There are quotes that pop into my head, when it comes to generosity. “Give to the one who asks of you” But in the same breath I hear: Be wise and use your discernment. Be intentional and set clear boundaries.

Too easily we, with our human nature, go from gratitude to expectation and then to disappointment.

My godmother gave me a little money as a gift when I was quite young. I am not sure why I would expect it the very next time we met, but I did. And I remember the shock that she is not giving me any. I was so grumpy. But it caused me to reflect and search my heart. To this day, that lesson still serves me well.

We picked up a kid who was hitchhiking and when we learned about his story, I gave him some money. He was 12, the eldest of a large family, and we were driving back and forth to visit our first daughter in the village at her foster family, as it is the custom in romania, prior to adopting her.

The second time we met him on the road Conrad took him grocery shopping. The third time we just gave him a ride. I felt it is unwise to keep giving him money every time we meet him. I felt the disappointment in the air. Once we drove to where he said he lived and brought him and his family clothes and food. It was as he said, but I think he was a bit shy about telling us the whole truth so the authorities wouldn’t get involved. But them he started calling me. Insistently. At odd hours. Persistently even if I declined the call because I was unavailable to talk. He did not have any phone etiquette. I regretted giving him my number.

I still give when I am asked for. And I listen to my intuition. And there are times when it’s not possible.

But this Saturday this man approached me on my way out from a concert. I’ve seen him at every church I go to. He is very direct and decisive in his step. He has had a rough life. it is evident. And sadly he can be demanding and judgmental if he doesn’t get what he wants. I see he tries to adapt but I bet it’s hard to keep at it. I’m not sure how much of it is temperament and how it’s survival. Alas. He shook hands with me. Buttered me up with a few words and then said that lately people are too busy to be compassionate. Indeed the world moves at a much faster pace.

He proceeded to ask if I’d meet him in town this week to help him with something. I told him I can meet him the very next day at the church where I’ve seen him before. But he wiped his phone out and asked for my number. I was caught off guard. Conrad was next to me and was looking confused. The girls were tired and it was late. Before I knew it I gave him my number. And then he called me twice on my way home. It was after 9. I didn’t answer. Conrad said I could gave declined giving him my number. Anyway, what was done was done. Sunday came and went and he was radio silent. Monday he called and asked if I could meet him at a grocery store and help him do some food shopping. But his story kept changing. He first needed money for his broken stove, food for the family. Then go grocery shopping for a big feast.

I don’t even shop at the store he mentioned. You need a membership to shop there. I agreed to meet him to help him buy food. But then he threw in a few words that concerned me. he said that him and his sister in law will fill up a cart and I’ll just show up at the end and pay for it. So I stopped him in his tracks and said: “listen. I want to help you this one time. but I have a limit. I also shop on a budget. on a limited budget.”

The next day he called. I bravely answered each time because there is no point in running away. Just face the situation. I had prayed about it and had set my mind to have a limit of 400 lei. When he called he said he thought about what I said and asked for money for utilities and some essential food. And asked for 400 lei that he will pay me back, he said. I told him he won’t need to pay me back and I will make it work to give him 400 lei. Then he tried to get more. I told him no. I said: “look, I don’t have an income. but I have prayed about it and in my mind this number popped up. 400 lei. This is how much I can give you. Not more.” He accepted gratefully. When I met him, he tried to show me pictures of what he needs to work on. And that he may use the money for some medical needs. Which he has many. I stopped him and said: “look, I give this money to God and he is the one giving it to you. I hope you use them wisely. I don’t need a report”.I asked him why doesn’t he collaborate with the church to help him fix his house. He then said he doesn’t want to be a member at this church. As Jackie was coming out of the church parking lot he asked when he can call me again. I looked at him confused. Then repeated my statement: this is a one time gift. But not a regular arrangement.” I think my directness matched him. And usually church goers have a hard time drawing the line.

I thought about it all yesterday. How we learn to set and practice boundaries with our kids. Because we love them. And because I know it will not crush them, I do it more often. With strangers I let them push more until they cross the line. But I fret a lot in this push and pull situation. “did I offend? could I have done just a little more?” I have made up my mind to speak up clearly and not let things be unclear.

“those who give, give joyously, as you’ve decided in your heart priorly.” that is my motto when giving.

I watched “the help” with my daughters a few weeks ago. it was such a great conversation starter. but in this movie one servant had asked for a loan, or basically the salary in advance from her employer. The employers declined to help her, saying that it’s for her own good not to give her. that scene bothered me so much. the justification or the excuse. that’s it’s for her own good not to help her.

I know the problem is deeper. Sistemic. As someone said: it is easier to raise kids than fix adults. Teaching my kids to make a budget, to make a menu, to study, to care for their teeth, to keep their word… I know there are hundreds if not thousands of families living below the poverty line and they don’t know how to change the course of their life. The state has aid in place, but often times they are complacent with the handouts. Or simply they don’t know how to take charge of their lives.

There was this story I heard about the desperate situation in countries decimated by famine and drought in Africa. This american group (foundation) went there not to give them stuff but to teach them how to use what they have. This one family malnourished, limp from heat and dehydration, sleeping away their days in their hut, had two lemon trees. But they had no fence around their property. From two lemon trees and a little guidance, in a few years they became contributing members of society who pur their kids in school and even employed others in a growing business. It takes years. Nobody says it will be easy. But I can envision this kind revival. Some basic needs met. Food and water and shelter. Then your brain can slowly awaken. To have the energy to get up. If then someone with patience and clarity can guide through the start of sorting your life, have a reason to hope, envision a goal, the utter poverty I see on the edge of Romania, maybe, just maybe, it might change.

Ever since I was my daughters’ age, and my basic needs were covered, I had a hard time asking for things from my parents. Overly aware of people’s emotions, I sensed the silent reluctance of my dad to give without calculating. And without it being put into words, I have decided that for any extra stuff, I need to figure out a way to pay for myself. School expenses and camps were covered by my parents without question. But if I wanted to print pictures, or buy a special face wash, period pads, a shirt I liked, or expensive comfortable shoes, I learned to save up and buy them with my own money. Since I was an early teen.

Sometimes, generous people around me chose to cover or buy us essentials when we were newly weds. Or when I was in college; in the states friends took me shopping and said to choose one top and one bottom (even when I tried ten things and 5 fit great, I would pair down to what was offered. Or when I started a new job my mom took me shopping with very specific limits. It is something we learn as we go.

Even as I write this I worry I may come across as smug. Or stubborn about being generous with clear boundaries. But this is my reality. Last month this woman with a sleepy baby asked conrad to buy her some milk. He was going to meet me after a day of running errands. He went in the store and told her to get what she needed. He did not think it will be more than we spent for groceries as a family for a whole month. Formula and diapers and high tickets items … Conrad decided he won’t back out and said nothing about slowing down her horses. The cashier warned him it’s a scheme and that she will sell the stuff. But I put myself in his shoes and I understand the predicament in the moment. So he paid for her cart and then worried about my reaction. But as even as reluctant givers, I look back and everything I have gifted I do not regret. I am grateful for the opportunity. And I pray God uses everything for his glory.

Even the guy who said he’ll pay me back. I told him he doesn’t need to. I have given the gift to God and God gave to him, so it’s out of my hands. Hoping to get it back is a recipe for bitterness. “Throw you bread on the water and in God’s timing it will return to you.” That’s how I see it.