203. paying it forward (thanks Willie)

I’ve written before about my frustrations with being a generally generous person (see blog 123 and blog 199), but something happened two weeks ago at house church.

After the “formal” church time where we pray, praise, and then listen to a message, we have a more quiet, more private prayer time in a room apart from where everyone else is hanging out. In this prayer session, we pray for special prayer requests, for healing, for friends, and sometimes, even for fish.

Anyway, two weeks ago, during this prayer time, I can’t remember how it came about but a great friend of mine, the uber-talented Willie Branlund, shared a bit of information with me that was like a kick in the head – in a good way.


See, Willie is a photographer and like any artist, there was a time when he suffered serious bouts of self-doubt. Because the unfortunate truth is that the career path of anyone aspiring to turn creative energies into cash is a rocky, twisty, unpredictable one. And for one as talented as Willie, there is the constant frustration of seeing others make a name and a career for themselves out of mediocrity and pandering. Compounding this are the practical pressures of trying to figure out how to find jobs that pay well enough to live.

With all the forces lined up against them, it’s a wonder artists ever make it at all. Certainly, there were all too many times when Willie wanted to throw in the towel and get a “regular” job. Much of the generosity that Willie credits me with has to do with the times I made the long (for Hawaii – Makiki to Mililani) drive out to his house to convince him not to give up, to reassure him of his genius and his talent. And at times, the support went beyond the verbal and was financial, but in my mind, they are one and the same – you can’t just give a hurting person money and at the same time, a person who needs to buy film for his next project can’t pay for it with warm, fuzzy encouragements.

Looking back now, I have to say that my encouraging Willie to keep going with is art was, in part, as much for me as it was for him. See, I’ve always been interested in the arts (see blog 187 and blog 198) and at the time, Willie was the only person actually involved in making art as something more than a hobby (and who actually had the talent to take him somewhere). I encouraged (and, at times, begged) him not to give up on his art because I needed to have some kind of contact with someone who was operating in the world of art. Keeping his dream alive kept mine alive as well. Misery loves company, but so does desperation.

Thankfully, things are finally looking up for Willie. In a few weeks he flies out to Vegas where he’ll be working with a graphic design firm that will be netting him quite the handsome salary.

(end backstory)

So it’s after house church and we’re in the back room getting ready for a prayer session, and again, I can’t remember what brought it about but Willie comes out and shares with the group about how all the generosity that I poured out on him in those times of need has made him a more generous person as well. He’d say things like, “duuuude, I was triiipping ouuut ’cause before I would neeeever have. . .” and then he’d go into some example about how he responded to a family member or a friend with kindness instead of a harsh retort. And he credited me, in part, with that change.

And duuuude, I was triiipping ouuut because in the past (and I still think this way far too often) I thought that my generosity just evaporated into thin air, that it went unnoticed, that it was disposable and basically anonymous. But here was Willie, telling me that it helped bring about a change in him that, in a way, allowed my generosity to reach into places I could never go. What I mean is, my investment (even though at the time I didn’t think of it as an investment, I was just helping a friend) of generosity made Willie a more generous person and in a way, when Willie shares a bit of himself with someone he might not have otherwise (without my generosity), it’s like Willie extends the reach of my ability to give life and love back into the world. And I’ve never seen the movie Pay It Forward, but it’s my understanding that this is what the movie is about – passing on generosity to one who will, in turn, pass it on to yet another person.

And I wonder if there are other Willies out there who are more generous themselves because of some token of generosity that I gave to them on some rainy afternoon. And I wonder if, in some small way, my revolution is taking hold.

But even if Willie is the only person out there who was ever changed by some small gesture of my generosity, it would be more than worth all the frustration I’ve ever felt.

And then some.

And then some more.


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