When Shining Shoes Changes Lives

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A seventy-six-year-old man from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, lived a modest life by the world’s standards. Struggling with learning disabilities, he dropped out of school after eighth grade. He then began shining shoes, earning no more than $10,000 annually.

He recently passed away, and his death was widely reported in the media. Why? Because Albert Lexie saved his shoe-shining tips over the years and donated them to the children’s hospital where he had taken three connecting buses every Tuesday and Thursday, for thirty years, to shine shoes. Remarkably, over those three decades, he saved over $200,000 to give back to the children’s hospital.

That’s a man who lived generously.

I don’t know anything about his faith story or how he grew up, but I would love to know what his parents were like and if they did anything specific to raise a man who lived life so generously.

As Christians, we’re instructed to be financially generous, and that’s important. But for this blog I want to focus on something slightly different: on living lives that are marked by generosity in everything we do, whether it comes with a financial cost or not.

As I reflect on some of the people who showed the most generosity in my life over the last forty-plus years, I’m finding that few of them spent money doing so.

There’s my sweet Thursday-morning Bible study group that cried with me, prayed unrelentingly for me, and celebrated alongside me when my family was knee-deep in the highs and lows of foster care the last two years.

Or my dear friend who, year after year, selflessly listens to my concerns, prays over my children, celebrates my successes, and tells me what I need to hear (not what I want to hear) when I’m veering off course from the Lord’s best for my life.

I think of the countless people who were my advocates when I didn’t know I needed one, friends who gave me opportunities in ministry when I wasn’t qualified for them, and a sweet husband who, despite my obvious flaws, believes in me devotedly.

And then there’s Jesus. Where to even begin with a savior who died for all of us while we were still sinners? (Romans 5:8).

I have been blessed by parents, friends, mentors, and, most importantly, a savior who has marked my life by generosity. And so have you.

After reading about Mr. Lexie, I’m challenged to be so intentional in living generously that our kids are marked by it. Yes, Mr. Lexie was financially generous—but I believe his generosity was much greater than the $200,000 he donated in tips. He was generous in his time, his compassion, his kindness, and in his commitment to sick children. The money he donated was simply an overflow from the generosity he lived in every other area of his life.

Do we want our kids to grow up to be generous adults? Let’s consider what we are doing now to model generosity in the everyday moments of life that will make up their childhood.

In Colossians 3:12, Paul reminds us to be clothed with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” I can’t think of a better place to put our focus if we want to be generous in our dealings with those around us. Christopher Gessner, president of the children’s hospital where Mr. Lexie worked and donated to, said, “He’s a perfect example of how just small, incremental acts of kindness can have a really significant impact over time.”

We will all be called to live generously in different ways, but here are a few areas to consider:

• Seeing the best in people, even when they have been unfair to you or your family (Matthew 5:44)
• Widening your circle for others, always (James 2:1–9)
• Taking the time to bear another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2)
• Showing humility when you have reason to be confident (Philippians 2:3)
• Being quick to apologize and forgive (Colossians 3:13)
• Showing compassion when it’s easier to hold a grudge (Leviticus 19:18)
• Loving those who can offer you nothing in return (1 John 3:17–18)
• Being someone’s advocate when others are tearing them down (Ephesians 4:29)
• Speaking truth in love, not out of anger or self-righteousness (Ephesians 4:15)
• Walking away when your pride would have you confront (Romans 12:18)
• Being genuinely interested in those around you and invested in what matters to them (Philippians 2:4)
• Living in such a way that people around you are inspired to do good (Hebrews 10:24)

Bob Goff recently said in our Pardon the Mess podcast that you will be “known for your opinions but remembered for your love.” Jesus loved generously—without condition, without calculation, without reservation. He was known for his love, and we are called to be also (Galatians 5:14).

Let’s choose today to shepherd families who love faithfully and, therefore, live lives marked by an outpouring of generosity.