Tuesday, November 26, 2013

#17, In Which I Experiment With and Ask Questions of Generosity

For the most part, Mark and I have systematically given away a percentage of our income since we were first married sixteen years ago. We've had years that were lean, cars that broke down, surprising and large-scale medical expenses and yet, (except for a year or so of re-evaluation of our giving) we still gave.

There's a biblical principle of giving that states (in my way of summarizing) that if you give, more will be given. Surely, there's not a formula here, not a calculation on returns, and perhaps the "more" is sometimes less tangible than what is given away, but more nonetheless. And, I would conclude that as we gave over the years, we were given more, we've were given enough.

Perhaps not surprisingly, as our income has grown, my concern over spending has grown along with it.  We have more income now than I could have imagined having when we were poor as crickets living in a basement apartment that oozed black slime through cracks in the kitchen linoleum. That money concerns me now almost as much as it did then disturbs me. That we've found so many things to spend it on disturbs me. Yes, there are three children now. Yes, we are paying for more vitamins and doctor visits now. Yes, we've traded in our white noodles for proteins and vegetables and healthy fats. All of this costs more.

More and higher expenses makes me, a "J" on the Meyers Briggs test, outline precise budgets and hold to them (read: I experience it as failure when I don't). And so, even though we give a respectable amount of our income away to pre-determined places, I haven't been very fluid in responding to the needs that happen right in front of me. I haven't risked spontaneity in giving more, money that wasn't pre-allocated, money or goods or supplies that someone needed right in the moment, right now. It was easy for me to say, "I've already given this month, therefore I cannot give to you." It was easy to say, "I cannot give to you because all I have left is my savings/grocery/phone/miscellaneous money."

But what if it's the right thing to give those things in those moments? And what if it's precisely the wrong thing to turn away from the Philippines relief fund on Facebook or another struggling minister because I've already given, as if this excuses me from relieving and refreshing those who need refreshing most in the moment?

And if the biblical principle holds true, then won't I continue in abundance?

I experimented this month. I gave a small sum, a little more than was allocated. I responded to two different needs in two different moments. On one of those days, after giving, I sat in prayer and mentioned to God the upcoming medical expenses, the Christmas gifts for our kids, the holiday travel. The next day we received a check in the mail that was five times the extra I had given. It was a random, just-because gift from a relative, but really it was a gift card from heaven, a memento reminding me of provision.

And then, a few days later, a car engine started rattling badly. And then, a second car's ignition broke. And the batteries in our cordless home phones suddenly gave out.  And my replacement cell phone dropped every eight out of ten calls. This culminated all on one day, a day I was near tears and my husband and I were a little less than patient with each other due to the mounting anxiety about repair costs. But then, when the cars were rounded up and brought home in their various states of disrepair, while we waited on appointments with mechanics, while I suddenly remembered we had an old-fashioned (read: not "smart") cell phone tucked away for emergency use for our kids, I was able to calm my anxious heart down and I heard in my head the inaudible words watch and wait.

So that's what I'm doing.

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