I am in downtown San Francisco on business travel attending a organizational unit forum for my company. This evening some dinner plans were rearranged by the forum team due to the World Series. It moved back dinner to a very late time of 8pm – which is 11pm my east coast body time. So I declined and instead enjoyed a much earlier dinner with my boss.

After a nice meal and conversation, she headed home to her family and I took the opportunity, because it was still early, to walk over to the Apple store. Now I am not necessarily an Apple fan, although I can appreciate the design and simplified interfaces. And because it is tech, I have a natural inclination towards anything tech. So my quick stroll over there brought me in front of the store and into its innards to explore the tech offerings inside.

I mostly wanted to see the iPad. I played around with it for 20 minutes and thoroughly enjoyed what it could do and its interface. I even thought about surprising my wife with one – something we could use at night in bed for surfing, email, simple reading and video watching. I think it would outperform the laptop we currently share now. However, I ultimately declined and moved on to look at other things – mainly because I could not justify the high price for such a gimmicky toy, which is really what it is.

After another 10 minutes walking around gawking at the tech toys, I exited the store and proceeded on my short 2 city block walk back to the hotel. While at a corner, waiting for the light to turn, a bum, homeless man, beggar – you choose your particular term – walked up to me and asked for a handout. I politely declined. He said “Hey, come on man. The Giants won and I want to get something to eat”. I declined again and told him that I didn’t give out money. However, if he was truly hungry, that I would share a meal with him. I suggested Subway which was within sight. He agreed and we began walking towards our dining destination.

I introduced myself and he replied and said his name was Reggie. He was from New Orleans but left after Katrina ravaged the area. I thought I heard him say he was with the merchant marine there but the traffic drowned out our conversation. I did find out that he was in San Francisco because he wanted to get far away from his two ex-wives.

Reggie’s physical condition was one of unemployment but it did not look like he was living on the streets. I say this because I have seen guys in his same circumstance much dirtier and more aeromatic than he was. He sported some newish sneakers and his courderoy pants were not frayed or stained. His Army jacket conveyed some weathering but he seemed to be better off inside – mentally and emotionally – than his direct, first glance appearance let off.

We arrived at Subway and he proceeded to order his sandwich. I grabbed a lemon iced tea and then watched him grab a bottled soda and a bag of chips. He ordered a foot long pastrami and cheese and then got my money’s worth by piling all sort of the veggies and condiments on it. At checkout, he added two cookies to the list along with an empty cup and asked for a bag so he could take it to go. I paid the cashier, grabbed one of my business cards and told Reggie that I wanted him to have my business card. He took it and gave it a quick glance. I didn’t think he realized exactly what it was or said – he just said something about calling me tomorrow for another meal. At that, we began to exit the store. He abruptly turned to the drink bar to maximize his cup while I was exiting the store.

So now to the blog post title subject – what I struggle with.

I struggle with do I define boundaries on my giving or just meet someone’s physical need. My perspective was that Reggie found himself a “free lunch” and was taking advantage of that. Do I let that happen or do I restrict it or hold him accountable? It became apparent that this meal would not make or break me or Reggie. I obviously could afford it. But he treated it just like another gullible city folk free lunch. I do not think it really impacted either one of us. I felt like I felt back when I had Jamba Juice with Aaron that there might have been a slight need, but it was more of an “angle” or scam rather than a true need. I struggle with differentiating between scam and need. And that is a huge challenge in a city like San Francisco where homeless folks are littered all over like trash, and also ignored and stepped over like trash as well. Is it better for me to find a homeless person to share a meal rather than the hustler homeless person finding me?

And I ask these questions because I hope, you the reader, might have some insights that can be shared via comment or email.

Again, I don’t pretend to have all (or any) of the answers. However, I do know that I am called to be obedient and to serve Christ and that I do not have to have the answer to the problem to be a small part of the solution.

…..Dan at aslowerpace dot net

4 Comments

  1. CindyDianne says:

    Maybe I over simplify the issue, but I think God puts the people He wants where He wants them. This guy could have asked anyone, but he asked you. And you responded in a way that, I assume, most people do not respond. And I know without a doubt that you exude God’s love in a way that most people do not. God’s impact through you may be a seed that sprouts much later. But, I know that you make a difference to the people you encounter.

  2. A Slower Pace » Blog Archive » Struggle…..an answer….. says:

    […] week, if you remember, I wrote a post and confessed about a struggle I was having with meeting the needs of the poor and needy. Well, this morning […]

  3. Mom says:

    I loved your response, but I understand your struggle. We are so “goal” oriented, but God sees the “big picture”. Maybe that man did take only what he needed………………and was thinking of the next day when he was hungry and might not encounter someone who cared…..like you. Even if he did abuse your kindness, Jesus suffered much worse abuse, and forgave.

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