Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Uncomplicating Generosity

A continuing theme of discussion lately among some of our friends has been about the "works" side of our faith, namely how little we really do and wondering if we are one of the bleaters instead of the baah-ers. A friend of mine named Heather, who isn't even a believer, is more charitable than I am, I think. She's a single mom to a 13-year-old boy and has done a fair amount of scraping by to provide for her son. But she's been making it and inspires me by her giving spirit. A few months ago, she was coming home from her second job in a restaurant around 3:00 am and saw an injured woman walking the street. So Heather pulled over. How many of us would actually pull over in the middle of the night on a dark street to check on someone who looked hurt?

The woman had just been released from a hospital after being beaten up by her son, who has a nasty meth addiction. Heather drove her to a womens' shelter in the area, but they were closed for the night. So she paid the woman's fee for the following night and gave her some blankets she had in her car to keep warm with while she waited the couple of hours until the shelter opened its doors.

Heather has raised her son with an awareness of suffering people. Though she only gives him an allowance when she's got some excess cash on hand, he regularly spends it by buying burgers for people on the street or getting Heather things that she likes. She was proud to be able to give him a $20 allowance one week, and he promptly went to the video store and came back with her favorite movie, Invincible. How do we raise kids like that?

Despite Heather and her son not even knowing Christ, they are more giving than a lot of Christians are. I wonder if it's just that they themselves are more familiar with hardship. They've been through it. They've been on the receiving end of "charity" by friends over the years, and this must have made a stamp of remembrance on them to give back.

This week in The Oregonian, there was an article about a food-bank in inner NE Portland having to move to another location because of the rising cost of rent in the area they're located that is quickly being "gentrified." Right next to $400k restored bungalows, you have run-down apartment buildings with the disabled and people living on assistance who've been there for years. The food-bank director was saying that the thing he'll miss the most about the area is the community, how giving out bags of food is pretty much an excuse to sit and drink coffee with these long-time friends of his in the neighborhood. I was really struck by that. Though he was the one dispensing the food, he remembers that he's essentially one of them, one in a bit of a rough patch here and there.

Then they interviewed a resident of one of the apartment buildings who told them about this one neighbor of theirs who has a washing machine and dryer at her place. She lets everyone use it. It's become essentially the building's machines. The woman being interviewed made the comment that she would never dream of asking one of the new neighbors residing in one of the "gentrified" houses if she could wash her clothes at their place. She knows what look she probably would get and who wants to bother with watching her new neighbor fumble to come up with an excuse?

It all reminds me of those statistics out there (wish I could find them) stating that the most generous Americans are the poorest.

So last night while Ted and I were loading up some stuff in the Home Depot parking lot, we were approached by a scruffy fellow who started laying out his mumbled spiel. Our reaction first, I'm sad to say, was to ignore him, hoping he'd move on. But he didn't, so we started listening.

I won't try to remember his whole story, but what made us come around I guess is that he wasn't asking for money, just a place to stay for the night with his pregnant wife and his brother. So we went to the nearby motel and they met us there.

The room ended up being $20 more than the man had said it would be, and the motel director told sort of shook her head at Ted, rolled her eyes, and said she just hoped there wouldn't be any trouble from them. She suspected them of being meth addicts, of whom there are tons in Portland. The two guy definitely had trouble making coherent sentences, and both had really swollen hands, which they attributed to spider bites.

The woman they were with though was lovely. She had these captivating, huge blue eyes and this real innocence about her. She truly looked pregnant (assuming they weren't faking that somehow) and told me it's her fourth. She couldn't have been older than 30. She said her other kids were in central Oregon with her 90-year-old grandmother. I enjoyed talking to her.

She asked if we had kids, and when I told them we were adopting, she and her husband both lit up. Both of them had been adopted. She'd been adopted by her aunt when she was nine, and he had been "adopted adopted" as an infant.

We prayed with them in the parking lot, holding hands in a circle (no rounds of "Kumbaya" I promise), which they seemed used to doing. As Ted pointed out, they must be used to the Christians out there who end up lending them a hand wanting to pray for them. He said it might just be part of their routine. That made me sad.

Were we suckers? I don't know, but I couldn't stop thinking about them last night. I wonder where they are today and if they're getting further on their way to Tacoma, like they said. I wonder if they stayed clean and sober last night in that motel room, just taking advantage of the chance to get a hot bath and warm bed or if they did other things.

It got me thinking about how the pervasiveness of drug-abuse has made it so much more complicated to be giving. It's the whole dilemma of wanting to give money and food to the poor, but not wanting to enable an addiction.
I know what we did last night wasn't done perfectly, but at least they wouldn't be sleeping on the street, and I do believe that she was pregnant.

I guess when it comes down to it, I'd rather err on the side of being made a sucker out of charity than letting my heart stay cold in protectiveness of my middle-class comfort.
So what can we do? Last week on someone's blog (I can't remember which one--if it's you, please let me know), I came across this verse:

Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.--James (in The Message).

It's quite a reminder. That's what true religion is, not forgetting the poor and loveless. There's no caveats there about drug abuse or being taken advantage of and/or lied to. It just says to reach out to them. I'm so self-protective. I forget so easily that this world is not my home, that this house I live in is not mine, that the fact that I have a washer and dryer is a blessing from God.

I had a conversation last week with my 17-year-old brother where I told him a little about our adoption plans. He got excited about it and said, "Lori, I always hoped that you would adopt."
"Why?" I asked him.
"Because then I won't feel so alone."

He came to live with our family when he was only four months old and was officially adopted at age five. I'd never known that he felt any sense of isolation in our family due to his being adopted. I know that he feels loved and accepted, but it made me wonder if kids who are adopted won't automatically always feel a sort of sense of not belonging, even as slight as it may be.

So this conversation with my brother combined with that verse from James made me really start thinking about how much I wish adoption were more the norm in the Christian world. Ted and I talked about how wonderful it would be if every family just took on one child in need of a home, only one. We'd be living out true religion, as laid out in the book of James, and our children who came to us through adoption might be less inclined to feel that sense of being the odd one out, the "adopted" child in a family of biological ties.

I know that adoption isn't easy. It takes a lot of time and money and emotion. But, as a Christian, I'm starting to challenge that old adage that says "It's not for everyone." I think it just might be. I've heard people express concern over whether they would ever be able to "bond" with an adopted child, and I think I understand that, but the thought I have lately in response to that is that, God can give you that ability if you ask Him to. If the Christian community made taking care of orphans a true priority, issues of bonding should not be a deterrent. He can fill us with love for these kids who need a home.

And maybe if enough people out there starting adopting, if it really started to become more "normal," we could band together and do something to change the system to make it more affordable, the way it was in the past (our social worker adopted eight kids through the '70s and '80s, when it was much less expensive--this issue is a hot topic for her, rightly so).

I know it sounds like I'm getting on a crusade. Maybe I am. All of this came mainly from talking to my brother and wanting him to truly feel a sense of belonging. If our adopting a child does that for him, that's wonderful. He'll feel a unique connectedness to a baby in Ethiopia that maybe no one else in the family will.
My sister and her youngest daughter are landing in Portland in approximately ten minutes, so I should be getting out of my pj's now so I can go pick them up. I'm not even going to proof this entry, so please forgive any mistakes. I'll get to them later.

Have a wonderful Fourth of July. Try not to blow any fingers off. And remember that pies should not, I repeat should not, be turned on their sides for any reason.


The Elliott Family said...

You never know when you might be looking at the face of Jesus.

Matthew 25:36-40

36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
37 Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?
38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?
39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
40 The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

Someday, you will hear the precious words, "Well done, my faithful servant?"


BigNatesWife said...

I often am so frustrated with the multitude of "Christian" people in our families that aren't entirely comfortable with our choice to adopt rather than pursuing "our own" (grrrrrrr) children. Nathan and I have felt that God put adoption on our hearts from the beginning. We talked about adoption for the first time on our second date. I knew there would be some hurdles to cross with our families due to the transracial part of our adoption. I had no idea that there would be opposition to the adoption itself. So much of the opposition can be so frustrating but so much of this process is so exciting as well. Nathan and I have been making decisions based on the Lord's leading since the day we met. They aren't always met with approval but we are so pleased with our life so we've learned to listen to our God and not to our families.

I love your blog and I'm so thrilled for your family to become a bit larger! Find the blessings in the process and keep smiling!

Be Blessed - Kelly


Anonymous said...

I was approached at a grocery store the other day by someone asking for change for the bus and I said no. I'm suspicious and don't want to contribute to a drug habit, but I wonder what it's teaching my kids? To distrust, to judge? Maybe it's not my job to judge, just to love.

Regarding adoption, for us, it's almost been a selfish decision. We are so incredibly blessed by our daughter, that although she needed a home, we feel LUCKY and incredibly blessed that we were chosen to be her parents. It was never a decision for us to do a good deed.

Lori said...

I do feel the need to add a comment here, that we weren't motivated to adopt just to "do a good deed" either, as we know that *we* will be the ones most blessed by the addition of this child to our family. And we too will feel grateful to have the child we end up with. I guess what I am thinking a lot about here with this post are older kids, especially the ones in our foster care system in the U.S. who get the message that no one wants them. What if Christians became known as the group that gives homes to these kids, the ones who show them that they have as much value as anyone else? What if each Christian family out there gave a home to just one of the adoptable kids lost in our social services network? These are hard questions, and I don't know where exactly the answer is...I'm just putting my questions out there, wondering myself.

Jana said...

this is such a great post!!!!

my sweet husband often buys lunches for the people who approach us. we even give out a few bucks now and then, knowing full-well we may be suckers. i've given away clothing to a woman who may very well have been an addict. the question is: is my goal to help only poor people who "deserve it?"

i totally agree with you--we would rather be made fools of than be hard-hearted....God help us if we as Christians refuse to be inconvenienced.

Jo Hertel said...

What a great reminder! I agree with you about erring on the generous side - I'm thinking this is more in line with what Jesus would do rather than ignoring them.

By the way, I' love being able to keep up with what y'all are doing this way!

Rusty Spell said...

Your friend Heather has good taste in movies (if it's the Invincible by Herzog).

Anonymous said...

I agree that we need to err on the side of generosity.

I too have wondered what the world would be like if everyone considered adoption just as "natural" as getting pregnant. Imagine if everyone adopted at least one child!

Anonymous said...

Please don't forget that compassion and generosity are HUMAN virtues, not something tied to Christians alone. I have seen my share of not-so-compassionate "Christians" and many wonderful, giving, non-judgemental folks who are not necessarily regular church-goers or believers. Yet they believe in the goodness of people and pass that on through their actions of helping others in need.

Lori said...

One of the main points of this entry, if not *the* main point, was to challenge other Christians to see where we've failed and others are succeeding.

So I *completely* agree with you, which was part of my motivation in thinking about all these things. I think that the Christian church has gotten away from issues of social justice in the last few decades, which should be remedied. I am very aware of the compassion and generosity of our friends of different faiths (i.e. my friend Heather I wrote about who is a wonderful model of compassion).

I'm sorry that you have encountered so many judgmental "not so compassionate" Christians. Our goal in our family is to show acceptance, tolerance, and compassion to *all* of humanity, which is a value we will strive to pass along to our children.

Susan Isaacs said...

OH my gosh I love the pie. Love the whole blog. What was it that Dorothy Day said, every time she looked at a homeless person: "Lord, is that you?" Your blog hit me where I was already living. I've thought about it when I meet a homeless person asking for money, that God says: "I don't care what he does with your money, Susan. I care what YOU do with your money." Even if they do go back out and use, the point is God has moved YOUR heart in the process. 58:6
"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? 58:7
Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-- when you see the naked, to clothe him ...?"

Susan Isaacs said...

And I'm SO EXCITED, you're on your way to being Parents!!!

Anonymous said...

hi lori, hi ted,
i just read about your final waiting. congratulations and feel free to enjoy the ride from now onwith no more painstaking paperwork.
jana , kosice

Anonymous said...

your never a sucker for showing love, even if you are being scammed.