Assignment No. 20: Skip the MEAT.

OCT 15-NOV 14…Skip the MEAT. Beef – it’s not for dinner.

Beginning today, I start a new assignment to go meat free for the next 30 days. I recently discovered that the food service at my son’s school actually encourages students to choose a meatless option on Mondays something that got me thinking. It also brought back some old memories of growing up where I was first introduced to the book Diet for a Small Planet. This 1971 book shed light on meat production and its impact on hunger. It also included hundreds of meat-free recipes. Unfortunately, I don’t recall any of these meals fondly. Accordingly, I do not plan on resurrecting any of the recipes from this book, but I will make a good effort to eat my veggies. It’s Biblical after all. You probably remember how Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were actually healthier after eating a vegetable only diet. I’m not sure what I’ll do with fish, though. Your thoughts are welcome!


Assignment No. 19: Tip an EXTRA 5%.

OCT 1-31…Tip an EXTRA 5%. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Unless I receive absolutely inexcusable service, I’d consider myself a decent tipper. Restaurant servers receive 15 or 20%. The woman who cuts my hair receives 10%. I rarely tip the unseen hotel maid – but am not feeling too good about that as I write this. Taxi drivers receive 10 or 15% or I simply have them “keep the change.” Valets, bellhops and shuttle drivers receive at least $2 per service. All of these people are on the feet all day long and deserve their wages and then some. This assignment will be an experiment in generosity as I tack on an extra 5% to the amount I already tip. That means wait service will be at 20 or 25% and Peggy who cuts what’s left of my hair will receive 15%. For others, I’ll just plan on holding what I have with a loose grip.

Two turkey clubs – no takers

The week has been fairly uneventful and probably not very interesting to the reader I’m afraid.  Assignment No. 2 has been fulfilled with ease this week — parking in distant spots on the church parking lot and parking in my employee’s parking spot instead of my own during the work week.  It’s been a cold week for weathering the conditions now that I don’t just ride the elevator to the lower level in my office building. In a moment of exceptional grace, I  nearly did the splits on an icy sidewalk tonight.  (I can tell my legs are going to be very sore in the morning!) The employee I swapped spots with is walking with a cane right now after recovering from hip replacement surgery so it makes for a win-win.  She doesn’t have to risk a slip on the ice and I get the privilege of fulfilling my assignment albeit with a little muscle ointment.

Tuesday morning after the bad storms that night, was spent at Mom’s dealing with a broken dining room window but I don’t really consider that a part of Assignment No. 1.  That’s just part of being #2 son. 🙂  Other than Tuesday, I’ve been pretty much chained to my desk this week — looking at resumes for a new hire, pushing paper around, and making an unusually high volume of phone calls.  I guess that has kept me out of the “flow of need” in the downtown area.  I did briefly spot Bill and possibly Gregory (I didn’t get close enough to be sure) in the Old Courthouse rotunda overflowing with students. Unfortunately, by the time I returned from my lunch meeting, they were no where to be found.  I had hoped to deliver a couple of turkey club sandwiches.  I wonder where the guys went in the cold? The building didn’t close for 3 more hours.

Switching spaces

Three recent encounters to update everyone:  I saw Bill again at the end of day on Friday. He was on his usual stone bench at the Old Courthouse.  We had a lengthier conversation this time and I gave him my usual folded $5. I didn’t come across anyone need on Saturday – guess I wasn’t looking.  Today at church, my dear wife directed another bubbly girl scout my way.  Gee we’re going to have a lot of cookies in a few weeks! Then, this afternoon on the way to the Cardinals Winter Warm-up, I was approached by Raymor for some help buying  a meal.  It was interesting to think that I was going to an event where fans plunk down some serious cash for an autograph or an sweat-stained ballcap and all this man wanted was a little money for food. He seemed genuinely grateful for the help.  Oh, and I was able to put my new assignment into play today as well.  At church, I parked on the “outer forty” where the church staff parks.  And, due to some advance planning I was able to switch parking spaces with one of my employees for the week who parks at a different garage downtown.  This enabled me to get some exercise while going to and coming from the Warm-Up by not taking advantage of my indoor parking space across the street from the hotel where the event is held.  It’s all good.

Girl Scout cookies and car parts: an interesting mix

Saturday was the perfect weather day for taking down Christmas lights outside.  Despite the great temps, the down side comes in the form of soreness from all the stretching, scrambling around on the roof and ladder climbs.

On this day, I was reminded how much longer it takes to put up lights than to take them down.  I also discovered how much little effort it takes to help others when you have already determined that you will.  Was it a life changing event for anyone? Probably not, but no one was more surprised than me when a sweet and unsuspecting little girl scout asked from the sidewalk “Would you like to buy some cookies?” and I immediately fired back “Sure! Come on over here!” $12 later and I have the promised of a load of calories being delivered to the house in a few weeks.  On a per-cookie-price basis the purchase made absolutely no sense.  On a right-thing-to-do-basis it made all kinds of sense.  I’m pretty sure I would have gently said “no thanks” had I not already determined that such an ask would fall within the category of “those in need.”  When you have predetermined what you want to do, it just seems to flow…  What do you want to be prepared to do in advance?  Oh, and what’s your favorite girl scout cookie?  I bet you have one!

Yesterday (Monday), I spotted Bill again on the same stone bench as last week. It seemed remarkable to me that I would actually know his name.  Not only did I figure he was still a person in need one week later, but I could actually say that I knew at least a little something about him.  So, this week it didn’t feel like an obligation as much as something I wanted to do to help him.  So as to not embarrass him by the extra attention, I decided I wouldn’t give him a handout directly, but I did leave a little gift for him in a spot where he was certain to discover it.

Today, with my gas tank heading toward “E” I pulled into my usual gas station downtown. I guess this wasn’t my day to be approached  by the men that have frequently asked me for money while I filled up on prior occasions. (This was always a pet peeve of mine.) Maybe when the time comes eventually, I’ll be ready with a gift card for the Taco Bell across the street.

Tonight, in a nice turn of events, I had the great blessing of being in receiving mode of a little generosity and boy did it feel good!  Jim, a friend who actually knows his way around a car, helped solve a problem that has been plaguing me for months.  After I had worked on it for a few hours Saturday on my own before giving up in frustration, Jim installed a new part in my car in less than 30 minutes. Thanks Jim! I now have power locks, map lights, dome lights, a garage door opener and a rear defroster that all work!  I’m honestly pumped about this!  Can you believe the same part controls all of these things?  I guess that’s why the manufacturer charges so much for the thing. 

Did you know that less than 9% of the world’s population actually owns a car?  At least I’m not having to walk to work…

Needs are all around me

It’s been a very long short week. Even though I worked 4 of the 5 days, the hours seemed to go slowly.  I guess I’m still getting back into the swing of things after taking some time off at Christmas and New Years.

Regarding my current assignment to help anyone in need, I have certainly found it surprising at how quickly my mind has shifted from avoiding to seeking.  Of course, some opportunities just find me like Wednesday night when I was given an opportunity to play a small part in helping someone out of a very difficult situation.  Sometimes the help we give comes in the form of encouragement, prayer, and connecting people to the resources they need that I can’t provide.

Other times, we must seek opportunities. On Thursday, I had finished a quick lunch by 12:30 and had a few minutes to go out of the office before a 1:00 conference call and enjoy the unseasonably warm temps.  What a change from two days earlier when the freezing temps were driving people inside.  With a bill slipped in my pocket I hit the streets for a quick circuit downtown.  I thought I’d drop in at Hardee’s and possibly pick up a gift card or two that could be used for meals if I ran into someone needing a meal.  I first thought about walking around Kiener Plaza but then opted to cut across the middle.  That’s where “they” hang out.  My first sighting was a false alarm.  From a distance he looked like a good candidate until I got closer and he whipped out his cell phone.  I decided that was a sign to keep walking. Just 20 feet later, a man I would later learn to be named Al, approached me. Very friendly, big smile, very reassuring that he wasn’t begging.  Instead, he was collecting support for local shelters.  He was legit – his credentials proved it and his spirit confirmed it.  One of the shelters is run by  an organization headed by a colleague of mine.  Al and I chatted a bit – mostly small talk about the incredible weather – he thanked me and I decided I needed to head back to the office.

Today, I attended a funeral for an employee’s father with the hope that my presence would be a comfort. I remember the kindness shown by so many when Dad passed away that this comes quite naturally.  The congregation hymn was “How Great Thou Art” – the same sung by my wife 11 years ago at Dad’s graveside.  It’s these gifts of self that make the greatest impact.

A quick stop at Gus’s Pretzels for a dozen twists for everyone back at the office and I was out the door but not before a spontaneous contribution into the jar at the counter supporting the Backstoppers.

Lessons God is teaching me so far:

  • Needs are all around me – some are revealed – some must be discovered.
  • Understand that solutions are as varied as the needs themselves.
  • Hold my possessions loosely; share myself freely.

Gregory and Bill: It’s like they were waiting for me…

Two men take refuge from the cold.

I left the house this morning after slipping some folded bills in my wallet in pockets usually occupied by extra credit and store loyalty cards – you know – those cards that take up way too much room but might earn you a fru-fru cafe’ latte if you spend enough.  I chose three denominations thinking that I’d have options available to me when responding to that first person that God would put in my path.

As I left my office and walked across the street to my first meeting of the week at the Old Courthouse, I was glad to have my coat, hat and gloves to deal with the temps that had dropped below freezing.  As I felt the cold on my face, it dawned on me that I’d surely encounter the young homeless man today that often stands next to a huge radiator in one of the crosshalls of the Old Courthouse.  (Since it’s a public building, the homeless are generally free to stay around until closing time.)  The staff, I learned, affectionately refers to this young man as “the talker” since he usually talks to himself quietly, non-stop all day.

After my meeting, I went to see if he’d be in his spot. I was oddly excited about the possibility of meeting him and asking his name rather than just walking by as I had so often done before. As I walked across the rotunda, however, I spotted a different man sitting on one of the stone benches, bundled up with bedroll neatly packet beside him.

Mental note: “This man is in need too; I’ll get him on the way back.” 

Disappointed to find that “the talker” wasn’t in his expected place warming himself by the radiator, I returned to the rotunda. To my surprise, now there were two men seated on individual stone benches.  The latest addition was also bunded up in cold weather clothing but instead of a bedroll, he held a military-type duffle bag close by on his bench. 

Problem: “I am 100% sure both of these men could use some help, but I have bills of 3 diferent denominations with me and they are sitting only a few yards apart.”

To remedy the situation, I ducked into the Old Courthouse Gift Shop and asked to have my largest bill broken down.  When I asked the shop employee and park ranger on duty if they knew anything about the two men, I learned that they were “regulars.”   With two matching bills in my pockets, I returned to the rotunda.  The man on the left bench was sitting quietly with eyes closed – perhaps asleep, perhaps daydreaming.  Before me was an African American man easily in his 70s bundled in winter wear and wearing a knit cap.  I asked his name and how he was faring the the colder temps.  In a quiet, raspy voice he told me his name was Gregory and gratefully received my offer of assistance.  He smiled and thanked and blessed me. 

On the right bench sat a white man in his late 50’s.  I think he was already aware of my presence but didn’t let on.  I introduced myself and learned his name – it’s Bill.  Like Gregory, Bill was bundled up but wore a hood over his gray hair and beard.  He smelled of smoke – maybe from a fire, maybe from cigarettes – I’m not quite sure.  I asked Bill if he had a place to sleep and he assured me he did.  When I asked if I could help him get something to eat, he very graciously accepted, shook my hand and uttered “bless you, bless you, bless you.”

Today, without searching, I encounted two homeless men sitting in the Old Courthouse on hard stone benches holding all of their worldly possessions – both happy to be out of the cold.  Both grateful and both willing to genuinely bless me.  It’s like they were waiting for me.  And to think that last week I would have easily forfeited that blessing by pretending they were invisible! Is anyone invisible to God?