Giving of Your Best

They were there to gather donations to fill the shelves of a local food pantry.  The boys, dressed in their troop uniforms, were greeting customers as they entered the grocery store.  Each patron received a flyer detailing what items were needed and then were sent on their way with a smile.

Many gave generously that day.  They maneuvered the aisles, their thoughts on those less fortunate, on those who were in need of even the most basic of supplies.  One cart after another was filled.  Cars were loaded with bright yellow shopping bags.  Many made cash donations.  It was a good day…a very good day.  The kind of day that renews your hope in humanity a bit.

How encouraging it was to see a group of young men working to benefit others, working to meet the tangible needs of those they may never meet face to face, may never speak to, may never know.  It was good to see their excitement, good to see their zeal, good to see their hard work.  It was also good to see the generosity of the local people.  They freely gave.  Some gave much, others gave little, but all gave.

That evening, my husband, who was assisting the troop that day, told me about an interesting encounter that he had earlier that day.  A middle-aged man had approached him during the course of the food drive.  After asking how much longer the boys would be working, the man made this comment:

“I will be back in just a bit.  I have some expired food at home that I’ve been looking to get rid of.  I’ll bring it back to donate”

My first instinct was to ask my husband if he was kidding.  He’s known to be a jokester.   But no sly smile crossed his face; no elfish grin emerged.  He was serious.

In all honesty, I instantly judged, criticized, and condemned this unknown man.  How insensitive and callous he was.   How blind he was to the needs of others.  He saw nothing wrong with tossing his leftovers, his expired goods, his garbage bound food, to those who had the simplest yet greatest need. Why not just go into the store and pick up a can of vegetables instead?  Why not simply walk past the collection sight like many others did that day?  Why would he offer less than his best?

One year has come and gone.  And as the troop prepares for this weekend’s food drive, I am reminded of that man.  With knee jerk reactions and condemnation  put aside, I turned my gaze inward.  Was I any different than that man?  Was I willing to give less than my best to others?  I didn’t have to ponder for long.

I remembered the time that I was rummaging through my boys old clothes.  I wanted to clear out everything that no longer fit or was in poor condition.  I systematically sorted the clothes into two piles.  One pile contained clothing that was still in good condition; I had planned to pass these pieces along to a friend.  The second pile was filled with everything else: stains, tears, wear, fraying.  I must admit that I bagged up that second pile of clothes and dumped them into a collection box.  I never gave thought to the young man that would be wearing that stained shirt or the woman who would be modeling those frayed pants, or the child who would be dressed in rags.  I gave them my garbage and never thought otherwise.

I was no different than that man.

Imagine if I had simply gone to the store and picked up a new piece of clothing…tags still on.  It wouldn’t need to be fancy or expensive.  I’m a great bargain shopper.  Surely I could have picked up something nice for merely a few dollars.  I’m sure we could have forgone a bag of chips that week or a cup of coffee.  Imagine the reaction of some one in need, someone who likely never has worn a new piece of clothing.  Imagine them, imagine the look on their face and the swell in their heart.  I wish I could have retrieved my less than best bag and substituted it with one new item.  I can’t look back, but I can look ahead.

Keeping the best for ourselves is nothing short of selfish and completely out of step with how the Lord wants us to live our lives.  The Lord who gives abundantly, who showers us with blessing upon blessing, who provides for each and every need, has not created us to live selfish, self-centered lives:

  • And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. Hebrews 13:16
  • My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. John 15:12
  • not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  Philippians 2:4
  • Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord,  and he will reward them for what they have done.  Proverbs 19:17
  • The generous will themselves be blessed,  for they share their food with the poor.  Proverbs 22:9
  • Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.  Romans 12:13
  • You must present as the LORD’s portion the best and holiest part of everything given to you.’  Numbers 18:29

Give of your best and nothing less.


The Night God Arrived For Dinner

dinnerIt was nearly dinner time.  For the first time ever, I wasn’t sure what I was going to serve for dinner.  It wasn’t for a lack of inspiration or that I hadn’t planned, it was because my pantry was nearly bare, my refrigerator was just about empty, and my freezer was a vacant wasteland.  I had three little mouths to feed and an empty wallet.  Payday was tomorrow, but I still needed to get through today.

With the economy in a downward spiral, my husband’s employer had spent the last two years making cuts.  People were let go, benefits were cut, co-pays sky rocketed, hours were slashed, and mandatory unpaid furloughs were put into effect.  While I was thankful that my husband still had a job, there was no denying the fact that we were struggling to just survive.  That was also the time that I was at my sickest with Lyme Disease.  I was barely able to function and live, nonetheless be employed to help with the bills.  And as for the bills, there were many.  The doctor bills and lab bills flooded our mail box.  It was a tough time for us….a humbling time for us.  Yet, it would be during that time that we would see first hand the Lord’s promises played out.

I went to my kitchen and gathered what I could.  There was a bit of rice and some veggies left in the fridge.  “It will fill their bellies,” I thought, “and I’ll find a way to make it yummy.”  I remember one of my boys asking what was for dinner.  I was honest.  I told him that I didn’t have much, but we would enjoy dinner nonetheless.  My husband came home from work, and I told him to expect a pretty humble supper that evening.  I was broke, and I didn’t want to use my credit card…we didn’t have any way to pay for it.   I continued to cook.

Then, there was a knock at the door.

I opened the door to find a familiar face.   It was a woman that I worked alongside of in our homeschooling co-op.  We had a working relationship; we would attend meetings together and talk “business” on the phone.  We rarely, if ever, had a social get together or a casual, non business related phone conversation.  Yet, she was one of the few people who knew of our struggles.   She always made sure to ask how my husband was, how work was going, how we were doing.

Standing on my porch she sheepishly told me that she had cooked up a large ham for her family and had some leftover meat that she felt led to bring over to us that evening.  I think that she was unsure of how I would react to her offer.   Sometimes personal pride can cause us to act in ways we shouldn’t and turn down things that we need.  I thanked her and told her that I was scraping the bottom of the barrel for that evening’s meal.  I accepted the tin foil wrapped package, hugged her, and waved goodbye.

As I turned around I saw the eyes of my three boys looking on.  “The Lord provided dinner for us this evening, boys.  I never want you to forget this moment.  I always want you to remember that when God promises to meet your needs, He will.”

And with that, I cried.

So, that night as a family, we sat down to enjoy our rice, and veggies, and ham, and we thanked God for meeting today’s need through our friend.  We thanked Him for impressing on her heart our need, for her listening to His prompting, for her taking the time to drive to our home, for her not questioning what good a little ham could do.  We thanked Him that we were able to lay aside our pride and receive.

My children were all old enough to remember that night.  We still talk about it.  Wrapped up inside of that little foil packet was more than just a meal, it was a life lesson like no other, one that none of us will ever forget.   We saw scripture and promises come to life.

 And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:19

In the year to follow that same smiling face would greet me at my front door several more times, each time with something to offer.   A winter coat for one of the boys.  A shirt for me.  Some homemade soap.   A bag of clothes for the kids.   They were all little expressions of her care and concern and big reminders from God that He had not forgotten about our needs.

My husband would tough it out at his job for nearly two more years until making the excruciating decision to leave his long time employer in search of something more stable.  Those years were rough, but the Lord would continue to provide in many ways:

  • $300 left anonymously on my front porch
  • grocery store gift cards given to us by a neighbor
  • a church member buying us a freezer and providing some groceries nearly each week
  • great success in selling unwanted and unneeded items on eBay
  • neighbors, friends, and complete strangers hiring my husband to do work on his unpaid days off
  • cards with money or giftcards
  • small successes as I started out in my venture of competitive cooking

Each event, gift, or opportunity came at just the right time to meet a very specific need.  These were not coincidences…I do not believe in coincidences.  They were evidence of God’s provision…of His care.  They were reminders to us that God knew of and was very aware of our needs, and that He had it all taken care of.

The same God who provides for the birds of the air, Who has numbered the hairs on my head, is indeed concerned about my life and my needs.   They do not slip His mind; He does not turn a blind eye.  No.  He knows me;  He hears my voice, my cries, and knows it is me.  He is aware of my needs even before I am.   He not only cares, but He WILL provide in His perfect timing.  It is a promise that He has made to His children.   I’ve seen it first hand; I’ve lived it.

I do want to caution you here.  Sometimes the things that we see as needs are nothing more than wants.  The list of what we really need to survive is actually quite small.  On the evening detailed above, my family did have food.  It was humble and not plentiful, but there was food.  I am keenly aware of that.  Yet, God chose to provide a little bit more, not with the plan of filling our bellies, but with a plan to fill our hearts and give us the hope that would be needed to endure that very rough time in our lives.

I want to leave you with a few verses that mean a great deal to me.  They remind me that God knows me.  He sees my needs and will provide.

Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.  Luke 12:7

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matthew 6:25-26

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  Philippians 4:12-13

Come back next Monday as we look at how generosity is not exclusive to those who have much.