David and I had taken the girls to Washington DC and our oldest, Daly Kay was six years of age. Geez, that was almost 14 years ago! I was pregnant with #5 and due in three weeks. Tired from a long day of touring the capitol with four little girls, we walked the National Mall back towards our hotel.
A homeless man sat on his cardboard mat on a stoop. Beanie cap and full beard, he held his sign with his cataract eyes blankly staring into space. “Spare change lady?” He requested, as I walked behind David and held Daly Kay’s hand.
I wanted to ignore him. That’s what I had always been “taught” to do. But my daughter just looked at me with big brown pleading eyes and I asked David for his wallet. As Daly Kay and I passed him a few dollars, he quietly said, “God bless you ma’am.” The look in her eyes was addicting. She gazed at me as if I were superwoman! As we talked about it the rest of the way home I silently vowed to never again pass up the opportunity to give to someone begging.
Roadside, sidewalks, door stoops and parking lots…wherever I see someone begging, I roll down the window and pass them a few bucks. My kids now know when we pull up to a stoplight and someone is holding a sign, they reach for my wallet and pass me the money without me having to prompt them. If I am without cash, the kids gladly give of their own hard-earned money. And that has led to more than a few interesting conversations when friends are in the car.
Here are just a few of the common responses we have encountered and my answers:
“My dad says they are bums and they should get a job.”
Well, your dad is technically right but lacks empathy. Who knows what hard times these individuals have fallen upon and who are we to judge? Perhaps the perfect storm of loss, addiction, and/or Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome have rendered them incapable of steady work. Whatever the cause, that’s not my call. Jesus said “Give to everyone who asks of you…” And I think that’s a pretty clear directive.
“They’ll just take your money and use it to buy drugs or alcohol.”
This may be true, but again, that’s beyond my control. What is in my control is to give. Look, Jesus said give…that’s my responsibility. What they do with the money is their responsibility. If I don’t give, I gotta answer to the God who blessed me with every dollar I have in the first place. And I’d rather err on the side of giving to someone in need than withholding from someone who is hungry. I’ve never gone to bed hungry…but growing up both my mother and father did. A couple of bucks from me could help get them through the night.
“It’s dangerous! They could try and rob you!”
I’ve never had anything but gratitude and a God Bless You from any of the homeless that I have given to…with one exception. One evening after visiting with my oldest “son in the faith” Terryon who lives in the hood, a woman on the street corner approached asking for money. I gave her three dollars. She walked away counting. About 30 seconds later she was banging on my back window and came running back up. “You didn’t give me enough!” she shouted. She scared me to pieces when she banged on the door…but before I could realize what she asked for, Ryli reached over and grabbed $2. She snatched it and walked away.
Terryon later told me she likely wanted $5-6 to buy a small bag of drugs. Again, what she did with it is between her and God. But I gave, and that’s what the Lord is pleased with.
I mention this because parents have asked me how to raise selfless, generous children. This one little habit is definitely a big piece of the puzzle. You teach generosity by practicing generosity in front of the children. Give when you see someone in desperate need. Have empathy— teach your children to not judge the person for their current circumstance but to see that individual as someone infinitely worthy of God’s love. Teach your young ones to love, exude grace, have empathy, and to give. Giving to those “bums” on the side of the road is a “cheap” yet lavish lesson in generosity. The act itself doesn’t cost you much and likely you’ll never remember what you did with those couple of dollars…but your children will reap the rewards here and in eternity for living a generous life as adults. And that’s priceless.