1416) Finally Rich Enough to Be Generous

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From No Greater Love, by Mother Teresa, 1997:

     One night a man came to our house and told me, “There is a family with eight children.  They have not eaten for days.”  I took some food with me and went.

     When I finally came to that family, I saw the faces of those little children disfigured by hunger.  There was no sorrow or sadness in their faces, just the deep pain of hunger.  I gave the rice to the mother.  She divided the rice in two, and went out, carrying half the rice.  When she came back, I asked her, “Where did you go?”  She gave me this simple answer, “To my neighbors; they are hungry also!”

     I was not surprised that she gave, because poor people are often very generous.  But I was surprised that she knew they were hungry.  As a rule, when we are suffering, we are so focused on ourselves we have no time for others. 

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     An old man showed up at the back door of the house we were renting.  Opening the door a few cautious inches, we saw his eyes were glassy and his furrowed face glistened with silver stubble.  He clutched a wicker basket holding a few unappealing vegetables.  He bid us good morning and offered his produce for sale.  We were uneasy enough to make a quick purchase to alleviate both our pity and our fear.

     To our chagrin, he returned the next week, introducing himself as Mr. Roth, the man who lived in the shack down the road.  As our fears subsided, we got close enough to realize that it wasn’t alcohol, but cataracts, that marbleized his eyes.  On subsequent visits, he would shuffle in, wearing shabby old clothes and two mismatched right shoes, and pull out a harmonica.  With glazed eyes set on a future glory, he’d puff out old gospel tunes between conversations about vegetables and religion.

     On one visit, he exclaimed, “The Lord is so good!  I came out of my shack this morning and found a bag full of shoes and clothing on my porch.”    

    “That’s wonderful, Mr. Roth,” we said.  “We’re happy for you.” 

     “You know what’s even more wonderful?” he asked.  “Just yesterday I met some people that could use them.”     –Author unknown 

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Proverbs 11:25  —  A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. 

Proverbs 19:17  —  He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done.

Luke 12:48b  —  From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. 

Luke 21:1-4  —  As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury.  He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins.  “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others.  All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

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Guide us, teach us, and strengthen us, O Lord we beseech thee, until we become such as thou wouldst have us be: pure, gentle, truthful, high-minded, courteous, generous, able, dutiful, and useful; for thy honor and glory. Amen.

–Charles Kingsley

1273) Strictly Business

This short short story by Marvin Olasky appeared in the October 1, 2016 issue of World magazine, page 64, with the title “The Very Best Offer.”  Olasky is the editor of World (www.wng.org) and is the author of more than twenty books.

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     Forty-year-old John McKnight was precise in his business and theology.  He tithed 10 percent and kept a ledger book to make sure he didn’t sin.  He tipped 15 percent and always had $1 bills and quarters in his pocket so he could leave the right amount.  He marked up the windows he sold by 20 percent.  His bank balance increased by 25 percent each year.

     John also taught a course, ‘Negotiations,’ in the University of Texas MBA program.  Students over time forgot much of what he said but almost always remembered one takeaway:  Discern who is eager, maybe even desperate, to have your business.  Then, ask the seller, “Is this your very best offer?”  If he offers a small reduction, leave him twisting in the wind for a day or two to see if he’ll come back with something larger.

     When John decided to hire a small company, Martinez & Son, to paint his four-bedroom house, he researched the cost of paint and the going rate for the immigrants from Mexico who would do the work.  He thought Edgar Martinez might have a cash flow problem, so he peered over his glasses and asked him, “Is this your very best offer?”  When Edgar said he could cut the price by $1,000, John said, “I bet you can do better than that.  Come back to me in two days with your very best offer.”

     Edgar returned the next day with a $2,000 reduction.  John said, “I gave you two days.  Come back tomorrow with your very best offer.”  Edgar said, “This is a good offer.  I need to pay my men.  My son’s at your university, and you know how much tuition is.”  John said, “I do.  This is nothing personal, it’s strictly business:  I want your very best offer.”  The next day the discount was $5,000.  John, chuckling, signed the contract.

     By the time John was 55 he had $5 million in the bank, along with his four-bedroom house.  He had married at 45 and had no children but faithfully taught Sunday school for one quarter every 2½ years and had become a deacon.  Then his wife Jill walked out on him after nine years, even though he had provided for her well and been faithful.

      John was depressed. His pastor said, “I have something to help you out of your funk.  Take charge of our deacons’ assistance fund for four hours each Friday afternoon.  Homeless people come and tell you their stories.  If they sound genuine, you give them a $20 bill.”

      John agreed to serve and found he enjoyed being the judge of legitimacy.  One day the ragged man standing before him looked familiar.  John asked, “Do I know you?”  The man replied, “Yes, you do: name’s Martinez.  I painted your house 15 years ago.”

     John, momentarily startled, said, “You did good work.  Why are you here?”  The answer:  “Ran out of money.  Started drinking.  Hit my wife.  Left town.  But I heard my son started up the business again.  Once I get cleaned up I’ll go see Nick.”

     John gave him a $20 bill and almost pulled out his wallet to contribute $100 of his own, but then remembered he should stick with the rules.  When he went home, he walked all the way around the exterior of his four-bedroom house and saw what he hadn’t noticed before:  A drip down one wall had left boards bulging out.  Paint was chipping in some places.  The Texas sun had discolored others.

     John’s internet search yielded a cornucopia of house-painting businesses, but he fixated on a small one:  Martinez.  On Saturday Nick Martinez, the image of his dad, did a walk-around with John and answered questions about how the painting business was these days.  The next day, after church, John scrutinized an email with a bid.  Fair price, sure, but he suspected it could go lower.

     Monday morning Nick and John sat with a desk between them.  Nick handed over a contract.  John peered over his glasses and asked, “Is this …”  He couldn’t finish the question.  He started again:  “Is this …”—his throat clutched again.  Nick asked, “Is anything wrong?”

     John sighed, then signed, then smiled:  “No.  Is this something you can start on tomorrow?”

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Proverbs 14:31  —  Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.

Leviticus 25:35  —  If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them… so they can continue to live among you.

Zechariah 7:9-10a  —  This is what the Lord Almighty said:  “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.  Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor.”

Mark 8:36  —  (Jesus said), “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

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O Lord Jesus Christ, who though you were rich became poor, grant that all our desire for and covetousness of earthly possessions may die in us, and that the desire for heavenly things may live and grow in us.  Keep us from all vain expenses so that we may always have enough to give to him who is in need, and that we may not give grudgingly out of necessity, but cheerfully.  Amen.

Treasury of Devotion, 1869

985) The Gift of the Magi (part two of two)

     (…continued)  At 7 o’clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.

     Jim was never late.  Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered.  Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment.  She had a habit for saying little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered:  “Please God, make him think I am still pretty.” 

     The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it.  He looked thin and very serious.  Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two— and to be burdened with a family!  He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.

     Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail.  His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her.  It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for.  He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.

     Della wriggled off the table and went for him.

     “Jim, darling,” she cried, “don’t look at me that way.  I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn’t have lived through Christmas without giving you a present.  It’ll grow out again— you won’t mind, will you?  I just had to do it.  My hair grows awfully fast.  Say ‘Merry Christmas!’ Jim, and let’s be happy.  You don’t know what a nice— what a beautiful, nice gift I’ve got for you.”

     “You’ve cut off your hair?” asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor.

     “Cut it off and sold it,” said Della.  “Don’t you like me just as well, anyhow?  I’m me without my hair, ain’t I?”

     Jim looked about the room curiously.

     “You say your hair is gone?” he said, with an air almost of idiocy.

     “You needn’t look for it,” said Della.  “It’s sold, I tell you— sold and gone, too.  It’s Christmas Eve, boy.  Be good to me, for it went for you.  Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered,” she went on with sudden serious sweetness, “but nobody could ever count my love for you.  Shall I put the chops on, Jim?”

     Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake.  He enfolded his Della…  (Then) Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.

     “Don’t make any mistake, Dell,” he said, “about me.  I don’t think there’s anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less.  But if you’ll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first.”

     White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper.  And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.

     For there lay The Combs—the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshiped long in a Broadway window.  Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jeweled rims— just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair.  They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession.  And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.

     But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say:  “My hair grows so fast, Jim!”

     And them Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, “Oh, oh!”

     Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present.  She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm.  The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.

     “Isn’t it a dandy, Jim?  I hunted all over town to find it.  You’ll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now.  Give me your watch.  I want to see how it looks on it.”

     Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.

   “Dell,” said he, “let’s put our Christmas presents away and keep ’em a while.  They’re too nice to use just at present.  I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs.  And now suppose you put the chops on.”

     The magi, as you know, were wise men— wonderfully wise men— who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger.  They invented the art of giving Christmas presents.  Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication.  And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house.  But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest.  O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest.  Everywhere they are wisest.  They are the magi.

The Gift of the Magi (shortened a bit), O. Henry, 1905 

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I Corinthians 13:4-7…13  —  Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres…  And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love.

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SPOUSES’ PRAYER FOR EACH OTHER:

Lord Jesus, grant that I and my spouse may have a true and understanding love for each other. Grant that we may both be filled with faith and trust.  Give us the grace to live with each other in peace and harmony.  May we always bear with one another’s weaknesses and grow from each other’s strengths.  Help us to forgive one another’s failings and grant us patience, kindness, cheerfulness and the spirit of placing the well-being of one another ahead of self.  May the love that brought us together grow and mature with each passing year.  Bring us both ever closer to You through our love for each other.  Let our love grow to perfection.  Amen.

–www.catholic.org/prayers

984) The Gift of the Magi (part one of two)

The Christmas story has inspired a million more stories.  One of my favorites is The Gift of the Magi, a 1905 short story by O. Henry.  The story of the birth of Jesus is a story of God’s love and sacrifice.  O. Henry tells this wonderful story of love and sacrifice in a marriage.  Most of you probably read this story in high school English class, but perhaps have not read it since then.  Take the time to do so now in these next two meditations.  One of the things good literature can do is to make you want to be a better person.  This story does that.

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     One dollar and eighty-seven cents.  That was all.  And sixty cents of it was in pennies.  Pennies saved one and two at a time…  Three times Della counted it.  One dollar and eighty-seven cents.  And the next day would be Christmas.

     There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl.  So Della did it.  Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.

     While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home.  A furnished flat at $8 per week…  In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring…  But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called “Jim” and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della.  Which is all very good.

     Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag.  She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard.  Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present.  She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result.  Twenty dollars a week doesn’t go far.  Expenses had been greater than she had calculated.  They always are.  Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim.  Her Jim.  Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him.  Something fine and rare and sterling— something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.

     There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room.  Perhaps you have seen a pier-glass in an $8 flat.  A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks.  Della, being slender, had mastered the art.

     Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass.  Her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds.  Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.

    Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride.  One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s.  The other was Della’s hair.  Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty’s jewels and gifts.  Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.

     So now Della’s beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters.  It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her.  And then she did it up again nervously and quickly.  Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.

     On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat.  With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.

     Where she stopped the sign read:  “Madame Sofronie.  Hair Goods of All Kinds.”  One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting.  Madame, large, too white, chilly…

     “Will you buy my hair?” asked Della.

     “I buy hair,” said Madame.  “Take yer hat off and let’s have a sight at the looks of it.”

     Down rippled the brown cascade.  “Twenty dollars,” said Madame, lifting the mass with a practiced hand.

     “Give it to me quick,” said Della.

     Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings…  She was ransacking the stores for Jim’s present.

     She found it at last.  It surely had been made for Jim and no one else.  There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out.  It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation— as all good things should do.  It was even worthy of The Watch.  As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim’s.  It was like him.  Quietness and value— the description applied to both.  Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87 cents.  With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company.  Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.

     When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason.  She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love.  Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends— a mammoth task.

     Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look like a truant schoolboy.  She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.

     “If Jim doesn’t kill me,” she said to herself, “before he takes a second look at me, he’ll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl.  But what could I do— oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty-seven cents?”   (continued…)

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Proverbs 31:10-12  —  A wife of noble character who can find?  She is worth far more than rubies.  Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.  She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.

Ephesians 5:25  —  Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

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 Make us always eager, Lord, to share the good things that we have.  Grant us such a measure of your Spirit that we may find more joy in giving than in getting.  Make us ready to give cheerfully without grudging, secretly without praise, and in sincerity without looking for gratitude, for Christ’s sake.  Amen.  

–John Hunter, Scottish pastor  (1849-1917)

775) I Wish…

      Brad was a young man just out of college, looking for work.  He lived in a dumpy little apartment in a bad part of town, but he did not plan to be there very long.  As soon as he found a good job and had some money, he’d be out of there.  He was talented, his prospects were very good, and he knew that he would only go up from there.  In the apartment next door to Brad lived Frank, a guy not much older than Brad.  But while Brad was on his way up in life, Frank was on his way down.  A variety of health problems had prevented Frank from getting good, steady work, and the jobs he did get hardly paid for his rent and food.  Getting a car was out of the question, and that made it even more difficult to get a good job.  And his health was getting worse, not better.  Frank did not have much to look forward to.  It looked like he would be stuck in that dumpy apartment forever.

     One day Brad saw Frank pull up in a brand new car.  When he got out, Frank told Brad he was moving out.  He had a brand new house on a lake out in the suburbs waiting for him.  He was back to load up a few things, and the rest of the junk would go into the dumpster.  His new place was fully furnished.

     “What happened?” asked Brad.  “Last month you had to borrow money from me to pay the rent, and all of a sudden you are living like a millionaire.  Did you win the lottery?”

     “No,” said Frank, “I could never afford lottery tickets.”

     “How can you afford this?,” asked an astonished Brad.

     “I can’t,” Frank said, “but my brother is doing all this for me.”

     “Your brother?” said Brad, “I didn’t even know you had a brother.”

     “I hadn’t seen him for a long time,” Frank said.  “He’s much older than I am, so we were never close, and we lost touch after our parents died.  But just last week, out of the blue, he called me.  When he found out about my troubles, he said he wanted to help.  I guess he made big money in some computer business, and he can afford to do all this for me.  I can hardly believe my good fortune.”

     “Wow,” said Brad, “I wish I …..”

     I wish I what?  How do you think Brad finished that sentence?  What did he wish for?  What would you be wishing for in that situation?  Most people would probably answer that in the same way I answered it when I first read this story and was imagining how it would go.  The obvious answer is “I wish I HAD A BROTHER LIKE THAT.”  What a brother!  Wouldn’t it be great to have a brother like that who would be able to give you whatever you’d ever need or want?

     But that isn’t what Brad said in this true story.  What he said was, “I wish I COULD BE a brother like that.”  And he did not mean that in the sense of being rich like the brother and having all that money to spend on himself.  He meant it in the sense of I wish I would be able to help someone out like that.

     That reply reflects a completely different approach.  His first thought was not how such an arrangement might benefit himself:  “If I could only have such a brother.”  His first thought is what he might do for someone else, if only wishes could come true.  You see, Brad also had a brother who was in need, and Brad felt bad that he could not help him, being barely able to take care of himself at the time.  He was hoping that he would be able to help him someday.

     Who do you identify with in the story?  Perhaps you feel like Frank at the beginning of the story– down and out and going nowhere, barely surviving, and needing a helping hand.  Or maybe you feel like Brad, only able to take care of yourself right now, but hoping someday to be doing better, and then willing to be generous with what you have.  Or, perhaps you are like Frank’s brother who hit it big and could now afford to be very generous?

     Actually, if you look at the big picture, most of us are, most of all, like Frank’s wealthy brother.  When Brad saw Frank pull up with the new car, Brad asked him if he had won the lottery.  But think about it.  Just by being born in this country we are all, already, the winners in life’s lottery.  I once heard that even if you are living at the United States government designated poverty level, you are still living better than 89% of the rest of the people in the world.  By living in this country and in this century, we enjoy comforts and conveniences that not even kings and presidents enjoyed less than a hundred years ago.  We are like Frank’s older brother.  That is who most of us are in the story.

     Everything we are and have is from God.  Most of us have been so richly blessed that we can afford to be generous.  Will you use what the Lord has given you in such a way that you will one day hear the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:21, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”?

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Matthew 25:21  —  (Jesus said), ““His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness!’”

Luke 3:10-11  —   “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.  John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

I Peter 4:10  —  Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

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 Almighty God, judge of us all, you have placed in our hands the wealth we call our own.  Give us such wisdom by your Spirit that our possessions may not be a curse in our lives, but an instrument for blessing.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (91)

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4) Can You Afford to Be Generous?

From No Greater Love, by Mother Teresa, 1997:

     One night a man came to our house and told me, “There is a family with eight children. They have not eaten for days.” I took some food with me and went.

     When I finally came to that family, I saw the faces of those little children disfigured by hunger. There was no sorrow or sadness in their faces, just the deep pain of hunger.  I gave the rice to the mother. She divided the rice in two, and went out, carrying half the rice. When she came back, I asked her, “Where did you go?” She gave me this simple answer, “To my neighbors– they are hungry also!”

     I was not surprised that she gave, because poor people are often very generous. But I was surprised that she knew they were hungry. As a rule, when we are suffering, we are so focused on ourselves we have no time for others. 

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     An old man showed up at the back door of the house we were renting. Opening the door a few cautious inches, we saw his eyes were glassy and his furrowed face glistened with silver stubble. He clutched a wicker basket holding a few unappealing vegetables. He bid us good morning and offered his produce for sale. We were uneasy enough to make a quick purchase to alleviate both our pity and our fear.

     To our chagrin, he returned the next week, introducing himself as Mr. Roth, the man who lived in the shack down the road. As our fears subsided, we got close enough to realize that it wasn’t alcohol, but cataracts, that marbleized his eyes. On subsequent visits, he would shuffle in, wearing shabby old clothes and two mismatched right shoes, and pull out a harmonica. With glazed eyes set on a future glory, he’d puff out old gospel tunes between conversations about vegetables and religion.
On one visit, he exclaimed, “The Lord is so good! I came out of my shack this morning and found a bag full of shoes and clothing on my porch.”    

    “That’s wonderful, Mr. Roth,” we said. “We’re happy for you.” 

     “You know what’s even more wonderful?” he asked. “Just yesterday I met some people that could use them.”     –Author unknown 

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Proverbs 11:25 — A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. 

Proverbs 19:17 — He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done.

Luke 12:48b — From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.  (NIV)

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Guide us, teach us, and strengthen us, O Lord, we beseech thee, until we become such as thou wouldst have us be: pure, gentle, truthful, high-minded, courteous, generous, able, dutiful, and useful; for thy honor and glory. Amen. –Charles Kingsley