Tuesday, January 3, 2012

This New Year, Be Generous

Just a couple days before Christmas, my son and I were in a local grocery store.  I spotted something fascinating as I walked down an aisle.  We grabbed what we needed and scooted on to the end of the aisle where I stopped Gideon and asked him to tell me what he saw back down the aisle.  He peeked around the end cap full of sodas, “a guy buying mac’n’cheese.”  I told him to look again and tell me what the guy was doing with hands.  This time it took Gid a while longer, but eventually he said, “looks like he is counting change.” 

The man was doing just that.  I asked Gid if he had any cash in his pocket (I’m strictly a debit card man).  Gid was tapped dry, too.  “Come on,” I barked, cutting short the rest of our list.  We jumped into the express lane and I requested cash back.  By the time, we were done, the tall, husky man had paid for two microwave cups of macaroni and cheese, with his change.  I quietly hustled up beside him, handed him some bills, and simply said, “Merry Christmas and God bless you.”

Most adults understand the scope of what I’m describing – most of us have been there!  Walking out the door, I began to explain that the only reason a person counts their change in the store like that is because that’s all the money they have and they want to get as much filling food as they can afford.  I’m not bragging about what I did.  I’m just following another example.  I told this story to set up one of the greatest acts of generosity I’ve ever experienced.  But first, a word from our Sponsor:
Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. …  Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.  So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.  (Galatians 6: 2, 9, 10)
Tuck that word away for a moment while I tell you about one of the most severe and demanding people I’ve ever known.  Emily Kemak was the principal of Nordale Elementary, the school I attended and where my mother taught for 16 years in Alaska.  Kemak looked like Cruella Deville.  She opened her mail by slicing envelopes over her sharp cheek bones.  She kept her Size 4 figure by feasting exclusively on the bones of orphans.  She kept better watch over her charges than Sheriff Joe Arpaio does his pink jump-suited criminals.  When she said, “Quiet” church mice were in awe of the silence she commanded.  Ok, you get the point.

Bear all that in mind as I tell you the trepidation I felt years later when I received what amounted to a “summons” from Emily.  I was in college in Denton, Texas and she was visiting Dallas.  She asked if, on such and such a date, she could host me for lunch at her hotel – The Fairmont (back when it was the best hotel in town).  On the appointed day I headed off to Dallas.  I’d spent the prior six years in a town of 1000 people in rural Texas.  I’d never been into Dallas on my own before.  I certainly didn’t know what to anticipate.  My head already buzzing with anxiety, I took a gut shot when the only available parking was in The Fairmont parking garage… and it was clear they would want money to let me out.  Well, not only didn’t I have a debit card (in 1977), but I didn’t have any other visible means of support.  I didn’t know that I would need money to have lunch someone else is springing for.  Her plan perfectly crafted, I assumed this is where Cruella would do me in.

An hour later, I had just enjoyed lunch with one of the kindest and most thoughtful people I’ve EVER met.  Emily was cordial, inquisitive, actually inspiring.  I had found a friend and encourager that I really needed at that time.  Then came dessert.  With butterflies in my stomach, I acquiesced to a piece of cherry pie.  When I finished that, Emily was adamant that I order a second piece.  That’s when I felt the worst.  “Well, actually, Mrs. Kemak, I have to tell you.  I parked in the hotel garage and I didn’t realize that they would charge.  I don’t have any money to pay my way out.”  This formerly-evil-now-endearing lady looked lovingly at me and said:
That is no problem.  I had already planned to give you this.  (She slid a crisp $20 bill across the table to me.)  You see, when I was a young woman in college, I didn’t have a penny to spare.  I certainly could not have driven 30 miles and parked in a hotel garage.  I’ll never forget the day my older brother visited me and took me to lunch.  At the end of lunch he handed me a $20 bill.  It made such a difference in my life.  I’ve tried to pass on that kindness as often as I could.  I’m so delighted I could pass it along to you.  Now I know you’ll do the same for someone else when you can. 
And while saying all that, she had also mysteriously summoned another piece of cherry pie for me!

As I walked out of the grocery store with Gideon, I repeated something to him I’ve said often and I want him to embrace personally, “whenever you can, be generous”.  (I can happily say that I have re-gifted that $20 bill many times over – sometimes as a blessing, sometimes as a lifesaver.)  Followers of Jesus, get this, we fulfill the law of Christ when we bear one another’s burdens.  What a privilege it is to honor the highest expectations of our Savior when we lighten the burden of those around us.  Won’t you follow Jesus today?  Won’t you follow my dear friend Emily’s example and be generous to someone at just the right time.  Following no other law will give you such joy.

Clark H Smith

The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones. 
William Shakespeare

It should not be so!  And it is only so if those of us who live, who have been blessed by the goodness of others, do not continue to speak forth the praises of good people.  Today, I sent an email to the Dean of Students at SUNY Geneseo (where Emily's brother gave here the $20) and shared this story of former students.  I'm getting website traffic from all over upstate New York.  I also looked up and snailmailed a hard copy of this article to the descendants of her brother.  I urge my readers to do the heavy lifting of tracking down people who have blessed you and thank them for their kindness toward you.  Even if it is a great niece who gets the news, imagine how grateful they will be for your remembrance.

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