Archive | June 2016

There’s a homeless guy on the corner. What do you do?

Almost every day on my way home from work, I see a homeless guy at the busy intersection down the road. Not the same guy, though; I’ve seen dozens of them. And occasionally a woman.

They usually hold some kind of cardboard sign saying they’re hungry and God bless you. They stand in the hot sun and the cold rain on a slender median with traffic on either side, frequently venturing out to walk between the cars stopped at a red light. Their eyes meet mine when I dare to look over from my comfy driver’s seat, but most of the time, I avoid eye contact. Sometimes they look ragged. They always look pitiful.

And I can’t help but wonder if they’re really homeless.

Maybe they’re parking a Mercedes somewhere and spending a few hours at the corner for easy money. Or using the hard-earned cash of merciful passersby to fund their drug habit. Or delaying the responsibilities of adulthood by relying on handouts.

Am I getting more cynical these days?

Back in high school, I did a project on homelessness. I went to a homeless shelter and talked to people there about life, family and art. I talked to staffers about the situations that left them with nowhere else to go.

I’ve since met other homeless people—some while writing articles, some while volunteering, others at a church dinner.

One man had a great job as a security officer until his wife divorced him, leaving him penniless and forced to move. He was looking for a job and hopeful for a new start.

Another woman had fled an abusive relationship, leaving everything behind. She eventually ran out of money and turned to the local shelter until she could get back on her feet.

And yet …

I can’t forget the time a friend and I were approached by a friendly, older man who asked for money to buy food, giving us a story about his medical bills. I offered to buy him lunch instead and listed all the different places within sight. He politely declined, saying he couldn’t have any of it; he was on a strict diet. I eventually caved, gave him $5 and immediately regretted it, feeling like I’d been played. If he was really that desperate for food, I’m sure he would’ve accepted one of the many options I offered. I don’t know what he did with my 5 bucks, but I have no doubt he took full advantage of my goodwill.

I get the same feeling when I see people begging at the same place at the same time every day. I envision one going back to his buddies and saying. “Hey, stand here for an hour and you’ll make bank.” …

But maybe that’s not the point. Maybe the point is to extend generosity and not worry what comes of it.

There are lots of Bible verses about helping the needy, but two stick out to me:

“Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered.”
—Prov. 21:13

“Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.”
—Prov. 14:31

Whether the guy on the sidewalk is actually homeless or not isn’t my concern. We’ll both answer to God one day and I’m responsible for me.

But here’s where it gets sticky. What if I’m contributing to bad habits? Or paying for someone to get drunk when it could be going to something important? Is it really better to throw away my money than hold out?

I much prefer offering people food or water—I rarely have cash anyway—plus it gives me an opportunity to hand them a Gospel tract with it. Other times, I lift up a heartfelt prayer for them. … Although then I imagine them thinking, “That’s nice, but why don’t you do something?”

Our responsibility to the needy isn’t just handing over money or crackers every time you see a homeless person, but serving them in all kinds of ways. I’m inclined to think they could get the essentials at a shelter, a church or some other nonprofit, but maybe not. How am I, as a Bible believer, doing what it says and caring for those in need?

A couple of years ago, I saw this social experiment where people walked down the street, unknowingly passing certain family members who were disguised as homeless. It was a reminder that the homeless folks you pass on the street aren’t just bums but someone’s brother or wife or friend.

And I think that’s the crux of the issue.

Whether we get uncomfortable or feel tempted to overlook them, the people on the side of the street are still made of the same flesh and blood we are. From there, maybe we just use our best judgment to respond.

 

 

Annoying people are like livers

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We all know people who get on our nerves—people we need extra mental space to be around or try our hardest to avoid. Sometimes we ignore them, hoping they’ll get the hint, but they rarely do.

Maybe these are people who have no concept of personal space. Maybe they go on and on about some hobby you don’t give a squat about, or constantly flake on plans they made with you. Maybe they take advantage of you or treat you like an idiot. Maybe they can’t take social cues, like when you’re trying to leave a conversation and they keep talking.

In your head, you’re yelling, “Go away!” But to be polite, you keep nodding and try not to let your head explode.

A friend of mine would refer to these people as “livers.”

The liver isn’t a pretty thing but has lots of important functions. It regulates chemical levels in your blood and breaks down nutrients. It stores and releases glucose. It removes bacteria and other harmful substances from your bloodstream.

In short, ugly but important.

Or, applied to people, annoying but valuable.

Early on in the Bible, we’re told that “God created man in His own image.” Ephesians 2:10 calls us His “workmanship,” His masterpiece.

Think about that for a second—you are an expression of God’s work, created in His very likeness. … And so are the annoying people in your life.

God creates each person uniquely and loves every single one of us. Every. Single. One. He creates us with specific talents, personalities and desires. He has a purpose and life plan for each of us.

We are not mass produced, but carefully made by the God of the universe. And He doesn’t play favorites like we do (Romans 2:11).

I love what Psalm 139:14 says about our worth: “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” But that doesn’t just apply to me; it applies to everyone around me, too. Even the ones who don’t get social cues.

So next time your patience runs dry and you think you’re going to implode from being around so-and-so, remember these two things:

One, you probably do annoying things, too.

And, more importantly, that person causing your near-implosion is a masterpiece formed by God Himself. … Heck, maybe that person is part of your life to help soften your edges.

Think about how you’ll respond next time someone gets on your nerves. Then try to see that person the way God does—as a valued reflection of Himself.

The Kid Question

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I’m 30 years old, married and don’t have kids. Shocked? You’re not alone.

Pete and I have been married 6 years now, and for the past 5 years I’ve been asked a quarter of a million times about having kids.

“Do you have kids? … Do you want kids? … Do you plan to have kids anytime soon? … When do you think you’ll have kids? … So, any plans to start a family?”

(Technically, Pete is family so I’ve already started that process. Next question.)

I expect close friends to ask about these things, and that’s perfectly fine, but often the curious party is made up of complete strangers, or at least people I don’t know well enough to discuss reproduction.

Case in point: Pete and I were at a party one time, sitting across from another couple about to welcome their first child into the world. I wasn’t even done with my tiny plate of chips before they asked The Kid Question: “Have you discussed having children?” the husband asked.

I just met you 5 minutes ago, I thought.

Plus, what if we haven’t discussed it; you’ve just put us on the spot. Or maybe we have talked about it and it’s become a point of contention. Either way, it’s an awkward position from where we’re sitting.

Once people find out we don’t have children, I can almost guarantee the next question: “How long have you been married?” Because apparently there’s an acceptable number of married years before you’re expected to procreate.

Or, if they don’t ask that, another option is the halfway sympathetic, “Oh not yet?” As if it’s a sure thing.

Occasionally, I’ll run into gutsy people who pry even further when they realize there are no children in the mix.

“Why not?” some have dared to ask bluntly.

“How long are you going to wait?” a few have wondered out loud.

Oh, you know, 10-12 years should be good. … I mean, really, what am I supposed to say here?

On the flip side, I once had someone completely drop the conversation and start talking to someone else after finding out I don’t have kids at home, even though there’s a plethora of other things we could have talked about. Sorry I couldn’t discuss breastfeeding and daycare and whether they’re sleeping through the night, I thought. Maybe I should have a kid so I’ll be fit for public chit chat.

With each passing year of marriage, the comments have gotten less lenient. At first, people were reassuring: “Well, you’ve got time. Don’t rush.”

Now people aren’t afraid to let us know that time’s a wastin’.

Just last fall, I had a friend point out that my 20s were almost over with 30 fast approaching. There’s that clock thing you know.

Really? I thought for sure I was getting younger …

A couple years ago, I actually had someone tell me I “better get on it,” and from a man no less, which pretty well ticked me off.

Are you going to birth this child and raise him and pay for him and spend time with him and rearrange your work schedule for him? I thought. No? Then kindly take your comments elsewhere.

What’s really fun is when someone skips the questions altogether and makes a straight up declaration about my future child.

“You’re next!” I’ve had women tell me at a baby shower.

Am I? That’s news to me. 

Then there are the ones who imagine me with child and tell me about it.

“Your kids will be so cute!” Or, “When you’re pregnant …”

I get that women traditionally love babies—especially when all they have to do is coo over them—but unless you have some word from God, please withhold all prophecies.

Now don’t get me wrong here; I like children. I grew up with two younger siblings and know how much fun they can be. I spent years babysitting, and I’ve volunteered to spend time with them during vacation Bible school and neighborhood events. I look forward to visits with our nephews five states away. I have lots of friends with kids and I love seeing pictures of them, hearing stories about them, holding them and playing with them. I’ve offered to watch their kids if they ever need someone.

I know they’re a blessing, I know they change you for the better, I know it’s hard but worth it. I’m not anti-kid here.

What I don’t like is the constant quizzing about our childlessness. I know people mean no harm, but frankly, it’s none of their business.

Not only that, but you never know what a couple is going through. Maybe they’ve had a hard time getting pregnant or experienced a miscarriage. Or maybe, just maybe, they don’t want kids for one reason or another. We’ve known plenty of couples in each of those situations.

I’m immensely grateful that neither set of parents has pressed the issue with us, and I’m thankful for our friends who ask us about travel, hobbies, work, church, house projects, our families, TV shows and so on.

And yes, if you really want to know, we have discussed the kid thing many times and do have an idea about the future. But that’s between me and Pete.

So, if you find yourself bursting to ask The Kid Question anytime soon, here’s another question to consider: Is it really necessary?

I’ve wondered myself about couples’ plans for kids, but I’ve also come to find that if they want you to know, they’ll tell you. And that’s a much safer place to be than drumming up any potential frustration, tears or blog posts.