Silver and Gold

 In Culture, Faith, Family, Fred's Blog, Fred's Blog, Giving, Gratitude, Money, People, Philanthropy, Poverty, Theology

“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has not pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:17-20)

Her name is Rachel and although she is an American Indian, the months of chemotherapy left her skin completely bleached. Her face was drawn, and she tried to hide her bald head under a black scarf and a much too large ball cap. She carried her few belongings in an open cardboard box.

Carol and I came across Rachel in a Texas hotel hallway shortly after Hurricane Katrina had devastated New Orleans. I expected a quiet elevator ride to the first floor, but Carol spoke to the woman, “You must be from Louisiana. What has it been like for you?”

Men don’t do that. We hold elevator doors and hope for the best. But that one question from Carol opened Rachel up, and the words started rolling. The weariness, discouragement, fear and loss poured out of her. For 20 minutes we stood together by Rachel’s car in the intense Texas heat. Sweat streamed down her face from under her scarf.

I remember Rachel’s eyes grew larger as she gave all of her effort to helping us understand what it had been like in New Orleans when the levees broke and everyone realized they were trapped and separated. In spite of her loss, she was headed back there to those she loved – with money, food and whatever support she could manage. I fidgeted but Carol kept her talking. I heard things I didn’t want to hear. I was impatient because I felt my head – not my heart – condemning me that I was just standing there when I should be doing something practical to help…and there was only one thing I knew to do.

I asked Rachel how many nights she had been at the hotel, and when she answered “just one,” I excused myself to walk inside to the registration desk to “fix her problem.” To a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail.

“There’s a woman who stayed the night here, and I want you to put her bill on my card,” I said. The clerk found her record and said he would make the change. “By the way,” he said as I was walking away, “she stayed in the Jacuzzi suite.”

When he told me the rate I was a little stunned. Didn’t Rachel know people in trouble stay – like me – in the cheapest rooms? For a moment I considered changing my mind but knew that would spoil my minute of humble generosity. My head – still not my heart – was soundly chiding me for being so impetuous. I walked out the door and looked across the parking lot at Carol and Rachel still talking, and suddenly my heart awakened. I realized Carol’s genuine listening had been the gift most needed…and I had missed it in my impatience to fix what I saw was a problem.

Rachel did not need money. She booked that specific room because she needed relief from her pain, and she fully intended to pay for it herself. She wasn’t destitute. She was alone, and she was fearful for her family and loved ones. Rachel had survived a life of storms and would doubtless make it through this one as well.

“You took care of her bill, didn’t you?” Carol asked when we left. I tried to imagine Rachel’s surprise at finding her charges paid. Would she be relieved or offended or surprised? Had my hurried gift given her encouragement and hope and the assurance that there are people who care? Perhaps. But I knew for sure that Carol’s simple gift of listening and sincere empathy had given Rachel what “silver and gold” could not. Carol had given her the attention, respect and love that John describes in the passage above.

Still, the grace for me is in the last verse. God is truly greater than our minds or hearts and he knew we both gave what we had to give.

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    John Willome
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    I cannot tell you how much this resonates with me. The interesting thing I noticed about that story from Acts when Peter and John pass by that man each day is that Peter was the one who stopped and talked. John never did. He had the same opportunities to speak that Peter had, but John never did what Peter did. That was John’s way. Peter was a little more ADD and impetuous (get out of the boat when he saw Jesus on the water; rush into the tomb first even though he got to the tomb second behind, who else, John; jump out of the boat when he sees Jesus on the shore leaving everyone else to bring in the fish, etc.). John was often a little more cautious and reserved. More “appropriate.”

    I have a friend named Russell who is very much Peter to my John. One time I walked into church and it was crowded. I saw a man and his wife sitting on the end of an aisle when there were a lot of seats empty in the middle. I immediately went into judgmental mode. How could they be so inconsiderate? Don’t they know to move to the center to make room for more people? Of course, all of these thoughts were internal. I just smiled at them and took space on the row in front of them. Then Russell came in. He saw them and said, “Hi. I don’t remember seeing you before. I’m Russell.” They introduced themselves and Russell learned that they were visiting for the first time. They were a little nervous about visiting such a large church. Russell made them feel welcomed. I didn’t.

    Thank goodness for people who aren’t cautious, speak first, see a nail, and instead of trying to hammer it, first take a moment to find out more about the nail and discover that it doesn’t need hammered at all–just understood.

  • Avatar
    Greg Smith
    Reply

    Fred, Thank you. That one is going to be rolling around with me a while. I often am just too task and externally forcused. You have given me a great reminder to be heart focused.

  • Avatar
    Terri
    Reply

    Another example of The Kingdom’s paradoxes! Thanks for sharing Fred.

  • Fred Smith
    Fred Smith
    Reply

    In 1999 I wrote a piece on trends in philanthropy and I think it is more true today than then. “The increase of giving by women will affect both churches and parachurches. Men formed many parachurch ministries with their particular assumptions about measurement, results, impact, goals and transactional relationships. Women give differently and their funding is going to re-shape some organizations, put some out of business and create many others.” I don’t think the art of listening is restricted to women or the bias toward fixing limited to me. However, I do think the more we see people as problems to be fixed the more we are susceptible to losing interest in those that cannot be fixed. That is my concern about phrases like “The War on Poverty” and “The Cure for Poverty”. It turns people into problems to be fixed or cured. Of course, that is not always the case. Think about cancer, malaria, polio, etc in which we think of people as not having choices. But, poverty, homelessness, and other issues tend toward our feeling they have some responsibility and if they will do their part then we can fix this. Does that make sense?

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    Fonda Latham
    Reply

    Oooof, well said good and faithful servant! Thanks for the transparent word!

  • Avatar
    Matt Rowan
    Reply

    Thanks, as always, Fred, for the wise words. I, too, tend to search valiantly for the nail to hammer without realizing that sometimes all people need is to be able to tell you about how they built the house!

  • Avatar
    STU SORENSON
    Reply

    Fred, sometimes you sound so much like me that I feel afraid for you! What a reminder that relationship is supreme in the eyes of our Lord.

  • Avatar
    John Kelly
    Reply

    I love it when you walk us through the moments of your life, both big and small. I think Rachel is most thankful for sharing your moment as well.

  • Avatar
    Linda Wilkinson
    Reply

    Reminds me of Mary and Martha… listening and doing.

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