The Church Visitor’s sheet read like this: Name: Stone A. Lawson. Address: Passing Through.
I’ve gotten to know Stone over the past four weeks as we both sit in the back of the grand Presbyterian sanctuary downtown. We sit among others who similarly don’t have a specific address to list on the sheet. The back of the room is mostly filled with those who are homeless, hungry, down on their luck, or all three simultaneously. And Stone is all three.
When I met him for the first time, he told me what the visitor’s sheet already had: he was passing through San Diego— on his way from New York to Louisiana.
“I’m taking the scenic route,” he said with a grin.
What first drew me to Stone was his humbleness, and his honesty about his situation. It can be hard for a man in his 50s to admit that he’s lost everything and is now living as a nomad, looking for work and handouts wherever he can get them. He’s heading to Louisiana because someone told him they knew of some work out there.
But, as I had more conversations with Stone, his need and his honesty seemed to pale in comparison to his exuberance for giving back to God. This last Sunday, in answer to the question, “How are you?” he smiled bigger than I had ever seen.
“I am blessed!” he said. “These last few weeks, the Lord has really been teaching me about tithes and offerings. And each week I have received more, and been able to give more. And not just coins and dollar bills. I’ve started getting bigger bills, and being able to give back bigger bills to God in thanks. This week, I was stressing because it was getting close to Sunday, and I didn’t have any money. I told God this, and he told me to stop worrying. I swear to you, in the next 12 hours, people gave to me three different times!”
Since the offering comes after the greeting time, in which we had this conversation, I decided maybe this week I needed to follow Stone’s lead, and give something a little more than just 10 percent.
Later that day, in the basement of the Church, a group of about 260 homeless and hungry individuals, including Stone, sat in the dining room before the afternoon meal was served. They took an offering and it was apparent that Stone was not the only one who puts importance on giving back to God.
Then a letter was read to the group, and everyone was eager to hear it. It was from a 10th grade boy who lives in India who is sponsored by the offering they just gave, and has been sponsored by them for 10 years now. In the letter, the boy tells them that he is so grateful for their continual support in his life, and how he has decided that when he gets older, it is important to him that he will sponsor a child as well.
Upstairs, in the morning church service, most of the tithes and offerings money comes from those who sit in the front two thirds of the sanctuary. They are closer to the grandiose stained glass windows, and the ornate pulpit. And their checkbooks are easily accessible.
Even I have managed to find enough work hours to create a budget where 10 percent of my income can be given without it hurting my living habits too much. And the money goes toward good things, I know, I’m sure. It goes toward building upkeep. And paying staff. And creating budgets for the ministries.
But I can’t shake the feeling that the offerings that are made by those like Stone, downstairs before the soup-kitchen meal is served, are of a different caliber. Stone gives because he is blessed, and he is blessed that he can give. The boy in India is blessed, and also wants to give.
And I am blessed to have been made privy to seeing this cycle of giving that I long to be a part of. And I’m more challenged by it than I have been by any sermon given from the ornately carved pulpit in the front.
Stone also told me this past Sunday that he really is passing through now. He left San Diego earlier this week. When he told me that it was time for him to move on to the next spot, he didn’t know where the next place was, or how he’d get there, he just knew it was time. I’ll miss sitting near him in the back pews, but his four week stay in San Diego has blessed me, and I find myself more actively looking for how I can give.