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Paying It Forward

Photo: Jon Warren/World Vision

Photo: Jon Warren/World Vision

Recently it was my birthday, and my favorite gift was one I was able to give away.

My wife Janet walked back into our condo with a sober look on her face after taking the trash out to the dumpster this morning. “When I opened the trash enclosure door, there was a Hispanic man and woman in there, picking through the trash.”

We have a different family that comes by in a truck fairly regularly on the evening before the trash truck comes, the truck bed usually piled high with discarded furniture and mattresses. I’m glad they seem to do a good business.

But Janet wasn’t sure what the couple in there today was doing. I asked her if they were using any tools; she replied that the man was just using his bare hands.

I immediately knew what I wanted to do, if it wasn’t too late to catch them. I ran to the garage and snatched up the pincer tool that I’d been given 4-5 years ago by a little Hispanic woman who didn’t really speak English. I’d grown to really appreciate that tool for reaching into the rafters, or retrieving the bar of soap our cat knocked under the sink. Every time I use that grabber tool I think of her generosity and smile to myself.

But the tool has done the good work in me that God had intended for it. After all, it prompted me to write about it, write what became my first meditation. I assigned that story to the first chapter in my book, to mark its significance to me in shaking up my bifurcated worlds–the one I resided in, and the one I’d visit among the poor. That little Hispanic lady started a cascade of synapses, connecting the dots between paradigms I’d experienced on my trips and the value they could bring to my everyday life, my life back in the erstwhile “bubble” of comfort in which I live.

Having a forty-something couple dumpster-diving a few yards from my front door tends to make those worlds collide, too. I knew there were a great many things I did not want to do in response to Janet’s report, actions I could take which might be perceived as demeaning, or would embarrass them, like giving them money. I could assuage my discomfort by calling the police. I could tiptoe over and lock my front door.

Or, I could pay it forward and accept that God now had a new, needier owner in mind for my now-beloved pincer tool.

I thought I’d missed them, but when I opened the wooden door to the closure, there they stood. As soon as I held out the tool in my two hands, they both smiled broadly and the woman exclaimed, “God bless you! Thank you so much!” Hoping she actually did speak some English I decided to tell them the pincer’s story, probably for no reason other than I wanted to share with them my joy in being able to pass on this blessing that some kind Hispanic person had blessed me with.

I felt a bond, a kinsmanship, in rejoicing along with them. And I felt like a caretaker, a steward; that I’d been entrusted with the tool for just such a time as this to pass it along. I wasn’t the owner. I certainly wasn’t better than them; I felt more like a delivery boy who was handed some valuable, and I now understood that my job was to transport it from one VIP to another VIP. And I was thrilled to successfully complete my assignment.

I suppose I should feel this way about everything that happens to currently reside “in my hands”. That’s what this idea of being a steward is all about, isn’t it? If I felt this much joy “transporting” a tool that cost ten bucks, imagine the joy I ought to be getting from stewarding things costing hundreds or thousands.

But for now, I’m just glad to close the loop on the “Uncomfortable Generosity” I had powerfully experienced in receiving the pincer tool, and the joy I felt in paying it forward.

Cory Trenda is the Senior Director of Innovation for World Vision U.S. Major Donor Ministries.

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