All We Have to Give

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by Camerin Courtney
February 5, 2003

Recently God spoke to me through a stick of deodorant. Not an audible voice, mind you, but a message tailor-made for the moment and for me (a fact that blows me away).

I was in my local Starbuck's with Betty, my trusty laptop computer, doing some freelance work when a couple of homeless men from the shelter around the corner stopped in, no doubt to escape the frigid temperatures outside. I offered one of them a friendly smile when we happened to make eye contact as they sat down at the next table, and exchanged polite small talk with him when he struck up a conversation with me a few minutes later. He jokingly chided me for working on a Saturday, and we both shivered at the new cold burst that had settled on our community.

Sitting there watching these men schlep their belongings in plastic bags, I heard a familiar argument in my head-one voice telling me I should be doing more for the disadvantaged in my community, the other one telling me I'm powerless in the face of problems as huge as homelessness.

At times such as this, or during the events of this past week, I feel way too small and alone to make much of a difference in this big scary world. Times when presidents speak of war and countries dying of AIDS, when space shuttles fall from the sky, and when Sefik, the soft-spoken Bosnian in the English as a Second Language class I volunteer with tells me why he's now in the United States: the quiet village he once called home was completely burned to the ground by the Serbs a few years ago. I feel powerless in the face of such big threats, sorrow, and loss.

Also, sometimes I worry about my safety as a single woman trying to help the poor and disadvantaged in our society. I want to help, but I also want to be wise, and it frustrates me that sometimes that means avoiding certain people and situations.

I was sitting there thinking that my smile and few kind words to this homeless man seemed so insufficient when he reached over, smiled, and handed me a trial-size stick of deodorant.

I'm sure I looked at him with great puzzlement for a few moments. Was he trying to tell me I smelled? I wondered with a bit of bemused bewilderment. No, God seemed to clue me in, this man was thanking me for my kindness with the only thing he had to give, something he'd probably been given by a local shelter. For a man whose belongings fit in a plastic Target bag, every item is a treasured possession-and a possible token of thanks.

When I finally got it, my face brightened and I thanked him for the kind gift. As I sat there fingering the small container, I felt God drop a message into my mind: Sometimes giving our seemingly paltry offerings to others is more than enough for God to use. I'd given this man all I had to give at the moment, a genuine smile and some friendly small talk, and he'd given me all he had to give.

It made me think of the story in Luke 21, where Jesus praises a widow for putting two small coins into the church offering. It may have seemed small to the world, but Jesus knew the truth: This was all she had to give.

Yes, there will come times when I'm asked to give much more than some friendly chit-chat. And I hope in those situations I'll give all God nudges me to, not deterred by how big or especially how small that may be-all I have to give.

If you were to walk into my apartment right now, you'd find a stick of deodorant sitting in a prominent place in my living room. It's a quirky and needed reminder that God can pack great meaning and significance in unlikely, solitary, and even small packages.

Camerin Courtney

2003 Christianity Today. Used by permission.