Spare change and forethought. How I made two new friends at the recycling center today.

On today’s agenda was taking our accumulated plastic, aluminum, glass, and cardboard to the local recycling centers (two stops because one takes plastic and aluminum conveniently but not glass or cardboard, go figure.) I can tell spring is coming because this morning is warm enough to bring out some individuals from our homeless community.

Risking the raised eyebrows from my readers who lean towards cynicism, I’m writing this to tell you about a “Bob Clyde moment” that today’s recycling experience held because of some spare change and forethought.

Bob Clyde was the campus minister at the Baptist Student Union at East Carolina where I was an active member for My five year collegiate career (yes, I realize that’s one year more than it should have been). Bob is among the top influencers in my life, right up there with my parents and extended family. Of the many things he taught us BSUers, he shaped my worldview to look for Jesus in every individual as a matter of instinctual habit, not forced dogma. Today God provided one of those opportunities.

A little more background before we get into today’s events. What happens to the spare change that accumulates in your pockets or the console of your car? After reading the book ‘Under the Overpass’, I was inspired to keep this annoying pile of money that is rarely utilized anymore in a change organizer on my dresser. As we are able to fill a few rolls, I take the rolled coins to our local Wendy’s and purchase gift cards in $5 increments which we then keep in our family vehicle. These cards are designated for giving. Friends, strangers, when someone asks for money or at completely spontaneous moments when we’re feeling generous, we reach for a card.

As I got out of the van today to exhume the mass of paper packaging material and clicking glass bottles, two gentlemen were speaking to the driver of the car about ten yards begin me. These guys were middle aged and of stereotypical homeless appearance, ragged clothes, wiry hair and dirt caked under their fingernails. I grabbed the last two Wendy’s cards from the center console of the van and slid them into my jacket pocket as I exited. As I dumped the last box of glass into the trash can marked “Clear Glass Only”, the younger of the two men shouted out to me, “Are you going to keep that box?”

My opportunity was at hand. The box became the springboard for the conversation that ensued.
The younger man’s name was Bill, AKA Wild Bill to his friends, I didn’t get the older man’s name. I asked Bill if he had any use for the box. He said no, but that he could help me throw away my load of cardboard for a few dollars. He went on to explain how he’s applied for countless jobs and keeps a stash of resumes’ in his back pack; an attempt to sway any suspicion on my part that he was a free-loader, I’m sure (convicting moment number 2). I pulled out the two gift cards and handed them over to the gentlemen, explaining their value and encouraging the to enjoy a warm dinner tonight, no help throwing out my trash required. With grateful inflection, Bill’s friend exclaimed how far two $5 cards would go at Wendy’s and asked directions to the closest one (a convicting statement in itself).

That’s when Bill noticed the large scar on the right side of my head. A scar left by a surgeon’s scalpel. The scar which I proudly wear as a reminder of the day God used a team of doctors to relieve me from 23 years of a moderately controlled seizure disorder. 20 pills per day, 30 seizures per month reduced to zero in six hours. Bill moved closer to inspect the evidence of my old wound and, emitting a strong odor of stale alcohol, asked to hear the story. I retold my testimony of dealing with unpredictable seizures and the risky surgery to possibly remedy the disorder in an abbreviated form since my youngest was snoozing in the back seat of the van. One segment I was sure NOT to omit was the value of this scar as a reminder of God’s presence, mercy, and provision in my life.

Offering my blessings and best wishes to their job prospects, I returned to the van and pulled forward to the cardboard dumpsters. Bill and friend stood aside to pocket their take from our interaction. As I unloaded the last of the cardboard, I watched Bill approach another car, soon followed by his buddy, asking for spare change in return for any help he could offer. I drove off thinking to myself, “I needed to buy more cards.”

I’m not sharing this to brag about some generous accomplishment. My hope is that my experience will encourage you to see people as God does, children in need instead of people with an agenda. I also want to inspire you to get creative with your junk change. Some may argue that giving to panhandlers is a form of enabling addictions. Many who live on the street are enslaved to chemical dependencies and use the money they are given to feed those addictions. I’m fairly confident both Bill and his friend struggle with alcoholism based on the strong stench of their breath and clothes. At the end of the day though, God’s measure of our love for his children is in the fact that we give, not in our ability to judge where needs are most honorable. Once the gift is given, it is the recipient’s responsibility to use it properly. That’s the beauty of giving gift cards, they can only be spent at the assigned location and, in the case of Wendy’s cards, only on food.

With a little spare change and a little planning, today’s trip to the recycling center brought me two new friends who saw the gospel’s impact on my life and will eat at least one warm meal today.

What could you do with your spare change?


One comment

  1. I’ve had one day I was thinking I would treat myself to dinner out with the change that had been collecting in a little purse in my car. Maybe 20 minutes later as I exited the highway there was a man with a sign. I slowed and emptied the contents in his hand and his blessings and thankfulness to God were better than a solo dinner out! You are very right about leaving the usage to Him. So many don’t understand the life of people on the streets they dream up stories that are not always truth – the truth is they are still our brothers and sisters and we are to love. Thank you for sharing your stories.


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