This summer, the Sunset youth ministry team is teaching a class based on the book I Like Giving by Brad Formsma. It’s not a super deep book. It’s made up mostly of stories and random thoughts on giving, and I LOVE IT. Reading the book and preparing lessons has made me so excited about all the possibilities that come with a lifestyle of giving. Often we think of giving as a compartmentalized part of our lives, and we do it in the most routine and boring ways, setting aside a percentage of our income and thinking that the check we write is the gift.
But what happens when we start to see our lives as a gift to other people? Then we open our eyes for opportunities to give in all kinds of different ways, and creative giving simply becomes an expression of who we are.
There’s a line towards the end of the book that I have made my theme for this summer:
Every time you give, a story begins.
And it’s true. Most of the time, you never know the ripple effect that begins when you give. You can change someone’s life and not even know it. Even the smallest gifts become a story that both giver and receiver remember for years to come.
Over the last few weeks of teaching this class, I’ve been reminded of all the times people have given to me in creative ways, and as I think about them, I can’t help but smile. There are too many to list, but here are a few that have been on my mind.
I Like Pumpkins
One fun fact about me is that I love seasonal decorations. I’m not a fan of roses on Valentine’s Day, but pumpkins and chrysanthemums in the fall and poinsettias in the winter just make me happy. This past fall I had just moved into my first off-campus house, and when September came, I couldn’t wait to get a pumpkin to grace my front steps. My first pumpkin was big and round and absolutely perfect, and every time I came home and saw it on the porch, my heart was all aflutter with autumn happiness.
But one morning I opened the door and my pumpkin was gone. Someone had come and stolen it in the night. (Side note: who does that?!) At first I thought maybe it was a joke, but my pumpkin never came back. Every time I came home, I just felt sad and missed my beautiful pumpkin. In a depressed heap of pumpkin-less misery, I posted a pitiful status on facebook about my missing pumpkin.
The next night, I was out all evening and came home at about 11pm. As I walked up the sidewalk, something round and orange caught my eye. There was a pumpkin on my front steps!! I was absolutely elated. I couldn’t believe someone had been thoughtful enough to go out and buy me a new pumpkin, but there was no note and no one to thank. I posted on facebook, “To whoever bought me a new pumpkin and left it on my porch for me to come home to tonight — you are wonderful. There is good in the world. THANK YOU!!!” I hoped that whoever bought the pumpkin would see it. Turns out he did — and he took a screenshot of it. And he later became my boyfriend.
I Like Scotland
In March of 2013, I went on a mission trip to Scotland for the first time. It was a bit of a last-minute decision to go, and I had 3 weeks in which to raise $1400. A couple days into my fundraising campaign, I had this dream that someone financed my entire trip. I woke up thinking, “Well man, I thought that dream was real. This is super disappointing.”
I opened my computer to check facebook, and I had a message from a guy I hadn’t seen or talked to since I was about 13 years old. He asked how the fundraising was going and how much I still lacked. I told him I had just started, so, like…all of it. He responded, “Good, because after paying my bills this month that was exactly the amount that I had left in my account, and I felt like God was telling me to give it to you.”
It was one of those moments where it’s such an extravagant gift that you feel almost embarrassed. I tried to tell him no, I could write him a check back for whatever amount I raised over $1400, but he would have none it, saying that if I raised more than that, it could go to other people on the trip. Talk about a humbling experience — I hadn’t even planned on paying that much for my own mission trip! His gift taught me more about faith and giving than any book or sermon.
And Scotland was amazing.
I Like Cookie Monster
A couple of years ago, I worked as a summer camp counselor. At the beginning of one week, I met this little guy with a cookie monster T-shirt that said “Keep calm and eat cookies.” I nearly choked on my excitement as I told him how amazing it was. Later that week, I was in charge of extended care for the afternoon, so I was sitting by the volleyball court watching a couple of kids make sand angels when the Cookie Monster guy’s mom came up and sat with me. We talked about faith and about relationships and she asked me what my plans were for the future, and I remember telling her how much I had needed some good adult conversation.
That week of camp ended on Friday afternoon. I was standing around holding a blue flag and a clipboard and trying to keep 9 kids together until their parents came to pick them up, when Cookie Monster guy’s mom came up to me and handed me a gift bag. Inside was a sweet note along with the same Cookie Monster t-shirt her son had. I’m not sure where the card is, and I’ve forgotten her name, but I always wear that soft blue shirt to sleep in, and I will never forget it.
Someone who overhears a comment like that and thinks to act on it for a complete stranger — that is someone who sees their life as a gift.
To each of these special people — thank you!! You gave, and a story began, and the world became a bit brighter.
Take the time to remember your own stories. Write them down and share them. Be inspired. Then keep your eyes open for opportunities and start a story for someone else.