Givers, Takers, Receivers, Squanderers

I’m just thinking out loud here and I have a splitting headache, but if I were still a social worker, I would teach my clients how to receive.

Julian’s sleeping bag.

I invited a group of young adults to four days at a posh retreat center in Traverse City.  All expenses paid. It cost them nothing but their stories.

One of the invitees was a young man my daughter met when she worked at Wildwood Ranch.  Wildwood Ranch is run by Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries. It is a camp for inner city Detroit kids, located 50 miles north and west of the city. The young man, who was doing a two year, year-round internship there, was granted a furlough in order to join us.

As we were packing up to go home, I noticed that the gear he threw into the trunk of my friends’ car was light.

“Julian, where’s your sleeping bag?”

“I threw it away.”


“It’s in the dumpster.”

“Wasn’t that a brand new sleeping bag?”

“It’s okay. I got it from the camp. It was donated.”

“Go get it.”

“It’s okay, it was donated,” he repeated.

“Yes, it was donated, and that is exactly why I want you to go get it. It cost someone something. Someone went to a store, bought a brand new sleeping bag so a kid at camp would have one. They sacrificed buying something for themselves or for their own kids so someone else’s kid would have a sleeping bag. And if I were that donor, I’d be really bummed to know that a staffer slept in it three nights and then threw it away.”

Every single thing that is donated costs someone something.

Takers take, grabbing with one hand, faces turned away.

Receivers receive, palms up, looking the giver square in the eye, recognizing that the gift they are receiving is at the expense of another.

If I were still a social worker I would teach my clients to look for the face of the giver.

Craig’s boat.

Years ago my old friend Craig took a bunch of us water-skiing.  At the end of our really fun day, it occurred to me that our fun was at Craig’s expense. Boat gas, wear and tear, etc. So, as I was exiting his boat, I looked at him with gratitude and said, “Thank you.”

“No one has ever thanked me before,” he replied, a bit floored and with gratitude of his own.

“No one has ever thanked me before.” Pitiful words that have stuck with me.

Takers take like it’s owed them.

Receivers say thank you like it’s a gift.

My condo.

When I married the hub, I had to figure out what to do with my condo.

Thought maybe I should hold onto it awhile….juuuust in case….…… just kidding, hub.

I was pondering what to do with it when one of my co-ministers at the pregnancy center mentioned that her church had just hired a new youth pastor from the other side of the state. He and his wife would need a place to live.

The condo is only 1/4 mile from her church.

The couple was young and had no money so I offered it at a discount. I charged only enough to cover the association dues, taxes and insurance.  I made no profit from the rental.

Everything was fine for the first several months. And then the rent was late.

And then it was late again.

And then it didn’t come at all. I called, left a message, called again, left another message, called again, left another message.

I called the church.  The young man no longer worked there.

I drove over to the condo and knocked on the door.  The young woman eventually answered, with a baby in her arms, and explained that her husband had lost his job and was unemployed for awhile.

I told her that if she had called and explained, I would have gladly worked with her to come up with a payment plan. I would have understood.  Not returning my calls was rude and disrespectful.  “Be honest with people,” I said, “and they will work with you.”

Don’t treat givers like they are the enemy.

She promised, now that her husband was working again, that they would catch up on their rent.

They didn’t. They owed us five months worth when they moved into her parents’ basement and stuck us with their past due electric bill.

A few years later, I offered the condo again.

My daughter was dating a young man with a sob story.

If only he didn’t live in Detroit…

If only his parents would help him….

If only he had a car…

So I offered my condo. Out of Detroit in a safe, affluent suburb. So he could get a job. I offered it at half the cost of the dues, taxes and insurance. The hub and I were paying the other half.

As he was moving in, I overheard him tell his dad he was thinking of getting a roommate and charging the roommate rent, make a little money off the deal.

Uh, no.

He got a job at a dealership 6 miles away. There was a bus stop real near the condo and another one real near the dealership.

But taking the bus was beneath him…

My daughter’s dad sold him a car. He didn’t make the payments. He used the car to drive back into the city on the weekends, where he blew his money and showed off to his inner-city friends.

Turns out his parents did try to help him.  They enrolled him in a private school when he was in eighth grade, at great expense to them and his six siblings, because he was being beat up almost daily in the public school. He didn’t study. Dreamed instead of being the next Eminem. Squandered the opportunity his family gave him.

Fortunately, all the help we gave him, all the help he squandered, clearly showed my daughter that his failures weren’t for a lack of help, they were for a lack of character. She watched him grab the condo with nothing but contempt; grab the car with his face turned away.

She ended the relationship and a few months later he moved out of the condo. Owing us several months rent and owing her dad several car payments.

I’m sure to whomever would listen he was once again the victim.

The victim of his ex-girlfriend’s mean old parents who charged him a whole $300/month to live in a very pleasant place. The victim of his ex-girlfriend’s dad who took him to small claims court. (Her dad isn’t as forgiving of debts as I.)

Poor, poor him. Couldn’t catch a break.

Had he made the most of the opportunities we afforded him, done his part, acted responsibly, we would have gladly invested more. Darn shame. I pray he eventually  matures to the point of understanding.

So here’s what I would teach my clients:

  1. Everything you get for free costs someone something. Be grateful for their sacrifice.
  2.  Make the most of the help and opportunities given you and people will want to give you more.
  3.  Those who give are not your enemy. Don’t treat generosity with contempt.
  4.  No one owes you anything. Not even God. So say thank you.
  5.  There is a flesh and blood person just like you – with feelings and hopes and struggles – attached to the hand from which you are taking.

Government giving has generated an attitude of entitlement.  The game is to get as much as you can for free.  When it’s from the government, it’s from the government and few stop to think about who “the government” is.

When givers are faceless, gifts are devalued, disposable.

When giving is forced, i.e. through taxes, givers are robbed of the heart to heart, face to face blessing that Jesus spoke of when He said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

The church used to be in charge of social welfare. I would love to see us resume that responsibility. It would give us something more useful to do than build youthtastic climbing walls and sit around gazing at our theological navels.

Let’s allow people in our communities to receive. Let’s allow them grateful hearts and an eye on one day giving back.

Let’s allow people in our communities to give. Let’s allow them to watch their gifts grow and flourish.

And let us ALL be grateful.

Jesus, Light

Love & Good Deeds

I’ve been going to a new church. For three weeks now. Last week the pastor spontaneously called a few people forward, anointed them with oil and prayed for them. Two of the few were a couple, the woman’s father died that week and they were grieving. Another was a man who had just been released from prison. The pastor prayed a fresh, healthy, not-going-back start over him. It was beautiful. The fourth was a woman who lost her home and is living in a shelter.

When the hub and I walked into church yesterday, I spotted C – whom I had chatted with last week – sitting in the last pew. I touched her shoulder as I walked by and said hello. ‘Cuz I think we might become friends.

At the start of the service, the pastor walked down the aisle with two envelopes in his hand. As he walked, he shared that there were some who gave offerings for C after he prayed for her last week. After they became aware of her need. He stopped in front of her in that last pew and handed her the envelopes. She reached out and humbly took them without a word. Her face registered gratitude. It registered the love that was in those envelopes.

Darn it, I thought, I wish it had occurred to me to actually help her when I was chatting with her. On the way home the hub shared the very same thought.

Live, learn and love.

We’ll be ready next time.

And that’s what church is all about, Charlie Brown. The Holy Spirit spurring you on toward love and good deeds.

The pastor said something brilliant in his sermon. He said that when it comes to helping people, we often hope someone else will do it. When we come upon a person or a group with a need we ask, “Why doesn’t someone…”

But if we come upon a $100 bill on the ground, we don’t walk past it and ask, “Why doesn’t someone pick that up?!” We stoop down, grab it and shove it in our pocket. (Or turn it in to the police station and shove it in our pocket 30 days later if we are an honorable human being.) We scoop it up because we recognize its worth.

The pastor’s point: The need we come upon, the need we have the privilege of meeting, is worth more. We come upon treasure when we see a need.

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” – Jesus


I should end this post right here, give Jesus the last word. Instead I’m going to go political for just a sec.

The stereotype I hear all the time is that Democrats care about the poor and needy and Republicans don’t. I could write a whole post refuting that notion, and perhaps as the general election draws nearer I will.

Today I just want to point out that insisting the government take care of the needy is the equivalent of asking “Why doesn’t someone….” It’s hoping someone else will do it. It’s being comfortable with not doing anything yourself because the government is taking care of it.

I don’t want the government to take care of it. I want to do it. I want the church to do it.

Fellow Christian bloggers lament on Sunday mornings that people aren’t going to church. If the government wasn’t doing our job they would.

The needy would go to church to get their needs met. Those who are not currently needy would go to church to find treasure. To look into needy faces and find Jesus.

Jump right in.





life, Light

This Little Light of Mine…

There is so much to love on Momastery’s latest post.



And this:


And this:

“These are men who believe in the power of downward mobility. They believe we do not serve, we love. They work with not for others. They believe in justice—not charity. They know that compassion can only exist between equals, so they make friends, not clients.”

My daughter works for a literacy program in an inner city school. Last week a local celebrity came to read to the kids, which was really nice and he did a really good job. There had been a radio contest and whoever donated the most to a certain cause got to choose which school would get the reading. All in all it was a good day.  But there were a couple of things that just didn’t sit right with my girl:

First, the program manager for that school made an embarrassingly big deal over the guest reader. “I mean,” Daughter asked, “shouldn’t ALL guests to the school, ALL volunteers be treated the same?”

“Yes,” I agreed, “and both Jesus and His brother, James, would agree, too.”

Second, after the celebrity read, the man whose donation won the reading got up to say a few words. He told the kids to learn to read. He told the kids that they won’t go anywhere in life unless they can read and write, fill out a job application, etc. On and on he went.

Look around you, Daughter thought. These kids are sitting IN A SCHOOL where they are LEARNING TO READ AND WRITE. Applaud them for that rather than admonishing them for being the potential dropouts your words assume they are. And have a little respect for the teachers, who are TEACHING THEM TO READ AND WRITE. They are here EVERY DAY, quietly shining the light of learning into their lives.  

Personally I don’t believe making one donation earns anyone the right to speak, but, if you must speak, then at least know your audience.

Clearly this man did not know his audience. The children to whom he was speaking have all written books through the literacy program’s publishing center. They CAN write. And all of them are reading at least at grade level.

Why do we have to view people as completely helpless before we will help them?  Or completely poor?

For several summers my daughter and I participated in a day camp in that city. For three weeks of every summer the campers receive academic enrichment in the mornings and Bible, worship and field trips in the afternoons. Teens from participating churches come as volunteer helpers. One summer two of the teens (and their mom, who was one of the paid workers) kept referring to the campers as “the poor kids”.  After several days of that, one of the campers whispered to me, “I’m not poor.  I live in a big house.”  Sweet, sweet boy.

Many of those campers knew their Bibles a lot better than their teen helpers did. And yet they were repeatedly spoken to as if they knew nothing.

After just one summer the affluent church, from which the aforementioned “helpers” came, withdrew their involvement from the camp because the campers were not needy enough.  (Praise God for that!)

I don’t want to judge that church, perhaps they were just trying to be good stewards of their wealth, but why not shore up a population that is trying? Why not help those who are only a little bit needy? Why does it have to be a big boost? What’s wrong with giving a little boost? What’s wrong with watering seeds that have already been planted? Maybe there’s not enough personal glory in that.

Why do we have to label those we help as poor and needy and even portray them as poorer and needier than they actually are in order to get funding?  And keep labeling them to keep the funding.  It’s like when I was a social worker and some of the foster moms would tell me month after month how horribly behaved the kids were in order to keep receiving their extra “special needs” allotment.  I wouldn’t get a true picture of their behavior until I would finally say, “Well, if his/her behavior hasn’t improved at all in all these months, then perhaps he/she is in the wrong home.”  Catch 22.

“Compassion between equals” because we are all equally loved by God and we are all crippled in one way or another.  Equals get to blossom and grow, the needy have to stay needy.

This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.