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I climbed into the rental car to make my two-hour drive back home after a conference. My head was saturated with new information, perspective, and a flood of ideas. My brain felt overprocessed, like hair dried and frizzed from too many chemicals. As I plugged in my phone and tapped on Spotify (a digital music service), I scrolled the music choices for my ride. Nothing was appealing: too perky, too twangy, too loud, too instrumental, too slow.

A random thought went through my head: “Christmas music could be fun.” I was sweating, and it was just October so I argued with myself, but in the end, I went with it. Bing Crosby began to croon, and nostalgia started to rub the wrinkles out of my tired, overwrought thinking.

As I drove, drizzle starred the city lights. Night skylines always enchant me.

Just a few miles down the road, I turned off the highway and into a gas station with a convenience store. As I made my way to the door, I saw a 20-something woman leaned up against the building. Dressed in baggy sweatpants and a T-shirt, she seemed small and vulnerable. She caught my gaze and kept it. When I got close enough to her, she quietly asked if I had any spare change or dollars to share.

“No, I’m sorry. I don’t,” I stammered and walked on.

The fluorescent lights were jarring as I pushed open the door to the convenience store.

What was my hesitation in helping this woman? Was it fear for her choices? Or was it the inconvenience for me?

I collected what I needed and back out the door I went. She was still there. I leaned against the wall next to her.

“What do you need?” I asked.

She wanted a bus ticket home. There was a long story that went with the request. The bus station was much too far to walk.

“Let me take you there,” I said.

“OK,” she responded. “Let me get my husband.”

I was not expecting that.

“Where is he?” I asked.

“He’s over there under the bridge,” she said.

Before I could say anything, she ran off to get her husband.

Ugh. What do I do now? I thought.

Admittedly, I contemplated pulling away while she was gone. This situation just slid right past inconvenient and straight into dangerous, but I couldn’t leave. I eased my car into a parking space.

A few minutes later, they stood beside my car door. She went around to the passenger side, and he climbed into the back seat behind her. I wasn’t nervous or uncomfortable. They gave directions to the bus station. It was about 5 miles from where I’d picked them up. They talked about their kids and their plight. When we arrived, they offered thank-you’s, unloaded, and waved goodbye.

Dangerous or not, that decision to make the bus-station drive likely did more for me than it did for that couple. My purest joy comes from serving someone else, yet I don’t choose it often enough.

I don’t tell this story because I’m proud of it, just the opposite. I am selfish. I am embarrassed that this action was unusual for me. My apathy is thick, and I am desensitized.

As I eased away, the sound of the song on Spotify was ironic: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year … . ”

The husband and wife I drove to the bus station don’t have the luxury of plugging in a playlist to drown out their reality.

Do I live most of my life either distracted or in denial of those around me? The noise and drive of do-more, make-more, be-more monopolizes my awareness and my schedule. My tendency to strive drowns out my ability to hear and see those around me in real time. Even in good things, I long to exert control over outcomes and to force change on my own. I rely so heavily on my own strength that often I feel spent and overwhelmed. The real joy, fresh wind, and freedom all come when I am not thinking of myself at all.

The paradox of the Jesus-living is that we find life as we give it away. It’s not a one-time thing. The giving is who we are. It is entwined with our lives, our plans, our choices.

We aren’t called to create “margin” to give. We are called to give both from our plenty and from our lack. There is always something we can give. That realization makes me turn down the music.

What are your thoughts? What does it mean to “give to live”? How are we doing as Jesus-followers here in America? What is your struggle in giving?

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