It feels like there is still sand between my toes. We left the Outer Banks by 8:30am yesterday and arrived home uneventfully. There is still unpacking of suitcases to do, but my mind has been busy unpacking the memories since we have returned. I have told you a little about my love of story recently. I would like to share one of my vacation stories with you.
Because I grew up in poverty, I have always been very sensitive to the sensitive nature of giving. I remember all too well the awkwardness that can be involved when one is on the receiving end of charity. One particular Christmas, my family and I were invited to a “party” by the YWCA. I was 12 or 13 at the time, probably at the height of self-consciousness. I have little memory of the entire event, I only recall that each child’s name was called out at some point, and a gift was presented to him or her. I am sure that my mother saw this as an opportunity to provide her children with something special, as the four of us never had many things growing up, and since my parents’ divorce, had even less. The process was rather difficult for me, and the thing that strikes me about the memory is great discomfort. My family never celebrated Christmas, due to our religious beliefs, and this further complicated my emotional turmoil. But, of course, I wanted a gift. So I was highly motivated to overcome my cognitive dissonance. I remember walking forth tentatively when my name was called. The thing about discomfort is that it breeds discomfort. The man who was doling out the gifts seemed to stutter and stumble over his words as I drew near. Was is my imagination, or did he survey me warily? Was I not being gracious enough? I smiled, and he handed me a package that was almost as large as me. I thanked him and lumbered back to my family with my prize. My brothers and sister clamored around. Such a large gift must be something special, right? I tore open the paper to find a large overstuffed Winnie-the-Pooh. It was very nice. Anyone half my age would have loved it. But it just wasn’t my thing. Don’t worry. I didn’t express this at the time. I dutifully carted Pooh home, where he sat perched on my bed for many years. At that young age, to endure such discomfort for such an unfitting gift was very disappointing. After all, we all want to be known, don’t we? We want others to understand us, to know what makes our heart beat faster and our eyes sparkle with delight. For me, it just wasn’t a giant sized Winnie-the-Pooh. Something girlie, maybe. Perfume perhaps. A book, definitely. But not Pooh bear. But how were these strangers to know such things, when they did not know me at all?
That experience taught me a valuable lesson. I have always made an effort to know and understand before I seek to give. And when the opportunity to do so is not available, I just give money. Unfortunately, over the years, I think I have taken this lesson and gone the other extreme with it. In an attempt to respect the feelings of others, I have neglected them entirely. To know someone takes too much effort. It takes time to understand someone else’s heart. I am ashamed to confess that on many occasions I have opted to give money instead of myself.
By doing this, I have often missed the blessings that God has for me.
All of these things I pondered during this recent vacation. They were brought to light by the book I was reading: Blue Like Jazz. The author’s honesty and openness in sharing his faith convicted me. He described many different situations in the book in which he and his friends orchestrated highly creative and effective evangelical opportunities. Like the time they set up a confession booth on their college campus during a festival that was widely known as a hedonistic drug and sex party. Donald Miller described how he and his friends confessed to everyone who entered their booth that night. They confessed how they, as Christians, often failed to communicate the very message that Jesus stood for; they confessed how Christians throughout history had contributed to grievous misinterpretations of the Gospel, they shared their faith humbly and lovingly with all who approached them. It was a story that moved me considerably. And the book was full of stories like that: relationship stories. Stories of getting to know the hearts involved, and taking the time to understand.
I tell you this because you must understand my state of mind when I describe the mistake I made while on vacation at the Outer Banks. I was feeling very inadequate as a Christian. I was feeling like one of those float along kind of people who talk a lot about what they believe but don’t really live it. I felt God calling me to change some things. But He wasn’t done with the message He was sending me. Not yet. He wouldn’t be finished until I was able to marry the old lesson I had learned with this new feeling of need for action.
Enter the homeless guy.
I’ll tell you all about him tomorrow.