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Jefferson Weaver: Pufferfish, princesses and being polite

By Jefferson Weaver

After a particularly toe-stomping sermon by Pastor Kincy a while back, I decided that I could do better about helping folks.

I will preface all this by saying I am not trying to boast; I am neither the high priest crossing the road to avoid the victim in the ditch, nor am I the Good Samaritan. I have learned the hard way that we all need to be more generous to the less fortunate, and we all likely can reach out more than we do.

At the same time, I stress over stewardship. I realize we’re not responsible for what someone does with the help we provide, but we are responsible for doing the right thing.

I was getting some gas when a couple approached me at the station. Both were pushing baby strollers loaded with bags. They had The Look. I mentally counted what I had in my pocket, and figured I could spare $5.

Surprisingly, he didn’t ask for money, but for a ride. He had a gift card from Walmart. The guy told me they need a fan for their house. I told him the truth, which was obvious: there was no way to fit two small children and three adults in a single cab truck. And besides, my predator-warning was going off.

The guy was polite and understanding. He and his wife had cold Pepsi-Colas, so they didn’t need drinks. The kids both had bottles (although the older one looked beyond bottle age, much less stroller-worthy, to me).

He thanked me anyway – but then the woman reached into the diaper bag, pulled out a pack of Marlboros, and began a profane diatribe about their landlord being too cheap to provide air conditioning. Two box fans and ceiling fans weren't enough. This, that and the other thing, etc.


Yes, I smoke cigarettes. I appreciate air conditioning, but in the past lived without the blessed Cold Box more than I have with it.

Above all else, however, I cannot conceive of smoking a cigarette over a child whilst venting about the heat to a stranger who is pumping gas.

I asked if they had contacted any of the area churches, and they hastily bid me a good day and went after a couple on a motorcycle. I was curious how they were going to fit the entire family on a motorcycle, plus a fan, if the riders were willing to give them a hand.

Flash forward a few days later.

A younger couple, maybe 19 or 20, was standing beside their car in the grocery store parking lot, counting change. Their body language showed both fear and embarrassment. I nodded toward them, and after a second’s consultation with the young lady, the young man came toward me.

“Sir,” he said, “could I ask you for a dollar for some gas? We almost have enough money for a gallon.”

He was either sincere, or a very skilled scammer. I dug out some bills, and told him that he needed more than a gallon, since even a Matchbox car like his wouldn’t go far on a half-gallon.

He thanked me profusely, but not obsequiously, and held out his hand. I shook, but held for a moment.

“You aren’t planning on buying anything illegal are you?” I growled. His eyes got wide, and he stammered a little.

“No, sir. We live right here in town. We’re just trying to get home. I tried calling my dad, but he’s at work.” I watched as they left, and sure enough, they went straight to the gas station across the road.

Most every one of us have had to depend on the kindness of others at times. I am not ashamed to admit I have done so, albeit it’s happened more times than I like to admit. I think overcoming need makes one more willing to help someone else, whether out of gratitude to God or wanting to “pay it forward.”

I do not share these things out of a desire to draw attention to myself. Rather I just think we could all likely be a little more generous, but at the same time, be good stewards.

With all the stuff given away by the government nowadays, as well as a generation or two of people benefitting from their parents’ desire to make things better, too many folks have an attitude of being owed whatever they want, and that imagined debt is payable on demand.

I am reminded of a rather spoiled little girl who was the terror of her pre-K Sunday school class. She went through Sunday school teachers like goldfish snacks. The little darling consistently got whatever she wanted, when she wanted it, from the time she was born. She was constantly told by her parents, grandparents and other kin that she was the prettiest little princess ever created.

When she didn’t get what she wanted, she would pout, then cry, then howl, then throw a tantrum. Her cries of torment would disrupt then entire wing of the church until her parents flew to the rescue.

When those tactics failed, she would hold her breath – sometimes until she passed out.

Then she got a new teacher.

In the midst of one her classic fits, the young lady threatened to hold her breath, pass out “and die.” The new teacher calmly assured her that she wasn’t going to die, but that if passing out was what she wanted to do, that was fine. The rest of the class was going to go on learning their Bible story.

So with a big, dramatic deep breath, the little angel made her cheeks as big as those of a pufferfish, and set about turning herself blue. She made occasional whining noises until the teacher excused herself from the rest of the class and approached the air-hoarder.

Sensing victory, the spoiled brat tried to stare down the teacher – who got nose to nose with her, took a deep breath of her own, and blew into the princess’ nostrils.

The utter temerity of the teacher’s actions did not compute, and the princess exhaled, not knowing what to do next. The teacher calmly took advantage of the confusion and led her over to the group.

I think some folks need to have their noses blown into sometimes in order to get the point.

A plea for assistance is not the same thing as a demand, and it likely won’t be treated that way. I’ve known folks who were on the edge of hunger who would share what they had with a stranger who needed it more, and I’ve seen a woman in a thousand bucks worth of jewelry demand, with a string of colorful invectives, that she get an additional $20 from a church to pay her electric bill at Christmas.

We all can be more generous to those in need – it’s the American way, and the biblical way – but at the same time, we need to be stewards on guard against the scavengers. When the greedy get all they want, the needy are often left lacking.

I have been criticized for not blindly handing over everything to someone who says they have a need. I got over it. We are called to be wise as serpents in addition to being innocent as lambs. It doesn’t mean we have to give begrudgingly, nor does it mean we are to seek accolades for helping someone. It means we should give wisely as well as generously – and if necessary, be willing to blow air up somebody’s nose before they turn blue.

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