i saw her standing on the corner when i pulled into the shopping center parking lot. it was an unusual sight in our part of town, and especially at this intersection of a Starbucks, Chik-fil-A, Aveda salon, and SuperTarget. i couldn't read her sign, but i could guess what it said.
a few hours later, after loading our groceries into the car, i drove in the direction of the same corner where she still stood, and this time i could read her sign. i read it aloud: NO JOB. NO HOME. HUNGRY KIDS. NEED HELP PLEASE. and the weight of her words was heavy. almost instantly i was torn. because she was wearing nice clothes, a dress and a cardigan, and her shoes were in good condition. she looked clean. and the things that flashed through my mind were "abused" "trafficking" and sadly, "scam."
fast forward two days later. my family is just about to sit down for dinner, chicken is hot off the grill, when the doorbell rings. it's a boy who introduces himself and says he's 16. he's carrying a backpack and looks like he just got off the school bus, except i notice he has a small jarred candle in his hand. he tells us he and his younger sister made these scented candles and they are selling them to raise money to go on a mission trip. he hands me the vanilla candle and it smells like innocence. i ask him 20 questions: what church, where are they going, what will they do, how much does it cost, when are they going, and he has all the answers for me. but something in me is hesitant to believe him. i want to see a flyer from his church and these candles very well could be store-bought with the label torn off. he didn't have any paperwork or proof of this so-called mission trip fundraiser.
i'm not normally a skeptic and i like to trust my instincts. i pray often for wisdom and discernment because it's good to have those things for situations when my heart is torn like this. so, here's what i did.
i drove to the corner where the woman stood, rolled down my window, and gave her a can of soup. i leaned toward her, put my hand on her shoulder, and prayed God's protection, wisdom, and His Will be done in her life. in her broken english she thanked me and thanked God.
two days later, i picked out four scented candles from the young boy. i handed him cash and told him to have fun on his mission trip. he went off into the neighborhood to sell the rest of the candles in his backpack.
i gave. not out of guilt or condemnation or some religious requirement. not expecting anything in return and not with a reluctant spirit. i gave because here's what i know about my God: He would give. and He designed my heart to swell with joy when i have the opportunity to give even just a little tiny bit. scam or not.
if either of these situations were a scam, i don't want to know. the cost of four little candles, a can of soup, and my time and my prayers are nothing in the big scheme of things. what God can do with the very little i give? immeasurable. if it wasn't a scam, i gave dinner to a homeless woman and a few dollars toward a youth mission trip. if it was a scam, i hope instead of the woman and boy thinking of me as a sucker, they remember me as a Christian. i know no matter what, God can turn that can of soup and candle money into something good. He strategically made my paths cross with this woman and this young boy, caused a stir in my spirit, and burdened my heart with the stories so i would write about it here and now.
i don't want to live jaded, skeptical, or paranoid. these are the thoughts i want to have: "rescue" "hope" "redemption" and "grace." i want to live hopeful and grateful, seeing everything and everyone the way Jesus would have me see them. in the moment, i was torn, but i choose to believe even these kinds of encounters are part of God's plan. ultimately, for His glory.
If anyone has this world’s goods and sees his brother and fellow believer in need, yet closes his heart of compassion against him, how can the love of God live and remain in him? Let us not love merely in theory or in speech but in deed and in truth.
-1 John 3:17–18
Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord,
because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
-1 Corinthians 15:58
Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have,
for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion,
for God loves a cheerful giver.
-2 Corinthians 9:7