17 Creative Ways to Give on a Budget

As I mentioned in my last couple of posts, this summer the Sunset youth group worked through the book I Like Giving by Brad Formsma.  Each week I had the teens write down creative ways to give, and I was constantly amazed by the ideas they came up with.

There were several ideas that overlapped, and I found that the majority of them had to do with listening, encouraging, and spending time with lonely people. Maybe that reflects what our teenagers — and the rest of us, for that matter — need the most.

Here are some of my favorite ideas from the past few weeks — and most of them you can try for less than $5!

1. Take the time every once in a while to write a note to someone, just to show that you appreciate them or are thinking of them.

2. Pack ziplock bags full of snacks and goodies for the homeless and pass them out at stop lights.

3. Give your time to someone.  Just spend some time talking one-on-one with someone about anything and everything.  Listening to what someone has to say is a gift in itself.

4. Make someone a goodie bag filled with all their favorite candy and give it to them when you think they most need it.

5. Burn a CD of some of your favorite songs that you think a friend would enjoy, and give it to them.  Let them know they were on your mind.

6. Buy used copies of your favorite books to give to a friend who is going on vacation, or even to a random stranger.

7. Bake something for someone you know, but who wouldn’t expect you to think of them.

8. Pay attention to your facebook/instagram/twitter to see if your friends post about wanting or needing something, and then surprise them with it. Basically, really listen to people and their needs and you will find ways to help them out.

9. Buy coffee/lunch/pay the toll for the person behind you.

10. If you see someone who seems lonely or sad, invite them over and cook a meal with them. Then try encouraging them as you eat together.

11. Give flowers to an old lady and thanks [sic] them for everything.

12. Sit and listen to what your friend or another person has to say. Sometimes there are no perfect words, just perfect silences.

13. Donate a variety of school supplies for underprivileged kids.

14. Prepare an unexpected meal for someone who is very caring. For example: a parent.

15. Hold the door open for someone.

16. If a friend needs more than you can give, use social media to ask others to help. Sometimes people want to help but don’t know how.

17. Pay favors forward, and ask the next person to do the same.

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Published in: on August 15, 2014 at 11:28 am  Leave a Comment  
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“This is for you, Paulo”

In my last post, I wrote about a book that my youth group is studying this summer called “I Like Giving.”  In keeping with the theme of generosity and creative (not random, because they’re intentional!) acts of kindness, yesterday some of my students and I spent the afternoon giving to others.

First, we paid for the person behind us in line at Subway.  Then we purchased a $5 Starbucks card for each of them to decide how they wanted to give it away.  Our next stop was Walgreens, to develop a happy selfie of all us to tape to a church member’s door (captioned: “We’re all excited because we think you’re awesome!”).

As we stood in Walgreens waiting for the picture to be printed, one of the girls decided that the young man working behind the photo counter needed a Starbucks card.  She felt a little awkward and wasn’t sure how to go about it, so I told her to glance at his nametag.  “His name is Paulo!” she stage-whispered to me, grinning.  So I told her to write his name on the card so that he knew we didn’t leave it by mistake.  She borrowed a pen and carefully wrote on the little brown envelope, “This is for you, Paulo!”  And then she added a smiley face.

“Do I just…hand it to him?” she asked.  Trying not to be obvious, I shushed her and responded quietly, “No, just wait until we’re walking out and leave it on the counter.”

Paulo handed us the printed selfie, and I paid for it, and as we turned to walk away, I nudged my youth group girl to let her know that it was time.  Paulo picked up the gift card as we were walking out, and he shouted to us, “I love Starbucks!!” We turned around, and his ear-to-ear grin was worth far more than $5.

I think all of my youth group kids thought so, too.

Once we got back to the church building, we talked about how it had felt to give, and then I asked them to remember a time when someone gave to them and write a note to that person.  One girl mentioned an elderly woman at church who sends birthday cards to everyone.  One of the guys talked about a time when someone took him out to dinner.  And some of them — well, I didn’t know what they wrote in their notes until later.

Because perhaps my favorite moment of the day — when all was said and done and students were dropped off and I was back in the office sorting papers — was when one of the other ministers stopped by my office door.

“It’s crazy what sticks in a person’s mind,” he said.  “Did you read the note Juan left me?”

I shook my head no.

“Well,” he continued, “he thanked me for taking him home when his mom was sick.  I don’t even remember that.  Must’ve been when she had surgery two years ago.”  He shook his head.  “Sometimes you wonder if what you do makes any difference…”

A small act of kindness goes a long way.  I think about the times people have given to me without knowing how much it meant or how it shaped my life, and I think it does make a difference.  More than we know.

And I think that what my student wrote on that Starbucks card is a concise reminder of the attitude with which we should give.  It’s not about us or any attention or praise that might result.  It’s a simple way to say that they are worth noticing, that they are worth our time and money and emotional investment.

“This is for you.”

It’s a way to let someone know that your gift is not a ‘random’ act of kindness, that it’s not an accident. That they’re not an accident.

“This is for you.”

Keep your eyes open today to see how you can make a difference for someone — how your life can be a gift that is intentionally, uniquely, just for them.

Published in: on July 26, 2014 at 10:34 am  Comments (2)  
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Every Time You Give, a Story Begins

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.

Claim the Promise

God made an incredible promise to His people Israel: He would lead them to a land they would call their own.  After 400 years of slavery, it was nearly unfathomable, especially when they saw how beautiful the land of Canaan really was.  In fact, it was so hard to believe that they…didn’t believe it.

Craig Bartholomew sums up what happens in his book The Drama of Scripture: “They say that the land is wonderfully fertile and would make a fine homeland for Israel, but its people are powerful and their cities well-fortified.  The reported strength of the enemy engenders fear, and the Israelites’ faith in the Lord collapses.  They become depressed and disgruntled, complaining that God has brought them this far only to kill them.”

They forfeited their right to claim the promise simply because they believed it was too good to be true.  How sad is that?  And how often do we do the same thing?

“I’m not worthy of love.”

“It won’t last.”

“God would never bless me that much.”

“This is impossible. Even for God.”  (Yes, I have actually thought this.  Not in so many words, perhaps, and not without realizing its stupidity immediately afterwards, but my disbelief and self-deprecating thoughts definitely convey this.)

First, nothing is impossible for God.  Nothing.  Second, while I don’t intend to portray the gospel as materialistic, God does love to bless His people who are surrendered to Him.  When you can finally open your clenched fists, He will fill them.  In fact, the only place in Scripture where God invites us to test Him is in Malachi 3:10 — “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse…test me in this…and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”  I love the imagery in this verse, as if I’m a small child looking up in wonder and amazement as a pinata breaks open and candy rains down.

sorry, couldn't help throwing a little humor in there!

sorry, couldn’t help throwing a little humor in there!

At least, that’s what I felt like this past week as God poured down blessing after blessing until I was overwhelmed.  He is so full of goodness that is just waiting to rain down on His children who will receive it.  In Psalm 37:4 the Bible says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  This verse is often misinterpreted and overused, but that doesn’t mean it should be discounted entirely.  It doesn’t mean you will get a new car, or a fabulous body without dieting.  But God knows the deepest longings of our heart, and He wants to be the One to fulfill them in His time and in His way, if we will trust Him.

Abraham and Sarah believed it was impossible for them to have a child, so they eventually gave up waiting on God and tried to do things their way.  God hadn’t forgotten His promise; He was just waiting to prove His ability to overcome all odds and display His sovereignty.  God loves to bless radically to show off.  Every good and perfect gift is from above (James 1:17), and He will display His glory by the supernatural way He cares for His children.

If God has spoken to you, if God has given to you, stop doubting and believe.  Claim the promise, child of God; nothing is impossible for Him.

If He has called you to Africa, He will provide for you to go.

If He has given you a gift for writing, He’s big enough to publish your book.

If He has given you the desire for marriage, not only can He make it happen, He can provide someone who is perfect for you even beyond your wildest dreams.

As my dear friend and pastor’s wife Sarah Berger recently told me (listen to her life story, and you’ll realize she knows what she’s talking about), “God isn’t just good.  He’s better than you can even imagine.

When God speaks to you a promise that seems too good to be true, don’t let fear make you faithless.  He is big enough.

lake

 

Published in: on February 18, 2013 at 12:17 am  Comments (2)  
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Confessions of a Creature of Habit: Rich Girl (Selfish Girl?)

Don’t let the title mislead you. I’m a college student, after all. I don’t own a Porsche. But by the world’s standards, I’m rich. And so are you.

The nagging on my heart has been constant, continual. The gentle reminders from God: “Daughter, you have yet to surrender everything.”

“God, I have!” I want to say. “I’ve given you my plans. I’ve changed my major. I’ve even turned my love life over to You. Do You think it’s easy being single and not knowing what I’m going to do with my life?”

Yeah, that doesn’t fly.

Because there’s one area of my life I just can’t surrender.

Money.

Yeah.

“God, I seriously can’t give that up. Especially if I do end up single forever. I have to be able to support myself.”

I never thought I was a materialistic person. For real. I value people more than money, right? Until I started wondering if Jesus really was exaggerating when he told the rich man to sell all he had and give to the poor.

Books like Crazy Love and Radical really don’t make you feel good about your economic status. It’s hard to stomach. I’ve wrestled with it for months.

You see, my possessions are the one safety net I have left. Because it’s true, I have pretty much forfeited my life’s road map and my relationships to God.

And so that leaves me. Me and my image. Me and my stuff.

And I buy a lot of stuff.

I try to buy clothes on sale, or at the thrift store. But even so I don’t need half — or even more than half — of what I have. They won’t even all fit in my drawers. It’s ridiculous. But still I “need” more, more, more: oh, this shirt is so cute, I “have” to have it. I don’t have a scarf in this color yet. The heels on my white shoes aren’t high enough, I need a more awesome pair. All these silly justifications.

I try to be thrifty with makeup, too. I find the best quality for the lowest price and use coupons. But even so, the contents of my makeup bag is worth an astounding $75. That doesn’t even count shower products and nail polish.

(This is getting embarrassing.)

Tonight I spent $8 on a stick of purple eyeliner. Why? To look awesome.

Yeah. So that I will have awesome purple eyelids while kids go to bed hungry.

(It seemed reasonable at the time…)

The system disgusts me.

Wait, no…I guess I disgust me.

BUT. I have a plan. An experiment, really.

From now till the end of February, I am going to see just how little I can buy for myself. No clothes. No “fun makeup.” No unnecessary food. No books. Not even mp3 downloads. Pretty much, if it appeals to me, I’m going to avoid it at all costs (no pun intended). Starting…now.

Here goes.

Better go write that check for church tomorrow that I’ve been putting off. I’ll delay the sparkly blue eyeliner instead.

Published in: on January 22, 2012 at 3:14 am  Leave a Comment  
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Paying it Forward with Doughnuts

A dreary morning two semesters ago found me standing in line at Starbucks contemplating the great misfortunes in my life. My dark eyes and slumped posture bore witness to the late night hours of studying, which didn’t seem to have paid off for my early-morning test.

I had come to Starbucks looking for some encouragement in a cup of sugar and caffeine, and perhaps a small pastry for breakfast on the side. But as I examined the menu, I sighed. Because those were the prehistoric days of Lipscomb where I could only spend $6 on a meal, I couldn’t get coffee and breakfast; it was one or the other.

As I stood there debating which to get, suddenly I saw before me an angel from heaven in the guise of a random guy with an invitingly open Krispy Kreme box. “Would you like a doughnut?” he asked.

I may or may not have glanced anxiously around to ensure that he was talking to me. When my eyes came back to his, he was still standing there smiling. I gaped at him. “Are you kidding?! Why?”

He responded, “Oh, I just felt like being nice and handing out doughnuts today.”

He was perfectly serious.

My eyes lit up like a small excited child’s as I reverently lifted the doughnut from its pool of icing and thanked him ecstatically.

Then I ordered a raspberry mocha to go with my doughnut, and life did not seem so terrible after all. Because no one in the world could have known how much I needed a doughnut at that moment, the satisfaction from its sugary goodness — and the generosity of a stranger — lasted long after it was gone.

Fast forward a year, to finals week. It was past 11 PM and I couldn’t bring myself to study anymore, so I called up my sister and her husband to see if they wanted to go get some Krispy Kreme. My bro-in-law said heck yes and dragged his poor wife out the door in her pajamas.

When we had eaten our fill and they had headed back home, there were 4 doughnuts left in the box. I thought about saving them for breakfast — but then, I had a better idea. In honor of the mysterious doughnut guy, I decided to pay it forward.

Bracing myself against the chilly December air, I headed across campus to one of the guys’ dorms and gave one to a guy as he was walking in. In the next moment, three other guys came running outside.

“Doughnuts? Somebody said doughnuts!” one of them shouted.

There were three left — one for each of them.

Two took their doughnuts and disappeared, but the last one gave me a suffocating hug and exclaimed, “I don’t even know you, but you’re my best friend!”

I smiled to myself.

Doughnut Guy in Starbucks that day had spent $7.14 to make 12 people happy. When you think about that Krispy Kreme goodwill in a ripple effect — well, that’s a small price to pay for world peace.

I dare you to do it.

Buy a dozen original glazed doughnuts and give them to people who need them. In your office, in your class, at the bus stop. Wherever you see a downtrodden face, give them the gift of Krispy Kreme — and you’ll find, in the process, you give them so much more.

Published in: on December 29, 2011 at 9:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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