Several months ago, I came across a headline in the Chronicle of Philanthropy that caught my eye: “Parents Play Biggest Role in Encouraging Teenagers To Give, Study Finds.” As a parent with two pre-teens at home, I was intrigued and jumped into the article:
“Teenagers report that their parents are the biggest influence on whether they give to nonprofit groups -- but many parents are not raising their children in a way that seems to encourage philanthropy and volunteerism, according to a study released today.”
The comprehensive findings of the study cite specific parenting practices, such as talking to kids about charity, explaining why one gives, and explaining the potential impact of giving. Sounds pretty straightforward, huh? So I was really quite surprised the other day when my ten year old, Lindsay, and I took a walk in our new neighborhood and stumbled upon what seemed to be an easy giving opportunity.
As we were exploring a few blocks from our house, we wandered into a garage sale. I started chatting with Glenn, a 50ish year old gardener selling dozens of potted plants and trees in an attempt to raise money to visit his mom in Tennessee. Turns out his mom was in the care of hospice. After two heart attacks, she had stopped eating and decided she’d had enough.
I poked around for a few minutes, asking questions about the plants, and Lindsay played with his frisky Husky, Umpqua. Fifteen minutes later, we said goodbye to Glenn with several plants in hand and the mention of a possible return for a potted Redwood. As we walked home, Lindsay and I talked about Glenn and why he needed money.
Once home, we told my husband about our adventure and our encounter with Glenn. I felt convicted to help somehow and Karl immediately encouraged us to act on this conviction. ‘How much would you two like to give him?’ my husband asked. I mentioned a figure which seemed appropriate in my mind. That’s when it got interesting.
Karl’s reply? He asked me why I’d picked that amount. Well, it was generous but ‘safe.’ Then he challenged me to give 5X as much. I gasped. What if it’s a scam?, I asked. What if Glenn thinks I’m crazy? What if Lindsay thinks I’m crazy?
When I asked Lindsay for her opinion, she said ‘Well, you were asking him questions. He didn’t come out and tell you anything about his mom until you asked.’ She picked a figure that was half way between her dad’s and my suggestion. Ugh. The learning experience was underway and God, as well as my husband and daughter, were challenging me to make a decision to demonstrate and profess my faith.
Ten minutes later, we were back at Glenn’s house under the auspices of another purchase. After a couple minutes of browsing, I asked ‘so how close are you to raising the money you need to visit your mom?’ He looked at me and said, ‘I have faith in God...’ and then his voice broke and he paused and looked down.
Turns out he was planning to rent a truck to drive to Tennessee, see his mom, and pack up her things upon her passing. He’d figured out fuel and driving costs, arranged to stay with several friends along the way, had received money from a niece and an offer of a $700 loan from a friend. The careful planning was what I needed to hear, I guess.
I told him that I also have faith in God, that I’m a Christian, and that our family has been blessed by God and we regularly looked for ways to bless others by helping them. I told him we’d like to help him by giving him some money if he would be open to it. He looked at me and nodded. I think we both started to cry when I told him we wanted to give him the amount my husband had originally suggested.
What mattered most to me, however, was when Glenn told me that he was ‘coming back to God’ and that the Christian couple caring for his mom had been encouraging him that God would provide the means for him to somehow see his mom again. ‘They keep telling me that God is in the details,’ Glenn said, as he thanked me. My hope was that the gift would be another snapshot to Glenn of God’s love and attention to important details.
As Lindsay and I said goodbye a second time, he asked us to stop by in the future, to say hello. I’m unsure if we’ll see him again but that’s OK. Lindsay learned something more about why we give and how it can impact people, even strangers. And most importantly, I was reminded once again that giving is learned and I – not just my pre-teens - have a lot of learning still to do.