Unraveling The Generous Heart

‘Tis the season to celebrate and ’tis the season to give. We live in a culture that cares about generous living, and for that I am grateful—this week we will observe #givingtuesday and many of my friends have created traditions of service and donating when thinking for their December family activities.

But why do we give? What motivates the generous heart? AND—Does the generous heart simply involve our wallets and bank accounts? Is there more than giving monetarily when it comes to generous living?

My heart has been stirring over the above questions. It is simple to say: we give because it is nice, giving is better than recieving, or we give because it is the right thing to do.

Those answers are much too simple for me—and empty, there has to be more to the generous heart. Doing the right thing year after year seems to to become mundane and quite tiresome.

As I have been studying generous living with my small group I have had to think about unraveling these simpler answers to generous living and find a deeper motivation for what spurs one on to live generously and be a joyful and abundant giver.

A Generous Heart Gives because of Grace

Before I had ever read the Bible, I was a very philanthropic person. However, my own heart was motivated to be philanthropic because I wanted to perform well or “do” the right thing—and I wanted others to see me doing the right thing. I was the chair of a few philanthropic committees and my heart’s belief was that I could impress others and God by being generous with my time and money. I believed I could earn my way to heaven through my generosity and earn the approval of others through moralism.

What I have learned in the last decade or so is that there is no amount of generosity that can earn God’s favor. God’s favor is given to us by grace and through faith so that no (wo)man can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). God freely gives us favor in his Son Jesus, and the Bible teaches the truth—so that no man can boast—because our human hearts are so prone to perform and boast. The also Bible teaches us that “our righteous deeds done in our own efforts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:4).

In performance-based generosity, the act of giving is primary. Which is not at all bad. Giving is very good—but very good things can become ultimate things and ultimate things are like filthy rags— not all giving is done for the glory of God’s Kingdom.

A performance-based generous heart is like a filthy rag—a grace-based generous heart is the opposite. A grace-based generous heart has God as primary. Grace-based generosity gives because the grace-based giver knows how much they have been given. Grace-based generosity is motivated because God first loved so the grace-based giver loves in return by living generously.

The grace-based giver also knows this life and the things of this world are temporary and possessions acquired on earth will not last for ever—only God’s Kingdom will last forever.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it (1 Timothy 6:6-7).

 

A Generous Heart Recognizes Everything Comes From God

Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:3-4).

For the godless run after all the things of this world, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:32-33).

 

This is the hardest part. Everything we have comes from God. Our money, our food, our houses, our backgrounds, our gifts, our temperaments, our looks, our spouses, our children . . . even our time.

For me, recognizing my finances come from God so therefore I should be generous with my money is only one layer in learning how to live with a generous heart—the rest feels like an unraveling of everything I thought I knew—I have to retrain myself to see that I am not the author of my story, God is the author of my story and He has given me all that I have.

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 this through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:12-13). 

 

It is when I start thinking about my story, my time, my gifts, my looks, my finances, and my temperament that I begin to feel a little gnarly. 

This is a struggle with contentment and unfortunately tangled up in performance-based living. At times I am not content with the way I am or how I measure up to everyone else. This makes it difficult to be generous with myself and generous with others as an extension of this gnarly, tangled-up place.

If I fail to be content with my time, my gifts,  and my circumstances, I fail to love others well.

The generous heart is not only connected to finances, the generous heart is connected to being generous with time, and the way you serve others,  as well as being content with the gifts, looks, family, and temperament God has given to you. This is where we see the gnarly rub between giving and discontentment. We give as a culture, but as a culture we are radically discontent.

We struggle to be satisfied with our wardrobes, our television sizes, the camera on our smart phone, and our waistlines.

We worry if we give two hours to listen to a friend that is struggling, we may miss that downtime we had hoped to have to scroll through social media.

When we do scroll through social media, we see our friends and their perfect fall family photos—and envy and comparison creep into our hearts.

“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)?
The generous heart is a heart that is content in all circumstances. In plenty or in want—in more facets than finances—the generous heart gives time because it knows it is on God’s time, the generous heart shares gifts that may be a little rough around the edges—because God is the giver of rusty and rough-edged gifts, the generous heart rejoices when others rejoice—it does not envy, it loves well—because the generous heart is content with the measure God has given.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends  So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 4-8,13).
Love doesn’t end because it is eternal and will pass on into heaven.

 

 

The Generous Heart Trusts in God’s Provision

Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. Then the word of the Lord came to him: “Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.” So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.”

“As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.”

Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’”

She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah (1 Kings 17:7-16).

This woman had to give all that she had in order to see that God would provide more. She had to trust in His provision and that trust required action.

If we believe God is the giver of all things, we will trust that God will provide for us, but this kind of faith requires action. We have to step outside of our comfort zone and see that God will provide for us. This includes taking risks with our finances, our time, or stepping out in faith to use the rusty and rough edged speaking, teaching, or leadership gifts God has given us. This kind of generous living trusts that God will provide by shining through the broken places.

And I know there are many more layers to the generous heart. It is a slow unraveling process of learning little by little to live by grace and the unseen, instead of rotely doing things the way we have always done them.

The generous heart overflows with the love we have been given by grace and through faith alone, it is more than clicking a donate button, it is a call to live generously in many facets of life so that Christ’s power can be perfectly displayed.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

 

Simply A Sojourner

Motherhood has given me several hard seasons. Seasons where I found myself at the end of resources, the end of ideas, the end of sanity, and just holding fast to hope in something Greater than myself. Breastfeeding for the first time, adjusting to newborn sleep schedules, toddler stand-offs, potty training, lying and crying on the floor meltdowns (both adult and child), sibling quarrels, and currently first grade spelling and third grade homework.

This month my first born had his ninth birthday. Ninth. Last year in a single digit age, last year I can consider him as a primary grade student. Halfway to eighteen, ninth birthday.

As I have gulped down the cup I have been given, I have thought about my first born turning nine. My thoughts have turned to how my time with my nine year old as his legal guardian has sifted halfway through the hourglass of our time together. And each year seems to pass more quickly than the one before it.

I have left the physical exhaustion of lifting him, carrying him, feeding him and entered into the emotional exhaustion of fighting for his heart. Of listening to him at bedtime when he is ready to talk and I am ready to pass out. Listening as he talks about his friends,  his budding interest in girls, his compassion for others, his frustrations with injustice, his struggles on the bus ride home, and his knowledge about the energy our world uses to keep the lights on.

I’ve pondered how we got here, through the sweet seasons and the stretching seasons. I’ve realized how I want to hold on to the sand in the hourglass of my time with him. I thought about how I don’t want the hourglass to be halfway empty. I want to be present and see our hourglass as halfway full. Full of memories we’ve build together in the bottom, and full of memories to come in the top. I want the time to slow down, my time with him is sifting though my clenched fingers. My time with all four of my kids is sifting away with each moment.

As I have taken a deep breath in and gazed at my clenched hands, God has brought me to a place where I now know, my job as a mother is not to hold on to the sand in our hourglass of time, gripping on to the moments like I have the power to make time stand still. But instead, release the sand I am trying to hold on to in my clenched hands and clasp my hands together in prayer. To let go of the things I cannot control and simply pray for a heart that is ready for the things in motherhood which lie before me and the things which lie ahead. I know I am not the one in control of time or seasons. In the times and seasons, I simply am an agent of God’s love to the things and people He places in my lap.

“He changes times and seasons” Daniel 2:21

Letting go feels difficult because I deeply desire to be the one in control. In the unclenching of my hands I feel God’s invitation to deeper intimacy and trust in the good and perfect plans He holds for me and for my children.

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In motherhood, I am stilled when I think of the sweet seasons and the stretching seasons and realize, I am simply a sojourner alongside my children in each of them. Each season where I find myself at the edge of sanity, I am only passing through. I am simply a sojourner in the season of holding a newborn, a sojourner sitting on the bathroom floor singing songs and reading books about going pee in the potty, I am a sojourner passing through the seasons of tough toddler stand-offs, endless picture books, spelling lists, and children who need my help with their homework.

My hourglasses of time with each of my children somehow are sifting more and more to the halfway mark, we are halfway and we are full. Full of memories we have built with one another as we have sojourned through the sweet and the stretching.

Yes, I am and will always be mom to all four of my children, but how my children need me in each season will always be changing. As simply a sojourner, all I can do is pray that God gives me what I need in the changing seasons, and hope that God is giving my children what they need as they grow into their own unique little people.

He is the Lord over the times as seasons of their lives. I am sojourning alongside as an agent of His love and grace. In the sweet and the stretching I am a sojourner, just simply passing through.

Marriage: From Googly Goggles to Grace Goggles

Eleven years ago I was packing up my first classroom and my first big girl apartment in Lexington, Kentucky walking into a week which had the words my wedding marking the end of the of the week on the desktop calendar in my fifth grade classroom as well as the calendar stuck to the refrigerator in my apartment kitchen.

I didn’t know it then but I was so googly-eyed for Michael Craddock when I think about that week. Googly-goggles blurring my vision and masking all of my soon to be husband’s flaws. It was my infatuation with Michael Craddock and my googly-goggles that carried us from dating to engagement and finally to the altar, from first date to I do for forever in a little over nine months. Blinded to Michael Craddock’s humanity by my googly-goggles.

What I know now is googly-goggles, infatuation and human effort are certainly fleeting. Humanity, flaws, imperfections and missteps are as much apart of Michael Craddock as they are to every human. Humanity and imperfections are so apart of my own self.

There will always be tension between two imperfect humans living seasons and lifetimes alongside one another but when the goggly-goggles no longer mask human imperfection, in Christ-centered marriage, God provides spiritual goggles of grace, the goggles of true righteousness and holiness made after the likeness of Christ. The goggles of grace which enable me to see my spouse as the way God sees him. Human, imperfect and flawed, but at the same time seen and deeply loved.

Goggles of grace which are spiritually blinding to imperfection in contrast fleeting human effort, infatuation and goggly-goggles.

The goggles of grace help me see my spouse not with the worldly magnifying glass which maximizes things the world defines as imperfect. Goggles of grace enable me to see the unseen, to see a transformation happening beneath the surface-inwardly my spouse is being made new day by day and I have the privilege of sitting in the front row to experience this transformative growth and change.

“When your ears hear and your eyes see the sin, weakness, or failure of your husband or wife, it is never an accident; it is always grace. God loves  your spouse, and he is committed to transforming him or her by his grace, and he has chosen you to be one of his regular tools of change.” Paul David Tripp, What Did You Expect?: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage

After I will and I do for eleven years, four thousand and fifteen days and what feels like forty thousand diapers, I desire to be the kind of wife who chooses to put on the goggles of grace. To put off the worldly pattern of loving out of infatuation and loving only off of the high of the feeling of love. To let the worldly and fleeting pattern unravel away. I desire to be renewed in my mind with the ways of God and put on the goggles of grace, made after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24) I do not choose goggles of grace in every moment, I have so much unraveling to do, but I know God is not finished with me yet.

Googly-goggles may have gotten us to the altar, but it is only grace goggles which will enable us to walk through the rest of our days here on earth alongside one another.

Marriage needs the constant balming of grace and I am thankful to be on the journey alongside my husband as little by little God is redeeming the both of us in marriage and making us both new not because of what we do but because of who He is.

Yes, outwardly we are wasting away but inwardly we are being renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:16)

photo by Bumblebee Photography

I Miss Mayberry

Although I wanted to be a big city girl growing up, my story had me in a Mayberry kind of place during my youth.

Everything was not in black and white by any means. My Mayberry was in technicolor with the taste of Natural Light Beer or Zimas that had baked in the trunks of first cars in the high school parking lot and memories of house parties in the winter and bonfires in the spring, summer and fall.

I can’t help but think of you in Mayberry. How I miss you sitting next to me during games of power hour or around the bonfire chanting I hate rabbits in hopes of making the smoke move from stinking our clothes and hair to the other side of the circle to make the eyes of our friends burn and water across from us.

How I remember you sat next to me in Spanish IV, taught me how to shop for legit thrift shop tees, change the oil in my 5 speed- manual Dodge Neon or just loved a heart-broken girl who lost her mother freshman year in high school.

I miss seeing all of you in Mayberry.

Now it is just Facebook posts and Twitter tweets and I feel like I know more about which side of the aisle you stand on than I can remember the crooked teeth that settled back in your smile because you didn’t faithfully wear your retainer.

I miss feeling your shoulder next to mine and your laugh.

I miss seeing you in three-dimension and technicolor instead of 140 character posts and emojis that show up in my feed.

I miss Mayberry being a place where we could talk about real issues face to face, around a table at a house party or around a bonfire. Because heavy conversations should be had in three-dimension. Not in 140 characters on a feed.

My heart has been heavy from only experiencing you and where you stand on candidates, abortion, refugees and women’s rights. I have become frustrated. I’ve thought about this. I’ve thought about you. And I confess I have forgotten to see the three-dimensional, technicolor, Natural Light breath version of you. I’ve seen posts, and I have forgotten the entirety of you.

That we are different. And I am thankful for that. We think differently about issues and the differences I experienced in Mayberry make me who I am today. Your story is weaved into the patchwork of mine because of time spent cruising in the Neon or conversations around the bonfire.

And damn, we have had fun times and you can make me laugh.

I wish we could make it back to Mayberry and wade through spouses, children, jobs, states and time to sit around a kitchen table with week old Natural Light or Zimas (if they still make those) with Jolly Ranchers sunk down in the bottom of the bottle. The conversations about candidates, abortion, refugees and women’s rights would be much different. I’d see you in three dimension and I’d remember the whole you.

Because the more I think about you in technicolor, in Mayberry, around that bonfire. The more I remember my deep affection for you and the crooked teeth in that smile.

You are not just someone standing on the left or the right. You are a whole person. You are my friend. And I believe our friendship and our experiences together are much deeper than our polictical choices.

I miss you in Mayberry. I want more often to think of you there instead of words on my mobile screen.

I miss seeing you in three-dimension.

One is Silver and the Other’s Gold

Years ago, I could not wait to turn eighteen, graduate and leave the childhood home I grew up in on Sycamore Creek Drive. I wanted a fresh start and I never wanted to look back. I had many happy memories in that place but my inability to deal with my grief as an adolescent left a lot of those happy memories in the dark shadows of the ever looming grief I kept beneath what I believed to be was a tough-girl exterior.

And for a few years after high school ended I was able to make a fresh start for myself in a new place. I moved my life to Kentucky, attended school, started my first job, met my husband and got married.

However, I still held my grief beneath a tough-girl exterior. I was able to numb myself with positive things during my years in college and the early years of marriage. Things like an over-achieving course load, good grades, and countless activities and all around busyness which was a step up from the numbing drugs I had chosen during my days in high school; troublemaking, chasing boys, skipping school, drinking and a severe addiction to mixed cassette tapes- the fast-forwarding, flipping over to the other side, the rewinding- all to orchestrate the perfect anthem for car dancing from the from seat of my purple Dodge Neon.

Either way I look at how I tried to bury emotion and grief, whether it was the accolades or the vices of addition, I found myself severely attracted to things and tasks and extremely disconnected from people. When I acknowledge where I am tender I can see that I have completely lacked deep emotional intimacy with others.

Relationships are such a tricky, tender place for me and as I follow up on my last post, Changing from the Inside Out this past year I discovered this one sentence in a beautiful book on vulnerability,

“When we don’t acknowledge how and where we are tender, we’re more at risk of being hurt.”

Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

When I was a child, I remember singing an old Girl Scout song with my mom while I wore the prestigious brown brownie vest laden with colorful patches, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other’s gold.”

And over time as my arms outgrew that brownie vest and my mother passed away from breast cancer when I was a freshman in high school it became extremely difficult to listen to happy songs or think about how precious people are because I had lost something so dear and so precious. My heart hardened in my grief and this childhood song along with many others became distant whispers. These are the happy moments I lost in the shadows of that looming grief. And this is the place where relationships became a tender place for me.

I had friends. The Lord has blessed me with so many amazing people in my life. So many more than I deserve. But in burying grief, ignoring it and not wrestling through it I completely lost the ability to be emotionally intimate with anyone.

Years later, as an adult I was introduced to the God of the Bible. The verses from scripture seemed to go from words in an old dusty book on a shelf to God’s words to me, His redemption story of the world and how my life was a tiny thread in all of it.

Even though I had heard stories from the Bible before and sat in mass almost every Saturday night I had never read the Word of God for myself; but once I read them, it was like the piece I had been searching for underneath the empty accolades and addicting vices was finally sitting right in my lap. I had ears to hear God and a heart prepared to receive His perfect peace.

Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” Mark 4:9

One of the very first verses that brought me so much joy and freedom was from 2 Corinthians 5:17:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, The old has gone, the new is here!

In Christ, I believed I could start over completely. This is what I had wanted for so long. To separate the old from the new. To just be new. To start a new book for myself entirely. I wanted to forget the dark shadowy places, completely. I misinterpreted this to mean I could completely let go of the person who I was before I had those ears to hear.

The young girl listening to Girl Scout songs, the sad motherless girl, the troublemaking-disconnected teenager and the over-achieving sorority girl. I was given a new life and the freedom to start new.

My first few years as a new Christian I experienced a major identity crisis. When starting my new story, I had no idea who I actually was anymore.

And then. After so many years of running away, God called me back to a place not too far from my home on Sycamore Creek Drive. Just sixteen-point-three miles away to be exact.

And after eight years of living sixteen-point-three miles away and thirteen years of reading that verse from 2 Corinthians, I have discovered that God wasn’t leading me to start a new book but simply a new chapter. That my whole life, my entire story is bound together in the same book. I can’t just forget about who I was or dismiss it completely. God was writing a story for me from the beginning and my story is incomplete if I leave out the moments I left in the shadows on Sycamore Creek Drive. The highest peaks and the lowliest shadowy places are all apart of God’s work in my life.

This past year, as I looked my grief in the face and decided I would not be defined by it I was lead to a rediscovery of relationships with the people who I left back in those early chapters. The people and the relationships I have worked at restoring have been like neat little bridges to the stories of my past.

Some of those bridges which I believed to be the strongest have collapsed for reasons in which I can’t explain or understand. But many of them, even with all my running away, even in the dark shadows, by God’s grace those bridges remained sturdy and strong enough to step on, to walk on. Those bridges left in the shadows have had a foundation that was strong enough to walk towards someone else on the other side of it.

It has been terrifying to walk on those bridges. But it’s been a journey back to who I really am.

Some of the bridges have collapsed completely while I was standing right in the middle of them.

Some of them have needed desperate repair.

Some of them were shaky but the person on the other side met me so much more than halfway across and walked alongside me all the way back.

Because it sucks to face the dark places of your life. It is scary to face the ugly parts of yourself. But it is good to have others help you gather up the happy places and uncover them from the shadows.

And as I have been walking on those bridges back to who I used to be I have been thinking about that song. The one about old friends, new friends, the silver and the gold.

New friends are silver. They are precious but more easily tarnished simply because of the newness of the relationship. But the ones who make it through without tarnishing are precious.

Both relationships, old and new are valuable.

But the old relationships. Those relationships are gold. Like gold, the old relationships, the ones where the bridges have surprisingly stayed intact in the shadows, those relationships are gold. They are solid.

The laughs are still the same. You can tell your horrible jokes safely because your sense of humor is known and (mostly) unoffensive.

Those old relationships like gold have been portable, I’ve been able to carry them with me, they have made me who I am.They cannot be counterfeited, they do not perish and those old relationships are much more rare.

I have been surprised that I could come back to where I came from after so many years of running away from it. But in walking those bridges I have found precious, rare treasures.

And as I walk these bridges to my earlier chapters I am discovering that the gospel frees me to be vulnerable and emotionally intimate with others. That God is making me new by peeling back my layers of grief and He doesn’t want me to forget the old chapters but to see them with a new lens.

And I have not completely arrived in the area of emotional intimacy with others. I am still very much scratching the surface.

“It would be nice and fairly nearly true, to say that ‘from that time forth, Eustace was a different boy.’ To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun.”

C.S Lewis, The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader

But in Christ, God is making me new. He is calling me to uncover the shadows and walk bravely in His love. That the God of the universe knows the early chapters completely and in His redemption of me I am fully known and deeply loved.

The more I discover the people who knew my dark-shadowed times will still laugh with me and rejoice with me and the more I walk in the truth that you can be fully known and deeply loved- these things free me to grow confident in my emotional intimacy with others. A cure is beginning.

Even though I out grew that Brownie Vest, the song is still true. It necessary to make new friends but just as necessary to keep the old. Both are the bridges to all of our chapters in all of our stories. One is silver and the other is gold.