I see I have a lot to teach you. But that’s enough for today. I think it’s time for another walk. Can we run around the pond again? That’s so much fun!”

Floey standing

A Roundabout Path to Joy

One Simple Act book coverLast week I read the book One Simple Act: Discovering the Power of Generosity by Debbie Macomber.  It’s a wonderful little book with dozens of stories of people being generous in some way, and the consequences of that single act of generosity – to the recipient, to the giver, and to the observer. The book also includes dozens of suggestions of ways we can practice acts of generosity. One of the principles demonstrated by the stories is that joy is a natural outcome of generosity – joy that is shared by all involved.

Yesterday I learned that a friend of mine died last week. Mardelle Kornelsen Westley Burrowes is the sister of Clark, my sister Nancy’s husband. I’ve known Mardelle since 1960, the year before Nancy and Clark were married. I saw her briefly every few years at family gatherings, but I never knew her very well until three and a half years ago when I started writing this blog. She immediately became a regular reader and frequent commenter. By communicating through this blog, we grew closer. Her simple act of kindness in regularly giving me feedback on my blog brought a lot of joy to me. Mardelle even wrote an endorsement that appears in my first book. I’m very thankful for being a recipient of Mardelle’s generosity.

The Gospel reading on Sunday was the story in Matthew that is often referred to as “The Feeding of the 5,000.” Jesus asked his disciples to feed the people who had come to see him. The disciples said the only food they had to share with the thousands of people listening to him was a mere five loaves and two fishes – a child’s lunch. Jesus blessed the food, and asked the disciples to distribute it among the people. Miraculously, there was enough food for everyone, with 12 baskets full of leftovers. The point Pastor Jeff emphasized is that God asks us to use the resources we have to do what needs to be done – not to wait for someone else who may have more resources to do it. That’s the same point Macomber was making in her book – to be generous with whatever resources we have, and God will bless our generosity.

Goats w 6 people WThis past weekend the generosity of two young women brought a tremendous amount of joy to our household. Mim and I were coming home from a quick trip downtown, and we saw the Hinchley twins, high school girls who live on a dairy farm a couple miles from Cambridge, walking two goats on the sidewalk near our home. They had taken the goats downtown to be part of a petting zoo for Cambridge’s Maxwell Street Day celebration. We stopped to talk with the young women for a few minutes, and we asked them if they had the time to take the goats up to our condo so that our three 93-year-olds could pet them, especially Anna who had grown up on a farm and loved animals. They were happy to do it. As you can see by the pictures, our three assisted living residents loved petting the goats. Because the Hinchley twins were generous with their time, Anna, Marti, and Carolyn (as well as Mim and I) had a very special half-hour in the middle of our day. I think it was special for the twins, too, and probably even the goats!

As the book jacket on One Simple Act says, “What if you, personally, could make the world a better place . . . by tomorrow? Debbie Macomber knows the secret to doing exactly that! In a world that seems too often stingy and grudging, she has witnessed how one simple act of generosity can yield unforeseen miracles.”

Obviously, my friend Mardelle knew about that. She was very generous in taking the time to encourage me in my writing. The small child who shared his lunch of five loaves and two fishes must have been astounded to see what resulted from his generosity. And the Hinchley twins were able to observe all the joy that came from taking the time to let three nonagenarians pet their goats.

Generosity may seem like a roundabout path to joy, but it certainly is a sure path that leads to joy for everyone involved – the giver, the recipient, and the observers.

Ann and goat smiliing

Surpassed in Giving

My niece Michelle and her kids

My niece Michelle with her 4 kids and a couple friends enjoying the day together

On Sunday I read the best story about generosity I’ve ever read. It was written by my niece, Michelle Kornelsen Hauge on her blog, www.strategicparenting.us. I asked her if I could share her story on my blog, and she agreed. If you would like to be added to Michelle’s email list to get regular notifications of her blog posts, you can email her at wedinparadise@hotmail.com.

Michelle and her husband Kerry have adopted four children and have cared for many more foster children. They take their role as parents very seriously, and are trying to share what they are learning about parenting on their blog. Michelle home-schools the kids, and she also helps Kerry in their three home-based businesses – Jim’s Country Fireplace, Paradise Pond Shop, and Paradise Park (where they host outdoor weddings in their beautifully landscaped back yard).

I’m not a parent, but I find something new to think about every week when I read Michelle’s blog. This week, the theme is generosity. I’ve always thought that my mom was the most generous person I’ve ever known. After reading this post, I think Michelle and Kerry’s kids may have Mom beat.

Michelles kids

The kids playing in their back yard.

 Surpassed in Giving

by Michelle Kornelsen Hauge  (from http://www.strategicparenting.us/)

It’s humbling to be surpassed by your kids. But good.

Michelles vanWe’ve been putzing with the process of selling our old minivan, unsure of how much to ask for it. We finally came to an amount and posted it on Craig’s List, along with an honest description of its many problems.

A week passed, with a few low offers.

Tuesday, just as we began hosting an evening meeting, a man arrived who wanted to buy it now, for a third less than we’d asked. We agreed, quickly re-iterated what needed fixing, signed the title and took his payment. It wasn’t much for a van, but it would pay some bills. In the rush, he drove off with only an ignition key.

Wednesday evening, he began calling and leaving phone messages. By the time I arrived and picked up, he was frantic. His mechanic had the van on a hoist, and was pointing out the problems. They were just as we had described for him the night before. I reminded him of this.

“But I thought they were just little fixes when you said it.” A torrent of frustrations poured across the phone line, intensity building by the minute.

My response was defensive, not compassionate.

I finally cut in, saying that if he wanted to return it, he’d have to come back tomorrow when Kerry was home.

As I washed the dinner dishes, my mind continued the argument.

“You won’t get a van that cheap that doesn’t need repairs … not unless someone gives you one.”

The word stuck in my heart like a burr.

“Give?

“Is that You, God?”

If it was, I decided, Kerry would think it was.

He did. If we gave the man his money back, Kerry reasoned, he could use it for the needed repairs. Kerry never flinches when it comes to giving.

We’ve given old cars away before, but never to angry strangers. This was a stretch for me.

We decided to pull the kids into the process.

The next morning, before the man was due to arrive, we focused our prayer time on his family. Part of his rantings had included a long list of their needs, so we had a starting point.

In the process of praying, the kids decided they wanted to give too. They painstakingly wrote up encouraging scriptures, such as Isaiah 41:10 –

Michelles kids Bible encouragement

Then they raided their money envelopes. Some took out every cent they had. Some chose a generous portion. Pockets were stuffed with readied gifts.

We expected him at 9:00. It came and went. We began math … and finished it. Spelling. Reading. Language lessons. Lunch. The day was long and pregnant with anticipation. We knew he’d come; we still had the keys.

Eleven hours later, as we were preparing for bed, the shout rang out: “He’s here!” The kids scrambled around, digging through the laundry to find their gifts, then dashed outside in their pajamas.

By the time I arrived on the scene, the kids were being embraced. Kerry pulled me off to the side and said, “He’s happy tonight. His mechanic was able to fix everything, and his father-in-law paid for it all.” We had three seconds to decide: What now?

We didn’t give him his money back.

The kids basked that evening in the after-glow of their generosity.

Kerry and I considered what to do.

We eventually determined that the money’s God’s. The next day we decided where to give it. Today the hand-off will take place.

We admire the carefree abandon of our kids’ giving. It seems to somehow surpass the caution of our own. Balance is needed, but this may be one way a small child will lead us.

Michelle - hands-full-of-money50

Time for a new blog? “Strategic Childhood” may be in order.

 

The Price of Kindness and Gas

Christmas Mountain Village in Wisconsin Dells

Christmas Mountain Village in Wisconsin Dells

About noon on Friday I left Christmas Mountain in Wisconsin Dells to drive home for the weekend. I’ll return today (Monday) for three more days of my 10-day writing retreat. I’d made the reservations for this writing retreat a couple months ago. Since then a few things have come up for the weekend that required me to go back home. Fortunately, the drive is only a little over an hour. But on Friday, it was closer to two hours.

After I’d been on the road about twenty minutes my cellphone rang. It was Mim. She wanted to know if I remembered where I had put the music for “Mary Had a Baby.” One of my reasons for going home for the weekend was to play the piano to accompany Mim. She was going to sing “Mary Had a Baby” for a Scandinavian Christmas Hymn Sing at East Koshkonong Lutheran Church on Saturday afternoon. (“East” is one of two churches where I’m half-time organist.) I told Mim where I thought the music should be, but it wasn’t there. I suggested a few other places she could look – but the music wasn’t in any of those places either. Finally I thought, maybe I had taken it to Christmas Mountain with me to practice on my keyboard. I decided to take the next exit off I-90. I pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot to check my briefcase in the back seat of my car, just to be sure the music wasn’t there, before driving back to Christmas Mountain to look for it in the timeshare condo I was using for ten days.

As I got out of my car a man, probably in his thirties, walked up to me. He said he hated to ask, but he didn’t have quite enough gas to get where he was going. Could I give him a dollar or two to help him buy more gas.

US Currency - small bills 2The situation took me by surprise. When I lived in Chicago and worked in the Loop, people on the street asked me for money almost every day. I usually ignored the requests. Back then I rationalized that giving generously to churches and social service agencies instead would help more people. Today, I’m not so sure I made the right decision about that. I wasn’t being kind to the person in need right in front of me.

I moved to Wisconsin twenty years ago, and a stranger asking me for money here is a rare occurrence. On Friday, the guy sounded sincere. He was driving an old white Chevy with plenty of rust. There were a couple other men waiting inside his car. Maybe I was being conned, but I really didn’t think I was. I pulled out my wallet to see what I had – a twenty, a couple tens, a five, and several ones. I gave him the five. He was very appreciative, said “Thank you, Ma’am” several times, flashed a big smile, and walked back to his car.

A beautiful arrangement of "Mary Had a Baby" is in this songbook.

This is the lost (and found) songbook. A beautiful arrangement of “Mary Had a Baby” is in it.

I went back to looking for “Mary Had a Baby” in the back seat of my car. The music wasn’t in my briefcase, so I got back on I-90, headed toward the Dells instead of home. A few minutes later Mim called again. She had found the music. It had been mixed in with the non-Christmas music on the shelf. So, I took the next exit to get headed back home again.

As I was driving, I thought about this little incident. Maybe it was meant to be that I should meet that guy and give him a few bucks. I was feeling good about that rather than being upset by the roundabout route I was taking to get home. But then I thought, how much gas can the poor guy buy with the measly five dollar bill I gave him. Why didn’t I give him the twenty so he could buy almost half a tank?  Why wasn’t I more generous? That bothered me.

Then my thoughts turned to wondering why this whole incident happened. Sure, Mim needed to find the music, and the guy needed gas money. But I also needed to learn more about being generous to someone in need. I must listen a little more closely to what the need is before I figure out how I can help.

I’m glad God’s still trying to teach me lessons!

 

Christmas Cookies 2ON ANOTHER NOTE: Next Sunday, December 16, 2012, is the last hymn sing currently scheduled at Whispering Winds. We’ll sing lots of Christmas carols, eat lots of Christmas cookies, and simply enjoy having a good time together. Everyone is welcome. It’s free. Just show up at 3:00 Sunday afternoon prepared to have a good time. Whispering Winds Retreat Haven, 201 Highland Road, Cambridge, Wisconsin. Call me at 608-212-6197, or email me at MarianKorth&Gmail.com if you have any questions.

Whispering Winds Retreat Haven - 201 Highland Road, Cambridge, Wisconsin

Whispering Winds Retreat Haven – 201 Highland Road, Cambridge, Wisconsin