Posted tagged ‘generosity’

Married To A Spontaneously Kind Person

October 7, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      October 7, 2018

                          

We were sitting in Cracker Barrel enjoying an unscheduled dinner out after a hectic day of substitute teaching and coaching (me) and watching the grandkids (Carol) for our oldest daughter and teacher, Kecia, who had parent-teacher conferences. Our conversation traveled through the wanderings of our days…the things the kids said, the players for the 8th Grade basketball team that I was deciding on, and national news items.

And then she was up!

A table of three sat behind us and to my left. I had noticed people sitting there on our way in, but I hadn’t given it another thought. Carol had! She went back to their table as they were finishing their meal. They were three senior citizens, one in a wheelchair, one with a cane, and the third now pushing the wheelchair as they began to leave. I heard conversation and thank you’s, but I didn’t know what exactly was happening. 

And then Carol brought their meal check back to our table and put it on top of our own check. “We’re paying for their meals!” 

“Okay,” I agree, knowing that it really isn’t a vote that she’s asking for. It is just how it is!

The three people are hobbling out as I say to Carol, “Well, I’d better go pay this so they don’t think they’re trying to sneak out (An impossibility taking into account their lack of speed and that they have a wheelchair!). I’ll be right back!”

The three thank me again as I come up behind them. The looks on their faces are priceless. Someone had done something really, really nice for them that had taken them back. I could tell that they’d be talking about it for the rest of the evening.

My wife is like that. She is spontaneously kind. She’ll give a quarter to a kid who is short on change for the candy he wants to buy at 7-11. She will ask someone who looks like they might be confused or lost or both if she can help them in some way. When our daughter calls at the last minute to see if Mom can watch one of the grandkids who has suddenly become ill Carol is out the door before she ends the cell phone call. 

Her kindness is sometimes scheduled, but, more often than not, is spontaneous…lived out in the doings of the day. She would tell you that the Lord led her to pick up the check for those three people. It just happened. In the midst of eating her bacon and eggs God cleared her vision to see what she needed to do. 

When I say “cleared her vision”, what you probably don’t know is that she had a cornea transplant operation thirty years ago because of a disease called “Keratoconus”, which is a gradual deterioration of the cornea. Her vision will never be good. She now plans her driving trips with “an eye” on when sunset is scheduled to occur because she does not like to drive in the dark anymore. 

Side note: Her vision at sporting events is always 20/20 however! She sees things that the officials miss all the time!

Spontaneous kindness! It’s who she is! She will open doors for people, and always say thank you to someone who opens the door for her. She’s also not afraid to give a piece of her mind to a middle school student who has someone be kind to him, but does not acknowledge it.

And the thing is, I see that tendency towards spontaneous kindness filtering down through the next two generations of our family. Kecia goes over and above for her third grade students and her school. I remember David, our middle child who is a restaurant chef, stopping at Chick-fil-a one morning on his way to work and buying a bag of chicken breakfast biscuits for his cooking staff just to say “Thank you!” Lizi, our youngest, works with families whose children qualify for Head Start and other resources. 

And now the three grandkids are showing tendencies towards being kind, not coerced to do so but rather out of the doings of daily life.

The three people walking out of Cracker Barrel with smiles as full as their satisfied tummies is just the latest blessing from the woman I married, and for the woman I married!

Self-Centered Generosity

December 30, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             December 30, 2017

                                     

The year 2018 will be a telling experience that will show just how generous middle-class Americans are. New tax laws will reduce the benefits “kinda”… for many of moderate-income to give to charitable organizations.

One of the changes in the new tax laws includes a doubling of the standard deduction. That means an individual filer can deduct $12,000 and a married couple $24,000 without itemizing their deductions. Estimates are that less than 10% of taxpayers will continue to itemize their deductions. Thus, the incentive to give to charity will go to how genuine a person’s generosity really is!

Except for this year! Charitable organizations are seeing an increase in giving as the year ends for givers to take advantage of itemizing deductions. In other words, some people are being charitable in 2017 who will think twice about giving next year. It smacks of self-centered generosity. “What do I get out of this?”

To be honest, churches have been scrambling for years to make ends meet. In 2016 the typical church attender gave about 2.5% of their income to their church. During the Great Depression of 1929 the percentage was estimated at 3.3%! Generosity has not exactly run roughshod through the pews as things are. Now most ministries are expecting a decrease in giving to budgets that are already looking pretty threadbare!

So 2018 will be a year of indicators! Are Americans, especially followers of Jesus, generous or only generous when it helps their tax burden?

It’s not like there won’t be people in need next year. In Colorado Springs there are not enough available beds to take care of the growing homeless situation. The various shelters are looking for options to increase capacity, but more capacity requires more money to fund the ministries to the poor…and where will these funds come from?

The optimistic faith-based view of the coming situation is that the nation will see the heart of Jesus in the incredible outpouring of financial support from his followers; that Christians will take seriously Jesus’ directive to care for the poor, the widows, and the orphans. That’s a view that could indicate a spiritual renewal in our midst!

The pessimistic view is that the tax law changes will show just how greedy and self-centered we really are!

Wedding Guests

July 23, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               July 23, 2017

                                       

A week before her wedding was to take place Sarah Cummins and her fiancee called it off. A blow to the ego and a stab to the heart, but it was over! Wedding guests were contacted to alert them to the news. A host of details were scratched off the list that no longer had to be worried about, and a few were added as happens whenever something gets canceled.

But…Sarah was still on the hook for the wedding reception at an upscale reception location, and she did not want the $30,000 to go to waste, so she did something that drew national attention. She invited the homeless for a dinner party.

The venue booked for a plated dinner for 170 featured bourbon-glazed meatballs, roasted garlic bruschetta, and wedding cake. Several local businesses and residents donated suits, dresses, and other items for the guests to wear.

Sarah greeted and welcomed each of her guests when they arrived, including a dozen veterans.

And they partied!

Cummins made this comment. “For me, it was an opportunity to let these people know they deserved to be at a place like this just as much as everyone else does.”

Matthew 22 has a story about a wedding banquet. Although it has a few twists and turns, and disturbing points that Jesus puts into the parable to make a point, it ultimately gets to the same place that Sarah Cummins came to. As it says, “So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good and the wedding hall was filled with guests.” (Matthew 22:10)

     How do you turn a wedding reception into a non-stuffy party? Invite the people that are usually pushed to the side so that the reception can take place. Invite the people who live outside the margins of the acceptable, the ones who are expected to wait in the shadows and not be seen.

I wish there was a follow-up story on Sarah Cummins…like, maybe a year from now, because I’m curious how this unanticipated act of generosity impacts her life more than her bank account balance? What will be the ripple effect of her valuing of the disadvantaged?

And in one of those parallel ways, isn’t this a picture of the gospel? That those who had been distanced from God by the judgment of the righteous or, if you will, the original invited, are invited to join the party because the love of God is for everyone, not just a few!

In the heartache of a broken engagement I pray that Sarah Cummins will experience and abundance of blessings, that the smiling faces of the simple folk will continue to make her chuckle, and the tears of joy of the down-and-out will drench her sorrows and warm her soul.

The Sacrifice of Second Helpings

July 7, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          July 7, 2017

                               

I just finished reading Herbert Hoover: A Life by Glenn Jeansonne. An excellent book about a man who usually has become the scapegoat for the Great Depression. What I discovered about Hoover, however, is that he helped feed an estimated 83 million people, was responsible for the delivery of nearly 34 metric tons of food, clothing, and medicine to those endangered by famine and pestilence in Europe and Asia, and was known as “The Great Humanitarian.”

One of the ways he provided food to those in Europe who were starving was by convincing Americans to cut down on the portions of food that THEY were eating…even before The United States got involved in World War 1. Hoover convinced Americans to curtail their consumption of sugar, cease eating bacon and white flour, raise home gardens, and…clean their plates! Twenty million Americans signed pledge cards to abide by these guidelines and were given a sticker for their window indicating their vow to conserve.

Clergy were asked to deliver sermons that emphasized the serious nature of conservation. The term “Hooverizing” became the word that was used to describe the emphases of conserving, and Hoover and his wife Lou modeled conservation in their own home.

The nationwide effort helped feed the Allied troops and hungry European children. It was a simple solution: If we commit to eating what we need, not what we want, the excess…the second helpings!…could go to help feed others.

Amazing! American citizens saw and felt the responsibility to help the plight of others by not thinking of themselves first! The sacrifice of second helpings!

I would say such sacrifice today is only seen in pockets of our country. Little anomalies from what is the norm. The anticipated standard is consumption. We strive for more…more money, more free time, more house, more cable channels, more food in the freezer, more peace and quiet, more pairs of shoes. To sacrifice my excess for the helping of the common good is way beyond our philosophies of life. The bumper sticker, seen more and more these days slapped on the back of BMW’s and big boy trucks, that says “The one who dies with the most toys wins!”…that hints at the core of our life purpose. Most of us don’t want to openly admit that but there is truth at its center.

Of course, there is the danger of becoming arrogantly pious in the midst of sacrifice. It’s the perversion of sacrifice that is often seen in the church, a changing of something good into simply another way to judge who is really, really  spiritual and who is not as spiritual.

What would it look like today to see a mass of people sacrifice for the benefit of others? I’m talking about ongoing sacrifice, not just momentary inconvenience. What would it take for people to “buy in” to a cause that is not just a short sprint but a marathon struggle? What national or world crisis needs to happen for “Hooverizing” to re-emerge like a benevolent tsunami wave?

 

What Might Jesus Wish For On His Birthday?

December 24, 2016

                                                                                            December 24, 2016

                           

Most people reading this will be opening up some kind of wrapped gift tonight or tomorrow…or whenever their family and friends gatherings take place. Let’s be honest! We all enjoy opening presents…even if there’s underwear inside!

In celebration of Jesus’ birth the Magi brought him three gifts that are mentioned in scripture: gold, myrrh, and frankincense. Each was a gift with a purpose as it related to Jesus. The gifts recognized his royalty, his priestly function, and his death.

I wonder what might be on Jesus’ gift wish list this birthday? What might Jesus hope for? I know I’m being a bit presumptuous in answering that question, but bearing in mind the purpose, personality, and teachings of Jesus, this is what I THINK he would want.

An Avalanche of Understanding- I think Jesus would be taken back by the lack of understanding that is present everywhere…and the absence of even wanting to understand. Political division, divisive people going at it in church, parents not understanding their children and vice versa, communities not understanding the plight of the homeless, well-to-do folk not understanding poverty, and just about everyone not understanding someone else’s point of view. I think Jesus might even expand his sermon on the mount to include “Blessed are those who seek to be understanding for they shall be filled with wisdom!”

    A Tsunami of GenerosityWe live in a time of “moderate Scroogeness!” Most of us would be offended to be described as Scrooges so we show “some generosity”, while hoarding everything else. I’m not talking about giving a buck to every panhandler you meet, but rather a willingness to be generous. Jesus talked about giving up our coat to someone in need. Recently my wife Carol brought about half a dozen coats to me and asked which one or two we should keep. She was going to take the rest to a place that was collecting coats. My first reaction…to myself!…was “I might still need that!” Carol’s generosity also had wisdom mixed in. “How many coats can you wear at one time, Bill?” Many of us are prone to hoard what we have instead of allowing our resources to fulfill their purpose. I think Jesus might say something like this: “The poor you will always have with you. That is not an excuse to dismiss them, but rather an opportunity to bless them.”

    An Appetite for Spiritual NourishmentI think Jesus would desire the gift of seeking him, walking closely beside him, and wanting more of him. His desire would be less entertainment centers and more worship centers, less choreographed worship services and more spontaneity, less “the look” and more the walk. Like when we grow old and instead of a gift card we’d just like to sit with our grown up children and talk, perhaps Jesus’ wished-for gift would be ongoing conversations with people who are interested in knowing him better, desirous of a journeying relationship wth him. A dear friend of mine recently told me that the younger generations often want a big splash of spiritual excitement, but Jesus asks us for a continuos relationship that asks for $5 at a time. In other words, Jesus desires a spiritual appetite that is steady, long, and forever…not just for a weekend every once in a while.

Three gifts! One that speaks to our mind, one that speaks to our heart, and one that speaks to our spirit. Or put another way, one that speaks to those we differ with, one that speaks to those who need us, and one that speaks to the One who we need.

Happy birthday, Jesus!

The Red Kettle Bellringer

December 22, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     December 22, 2016

                                 

The ringing could be heard all over the parking lot of the grocery store. The seventy year old man waving the bell back and forth smiled at everyone who passed by regardless of whether they put something in his kettle or not. Most didn’t, but he engaged them with a greeting anyway.

A young woman with her four year old daughter approached on his right hoping to sneak by unnoticed. The bellringer turned as she was right beside him and shouted a greeting. “Merry Christmas to you and yours!” The greeting made her step back startled for a moment. “Would your little girl like a candy cane?”

The four year old looked up with delight and a smile from ear to ear. “I’m sure she would,” replied the mom. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have anything to put into the donation bucket.”

“That’s quite all right, ma’am! Perhaps you’ll be able to pass on the glad tidings to someone in another way…a kind word to a neighbor, a visit to someone in the hospital, or even saying a prayer for someone else in need. There always seems to be something that we can do to help this world be a bit more decent to be a part of.”

“Thank you! I’ll keep those things in mind.”

“Mr. Bellringer,“ came the soft voice of the young child. “Do you get to keep the money that you collect?”

“Lord, no, darling!” he chuckled. “This money goes to help some folk who don’t have food to eat or a bed to lay their head in. I’m just the man who has the privilege to ring the bell and hand out candy canes.” He turned to the left to wish another customer entering the store a merry Christmas. Another woman exiting walked by the red kettle and tucked a folded five dollar bill into the slit on top of the kettle. “Thank you, ma’am!”

“So, Mr. Bellringer-“

“Call me Mr. Sam, darling!”

“Mr. Sam, what do you get for standing here and ringing the bell?”

“Well, my dear, I get…to do it!”

“Get to do it?”

“Yes, I get to do it. I get to see the looks of generosity that come upon the faces of people who make decisions to give up something of their own to help someone they will probably never see.”

The mom spoke up. “But don’t you get a bit miffed at all the folk who pretend not to see you as they pass by?”

“No, ma’am! That’s their choice, and you know something?”

“What?”

“I used to be just like that. Kind of a hardened man who didn’t really care about anyone or anything else. I can’t really say how I got to that point but it happened.”

“So…something must have changed.”

“Yes, ma’am! It did, and it was about this time of the year…ten years ago, in fact!” He paused for a moment to greet a young boy and his parents and hand the child one of his candy canes. “My wife, Ellie, came down sick…and I mean really sick! So sick that I carried her out to the car and started to drive her to the hospital. She was in severe pain, moaning and groaning, and all of a sudden as we drove she just passed out.”

“Oh my!”

“As you can tell, I was scared to death and I pulled over to the side of the road, put my flashers on, and tried to revive her. I was frantic! Thank the Good Lord that no more than thirty seconds later a pick-up truck pulled up behind me on the side of the road and a man and his wife got out to see what was going on. I jumped out of the car and screamed about my wife being unresponsive. The woman was a nurse who worked in the ER of the very hospital I was heading to, and she performed CPR on Ellie right there, got her breathing again, and jumped in the car with me as we drove to the hospital. She called ahead and they were waiting for us when we arrived five minutes later.”

The little girl looked up at Mr. Sam and with great concern asked, “Was she okay?”

“Darling, there was something wrong with her heart, but they were able to fix it and she ended up being okay. But you know something, if that couple hadn’t stopped to help it would have been a different story. That day changed me! I guess you could say that the Good Lord got my attention about how selfish I had been. If that had been someone else pulled off the side of the road and I was passing by I wouldn’t have thought twice about them, but just kept on going. But Ellie probably wouldn’t still be alive today if those two people hadn’t helped. Like I said, that day changed me!”

“And that’s why you ring the bell?” asked the mom. “That’s why you greet people with a merry Christmas and hand out candy canes.”

“It’s a simply way that doesn’t take any advanced education, if you know what I mean. The only requirements are being able to ring a bell and be friendly with people. And you know something, ma’am? I enjoy it!”

At that moment a woman was leaving the store and she came by the red kettle. “Here you go, Sam! Tell Ellie I said hello!” She dropped some money into the collection.

“You betcha’, Helen! You working today?”

“Heading there now! Will you stop by and say hello?”

“Absolutely! Maybe I’ll bring you a candy cane!”

“Save those for the kids, Sam!” She walked on across the parking lot.

“Is that one of your neighbors?”

“In  a way!”

The little girl spoke up again. “Mr. Sam, are you going home after you get done ringing your bell?”

“No, I’m heading to the hospital.”

“Is your wife there?”

“No, I go by the pediatric ward…that’s where the sick children stay…and I pass out candy canes and tell them stories to make their day a little brighter.”

“That’s really nice, Mr. Sam,” said the mom. “Is Helen one of the nurses there?”

“Yes, she’s a nurse in the pediatric ward now.”

“How did you meet? Did you meet her when you started volunteering there?”

“No, I knew her before that. She used to be a nurse in the ER.”

The young mom paused and then began, “Is that…is she…?”

“Yes! She’s the one who saved Ellie’s life.” And he gave a wink to the mom and her daughter. “I hope you have a very merry Christmas!” The little girl took two steps to Mr. Sam and hugged him with all her might.

“Merry Christmas, Mr. Sam!”

My Secret Santa

December 13, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         December 13, 2016

                                           

About a week ago Mission Medical Clinic of Colorado Springs received a boxed gift in the mail from an anonymous sender. Inside was a check for $10,000 and three $50 gift cards. The clinic offers a variety of medical services for people who have limited financial resources. The $10,000 will go a long ways in helping meet needs that never seem to lessen.

The first thought of the mission’s director was that it was a scam, so she called a local TV station about it. Further investigation revealed that it was genuine…and the praises began! Another local charity also received an anonymous check.

Even though the Christmas story revolves around expectancy it brings us the unexpected. Kids squeal and giggle over the expectation of the coming of Santa Claus, but stories of secret Santa’s take our breath away and leave us open-mouthed.

I will always remember my secret Santa! He or she sent me a gift shortly before Christmas in 1984…thirty-two years ago! Carol and I were the parents of two toddlers, and I was in my first months of pastoring my first church, the First Baptist Church of Mason, Michigan. Our financial resources were minimal. Most of the toys that the kids received for Christmas that year had been bought at the yard sales of the previous summer. We didn’t have much, but we had just enough! Carol learned how to use macaroni in numerous ways, and our home was often scented with the fragrance of digested pinto beans.

And then a $50 cashier’s check arrived in the mail from “Secret Santa.” A note attached to it said, “Take this check down to Jack Davis and buy yourself a new suit!” Jack Davis was the owner of Davis’s Men’s Wear, located on the corner of Ash and Jefferson, across from the Ingham County Courthouse in downtown Mason. Although I’ve had my suspicions, to this day I do not know who the Secret Santa was. All I know is that it lifted my spirits. That was back in the day when suits were the expected Sunday attire for pastors, and my suit selection was limited. My Secret Santa saw a young pastor with a wife and two kids who needed a little help. We had so many other needs to take care of that a new suit was not even on the list.

I thought of that story recently after receiving a check in the mail from my denomination’s retirement and benefits board. It was a “thank you” check sent to all of the retired ministers and missionaries of the American Baptist Churches, expressing appreciation for our years of ministry and service. I hadn’t thought about being a recipient of it, but rather as a giver to it, and yet here, once again, was an unexpected check!

This time, however, Carol and I have enough resources to be able to pay it forward to someone else, or some other organization. Not necessarily a check for $10,000, but rather the givers of an unexpected gift in a season of expectancy.