Thursday, September 18, 2008

Missed Opportunities

Do you ever feel like you've missed an opportunity to serve or be a good steward?

I do. I try not to let it happen too often because I get a case of the guilts and "what ifs?". And since I think I missed an opportunity last night, I'm living both right now.

Let me give you some background: Three years ago, I took a class that included some study of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. I haven't kept a really close watch on either country since then, but have made a mental note whenever Haiti's been mentioned in the news, mainly because it's such a poor country. When the price of food skyrocketed earlier this year, there were riots in Haiti. Since then, Haiti's been on my mind, especially in the past month as the people try to recover from four severe storms.

Last night was a nice night, so the front door was opened to get some fresh air in the house. I was in the kitchen when I heard this noise outside the screen door, and this young woman comes bouncing up to the door saying hello. Turns out she was selling magazines. She introduced herself, and between her name and her accent, I decided she was probably Haitian (which is odd, because I don't know that I've been around a lot of Haitians to recognize the accent). As part of her schpiel, she said, "I know it's you buying a magazine, but what it really is is you investing in a life." I kept my eyeroll to myself; even though I didn't want any magazines, I try to be polite to people who sell stuff for a living.

Anyway, as I was looking at the list of magazines, she asks, "Can I ask you a personal question?"

"Well, sure, you can ask me a personal question," I told her, in the tone of voice that I hope conveyed I might not give her the answer.

"What was your first job? This is my first job, and I wondered what yours was."

OK, that brought me up short. Of all the questions she could have asked me, I wasn't expecting that one. So I told her that my first real job (not counting all the babysitting gigs I'd done before) was working in a greenhouse. I decided that since we were asking personal questions, I'd take my turn as well. "You have a very interesting accent. Where are you from?"

"Oh, I'm from Haiti."

"Do you still have family there?"

"Yes. My father and grandmother are still there."

At this point I looked up from the list of magazines I was still perusing. "Are they OK?"

"Yes, they're both OK and safe."

"Good. I'm glad to hear that."

I didn't buy any magazines. I told her to come back sometime next week and between now and then I'd think about it. I could tell she was disappointed, but honestly, I don't need or want any magazines. I subscribe to one already, and I barely have time to read it anymore. Magazines aren't something I tend to buy someone as a gift unless I know as specific one to get. So I didn't lie to her. I just had the intention of thinking, "Yeah, I don't need any more magazines. Now, how do I tell her politely so that she doesn't try to wear me down with the rest of her sales pitch?"

Let me tell you what I've really been thinking: first, I told God why I shouldn't feel guilty about saying no, then I said that the whole 'investing in a life' thing was bull. If I wanted to invest in a life, I wouldn't do it by buying a magazine subscription. In my opinion, that was designed by some slick sales manager somewhere who wanted to guilt people into buying magazines. I'm trying to unclutter my life and spend less money, so I don't need another ream of paper lying around collecting dust!

But the more I thought about it, the more I think I made a mistake. I don't know what company this was that she was selling magazines for, but she told me very clearly that she was trying to become a manager, and this was how I could help her. I don't so much care about that - I mean, yeah, I'd like her to do well, but I think there's got to be a better way than going door to door selling magazines. But that's just my opinion, and selling things door to door is a valid way to make money. What I care about is this 'investing in a life' statement. What if she came to America to make some money so that she could take care of her family in Haiti? If I buy a magazine subscription, it could help her become a manager with this company, and she'd be able to send more money to her family. Haitians need all the help they can get right now, and that's how I figure this might have been a missed opportunity for me to be a better steward.

I've been praying for God to help me be a better steward. If you've ever prayed for patience, then you know how this goes - you pray to have it, so God sends you an opportunity to live it. (Can I say that it's sort of like being thrown in a pool without knowing how to swim?) The fortunate part is that even though we miss one opportunity, God keeps sending more your way, and eventually you catch on that this is the way God is training you to do something (at least that's how it is with me, but I'm a "learn by doing" person. Hey, see how I threw that in there, Eric?!). Sometimes it's not pretty, sometimes you miss, but God keeps sending opportunities.

I hope she comes back next week like I asked. I'll find something I like or something as a gift, but I'll do my best not to miss it the next time it comes around.

1 comment:

Eric Hadley-Ives said...

If only those door-to-door salespeople were able to sell magazine subscriptions in magazines such as the Utne Reader, Yes, E magazine, or the Journal of Environmental Ethics. Maybe instead of buying one of the magazines she is selling you could get her address and order one of these magazines and have it sent to her.

Those door-to-door magazine subscriptions have a bad reputation. Pay with a check, not a credit card. It's a lousy first job, but the saleswoman might learn some skills she can use in a better retail sales job.