Sunday, November 14, 2010

Living Generously

I don't really know how to start out this post, so I guess I'll use jump right in.

Trey and I would really like to be able to give substantially to people and organizations that need financial help, but we're not there yet. We have a four year plan to get to a very positive financial place, and we're about a year and a half in. In the meantime, we often discuss how we can give in other ways, mainly by serving others in our everyday lives. With Trey's true heart of a servant, he's very good at this. He's one of the most giving people I know, and I find it amazing the ways that he helps people every single day.

I have plenty of other role models, too. As long as I can remember, my parents have given freely of their time and other resources. My mom served on the city council and PTO for many years, and Dad served on the school board. They showed up at church early to make sure the heater had been turned on, picked up elderly people and took them to church or on other errands, and just took care of others around them. I have vivid memories of things like hitchhikers or homeless people showing up at the doors of the church and my dad and his friend driving them to the closest hotel and paying for the room for a night or two. While I'm not there to personally witness their continued service, I'm sure it still happens. Church, PTO, and Meals on Wheels are just a few areas where I know they give their time.

And so at the beginning of this school year I reflected on the wonderful servant examples I have in my life and decided to do my very best to live generously. Now, I perceive this to be the busiest year of my life so far. I'm finishing grad school, teaching one more class than I did last year, teaching two new preps, and taking on various other projects that are somewhat long term. Time is more precious to me this year than ever before, and living generously is sometimes a great challenge.

Instead, I find myself occasionally becoming a little self-righteous. I know I've said more than once, "If I have time to get it done, then everyone has time to get it done." This is not entirely true, however, because even though I'm busy, I have an awesome husband and great friends and family who support me,  so I have the capacity to be busier than other people.

But sometimes I pull off the whole "living generously" thing, like on Friday when I was actually leaving the building at the end of the school day and a student stopped me in the hallway and asked me to review his timed writing with him. I reminded myself of my commitment and turned back down the hallway and unlocked my classroom to meet with him, smiling and chatting and trying to make sure he knew I didn't mind. It was a productive meeting, and it only cost me about ten minutes.

Today, however, I came face to face with an opportunity.

It's fifty-something degrees here in Texas, so, of course, I'm freezing. It was cold in church and colder in the restaurant where we went to eat. On the way home from the restaurant, Trey suggested we stop for coffee to warm us up on this cold, dreary day. We pulled into Hastings, and while we ordered our coffee the boys shopped for books. They each had one dollar, and they needed to spend it. Too bad you can't get anything for one dollar.

Keaton found a book for $3.99, and I told him he could have it, but then Tucker needed to find a book for $3.99, and it became a huge ordeal. For forty five minutes Trey and I followed the boys around Hastings.

Finally we made our way to the children's section at the very back of the store. Quite suddenly I saw an older woman wrapped in a ragged coat rush in and take a seat at the table located in the middle of the children's books. She muttered to herself as she pulled a small grocery sack from her tattered purse. I was trying not to look at her, but I couldn't help noticing her unkempt hair and layered clothing. Her eyes darted all around as if keeping watch, and then she pulled a lunchbox-sized bag of chips from the grocery bag and began to eat them, muttering and keeping watch all the while.

Immediately I remembered how cold I had been all day. Cold in my warm church and my heated restaurant eating warm food. I remembered that the whole reason we had stopped at Hastings was to get some coffee and warm up. And at that moment the woman looked colder than I had ever felt in my life.

Now, I believe that God speaks to us, and if we listen, then he'll tell us what to do. You may not believe that and I'm not asking you to, but I believe that's what happened today.

For five full minutes I had been holding my cup of coffee, and I hadn't taken a sip. In fact, I hadn't even taken out the little stopper to start drinking it. I realized I was holding that lady's cup of coffee.

Nerves overtook me. How was I supposed to tell this muttering woman that I had her coffee?  What if she went crazy and started yelling at me? What if she wasn't really in bad shape but only having a bad day and I insulted her? I argued with myself, deciding that most people don't run to the back of a bookstore to eat a bag of chips on a cold day. Then I was nervous again.

"You know," I rattled, "I think they made me the wrong kind of coffee. Would you like this one?  I don't  think I want this kind, and I'd hate for it to go to waste."

She looked at me from the corner of her eye, thought for just a second, and stammered, "No thanks. I don't like coffee."

I think I should have been bummed, but I wasn't.

It felt good to have heard the Holy Spirit tell me what to do and to take the leap and do it. It felt really good. And it reminded me of all the people in my life who live generously all the time without even having to think of it.

Courtney, who makes the pre-AP copies magically appear in my box before I even realize I need them.

Trey, who makes the coffee and sets the timer so it will be ready when I get up in the mornings.

Tiffany, who lets me steal candy from her magical closet of goodness, listens to me whine on occasion, and agrees with me when she knows I just need someone to agree with me.

Erin, who let me borrow her truck and didn't think twice about it.

Freda, who is always there joyously offering to help and never makes me feel like I'm barking out orders when I give her things to do.

Kelly, who did not make me feel like a troll over the incident with her bike (perhaps another blog to come).

The list could go on and on. These are just the things I can think of from the last 48 hours. I am surrounded by people who give without ever stopping to think of what's in it for them.

Today has left me feeling blessed beyond measure and motivated to find a way to live generously each day. I was so excited, in fact, that I had to share.