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Friday, January 29, 2010

Do you have any change to spare?

My two college kids were waiting for me in the parking lot at the grocery store. Our paths had crossed and I was trying to swap cars with them. As I was walking over to get into the van a woman came up and asked for any spare change I might have for milk. Short on time, I handed a 5 dollar bill to my oldest son and asked him to go buy her some milk in the store. Without a question, he went and did what I asked. We have done such things many times so this wasn't unfamiliar territory for him.
Twenty minutes later, I am parked downtown under the viaduct. I get out of the van to pay for parking and a man walks up and asks for a dollar. I told him "No, I have already given today." How lame was that? He kept looking at me as he walked away. I thought, "What is he going to do to my car as retaliation for saying "no"? I watch him, I assume, ask another person in the parking area for change as we crossed the street. Our paths crossed again on the busy sidewalk on downtown Seattle's waterfront. Our eyes met and I thought again, "How much can I give? I have responsibilities to take care of my family, my kids, etc. But the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) that I have been memorizing says 'Give to the one who asks and do not turn from the one who wants to borrow from you."
I had four boys with me. We were taking my ESL homestay student from Korea sightseeing in Seattle. I only had a little cash on me and didn't want to be left empty handed when the boys got hungry or we saw something at Pike Place Market we might want to buy. I had just given $5 for milk for someone. I don't want to say "no". How do I reconcile this in my heart?
I don't like to give cash on the street. I am very much against being an enabler of destructive behavior, alcoholism and drugs. I should have counter-offered and asked him what I might do to help him other than cash. My friend, William, is a retired director from the Union Gospel Mission. He told me that the homeless sometimes work in groups. They panhandle and then pool their money to buy drugs, alcohol or whatever. I want to be ready with a loving answer when asked for "spare change". It seems to be more prevalent in the current economic situation. So my answer will be "How can I help other than to give you cash?"

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