You Won’t Even Notice: My Problem With “Easy” Charitable Giving

Being that the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons are in full swing, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about generosity, and giving, and what it means to give “sacrificially.” In meditating on the idea of sacrificial giving, some light was shed onto a dark part of myself, and though it revealed an ugly truth, I’m better off for it, and I hope that you will be, too.

Busted

I like to think of myself, and my family, as the generous sort. As the type of people who will forgo some of our own wants, in order to provide for the needs of others. But when I peek behind that veneer of generosity, reality doesn’t match up.

I realized this some nights ago. I was feeling really anxious, the way I used to feel when I was a kid, and I had done something wrong, and was about to get busted for it, except in this case, I didn’t have any idea what I had done wrong, or who was going to bust me. All I could think about was Kalkidan, our Compassion Child, and how there are so many children just like her, whose basic needs aren’t being met, and how completely unjust that is. And that’s when I got busted.

You Won’t Even Notice

When I tell people about Compassion, and how they should sponsor a child, the first thing I say, every single time is “$40 a month might sound a lot, but I swear to you, won’t even notice it.” “You won’t even notice it” is not only true, but it’s tragic. (I have the same feeling about auto-drafting tithes from one’s bank account, but that’s a whole ‘nother post.)

Here I am, feeling somewhat proud of our family, for giving some of our money to a child in need, but really, how sacrificial is it if we don’t even notice? It’s not like we’re giving our excess money away. We’re giving the excess of the excess. How noble. (I’m okay being sarcastic if I’m levying it on myself.) Needless to say, I’ve been humbled.

False Sacrifice

But here’s the thing: when we first began giving to Compassion, it felt like a sacrifice. Instead of buying a bottle or two of wine during the month, we’d send money to Kalkidan. But is forgoing wine really a sacrifice? I mean, when so many people don’t have access to clean water, is my skipping out on wine really sufficient?

The fact of the matter is that I’m completely comfortable giving, so long as it doesn’t inconvenience my family too much, and that attitude has come to really disgust me. Why does my child deserve nutritious, organic, GMO-free food, when so many children around the world don’t have enough food, period?

Light Chases Out Darkness

I want to notice that I’m giving. If you’re the church-going type, you’re familiar with the idea that giving is an act of worship. It’s a way of acknowledging that we only have what we have because God gave it to us in the first place, and showing gratitude and love by giving some of that away to others. And if you’re not the church-going type, no doubt you believe in some form of “paying it forward.” Can I really consider our monthly gift to Kalikidan sacrificial if we don’t even notice it? I mean, I guess an easy answer is to turn off the automatic payment every month, and choose to do it manually. That’s a start.

I remember what it felt like growing up, always having to do without, and I’m so blessed to be in a position as an adult to choose to feel the burden of sacrificial giving, rather than the aching pain of an empty stomach. And it’s somewhat embarrassing to reveal the ugly parts of myself, but I think there’s a lot of truth to the phrase that “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” And if previous conversations with you all has taught me anything, it’s that I’m not the only one feeling this way. I’m curious to hear if you guys “give without noticing it,” and which organizations you support.

If you haven’t heard of Compassion, please do check them out. Like I said, $40 might sound like a burden, but if you can “sacrifice” some trips to Starbucks, or pack a few more lunches, I don’t think you’ll suffer. 🙂 Also, in the coming weeks I’m going to talk a bit more about another organization I love, Heifer International. If you have some minutes, do yourself a favor and look into them, too.

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Let’s be friends!

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What Christmas Means to Me

So, I got some interesting feedback about my “I’m failing at Christmas” video, and I thought I’d just address it here. Lots of people seem to think that I’m not aware of the history of Christmas, or the origin of many of our most popular christmas traditions. Rest assured that I’m aware. Nowadays, anyone with a computer can become privy to the details without investing too much time. So yes, I’m aware that a Christmas tree has nothing to do with Jesus. I’m also aware that Christians have co-opted many traditions that they themselves did not create.

I’m aware.

I’m educated.

This is not about that.

This is about what Christmas means to me, and before I get to that, I need to share some history with you.

This might come as a surprise to you, but I’m not perfect. (Shocker, right?) Actually, if we’re going to be totally honest, I used to be a pretty rotten person. So if you were unfortunate enough to know me (or perhaps date me) many years ago…I’m sorry. Basically, I was a bitter, cynical, mean, selfish jerk. I was manipulative, and took advantage of a lot of good people. But, because my misdeeds aren’t the point of this post, we can leave it at that.

I was incredibly judgmental, and I didn’t like most people. Christians, specifically, were probably my least favorite, but religious folk in general were intolerable to me. I thought they were stupid (belief in Creation), lazy (“God’ll keep forgiving me, so I can keep on sinning as much as I want!”), hypocritical (Christian marriages end in divorce as often as secular marriages), mean, judgmental (treating my tattooed/pierced friends like demons), intolerant (“It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”), and hateful (Westboro Baptist Church, etc). And guess what?

They are.

We all are.

Not just Christians, but people in general. People can be pretty wretched. Don’t get me wrong, we certainly have our shining moments, but in general, we all are very very far from perfect, Christians included. But that’s not the point. Perfection I mean. Perfection is not the point.

So, at some point, in the middle of all of my partying and raining on everybody’s parade, I met a few new friends who represented Christianity differently to me. They were way smarter than me for starters (Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering and Organic Chemistry, to be more specific), and more thoughtful, and just happier in general, and as much as I wanted to dislike them the way I disliked most other religious people, I couldn’t, because they were different. They didn’t pretend they were holy and above reproach, and I respected that. And I think that’s, in part, what made it possible for me to give God and the Bible a chance. (Like, a real chance.)

I already knew a lot about Christianity and God and the Bible, because I was the kind of person that would argue points of the Bible with Christians until they broke down and cried in front of their friends. I did that. (True story.)

Eventually I made the decision to give God a chance (which felt TERRIBLE, like, almost humiliating in some ways) and considered the question “what if what they say about God is true?” And slowly (v-e-r-y slowly), I began to see things differently. Opening my mind (and heart) to the idea that maybe, possibly, I didn’t “know” as much as I thought I did, kind of set a change in motion, and I haven’t been the same person since. Which is so totally cliché that I feel nauseous even writing that. I didn’t have some radical, in-the-moment conversion experience, and even if I had, I don’t think I would have believed it. (I’m still too cynical for that kind of thing.)

So my mind began to change about some things, and as I started to learn about God as a Father, my heart began to change, too. Growing up, I never had a Father, and my Mother was never really interested in me enough to set any kind of standards for my behavior, or an understanding of having healthy boundaries or anything. Basically, there was no one in my life offering any sort of guidance, and no one was really into me enough to care about who I was becoming or what kind of person I was. And I ended up engaging in a lot of behaviors that are totally embarrassing to look back on now.

Once I began to realize that I do have a Father in God, and that he created me intentionally, and that I’m accountable to Him, I naturally shifted away from my old lifestyle, and started living in a way that a child of God would live. And it felt (and feels) SO GOOD. I think a lot of people see living life with God as their father as restrictive, or boring or whatever, but it’s so totally the opposite. Even in my down times, I’ve never been happier, and I can say with complete honesty that every day gets better. Even when crummy things happen. If I seem happy at all, it’s because my deepest joy is totally unconnected from the events of the day.

So, nowadays, I call myself a Christian, albeit reluctantly, because I know first-hand what many people think about Christians. But now I know that being a Christian is about knowing God as my Father, and understanding that he loves me enough to trade all of my nastiness for a life with him, through the redemptive work of Jesus. It’s about knowing that even though I’m still not perfect, and never will be, that He will always be my Father, and will always want me as his child. He loves me enough to care, and that’s huge. For someone without a father, and with no contact with her mother, it’s a lifeline. Sure, the fact that I don’t have like, real physical parents makes me sad, but knowing that God is my father…that’s where all of my joy comes from. (And you can psychoanalyze my daddy-issues as much as you want, that’s fine. I sure have. You wouldn’t be the first to do so.) I’ll never be able to convince you of anything, but at the very least, you can trust that I’m being sincere.

So Christmas, to me, and to some other people, is a celebration of God’s love for us. That he loves each of us–you too even if you don’t know it–and desires us as his children. (Yes, even if you are a total Christian-hater like I was.)

He wants us to recognize and claim our role as his children, because here’s the thing: we’re all equally flawed. Knowing God as your father isn’t, like, limited to just the “good” people. Don’t let those holier-than-thou Christians keep you from experiencing life with God, just because you’re gay, or divorced, or have a prison record, or a substance addition, or have persecuted Christians to the point of tears, just for sport (that one’s all me). He made you and He loves you, regardless of whatever messed up stuff you’ve done. Christmas is a remembrance of the day that God turned his love into flesh and blood and revealed himself directly to the world, just like he promised he would. Christmas is a promise kept, and a promise of a future with God. For everyone. Equally.

I can’t convince you that anything that I said about God is true, but really, that’s not my goal. All I can do is share my story, and how I’ve changed, and what I believe, and listen to your stories and your perspectives. And I hope that you give as much value to me and my experiences as I give to you and yours. Chances are, I used to be in your shoes.

Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays!

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