Thursday, August 19, 2010

Panhandlers

Matthew 25:40 "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me.'"

This is the post that might reveal some things about my character...or lack thereof. I may be blunt & honest & in the end, you might decide that i am selfish or hateful or perhaps, judgmental. I truly hope not. But there are some things weighing pretty heavily on my mind lately that i need to blog about. (This post is also really long. I hope you will read it anyway.)

It's not that i wear a mask, I am very much a 'what you see is what you get' type of girl. I have had people say that is what they love about me. That i'm real & genuine. These are qualities i like about myself. I have a lot of compassion & understanding & i see that as a very good thing. However, there are certain things i don't normally discuss on my blog. Things i can't talk about, because it would come across the wrong way. It would make me seem selfish or unkind or possibly, prejudiced. I don't talk about these few topics for fear of being misunderstood. They are things i have discussed with my husband many times, & close friends a few times, but not here on my blog for people to read who may not understand where i am coming from. Still, I've had a couple of encounters lately that i simply have to blog about. And maybe your comments will help me.

I cringe when writing the word "judgmental" above, because it is the one quality i despise more than any other. I see it all the time & i hate it. I am a Christian who is surrounded by so-called worldliness at the theatre (i say so-called, because i see quite a bit of judgment & arrogance in the church & a whole lot of love & grace in the theatre, but that's another post). I am with people constantly who i am supposed to love & who i do love, easily & without any hesitation. I love them. Some of them you would think i should steer clear of, but i don't. I won't. That is something people think, not something God thinks. He loves them as they are & so do i. I do not judge them at all, but many of them are judged. I am mainly talking about homosexuals here. That, too, is another post.  The point i am trying to make is, though i have been raised in a Christian home & have been taught that certain things are wrong or sinful or immoral - that does not change the fact that these are people who are of no less importance & who need acceptance & understanding & forgiveness - & just friendship, really - just as much as anyone else.

I am getting way off the subject. I think i just began 3 separate blog posts, by mistake. :)



This post is about Panhandlers. Notice i didn't say homeless people. There is a difference. I know that some people are both. There is this one homeless man i see nearly everyday who is definitely homeless. He sits on benches along Government Street. I used to take Government Street to get to my office & it was obvious that he slept on that bench & that he just woke up. He is homeless, but i have never seen him beg for money. I wonder about him. I wonder what his story is. I don't really understand it, honestly - homelessness. I don't understand having NO ONE to help you through it. It blows my mind. That someone could have NO ONE. THAT breaks my heart. I have also been on a missions trip to L.A. & we did minister to some homeless people. I didn't judge them at all. I loved them. I talked to a mother & daughter & they were homeless. I kind of understood them, where they were coming from. But they were offered a warm place to stay (the L.A. Dream Center) & they refused. Why?

When i was young, i was very tenderhearted. It stayed with me as i grew into a teenager. I cried once because we hit an armadillo. Armadillos are disgusting. They really serve no purpose, right? Who mourns the death of an armadillo? I did. I was extremely tenderhearted. I have noticed a lot in my twenties, especially my late twenties, that the tenderhearted spirit i once had is gone. I mean, i have it in certain situations, i guess, but not in a lot of them.

I wouldn't call Baton Rouge a place that is just FULL of homeless people, but i do see them a lot. I am extremely skeptical. Cautious. For the most part, i do not even believe they are homeless.

When i was in college, i took a sociology class. The teacher told us that he once dressed as a homeless man & stood on the corner with a sign that said he was homeless & had no money. He said he got quite a bit more money that day than he got on his salary as a professor. It made me sick. (For the record, he did it for an experiment & gave the money to charity. Not that it makes it right, but...just thought you  might want to know!) I think that was my first realization that not all homeless people are actually homeless. I was in my late teens then. I loved people of all races, denominations & beliefs. I still do. But i sometimes get so frustrated with so many things that i see going on around me.

Here, my work building & the theatre are on the same boulevard. The closer you get to downtown & the farther away you get from work/theatre, the worse the neighborhoods get. (Except downtown, that is a nice area. Just heading that way.) There is a Subway i used to go to across the street from work. I stopped going. Why? Panhandlers. A man was there every.single.day asking for money as you went in the door. He annoyed me. I'm not giving him money. I never will. Sorry. (This is the part where you can think i am evil, if you want.) It was very easy for me to say, "No. Sorry." without any real apology at all in my voice. Call me judgmental if you wish, but this man can walk, can talk, looks to be physically able. He can walk into that subway & get a job. He has a brain. And he is not homeless. How do i know? Well, he showers & he wears clean clothes. But maybe he is. Who really knows, except him & God?

I encountered this man many, many times. I finally started going to a different Subway, he annoyed me that much. Plus i had come across 3 other panhandlers at the same Subway. One day (during my fast food eating days...thankfully i've ended that habit, for the most part!), i went to Taco Bell. I got my food in the drive-thru & decided to eat it in their parking lot. I parked & began to eat. Next thing you know, that same guy from Subway was right at my window. He knocked on it. Can i just eat in peace, if you don't mind?! Those were my thoughts. I looked at him & made a motion for him to "shoo!" Now, that is really the only part of this entire scenario that i am ashamed of. I do not want to "shoo!" anyone. There is something so demeaning about that. I don't want to be someone who looks down on others. But i do look down on this man. I do. I don't look down on many people, really. But i am just being completely transparent here. Anyway, he said something like, "oh, come on, please!!" begging me to roll down my window. I calmly put my drink down, put my taco down, put the car in reverse, backed up & drove away. Smiling the whole time. My expression said to him, "sorry, dude...gotta go!" I know he wanted to either ask me for money or food. Or something. I don't care. And i know i did the right thing. He is up to no good and i do not need to associate with him. Some of you will disagree & that is fine. But other than my "shoo'ing" him, i know i handled it just fine.

This past Saturday something strange happened on my way to the gym. I took my turn off the interstate & it ends up at a red light. A woman was sitting there in the grass next to that red light. She was sitting indian style with a backpack & a sign telling us she needed money (i assume, i didn't actually read the sign). She looked run-down, and tired, and sad. I did not give her anything because it seems i faced Subway man for so long & others that i see at other intersections, that i now don't think about it, don't pray about it, don't do anything except have an automatic "NO" to their request for money. It's like an automatic reflex, to say no. But i don't want to be like that. I want to have wisdom & discernment & help those in need if they truly need it.

After i pulled up to the red light, i looked in my rearview & saw the person in the car behind me hand something to the woman. I believe it was a granola bar. For whatever reason, i began to cry. I couldn't stop the tears. i thought of that woman all the way to the gym. What was her story? Why was she alone? Was she running from an abusive husband? Was she just a single woman who could no longer pay the bills, who had lost her house? Was she just trying to get enough money to get a bus ticket? What is her story? My heart was heavy for her & that is when i realized that i could have given her something. That she was someone who really DID need something. I prayed for her. I stopped at Walgreens for cash to go to the Farmer's Market after the gym. I decided if she was still at that spot on my way to the Farmer's Market, that i would give her some money. But she wasn't. So i couldn't.

I wanted to blog about it then but i didn't really know what to write. I mean, the entire blog would have been the last two paragraphs & nothing more. I didn't know what it meant. Why she touched me so deeply. Why i figured it out too late. So i just forgot about it. Until yesterday.

Yesterday after the gym, i was heading home & realized i had to stop & get gas. I don't stop at the gas station nearest my house because... well... i don't think it's the safest gas station in town. I've had a few occasions to let me know that for sure. So i try to avoid it. I stopped at this one which is on the same street as that Subway. I pulled into the gas station & started to get gas. Next thing i know, there was a green SUV that stopped where i was. A guy asked me, "Hey, i'm sorry to bother you, but do you have any cash i could have for gas money? Just a dollar or two?" I sighed, said i doubted it but would look, and looked in my wallet. I hesitated for a second, as i stared at the $5 bill in my wallet, still left from Saturday. I thought, "ok, God, do i give it to him, do i not, is he for real, is he not, what do i do?" I finally shrugged, took the 5 out & handed it to him. He saw that it was a 5 & made a face like, "are you serious? you don't have to give me this much!" & i said, "it's all i got", meaning it's 5 bucks or nothing. He said, 'Thank you so much, thank you so much" & then... he drove away. First, he backed up like he was going to get gas in the spot next to me. But then he drove away instead.

He was lying. If he needed it for gas money, he would have gotten it right then.

I was done getting gas, so i left & kinda looked around for his car as i was heading towards home. I saw him turn right by another gas station just a block away. I thought, "oh! he's going for cheaper gas!"But no, he kept going down the street beside it. A bad neighborhood.

I was so mad! The only reason i considered giving it to him is because of that woman on Saturday. Before her, i wouldn't have thought twice about saying no. But that woman stayed on my  heart. She was sincere. Was it because she's a woman? Maybe. I don't know, honestly. But for some reason, she stuck with me. Even though i couldn't help her in the end.

So because of that story, i gave to someone who was lying. It makes me sad.

I know they say it doesn't matter. That God knows a person's heart. That even if they use the money for cigarettes or drugs, it doesn't make you a bad person for giving to them. They will be held responsible for their actions, just like you are held responsible for yours. And i understand that. But still. I want wisdom. I want to give to those who are truly in need. I want to help those & be a light to those who are truly hungry (physically & spiritually). The worst thing about it? That day i had a five & 3 one's in my wallet. Work was collecting money to get a gift card for a coworker for a special occasion in his life. I looked in my wallet & said, "i ain't giving him my 5!" & i turned in the 3 bucks for him. But later, the 5 bucks went to a liar.

It's not about the money. I can live without 5 bucks. It's just that, it should have gone to my coworker. Or the lady sitting off the interstate. Not the liar.

How can i have discernment & wisdom to give to the one TRULY in need?
How can i know in that split second what to do? And not when it's too late?
How can i judge those so easily - when they are good people but just in a bad spot in life - & later give to someone who is lying?
How can i be so easily accepting of certain types of people - so compassionate & understanding - & yet hard-hearted when it comes to panhandlers?

Ok, bless you so much for sticking around this long! Those are my thoughts for today. And this one too...

James 1:5 "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him."

4 comments:

Sarah said...

I think an appropriate response if someone asks is, "No, I'm sorry I don't have anything" and then walk away. Bruce and I have had these discussions a lot because we are so bad at walking away - but what I've decided is that I'd rather give the money to organizations working to make changes at a systemic level than to put a bandaid on one small part of the problem.

If you really feel led to help people when they ask, either keep granola bars in your purse or $5 subway gift cards. That way you know you're helping people eat, not necessarily spend it somewhere else.

There's no easy answer unfortunately. We live in a broken world.

Laura said...

I like Sarah's response. I don't think you are a bad person at all for all that you wrote.

I was going to say buy them the food. Or tell them that you have five bucks for gas but you want to see them put the gas in and don't go over five cuz that's all you got. But I really like the gift card idea too.

Ashley said...

I totally agree with you!! its th liars or pnes like them that make people in need not get help. I have done the same thing just because i had a few dollars in my purse and then the man went in a bought ciggerates, not food.... ugh!!! It breaks my heart for those who need it but how do we know?? We dont get any signs!!! I pray sometimes that i know who really needs help. I have bought someone a hamburger before so i know that was used for the right purpose, unlike the food money for smokes!!

When i went to memphis back in February some Panhandler tried to show us how to get to Beale street liek the big flashing BB King light wasnt a dead giveaway, we knew were we were going we didnt need help, i was trying to walk away but he kept on it 4 girls and him... just tagging along, we get close to Beale and they ar not allowed on the street at all and he says how about a tip?? really?? we saw beale before you popped up in our way stupid fool!!! all i had was a $20 not giving the creep that thank goodness another girl with us had a one and give him that.. who knows what he would have done he could have been packing!! lol


not sure if you have ever been to Memphis, TN but it very scary in the down town area especially at night!!!

Lisa said...

We used to live near a sort of bad neighborhood, and would be asked for stuff all the time, including money for gas. We had decided a long time ago that we were never going to give money to beggars, but that we would offer other things if we had them. So, at the gas station one day we had filled up some gas cans and then we were filling up our car when a guy asked us for a couple of bucks for gas so that he could pick up his daughter. My husband said, "I don't have any money to give you, but if you show me where your car is, I'll give you five gallons of gas from one of these cans." The man was like, "You don't have any money?" And when we said no he waved us off and walked away. Clearly he did not need gas to pick us his daughter (and what a horrible thing to do - use the image of a child to try to get money). A short time after that we were at (oddly enough!) a Subway and a guy asked for money for food. I offered him the other half of my footlong that I didn't eat, and he wouldn't take it. If he was really homeless and starving, he would have jumped on that perfectly good sub. The more and more that we reach out to people in ways other than money, the more we realize that the majority of them are not truly homeless. So, there are definitely ways to help those that need it!
(sorry for such a long comment!)