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Give a little

This is not a blog post on how generous I am. Rather, this is a diatribe on just how stingy I can be, as well as a testament to how, whenever I’m willing to give just a little, God multiplies it and returns it with blessings a hundredfold.

Almost every day, a homeless man sits outside my office. And almost every day, I stop to talk to him on my way in or out. He’s intelligent, thoughtful, chatty and, generally, hungry. He’s never asked me for anything, but the few times I’ve bought him a breakfast sandwich or tacos, he’s made it known that getting enough to eat each day is what occupies most of his thoughts.

The other day I ran into him in the midst of a hectic day at work. I was hurrying out the door of Loudoun Now’s office to our designer’s office a few blocks away to put the final touches on the paper before sending it to the press. I grabbed a small bag of trail mix from my desk, fuel for the final three hours of the 13-hour work day. And then I saw Stephen (not his real name).

“Hey, man,” I offered, hurrying past, my hand in my coat pocket clutching my trail mix dinner. I couldn’t walk by on this cold evening without giving him something. I was torn between embarrassment—it was dried fruit and nuts stashed in a Ziploc bag that had clearly been used more than once—and selfishness—that was my dinner. But I squeezed it one last time and gave it up.

“Sorry this isn’t much, but want my trail mix?”

He took it and thanked me and had it eaten before I reached the end of the block. As I walked, this feeling of disappointment came over me. I couldn’t believe that I hesitated to give this tiny offering; I clutched that baggie for a second too long, hesitating to accept a few hours of discomfort to ensure his comfort. Now, in my defense, I get hangry. According to a medical professional, I am actually medically more susceptible to hanger than others. At my last physical, my doc didn’t say that in so many words, but she did tell me that I have low enough blood sugar that I really need to eat like a diabetic, living life always within arm’s reach of a juice box or snack. Ask my friends or coworkers—I follow this medical advice to the letter. Hence, my bag of trail mix.

Now, back to that evening. Here’s the best part. A half-hour after I reluctantly gave up my piddly snack, one of my coworkers surprised us with a delivery of homemade chicken noodle soup. Dinner was taken care of.

And the blessings continued. The next day, after covering an event at the county government building, I was set to walk the three blocks back to my office when a torrential downpour descended upon Leesburg. I stood umbrella-less and wearing a white dress shirt, thinking through how I would get back to my office without getting soaked. I scanned the entryway for abandoned magazines or newspapers I could adopt as a makeshift shelter. I had a full day of meetings and sopping wet shirt just wouldn’t do. Suddenly, Stephen appeared, armed with a huge golf umbrella and a smile.

“Come on, I’ll walk with you,” he motioned toward me.

“Really?” I could have hugged him but stopped myself. I practically skipped alongside him back to my office.

Those few interactions in the midst of a typical week has me asking, why do I hesitate to give? Because I fear my needs won’t be met. But time and time again, I see God not only meet my needs but bless me beyond any need, even beyond any want I’ve ever had. It has me wanting to let go of more.

One of my college friends, Leah Wacek, is working on a book about how she and her family have given up one of the things western culture considers most costly: time. Most Christians adhere to the Bible’s teachings to donate 10 percent (tithe) of their income to the church. But the Wacek family, after seeing God bless their finances when they gave more than they thought they could afford, wanted to see what might happen if they gave 10 percent of their time. They’ve visited with prisoners, worked at orphanages in third-world countries, gave up evenings to tutor kids free of charge, and dedicated weekends—not just during the holiday season—to serve their neighbors in need.

“The Israelites had flocks and grain. We have money and cars and talents and a home and 24 hours to our name each and every day,” Leah writes in her book A Gift of Days. “Just as we suspected, each time we’ve given, God has poured back into our laps a full measure, pressed down and overflowing.”

A piano teacher offered lessons to Leah’s daughter free of charge. Friends stepped up to help her husband finish their basement. Neighbors offered to watch their four kids, right at the time they needed a night out.

Start small. Talk to a stranger, even when a work deadline is nagging. Offer to hang out with friends’ kids to offer them an unexpected break. Bake cookies for the garbage man and the postal worker. I want to keep giving in these small ways—and in Costco-sized ways, like delivering Stephen a freshly purchased, 42-ounce bag of trail mix.

P.S. A few months ago I gave Stephen a copy of my book, Without a Trace: The Life of Sierra Phantom. Two weeks later he offered this review: “Eh, not bad. Just kind of average though.” Hey, you can’t pay for that kind of honesty.

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