There once was a poor beggar who cried out along a busy thoroughfare. “Alms for the poor, alms for the poor!”
One day, a rich man passed by with his caravan and stopped to kneel down before the beggar man.
“Beggar man, give me your rice!” He requested.
The beggar man hesitated, for he only had one small bag of rice clutched tightly in his hand.
“Beggar man, give me your rice!” The rich man asked again.
The beggar man thought, “This is unfair! This wealthy man asks for my rice when I only have this little bag and he has so many riches. I see his possessions dangling from the camels he and his servants ride.”
“Beggar man, give me your rice!” The rich man entreated once again.
Finally, the beggar man closed his eyes and slowly opened his tiny sack. He painstakingly reached in pulling out three grains of rice. He placed them on the ground before him wincing in darkness at this sacrifice required.
When he opened his eyes, the rich man was gone and there before him were three gold coins.
The beggar man lamented, “If only I had given him my whole bag of rice!”
Yes, our nation is in a deep recession. This news is not new nor is the concept of sacrifice foreign for many readers of this post. We have heard the stories our grandparents tell of the Great Depression that devastated our nation.
Many of us have lived with humble means during lean times of our own. Those of us who have weathered financial droughts can attest to this truth: Often life dips us down into the well of sacrifice causing us to reach inside of ourselves for what is truly essential.
Now as wonderful as giving that “whole bag of rice” sounds, I’ve never quite gotten that kind of sacrifice down. I’m doing pretty good if I can eek out a few grains of rice, and I would gladly settle for three gold coins.
Coin number one would be faith. I know you’re supposed to believe without seeing but I want to see. My vivid imagination probably conjures up most of what I assume to be divine guidance because of this Achille’s heel. As a young adult, I traveled the world proclaiming a faith I understood so little about. Now I find I need a little denial assistance when days grow dark.
The second gold coin I want is hope.
We are supposed to hope for life everlasting but I am a “life lover” who still wants to extract every ounce of experience from my time on earth.
The third gold coin I covet is love. Yicks! This is the most difficult for me and my best efforts are no more than a grain of rice. In fact, I have to practice my Lamaze breathing techniques learned for child-birth every time a middle school youth mouths off to me.
In spite of my humanly failings, I have found that sacrifice has a purifying effect. Some even rise up and into their finest hour when crisis caves expectations. These people come alive with sacks of rice offered that transform into jingling coins. They delight in innovative ways to create without cash rewards. They flourish in faith, hope, and love.
Recently, my sister and I attended a union meeting preparing us for next year’s pay cuts. Yet the somber message did not dampen my sister’s enthusiasm. On the way out, she excitedly shared how she motivates students to come to school and to learn. This is so reminiscent of her youthful enthusiasm.
My brother, sister, and I are no strangers to sacrifice. In fact, we come from good stock. Grandpa Cosola came from Italy and worked as a shoe shiner. Grandma Cosola worked in a factory sewing even though she was deaf.
My mother’s grandparents were also Italian immigrants who came to America in search of a better life. Grandma Marinucci was an industrious woman who rented out rooms and grew a family garden for food. My mother attributes her own ability to try anything with her grandmother’s encouragement, “Thatsa way you gotta learn!”
We grew up in a family with a hard-working, self-made father who often took on extra jobs in order to provide for his family. He also made sure we had ample times of exploring the outdoors.
His slogan is engraved in our minds, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going!”
Our mother’s resourcefulness included sewing clothes for her children and raising livestock.
My brother, sister, and I helped in the family garden that provided fruit and vegetables for canning and jam. This was stored for our winter food supply.
We chipped used bricks for the porch, hoed weeds on our property, gathered eggs for breakfast, and raised animals with the 4-H club.
On crisp winter mornings, we huddled and giggled around the wood stove to get dressed near the source of heat.
I rarely remember a time in my personal history when money wasn’t tight. There were those missionary years overseas when I had to live in everything from tents and decrepit buildings to tiny one-room dwellings.
Young family life seldom included those extras but our children ‘s world filled with loving family.
Eight years as a single mother were not easy. I labeled food so my children’s friends would not eat our week’s supply. Often my children grew annoyed at being “the have not’s” surrounded by “the have’s.” Yet like my own childhood, sacrifice formed the foundation of my children’s work ethic that benefits them today. A work ethic instilled in them by their grandparents who invested in their character.
So I wonder whether sacrifice is such a bad thing for today’s youth who sport the latest iPods and iPhones. Our culture promotes their constant indulgences with commercials pressuring parents to buy, buy, buy. Now they cannot always buy, but is that so harmful?
Troubled youth at my school pour excess energy into fighting each other. Over the weekend, our beautiful school was tagged with black spray paint. I admit to often growing weary from the lack of discipline I daily deal with as students find it difficult to focus.
Perhaps when economically hard times strip away all of our usual demands and entertainments, we will find a little spirit and heart to return to family and the pursuits in life that really matter.
Maybe in exchange for those three grains of rice, our human frailties, we can receive the only three gold coins that matter: faith, hope, and love.