Being needy is not a sin.
Needing help is not a crime.
Seeking and accepting assistance is not a character defect.
In normal times, such obviousness wouldn't need stating.
In normal times, when we intuitively understand that there is no such thing as a self-made man or woman, needing help wouldn't be considered a blight on a neighbor's soul.
But we aren't living in normal times, or at the least, I hope the times in which we are living don't become the new normal, a time in which it is fashionable - seen as patriotic even - to berate those in need, to call them lazy, to consider them less than.
I'm hoping that beginning this weekend, which officially ushers us into what many consider one of the most spiritually important periods of the year, more of us will find the courage to lend our voice to beat back the tide which has deemed compassion and outreach dirty words or standards held dear only by the weak and silly.
It's one thing to fight for better ways to more effectively and efficiently divide the country's limited resources. That debate is always necessary, will always make us stronger. It is quite another to demonize the needy for being needy, to pretend the successful are successful only because of their hard work, strong will and willingness to do what others won't.
While all those characteristics are integral to success, they wouldn't matter if our fellow human beings didn't bestow upon the successful unwarranted, unearned blessings.
I've received so much charity, public and private, named and anonymous, in my life I can't remember it all.
God granted me a functioning brain and a family whose touch - literally - developed it. The cooing and the touching and gentle kissing of babies are key factors in the development of a child's brain. Those who don't receive those small gifts won't ever fully develop.
The government provided me with food stamps and free lunches and big, long rectangular boxes of cheese and powdered milk and bags of beans and Pell grants and health insurance to nourish my body and mind in ways my family's precarious financial predicament did not allow.
Strangers have, unsolicited, given me encouragement and words of wisdom and silent prayers and unexpected second chances and invaluable guidance and wonderful examples and incentive to always strive for better, just because they could, just because they thought it the right thing to do.
I am a proud product of handouts, of grace not only from God but from those who could have chosen to ignore my plight and demanded instead I pull myself up by an invisible and mythical pair of bootstraps.
Maybe that's why I often feel the need to give back, through taxes and private donations and volunteered time.
Because maybe that's the ultimate purpose of grace, to first receive it, then bestow it upon others.