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.

When The House Is Still

I just put my youngest child on the bus. She is almost four and attending a four-day-a-week, half-day preschool for the year. I know her teacher and trust her fully, she has a friend in her classroom, she rides the bus with her two older brothers, and her bus driver has been driving my children to school since before my youngest daughter could even walk.

For all four of my children, this year, I know all of four of teachers and feel confident that each of them will be loved, nurtured, and academically challenged in their classrooms. This is the first year my mind is not clouded with worry nor occupied with fear. This is the first year I feel complete peace, joy and thankfulness about sending four of my most precious possessions on the school bus and into the hallways of the world.

With my mind not occupied with worries, what ifs, and if onlys, I find, I am sitting in a quiet house. Windows open and nothing but the sound of the wind rattling the leaves on the oak tree outside my office window.

For a moment I let the memories of the last eight and a half years come to mind amidst the rattling leaves. The noise of newborn cries, toddler tantrums, the sound of the pantry door constantly opening and closing. The messes of spit up, baby food crusted in the highchair, arms and legs covered in Crayola marker, legos and matchbox cars all over the stairs. The fierce battles on the bottom step as I discipline each of them and fight to get to their hearts. The moments I hold them, rock them, pray with them. The moments I open a book to read to them and find four kids, all piled up right in my lap, craving snuggles, connection, and the need to find themselves caught up in a story. The moments when their four personalities captivate me and I find myself caught up in their little life stories.

I have dreamed of this day over the last eight and a half years like many mothers behind me and before me. This moment. The moment when my house would not feel turned inside out and upside down. The moment when the house would be still. The moment when I felt my children would be secure and confident enough to embrace the world without me by their side. The moment when I could entrust their little hearts and lives into the hands of others who are reliable and able to nurture them and teach them alongside me.

And oh how quickly this day has come. Everyone tells you the house will be still soon enough but amidst the chaos you never believe the day of a still house will truly come. But somehow, the day is here. Today, right now, my house is still for a few hours.

And I have a choice. Transitions always seem to lead me to a place of nostalgia and wishing back what I once had before. When the house is still I can hold on to a ghost of the past or I can choose to look back at these last eight and a half years, with contentment, knowing God was writing a story for us amidst the messes, the noise, and chaos to get to this place. I can embrace a new season, with thankfulness because I am confident that God grows us and gives good things to be nostalgic about in every new season. When the house is quiet I can reminisce of the years gone by or dream big about the things which are to come.

When the house is still there are so many possibilities and so many opportunities to wish and wait on a Good God who has been faithfully writing a story in each season for all of us. I am thankful and changed by the memories I have from an inside out and upside down house, but as I still here in a still and quiet house, I look forward, with eager expectation to see what God will do in a new chapter of our family story. God is always working and He is always able.

What Are you Afraid Of?

My blonde haired boy with the gapped-tooth grin stands on the edge of the diving board. This is the hundredth or so time he has climbed the ladder, walked his Barney Rubble like feet down the textured white board and stood with his toes dangling off the edge ready to jump into the deep refreshing waters beneath him.

Each time he reaches the edge of the diving board he considers this act of faith. As he reaches the edge he wonders if the unknown waters below will consume him and he wonders if he can trust in his previous swim training. A hundred or so times over, my blonde haired boy has done an about face after weighing his options, letting the fear of the unknown consume him instead.

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Fear clouds the truth about the waters below and whether or not they will consume him.

Fear prevents him from remembering the strong swimmer he has become.

Fear skews the lens through which he views his world.

I go to him. In my flesh I am frustrated for him. I know he can in fact swim. I know he is letting fear overcome him. In my flesh I want to fix it for him. I want to accelerate the process. I want him to overcome this fear in my timing.

I ask him, “What are you afraid of?”

He replies to me he is afraid of “the drowning”. My blonde-haired boy with the gapped tooth grin has given his big fear a big definite article.

My flesh overcomes me and in this parenting moment on the side of the pool I list how my blonde haired boy should feel instead of entering into the dark with him. In my flesh I see his fear with a definite article too.

Beside the pool I remind my son of truth. I remind him of the hundred or so times his has jumped off the edge of the pool into deep waters and how he swam in them well. I want for him to overcome this so badly, I miss the opportunity to be vulnerable and speak my fears to him. I see the problem and I fail to see my son as a person standing before me. I forget we are both human and a fail to remember the times when I too have stood on the edge of fear, uncertain whether the waters below would consume me.

Times when I stood on the edge of uncertainty and failed to trust in a God who promises he is with me and faith in the truth that because God holds me, the waves will not consume me.

When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. (Isaiah 43:2)

Times when fear of the unknown provided a skewed lens to see The Blessed Controller cleary.

Times when fear skewed my own lens for how I viewed my world, when I too gave my fear a definite article.

Pema Chodron defines compassion as “knowing your darkness well enough that we can sit in the darkness with others. It is never a relationship between the wounded and the healed. It is a relationship between equals.”

So I wonder, as a parent, do I understand my own darkness well enough to sit in the darkness with my children? Am I able to access my big fears, the big fears with the definite articles and remember what it feels like to have my toes dangling over the edge, uncertain whether or not what lies beneath me or before me will consume me? Can I remember when I too have failed to trust in my own training and the times God has shown up for me along the way?

As a parent can I extend compassion and patience in the same way God extends his abundant grace and mercy to me? How many times I have faced uncertainty with unbelief and fear even though God in his word says fear not more than a hundred times over. God is a God of compassion who sits with us and pursues us even when our hearts are pulled towards fear and unbelief.

Oh how I want to parent with patience, compassion, unending mercy and grace. Oh how I want to see my blonde haired boy with toes dangling off the edge and instead of being quick to see his problem, I want to see his heart. Oh how I desire to parent with this kind of compassion.

Eventually my blonde haired boy will jump into the waters beneath him once his faith and his trust become the faith and the trust and when the faith and the trust make the fear seem like a small shadow in comparison to them. Until then, I desire to sit in the darkness with him. I desire to be human alongside him. I desire to pray alongside my blonde haired boy with the gapped tooth grin that we both would overcome unknowns and uncertainties together because God promises He is with both of us.

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