myth? fact? or inconsequential?

I have, and will continue to, tell the fun that is associated with being a part of a new store opening in Kansas City – in particular, a new store to the Country Club Plaza area. In our own little funny way, we feel like we’re carving out a bit of history for the local retail world. The store will be beautiful and the relationships built with customers will be rewarding.

But I have to pause a minute and tell you about a heart-pinching moment during one of our training sessions…

Retail people are an odd lot. Like many occupations, there are certain idiosyncracies and personality traits that are commonly found among similar areas of work. In any occupation, as an employee, your main purpose is to do the job you were hired to do – to the best and beyond. You give it all your efforts during your shift. Then, more often than not, you go home, sit back and laugh at the craziness of it all when viewed through a wider lens.

I have friends who work in the research field of degenerative diseases.
I have friends who are passionately working to reduce childhood obesity.
I have friends who are working on their doctorates.
I have friends who are kick ass moms.
I have friends who sell the American Dream to people excited for a new start.

I, however, sell fun jewelry, unbelievably luxurious make-up and casual soft clothing. Anne Lamott once said that after a heartache or death, the simple act of putting on a little make-up made her feel like there was still hope stirring within her. And I believe that; retail folks are helping others understand that sometimes a little superficial prettiment is good for the soul and can help move them to the next step of life.

There’s a place for that. I get that and have agreed to be a part of it at different times in my life. I’m okay with that.

This past week I (along with about 15 other women) went through an employee training course that lasted a few days. There are some really wonderful things I like about Soft Surroundings as a company. Their mission statement and their willingness to allow employees to actually think (a rarity with many companies!) is refreshing.

Our last training session was with the District Manager from the east coast. She went over the typical dos and don’ts. Basic stuff with some tailor-made items for our particular store. One of which was to address the frequent panhandlers we have on the Plaza.

I have lived around panhandlers for over 5 years now. They are on most every corner and occupy much of the rather affluent-but-urban landscape of downtown KC. Scott and I have both accepted this as part of life and give when we feel internally nudged to do so. We are also both guilty of the quick-speed-up-so-we-don’t-miss-this-light-and-have-to-sit-next-to-the-guy-with-the-homeless-sign move that many of us make from time to time. We have given money, paid for prescriptions, or simply given over our McDonald’s bag.

Scott and I have talked about it many times… It is our duty to give when we feel the spirit telling us to. And also, not feel guilty about not giving every time. It is NOT our duty, however, to judge what happens to the money once it is given.

THAT is the crux of the issue.

Mrs. District Manager stressed to the room full of new employees that they are not to give money to panhandlers – to just make it a general practice to ignore them.

Now this I get.
Many of the new employees will be new to the working area and could feel embarrassed or overwhelmed with the question of should I or shouldn’t I. Furthermore, many of the panhandlers have their designated spots and remember which of the faces they see daily that have given them money in the past.

So this is an understandable suggestion.

Then Mrs. DM ended with the same phrase I hear over and over again, “Besides, you’ll probably run into them later in the bar drinking away your money.” …as echoes of agreement floated through the room.

This is where my heart always drops.

The irony of her statement is that #1, are YOU not in the same bar drinking as well? Are you needing an escape from reality through some alcoholic reprieve? I wonder how good a beer tastes to someone who just closed a business deal as opposed to how someone who slept under a bridge the night before enjoys the momentary, but enjoyable buzz?

So part of her judgmental statement is thrown out with the bathwater immediately in my mind.

Secondly, I understand (and have sat through the CNN-type specials documenting this problem) that there are many individuals who “rake in” a lot of money through panhandling. I realize that there are those individuals who are preying on the good heartedness of passersby.

But here’s my challenge: Does your good-heartedness have stipulations? If we feel compelled to help ANYONE (friend, family, stranger) in life, shouldn’t our responsibility (if it is in the spirit of charity) stop once we’ve released the money into the hands of the needy?

If you give to a charity organization that mishandles their money, you have a right to appeal since they have stated their need upfront as well as how the monies will be allocated. If you give a loan to another person, there are procedures for how to receive expected payment.

But the grey area of life is when you give to someone who appears to be in need because you feel the tug on your heart to contribute what you have, followed by the unknowing realization that you do not know where or how that money will be spent.

Sounds oddly familiar to grace.

I work; I fail.
I educate myself; I don’t use that knowledge.
I receive compensation; I mismanage it.
I deserve credit and don’t receive it.
I receive accolades that in my heart I know I don’t deserve.

Mostly, I have this crazy stupid friend who keeps appearing. Keeps encouraging me. Keeps telling me that I’m okay and that we can try this whole thing again. That understands my neurotic thoughts and, more times than I can begin to count, doesn’t say anything but just reassuringly squeezes my hand tighter when I’m in a downward spiral.

I don’t deserve that kind of friendship.
That kind of forgiveness.
That kind of love.

Thank God, however, that I keep receiving it. His grace is mesmerizing. He throws big handfuls of grace in my outstretched hat and allows me to use it as I see fit.

Sometimes I grapple it up as the sustaining power that it is.
Sometimes I let it sit on a shelf and get really, really dusty.
Sometimes, I feel a sense of unexplainable reverence and quickly pass it on to someone else who needs it more than me at the moment.

We cannot possibly give – financially, spiritually, emotionally – to everyone with whom we encounter. But when we do, we give it with the same “dumb” and blatant joy that God offers His grace and love and forgiveness to us.

After giving, we then walk away and hope the recipient will receive it as best they know how, in the moment they currently find themselves in.

The receiving is entirely up to them.
Our job, is to simply let it go.

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2 thoughts on “myth? fact? or inconsequential?

  1. I have a friend in my cohort at school who has been homeless. He is STRONGLY opposed to giving money. I understand his reasoning. He has told me his story. Yet I continue to give when asked and when able. I guess my reasoning is that my friend is no longer homeless. I wonder how that happened. I know it was from a lot of personal work on his part, yet God still met his need for the internal fortitude to get off the streets, by giving Ryan that persistence.

    I believe in giving and receiving rather than giving and taking. Receiving is done with an open hand. We each must receive from God, and it is good and acceptable for us to be nourished by those gifts. But when someone asks… I will give from the overflow, without asking what they do with it. That is solely between them and God. God knows how to combine my gift with God’s wisdom and mercy to offer change to the person. Giving is also a witness to myself that what is in my pocket has been given me… it is God’s blessing… and I will share it.

    Nobody has the right to TELL me to do otherwise.

  2. Oh my G – we are down there every Thursday offering a meal to those “pan-handlers” I can tell you the names and stories of each one of them. Plaza Security has been interesting lately (I will spare you my soap-box) but so many of them are simply lonely. We have one that is now in a place of his own and are happy that one by one some of the stories are “solved” – others have income and even a roof over their head but we only see them certain weeks because the income just isn’t enough to stretch the whole month. There is one super sweet gentleman who we had the pleasure of meeting his family – he is putting his wife through school and trying to make ends meet (he’s under-employed) while keeping 3 teen-aged sons off the streets (an amazing family we had the privilege of meeting) . . . I have no qualms about giving and do it freely. I have so many thoughts on this and yours are so succint (I have had similar instructions and orientations when working on the Plaza in the past). Shane had an interesting sermon this week on “empire” and used some of our story from our work on the Plaza. If needed always pass along our name “Made To Serve” and we will also come alongside and help.

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