Posted in focus on faith

Generosity part 3: hope for the rest of us

hubcap-treeAs the Christmas season approaches does the word “generosity” make you nervous? If so, you’re in the majority. Many of us are in a constant state of donor fatigue, inundated with requests from our kids’ schools, our churches, the natural disaster of the day (tsunamis, tornados, earthquakes, floods and fires), starving children, missions fundraisers, telemarketers, political parties, community initiatives, door to door campaigns, and on and on and on.

We aren’t just stretched financially but many of us also have a bulging calendar and a demanding clock. Maybe you are multi-talented and you don’t want to waste it. Or perhaps you can’t bear to see an unmet need. Or maybe you look at the staggering success of colleagues and, in comparison, you feel like you have to crank it up a notch so you don’t get left behind. Maybe, like me, you read Sheryl Sandberg’s blockbuster book, Lean In, and you think super-woman really does exist so you just need try a little harder.

303891 The truth is Superwoman is a mythological comic figure. And no matter how much we want to be her, we can’t. (I doubt the slinky get-up would be overly flattering for most of us anyway!) We can’t say yes to every request for our time, our talent or our treasure. We have limits. We are human.

Boy that really stinks doesn’t it?!

How are we supposed to “change our world” if we are limited human beings? Well, a few of you will do and are doing huge things that grab the attention of the multitudes. But most of us, the vast majority of us, are the multitude. What about us? We want to make a difference too! Is there any hope for the rest of us?

A resounding yes! Consider these four suggestions:

Get to know and then respect your limits. Even though I wince every time, I have learned to say “no” or “not at this time” with kindness, courtesy and respect.  I agonized for a month and finally replied to a request for support from a godly, gifted, impassioned young woman with “no.” I explained that I did believe in her and in her calling and I didn’t doubt she would do great things but I have limits and her request fell outside those limits at this time. It was tough. But right.

Discern what your top one, two, at most three talents or areas of giftedness are rubber-glove-thumbs-up-20579179transparentand operate mainly from those strengths. This will require focus, discipline and, you guessed it, the ability to say no.  I know that I have two strong gifts: my hands and my humour. I use the gift of humour in lots of speaking and some writing. I use my (often rubber-gloved) hands helping my family, my friends, my community and my church.

Be ready, and willing, to scale back, take a break, or walk away from some or all of your world-changing activity if God asks for it. In July 2012, with a head full of plans and a briefcase full if solid ideas, I returned home from a professional development conference to find my husband Gerry near collapse from exhaustion. It was obvious to me he needed a wife! Being Gerry’s wife is my highest calling and greatest privilege. God didn’t have to ask me twice. I dropped the plans and ideas and quit some other things and embarked on a yearlong ministry to my dearest and best friend. During that year, our oldest daughter was diagnosed with and surgically cured  from pancreatic cancer. It was a rough road. Gerry is doing great, my daughter is almost fully recovered and I am getting back into the swing of my ministry. Did my “sabbatical” affect my work? Greatly! My invitations and influence are much reduced. But remember this: when we follow God one yes at a time, we trust Him, not our own efforts. For the person who has entered His rest has rested from his own works (Hebrews 4:10). Either we trust He who calls us or we don’t.

Have some fun! Hug your kids or grandkids. Go for a walk on a snowy pathway. Sign snowy pathwayup for the Christmas choir. Paint a room. Curl up with a good book or your fav series on Netflix. Hop into bed early with your husband — check out this resource!

If generosity is a scary word for you right now, you are probably over-extended. Generosity flourishes in “margin” I meet very few truly stingy, selfish people. Christmas is still several weeks away, start now to create some margin–space around the edges of your life–and generosity will no longer be a scary word, but a joyful invitation to change the world one small act at a time. If the rest of us all do a little bit, it can make a huge impact. Now that gives me hope!

Posted in focus on faith

Generosity Part 2: the myth of scarcity

In 1990, 25-year-old Jim Ziolkowski was trekking across Nepal when he entered a remote village and encountered an inauguration ceremony for the village’s new schoolhouse. The 8507980865_aa9e29534f_bschool had been built with the help of British mountaineers. The local residents’ joy and the obvious importance of the school moved Jim deeply.

When he returned home to the US, Jim took a job with GE Capital,…ready to embark on a long and lucrative career; however his heart was still in Nepal….

So Jim … quit his job, recruited his similarly broke brother, Dave, and friend, Marc Friedman and launched buildOn, a nonprofit organization with the intention of building schools in developing countries….

The count as of today is 587 schools have been built.

LET’S FACE IT: WE’RE NOT ALL JIMS 

The vast majority of us will not quit our jobs, leave our careers, and risk all of our large or small personal fortunes to make a difference. It’s not that we’re not caring. Far from it, we would love to help make the world a better place. It’s simply that we aren’t all called to incubate and grow an enterprise. We have other dreams and talents. But we can partner with people like Jim by contributing to their efforts financially. And amazingly, none of us has to break the bank to make it happen. When enough of us write checks, the checks need not be large. (Wendy Smith, Give a Little: how your small donations can transform our world, pp 3, 4) 

I’m not a Jim. Are you? Using Wendy Smith’s terms, Jim is a “doer”; the rest of us are “donors”. Without donors, doers wouldn’t get very far!

But I don’t want you to miss the key element in Wendy Smith’s position; reread the subtitle of her book…how your small donations can transform our world. Key word? Small. Five bucks, ten bucks, twenty bucks…. most of us can afford that.

In the same vein, James Bryan Smith writes in The Good and Beautiful Community, that people fail to be generous when they accept the false narrative of “scarcity” which says, “if I give it away, I have less.” He urges us to replace that myth with God’s truth, which is: “If we all share, we all have enough.” In other words, there is enough for everyone–but only when we take our fair share.

The principle I want to leave with you is from James Smith: frugality creates margin which enables generosity. Don’t be stingy — be wise. Make wise choices regarding your personal resources of time, talent, and treasure so that you have enough left over to share with others.

Posted in focus on faith

Generosity Part 1: the legacy

Mom and dad with first child, PauletteMy mom and dad were generous people. Considering they had little money, their generosity extended far beyond writing a cheque.

They raised eight kids in a self-made house that grew, to keep pace with the family, from a one room shack into a three bedroom “palace”. Eventually a fourth bedroom, smaller than most prison cells, was added to the back porch so our one brother could find some solace from the estrogen-charged atmosphere of a tiny abode bulging with females.

As the kids grew up, moved on and married, my parents, who barely kept pace with their own bills, were creatively and sacrificially generous. Although they had little treasure to give, they gave what they could and freely shared the valuable resources of time and talent.

When they knew that one of us needed a couch or a bed or some kitchen appliance or perhaps just linens and cutlery, they would “discover” that they needed something new. Once they purchased their item, the old one was generously offered to us, and gratefully received!

Mom generously spent the majority of her life hunched over a sewing machine so her seven daughters could be well dressed and even trendy! She could copy any design and we kept pace with fashion thanks to her tireless effort.

They were generous with their home, often welcoming people for meals or parties or overnight. They once took in a teen girl whose parents moved away and she wanted to finish high school in our town.

They generously made the effort to visit their grown children and families, realizing that travel was costly for a young family and babies (and tired mommies) are usually most cheerful at home.

They gave to their local church and volunteered countless hours in service at events, building projects, and spiritual formation.

Mom and dad left me a legacy of generosity that I have tried to emulate with my own family. I recently purchased a new-to-me couch from a local charity  and passed IMG_3478along my still-great-condition-but-I’m-really-sick-of couches to my oldest daughter. She has plans to paint the woodwork so as to blend with her decor.

Gerry and I have tried to set an example of generosity for our three kids — all grown and married now — and we are gratified every time we see them being generous with their time, talent and treasure.

What legacy of generosity did you receive from your parents? How do you pass that on to your kids?