Sunday, November 18, 2012


So there I was outside of church on Sunday, driving away after hearing another sermon from the book of Luke. I was in my car waiting as two women, an older woman in a purple sweater and a woman with dark hair who looked in her 40s, were walking on the sidewalk and I was waiting for them to cross. These women looked like they were from the neighborhood, not from the yuppie-ish demographic church that I go to.

Then for some reason the women walked into the parking lot, until they reached my window and motioned for me to roll the window down.

"¿Cab-les?" the younger woman said in Spanish, making a downward motion with both her hands. I could see her gold-outlined front tooth as she spoke.

Cab-les? Cables?

"¿Hablas español?" she asked. I would describe my Spanish as a work-in-progress. But when she asked I told her what I always tell people.

"Poquito," I said with an apologetic look. "Battery?" I said. I was thinking they wanted me to jump start the car.

"Sí," the younger woman said.

"Pero no tengo cab-les. Sí tiene?"

"Sí, está bien." I assumed that meant she had cables?

"OK, sí puedo ayudar," I said.

I crawled behind the women as they walked over to the car in their Central El Paso neighborhood, about half a block away. I made a U-turn until I was nose to nose with a white car, 90s model, with its hood up.

It took me a couple minutes to figure out how to pop the hood. The younger woman set up the other car then brought over the clamps. The red port on mine had some build up on it but eventually the clamp was on tight.

I turned the key and the engine revved to life. A couple of minutes later the white car's engine revived. I could see the belts spinning.

Así esta bien? I asked the younger woman. The older woman was standing to the side. It seemed like this might be her car.

Sí. Muy amable, she said. She unhooked the cables. The car continued to run.

I knew I wouldn't be able to formulate anything else meaningful to say in under two minutes. So I just smiled, waved goodbye then drove away.

I found this incident so strange, because it seemed fateful, and I tend not to believe in such things.

I've been wrestling with this idea of giving lately. I like to think I'm good to the people in my life. I try to show my family, my friends and my boyfriend I appreciate them. I try to be nice and not a pain in the rear to my coworkers. Not that I always succeed, but I do try.

But I always feel there is a missing puzzle piece to the giving I do in my life. I should be doing something more. Feeding the homeless. Giving to a missionary. Spending time with poor children. Sending money to help victims of Hurricane Sandy. But I confess I don't do it. Am I hard-hearted because I don't go looking for these causes? Am I just lazy? Have I become the rich ruler, ignoring Lazarus day after day, year after year?

I prayed to God recently to show me where I can help.

And God speaks. And I am surprised.

I think the truth is, as this incident so clearly illustrated, even in my so-called insular life there is no shortage of people I encounter who could use some help. And I have the choice of whether to open my heart to offer that help or not. I could easily have told that woman to buzz off, or pretended I didn't know Spanish.

The right choice this time was clear as the morning sun. This incident happened moments after I stepped out of church, literally about 15 minutes after I received the holy communion. If there is such a thing as a church afterglow, I had it. But would I respond the same way if I was leaving the parking lot at work after a long day? At that point would I, exhausted, just not roll down the window and drive away? I think that tends to be my attitude toward giving -- sometimes I'm willing to do it, sometimes I'm not.

Another question -- am I so unwilling to take the initiative with giving that someone literally has to block my car for me to help them? What could I do if I took the initiative, if I approached giving with the aggressiveness I do when I take on a project at work, and drill down to every last detail? I imagine I'd find I could do more than I ever thought possible.

But I do think that giving should come from the heart. It should feel like something you do because you are responding to what you feel God has asked you to do, not like a business transaction.

I don't know quite what the lesson is but I think it has something to do with being open and seeing opportunities. Sometimes I fear if I give too much of my time, money and energy I'll be left depleted and not have enough for myself. The fear of discomfort also makes me hesitate. After all, someone might ask me to break out my broken Spanish. But surely I am not in such a tight place that I can't afford to be generous. The closed fist needs to open. Day by day, opportunity by opportunity, I can put aside my fears and choose to give. Now is the time to do this, not the day when I am suddenly blessed with endless time and endless money, because that day will never come.

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