Why I Keep Dog Food in my Car

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A few summers ago I was driving back to work after having lunch with a friend, and I saw this scrawny yellow dog hoofing it across a busy intersection. It was a hot afternoon, and the dog caught my attention because it was tagging about 100 feet behind a couple of people who’d crossed a minute or two earlier, panting and looking thirsty. What really sucky pet owners, I thought, letting the dog cross by itself.  The light was red, so fortunately the poor dog didn’t have to dodge oncoming traffic, but I was still cringing inside. I kept an eye on it – and the people – watching to see if they’d stop and wait for the animal to catch up. But they didn’t. And the dog still padded after them (or at least in their direction) on the hot pavement.

My animal-loving instincts kicked in and I quickly realized that the dog was just following them, looking for company, maybe hoping to be rescued, taken home, fed, and loved. So I made a quick detour around the block and turned down the street to follow the dog. It went up on a few neighborhood lawns, sniffing things, but obviously had no real place to go. I drove farther down the street and pulled over. I got out of my car and knelt in the grass by the sidewalk, waiting for the dog to come my way. Sure enough, she came over and sniffed me, wagging her little tail. No collar or tags. She was scrawny, I could feel her ribs when I pet her, and she looked a little desperate (to my emotional mind), lost and hungry.

And I was at a complete loss of what to do. I couldn’t take her home with me and the city animal shelter was located at the opposite side of the city. I had some bottled water, so I poured some out for her, but that was it.  I hated the idea of calling Animal Control on her; they’d pick her up and if no one claimed or adopted her, she’d end up being euthanized. But in the end, that’s what I did. Better to be taken care of, kept in a cool place with water and food, with a little hope, than to continue wandering through busy streets on hot pavement.  I explained the situation, gave them my location, and they said they’d send someone over immediately.

I decided then and there to carry a container of dry dog food and a bottle of water in my car at all times.

This morning I took my dogs to the local park for our regular weekend stroll. Actually, I only took one of them since the other was being particularly rebellious this morning and didn’t want to have his collar put on.  “Ok, fine. I’ll take Ziva, and you can stay home.” When I got to the park, my heart sank. I try to go early, when no one else is around, so I can let the dogs run free, unleashed, but today there was a guy sitting on the near-by bench with a big Rottweiler on a short leash. Great! That thing could eat my little Chihuahua in one bite. And Ziva is still learning complete obedience. Sometimes she’s a bit slow to respond when I call her to me. So … not a good situation.

I walked in the other direction, hoping the guy would move on, but instead he kinda walked the big monster around in small circles around the bench. Then I noticed his stuff. Looked like he had some bags with him. Homeless. Or maybe just “on the road.” Ziva and I walked in the other direction to avoid a potentially violent doggy situation, but I kept looking over my shoulder. He walked near my car, then back again. Something tugged at me. He wants to say something to me; he needs something.  And sure enough, on my way back, putting Ziva into the backseat of my car, he called across the short distance between us, asking if I had a cigarette I could spare. I yelled back, “sorry, I don’t smoke,” got in my car and drove home.

But I know that tugging in my gut when I feel it. That nagging feeling that I should do something. Not a guilt-inducing, “help the under-privileged” kind of feeling, but a sense of compassion. I want to do something for this guy. But what? I didn’t have any cigarettes, but I know smokers. A cigarette is often a substitute for food, so maybe the guy is hungry. I pulled out my wallet. Empty. I don’t use cash.  Great.

Then it occurred to me. The dog food and water.

I dropped Ziva off at home, and made a few quick changes. That dog food is a year old, so I dump it, refill the container with fresh dry food, and pull a new gallon of drinking water out of the cupboard. After a quick stop at a nearby ATM to get a couple of bucks, I drove back to the park. Yeah, he’s still here.

rottweiler_5830118982_94997b6000_bAs I walked in his direction, he starts talking to me. Guess he recognized me from a half hour before. And he begins to tell me his story, how he’s just waiting for his girlfriend to pick him up, doesn’t know when she’ll get there, she’s helping her grandmother and taking some cats to the animal rescue. I listen, not quite believing what he’s saying, and make small talk a bit (you know how hard that is for an introvert?). Meanwhile, the Rottweiler is quietly growling at me, and images of having those vice-like jaws clamp onto my arm, and blood pouring down my hand flash through my mind. But I know dogs. I hold my hand out to the dog, palm down, a foot away, waiting for her to sniff me and see I’m no threat. The guy, Jeff, he tells me, chides her reassuringly, telling her it’s okay, that I’m a friend. She allows me to pat her.  They both look hot. It’s not yet noon, but the sun is shining, and sitting there on the bench with no cover, I could tell they were uncomfortable. So I offer to help him move his stuff under the shade of a tree close by, and he seems inappropriately grateful. Why? They’re just a few plastic packing containers (now that I see them close up), a blanket, food and water bowls for the dog. But they’re heavy. This guy, maybe 20 years old, obvious isn’t “on the road”; he’s been kicked out.  He pulls out a photo album from one of the boxes and shows me pictures of the dog, while explaining how his phone is dead so he can’t call his girlfriend to see how much longer she’ll be.  When I offer him my phone, he explains that she’s with her grandmother, and the woman doesn’t really approve of him, so it’s best not to disturb them. Umm. Okay.

Despite his story of his girlfriend’s imminent pickup, I talk to the dog a bit. (Yeah, I know. Weird.) “You hungry, girl? Thirsty? I know it’s hot out here.”  “Oh, I fed her this morning,” he says.  “Hey, I’ve got some dog food and water I keep in the car for when I’m out with my dogs, if you want.” I offer it casually. “Okay, that’d be great. I’ve got some dog food here, but I want to save it for later.” “Cool, no problem.”

I walk back to the car, smiling. I fetch the dog food, and pour it in the dog’s bowl. I hand the fresh gallon of water to the guy so he can peel off the seal and know that it’s safe. He’ll be needing this as much as the dog, I’m thinking. The dog wolfed down the food, almost finishing it before he can fill her water bowl. I honestly hope she did get her breakfast this morning, but somehow I doubt it. After throwing a ball around a bit for the dog to chase, and making a bit more small talk with the guy, I make my excuses. “I’ve gotta get going. Hey, I don’t have any cigarettes, but maybe you can buy yourself some while you wait,” as I pull the cash out of my wallet.  The gratitude on his face was confirmation enough that he needed just a little bit of human kindness in his life at that moment.

And I headed home. I’ll check back tomorrow with a fresh batch of dog food and water to see if he’s still “waiting”.  Reminds me of that scene in the bible where Peter and John run across the lame beggar on the streets: “Silver and gold have I none. But what I have, I give you.” I can’t save the world. I don’t even know how to rescue a stray dog on the street.  But I’ve got some water and some dog food in my car. And a prayer that God keeps them both safe and gets them to where they need to be.

photo credit: “Homeless Youth,” Elvert Barnes on Flickr, cc
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STEVE SCHMIDT is the Teaching Pastor at Expressions Today in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York.

He is editor of IMPACT Magazine, and blogs here on the Cafe Inspirado column. Plus you can find him making random comments about life on Facebook.

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Money, Personal Priorities, and Changing the World

change-the-worldWe live for money. Let’s be honest. Especially if we’re American. It’s in our blood. And despite all our insistence about living a life full of meaning and purpose, about being fulfilled, and not surrendering to the rancid materialism everywhere around us … we hold on to our debit cards like they were oxygen tanks under water.

Well, unless there’s a good sale going on at Macy’s.

It’s about priorities, after all, isn’t it?

But don’t worry. This isn’t gonna be some tirade about how we all need to make deep personal sacrifices to save the world. This isn’t going to be a sermon on “sell everything and give to the poor,” or even encouragement to tithe. (“Tithing?” Isn’t that Old Testament?)  But if we’d just do a little, it would be enough.  Stuff might actually happen. The world might become a better place.

Two things happened recently that bring this to a head for me.  My friend Josh recently told me about his “adventures” helping out another mutual friend during a time of financial crisis.  This mutual friend (I’ll call him Mike), had an unexpected emergency come up which put him in deep financial stress. His rent was due, and now he couldn’t pay it. His bank account was empty.  Josh had a little extra in his account, so the burning question of the day was, Should he loan the money to Mike?

Loaning money, to friends or anybody else for that matter, is a risky business. That old Shakespearian saying proves true all too often: “neither a borrower nor a lender be, for loan oft loses both itself and friend.”  But we call ourselves Christian, and Jesus’ teaching on the matter is painfully clear. “If someone asks to borrow your coat, give him your shirt also…”  Jesus constantly challenges us to look to God as our ultimate financial backer, and not worry about pay back.  So, many people I know routinely consider every “loan” a gift. Can they afford to “give” the money away? If so, they let it go. If they get it back, that’s great. If not, well, God saw their hearts, he saw the sacrifice, and they leave it to him to sort it all out in the end.

Josh did have that little extra in his account that month, so he was able to help. But it would sting. It would deplete the “emergency reserve” he was trying to build up for himself.  Should he do it?  Could he afford to lose it if Mike never paid him back?  Time passed, and Mike, the needy friend, started getting eviction notices for overdue rent.  Josh wrestled with the decision for a few days, but during one sleepless night, he arrived at a decision. All night long, as he wrestled with the options, a phrase from the bible kept going through his head.  “Jesus of Nazareth went about doing good …” (Acts 10:38). If he called himself a Christian, if he really wanted to follow Jesus’ example, he should choose to “do the good thing.” And in this case, he decided, that meant helping out the friend in crisis – regardless of the risk and potential loss.  Maybe that isn’t the right answer every time someone wants to borrow money, but Josh felt like it was the Holy Spirit speaking to him about this specific case.

And he did it. He tapped his account and paid his friend’s rent.

Unfortunately, the rest of the story goes just the way you’re probably anticipating. Mike never did repay him, and it’ll take Josh months to save up enough to rebuild his emergency fund.  But he saw the look of relief on his friend’s face when the eviction notice got torn up, and knew he’d done the right thing.

Was he a sucker or a saint?

sanctuaryThis week, our church had its quarterly public meeting to open the books to the congregation. “Here is how much came in, here are our expenses, and here’s where the money went.”  And sadly, all too frequently, the weekly expenses outweigh the giving of the congregation.  And things have to be cut and staff doesn’t get paid.  The harsh truth came out in a single statement. “Our average weekly attendance is __, and if every one of our regular attenders gave just $20 a week, our budget would be completely met.”  Twenty bucks a week?  Not $20 more, mind you, just $20 total.  Never mind even mentioning “tithing.” Never mind special pleading from the pulpit, or sermons on promised prosperity to motivate believers to open their wallets.  (Do we really need sermons on Sunday solely for the purpose of raising enough funds to keep the doors open on Sunday?)

Bottom line:  Church functions and community services were being pinched because our own people weren’t taking ownership of them.

Here’s the simple truth:
The work of the Kingdom of God is done by the people of God. And that includes financial support. If the money doesn’t come in, the work doesn’t get done.

Even Jesus, with his miraculous powers to heal the sick, raise the dead, and speak the liberating truth of God’s love to unexpected people, even he was able to do ministry because people supported him financially (Luke 8:3).

That 20 bucks sticks in my mind.  It’s not so much, not such a big deal for most of us most of the time.  We all go through periods when every penny counts, but for most of us, those periods are short-lived, and we generally have the luxury of affording our daily Starbucks fix.  Or maybe it’s an iTunes fix or getting that latest smart phone.  I honestly do not believe God begrudges us those little pleasures.  He’s not stingy. He’s not an old curmudgeon, demanding we forego our caffeine for the sake of “the poor.”  But what does it say about our heart, about the condition of our “spiritual but not religious” priorities, when “good” isn’t being done because we won’t take financial responsibility for the work of the Kingdom?

What about the family next door whose kids live on peanut butter and grape jelly because mom isn’t bringing in enough money to put decent meals on the table – even if she had the time?   Could we add a couple of extra items to our grocery basket and quietly leave a bag on her doorstep?

starbucksThere’s that homeless guy who hangs out on the corner near work. Bet he’d appreciate a cold drink from the drive-thru on these sweat-soaking summer days.  Or a cup of soup when winter rolls around.  Will that break me once in a while?

Or when we see those commercials on TV about starving kids, and how “for just pennies a day …”?  Yeah, we can’t bankroll every charity with a good cause, but maybe just one …

Jesus spent a good deal of time talking about money. And if we call ourselves his followers, maybe we should work on this area a bit more.  Luke 16 records two parables he told, “The Shrewd Manager” and “The Rich Man and Lazarus,” both lessons in spiritual principles of money handling: “Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your earthly possessions are gone, you will be welcomed into an eternal home.”

The alternative is a world of suffering people untouched by us, and a less than rewarding future for us who ignored them.

I admit it. I live for money. I hate even saying it. But most of my waking hours are spent earning it and then consuming it.  What would happen if I altered my spending priorities just a little?  What if I made “giving” my priority — using more of my earthly resources to benefit others — and my daily latte became the optional “if I can afford it” item?  What if we all did?  Would the world hold Christians in such low esteem if we put our money where our mouth is?

What would the world look like if we all did just a little?  No huge sacrifice. No guilt-inducing sermons from the pulpit. No quitting our jobs and joining the Peace Corp, Vista or World Vision.  And no need to respond to every request for help that comes our way.  Just a little, here and there.  Just a little bit more.

We all don’t need to be missionaries, visionaries, millionaires or martyrs to change the world.  We only need to do just a little.

 

 

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STEVE SCHMIDT serves on the pastoral staff of Expressions Church in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York. He blogs at CafeInspirado.com, and you can always find him skulking on Facebook.
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