Generosity in Vignettes
It was my best friend Andrew and me sitting down at a Taco Bell in Little Rock. Suddenly, a man who was clearly homeless or close to it approached our table. He had a Walkman and was dancing to whatever music was playing. We didn’t know what to do, but he was obviously trying to get our attention.
He took off his headphones and placed them on Andrew’s ears. Andrew, being the comedian that he is, just began spastically dancing to the music and getting into it. We all laughed and then the man took the headphones off of Andrew and put them on me. So I started dancing as if this song were some contagious groove. Again, we all laughed, and still, neither Andrew nor I had any idea what was going on.
The man took the headphones off my ears and put them back on his. Then he finally addressed us. He told us he was down on his luck and could use some money if we could spare it. Both Andrew and I were thinking the exact same thing: What are the odds of us coming to Taco Bell at this exact hour and this guy walking in and needing help? How could we ignore this amazing opportunity to help a lowly man in need? So, we both reached into our pockets and pulled out a couple of dollars and handed them over.
He thanked us, and as he grabbed the money, he said, “God bless you guys. I’m ‘bout to go get druuuuuuunk!”
At the church Alexis and I attended in Little Rock, I was asked to help lead worship for the youth group. I didn’t just want to show up every Wednesday and play some songs; I wanted to fully engage these kids in the entire musical experience of worship and mold them into true worshippers. I wanted them to know that worship is expression and not just a checkmark on your spiritual to-dos. So when I would practice with the band, I would ask questions like, “Why are we playing it this way? What is this song trying to say? Is that how you really feel? What would your feelings sound like in the context of this song?”
One of the other things I encouraged was for them to explore all the instruments I owned. So, I put every instrument and piece of gear I had up in that Teen Room (guitars, guitar pedals, amps, keyboards, banjo, mandolin, bell kit, etc.) and said they all could borrow whatever they wanted. This was the thing they got most excited about.
And to this day, I still don’t know where my mandolin and bell kit are.
I had just been fired from my job, and I wanted to use the time for something good. So, I volunteered at a place in North Little Rock that serves the homeless. After talking on the phone with Paul, the guy who runs the show, I was confident that I would be a valuable and cherished part of this ministry and bring hundreds out of poverty with just my presence and good attitude.
My first day, I stepped out of my car and headed through the front door. Outside were scattered groups of homeless people laughing and carrying on. I entered into a chaotic scene — people arguing with the front desk lady, one man was singing at the top of his lungs, a few people were telling him to shut up, another person was pleading with Paul about something. It was nuts.
So, I tried to make my way to the front desk. The lady acknowledged me, and I said I was a new volunteer. She told me to just wait a minute while she got some stuff figured out. I nodded and stepped aside, leaning against the wall and trying not to make a face at the amount of smells in the air.
Suddenly, a large guy approached me and asked if I could help him.
This was my shot. This was my path that God was opening for me.
I told the man sure, and he began to explain that his hands were paralyzed and he needed help pulling his pants up. I was very weirded out, but then the story of Jesus and the leper hit my head, and my thought was that if no one else would help this man, then I would.
I hesitantly reached over and pulled his pants up a bit. He stopped me and said to pull higher. So I pulled them a little higher. Then he said no, no, that’s too high. So I pulled them a little lower.
That’s when the front desk lady aggressively pulled me aside and informed me that the man I was “helping” had a severe mental illness and was probably asking me to do that for some sexual arousal thing.
I said oh no, and the lady laughed.
Generosity is a wild animal.
It can be a blue whale you stumble upon while on the water and it causes you to stop and be in awe of its grandeur and gentleness. And it can be a grizzly bear that rips your face off.
It’s a lush forest you can observe from a distance, and fantasize about living a peaceful and more meaningful life within it. But once you step inside, you’re lost and hungry and alone and the forest swallows you up.
Generosity is a pull, not a product. The moment you try to tame it or place your expectations around it is when it becomes less about the pull, and more about you.
So, let your generosity run wild.
Ike Peters is husband to Alexis Peters; father to two boys, 3-year-old Elliott and 15-month-old Ira; and a Senior Copywriter at Saatchi & Saatchi X.