While it is much more “convenient” for me to take I-4 when I drive to the Orange County Jail twice a week (I put that in quotes because there is NOTHING convenient about I-4 here in Orlando), once a week I take Orange Blossom Trail to or from the jail.
If you don’t live in Orlando, you probably aren’t familiar with “The Trail”, or “OBT”. Orange Blossom Trail is a stretch of road that holds one of the more unsavory parts of Orlando. It is littered with homeless men and women, prostitutes, drug dealers, strip clubs, and is just generally an unsafe place. If you are from Memphis, think Orange Mound + Summer Avenue + Lamar. It’s not an uplifting place to spend 30 minutes traveling.
I have learned a lot about The Trail since I started serving in the jail. Most of the women I spend time with live, work, and breathe along the Trail. Orlando Weekly published a painfully insightful article about OBT and you can read that here. I have started driving up or down OBT on at least one of my trips to the jail so I can pray over and remember how much I have, and how hard life is for the people I work with on a weekly basis.
This week, I was sitting at a red light and I saw a young man approaching my car window. He looked like Vanilla Ice and was wearing baggy shorts, a bright purple jersey, sunglasses, and a hat. He looked cocky, almost proud that he was begging for money between cars. I am not against giving people money – I give it whenever I can to help someone. But as this guy approached, I decided not to roll my window down. First of all, I didn’t have any cash. Secondly, it just wasn’t safe as I was in the car by myself and in a very unsafe neighborhood. Thirdly, I hated that he looked so cocky. It really bothered me. Then I saw his sign. He was holding a hand-written sign that said, “Not gonna lie. Need beer.”
Clever? Yes. Honest? Maybe. Ticked me off? You bethchyoursweetbippy it did. I don’t know this man, his situation, or what his hang ups are, but if he is suffering he sure didn’t act like it. Maybe that’s his coping mechanism, but all around him were people taking the bus to dead end jobs, women trying to get their food for their kids, men desperate for work that wouldn’t land them in jail. And then there’s this guy traipsing up and down the street almost laughing at anyone who gave him some cash.
When I was in college, I lived above a convenience store. It was not uncommon for homeless men and women to hang out at the corner and has for money to get things from the store or the restaurant across the street. A woman standing in her spot outside my apartment asked me for money one evening. She said she was on her period and she needed the appropriate products. I said I didn’t have cash, but that I would take her into the convenience store and buy her some products as well as some food. I am not exaggerating when I tell you I have only been cussed out like she cussed me out maybe two other times in life. She was livid that I wasn’t handing her cash. She stormed off damning me to hell for eternity.
The question I am wrestling with is how, when, and why I give. Do I give with an open hand and heart, and realize I can’t control how people spend my hard earned money? Do I realize my resources are provided from someone much bigger than I and just give without questioning? Do I hold onto my resources because I am struggling financially as well?
Since I raise support, I am VERY concious of where and how I spend my money. I don’t think anyone who supports me cares to receive my monthly receipts, but I feel an incredible responsibility to be careful where others have been so generous.
So this guy needed beer. I didn’t want to contribute. That was my choice. It was his choice to ask. I am still sitting here wrestling with what it means to give, and to give well.