Inspired by Betty Londergan's What Gives 365 and the Bible (not necessarily in that order!), I'm giving away $250 a week in 2011.

This is where I'm recording that journey, and I hope you'll come along for the ride.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Happy Birthday to a Friend

It's the fifth Friday of the month -- the first time that's happened since Just Giving It began, and by my count it will happen three more times this year.

According to the 'Rules of the Game,' each Friday of the month has a designated theme to guide the giving. (If you're new here, have a look back in the archives!) Not so for this fifth one. Today is a day for breaking the rules or creating new ones. Hmmmm....what to do?

The timing is perfect. My friend Katie is celebrating her 30th birthday this coming week. How fun to be able to surprise her with this birthday gift!

Katie's the kind of person I want to be when I grow up. She makes everyone feel welcome. She's great at drawing people in -- to a conversation, a relationship, a community. She cooks delicious food. She's got a huge smile and sparkly eyes. She's great with people of all ages. She loves Jesus and is passionate about others meeting Him too. She's authentic -- what you see is what you get -- and she lives squarely in the real world with all its grit. She sings. She's married to a solid, godly husband, who comes from a great family like she does -- they live right around the corner from hers. She intentionally invests her life in the lives of others. She usually has guests in her home -- living there, not just for a meal. She loves to have fun. She's going to make a fantastic mom and she regularly helps me be a better one. And when we first moved here, she was one of the first people who welcomed us to our neighbourhood and our church.

Katie and her husband are in the midst of renovating their first home. They're living with mess and bills and drywall dust, and entertaining hoards of people through it all. It's hard to afford the time or money for birthday treats in the midst of that.

I hope she uses this gift to go to the spa, or something similarly indulgent. But even if it goes toward groceries or more nails for finishing the basement, I hope Katie feels appreciated and celebrated. She truly is.

And for those wondering if for-no-reason gifts are the best use of these funds, as I have, then join me in considering Jesus' example. He said that we'd always have the poor with us, yet he also knew how to have lots of fun at a party. He lived smack in the middle of that tension, and so do we. This giving project is teaching me to analyze a little less and to spend more time at the party. Happy birthday, Katie!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Grief, Hope and Treasuring my Children on Good Friday

On this Good Friday, I'm struck by the profound paradoxes embedded in the events of Easter. Jesus was dearly loved by God, yet had to (chose to) endure enormous suffering. How often do we question God's love for us when we go through difficult times? We know that challenging circumstances somehow coexist with, rather than contradict or disprove, His love. And because of the events of Good Friday, we can say with confidence that we "do not grieve as those who have no hope" (1 Thessalonians 4:13) -- and yet we grieve. Death has been swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:54) -- but not fully, yet.

So on this fourth Friday of the month, when we give to people suggested by readers of this blog, it seems very appropriate to follow up on the idea passed along to me by my friend Joan. She wrote of being inspired by the Jacobs family, whose lives have touched her own family deeply.

They are a family of seven children who lost both of their parents to cancer in 2008. The eldest, Alanna, was to have been in her fourth year of university that year. Instead, she found herself in a dark and difficult place, responsible for her six younger siblings. Oh how our life can change in an instant!

Alanna recently told her story  on the Drew Marshall Show. Drew is a long-time friend of mine from summer camp, who hosts a radio talk show on spiritual issues. Follow the link and scroll down to March 19 -- you can listen to Alanna's brave retelling of her story there.

The Jacobs' church has taken responsibility for ensuring that their needs are met -- an inspiring example of the church being the church, in my opinion. I look forward to this week's donation helping with that. Whether they use it for groceries or for a fun night out, I hope that Alanna, her brother Zander, and the rest of their family are encouraged in knowing they are not alone. And that although the events of Good Friday do not take away their pain, their story attests that Jesus' death and resurrection allow that pain to be infused with hope, and a peace that surpasses the understanding of those of us who have not had to walk that agonizing road.

In the midst of darkness, confusion, plastic bunnies, chocolate and pastel eggs, may the reality of the hope of Easter meet you exactly at your point of need and receptivity today.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Living Below Your Means

I have this blog, but I don't [yet?] think of myself as a blogger. My friend Sheila is a real blogger, and her post today seems appropriate to include here.

Sheila and I have similar backgrounds. We attended the same university and the same Christian Fellowship group there. That group taught, explicitly and often, about money. For example, I still remember being blown away by one speaker, a successful business owner, who encouraged us to keep what we needed and give away the rest -- as he did. It turned the whole 10% tithing thing on its head for me and made quite an impression.

Anyway, some of that has 'stuck' in my life and apparently in Sheila's too. Enjoy!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Be Inspired!

I mentioned awhile back that our pastor had shared an inspiring story during his sermon series on giving. Jack sent it along so that I could post it here. It calls me up short in all kinds of ways, including as someone involved in a Christmas hamper program -- what if my hamper makes its recipient feel poorer rather than richer? This generosity thing is sometimes harder than it looks. But I do have to say that this blog has freed me up to make it simpler and more spontaneous too. Hmmmm. Enjoy -- and do chime in with what you think. May we all be conscious of being very rich today.

The Rich Family in Our Church
by Eddie Ogan
I'll never forget Easter, 1946. I was 14, my little sister Ocy 12, and my older sister Darlene 16. We lived at home with our mother, and the four of us knew what it was to do without many things. My dad had died 5 years before, leaving Mom with seven school kids to raise and no money. By 1946, my older sisters were married, and my brothers had left home.
A month before Easter, the pastor of our church announced that a special Easter offering would be taken to help a poor family. He asked everyone to save and give sacrificially. When we got home, we talked about what we could do. We decided to buy 50 pounds of potatoes and live on them for a month. This would allow us to save $20 of our grocery money for the offering.
When we thought that if we kept our electric lights turned out as much as possible and didn't listen to the radio, we'd save money on that month's electric bill. Darlene got as many house and yard cleaning jobs as possible, and both of us babysat for everyone we could. For 15 cents, we could buy enough cotton loops to make three potholders to sell for $1. We made $20 on potholders.
That month was one of the best of our lives. Every day we counted the money to see how much we had saved. At night we'd sit in the dark and talk about how the poor family was going to enjoy having the money the church would give them. We had about 80 people in church, so we figured that whatever amount of money we had to give, the offering would surely be 20 times that much. After all, every Sunday the pastor had reminded everyone to save for the sacrificial offering.
The day before Easter, Ocy and I walked to the grocery store and got the manager to give us three crisp $20 bills and one $10 bill for all our change. We ran all the way home to show Mom and Darlene. We had never had so much money before. That night we were so excited we could hardly sleep. We didn't care that we wouldn't have new clothes for Easter; we had $70 for the sacrificial offering. We could hardly wait to get to church!
On Sunday morning, rain was pouring. We didn't own an umbrella, and the church was over a mile from our home, but it didn't seem to matter how wet we got. Darlene had cardboard in her shoes to fill the holes. The cardboard came apart, and her feet got wet. But we sat in church proudly. I heard some teenagers talking about the Smith girls having on their old dresses. I looked at them in their new clothes, and I felt so rich.
When the sacrificial offering was taken, we were sitting on the second row from the front. Mom put in the $10 bill, and each of us girls put in a $20. As we walked home after church, we sang all the way. At lunch Mom had a surprise for us. She had bought a dozen eggs, and we had boiled Easter eggs with our fried potatoes!
Late that afternoon the minister drove up in his car. Mom went to the door, talked with him for a moment, and then came back with an envelope in her hand. We asked what it was, but she didn't say a word. She opened the envelope and out fell a bunch of money. There were three crisp $20 bills, one $10 bill and seventeen $1 bills. Mom put the money back in the envelope. We didn't talk, just sat and stared at the floor. We had gone from feeling like millionaires to feeling like poor white trash.
We kids had had such a happy life that we felt sorry for anyone who didn't have our mom and dad for parents and a house full of brothers and sisters and other kids visiting constantly. We thought it was fun to share silverware and see whether we got the fork or the spoon that night. We had two knives which we passed around to whoever needed them.
I knew we didn't have a lot of things that other people had, but I'd never thought we were poor. That Easter Day I found out we were. The minister had brought us the money for the poor family, so we must be poor. I didn't like being poor. I looked at my dress and worn-out shoes and felt so ashamed that I didn't want to go back to church. Everyone there probably already knew we were poor! I thought about school. I was in the ninth grade and at the top of my class of over 100 students. I wondered if the kids at school knew we were poor. I decided I could quit school since I had finished the eighth grade. That was all the law required at that time. We sat in silence for a long time. Then it got dark, and we went to bed.
All that week, we girls went to school and came home, and no one talked much. Finally on Saturday, Mom asked us what we wanted to do with the money. What did poor people do with money? We didn't know. We'd never known we were poor.
We didn't want to go to church on Sunday, but Mom said we had to. Although it was a sunny day, we didn't talk on the way. Mom started to sing, but no one joined in and she only sang one verse. At church we had a missionary speaker. He talked about how churches in Africa made buildings out of sun-dried bricks, but they need money to buy roofs. He said $100 would put a roof on a church. The minister said, "Can't we all sacrifice to help these poor people?"
We looked at each other and smiled for the first time in a week. Mom reached into her purse and pulled out the envelope. She passed it to Darlene. Darlene gave it to me, and I handed it to Ocy. Ocy put it in the offering. When the offering was counted, the minister announced that it was a little over $100. The missionary was excited. He hadn't expected such a large offering from our small church. He said, "You must have some rich people in this church."
Suddenly it struck us! We had given $87 of that "little over $100." We were the rich family in the church! Hadn't the missionary said so? From that day on I've never been poor again. I've always remembered how rich I am because I have Jesus.

I've Always Wanted to be a Patroness

It's a tricky thing, navigating the treacherous waters of high school social life. As I sent my eldest off to another day of grade nine today, knowing that she's in the midst of a tough patch with her best friend, I was thankful not to be doing that anymore. I was even more thankful for my own best friend, whom I met in French class on the first day of grade nine, almost (gasp!) 29 years ago.

Susan and I have talked in some way -- by e-mail, telephone, Facebook or notes passed foot-to-foot in History class -- most days since. (My kids refer to her as my 'phone friend'.) In this season of my life, when I have lots of 'proximity friends' from the school or neighbourhood or dance studio, Susan is one of the few people who knows me deeply and well.

Susan is a writer. Writing isn't just her job -- it's her vocation and to some extent her identity. She can't not do it -- that's how I know. And she's really good at it. Sue writes all kinds of things, from newsletters to press releases to articles, but her first love is to write fiction. She's had one of her novels published, called Seeker of Stars, and it was a treat for me to have her as the first author to visit our Book Club in person a few years back. Several of the metaphors so beautifully described in that book still come back to me each Christmas. More recently, Sue has written a gorgeous trilogy, set in Metis, Quebec. She has been diligently looking and patiently waiting for a publisher to pick up these books, and has received some very encouraging rejection letters!

Recently, a new opportunity presented itself to have one of those books reviewed by a skilled team of editors and exposed to some new agents and promising publishers. There is a cost involved in this refining process, and Sue invited me to consider being a "patroness of the arts."

Although that piece of work is quite exciting, other pieces of Sue's life have been really difficult over the last couple of months. Calamities have ranged from the serious to the ridiculous: a sick child, job disappointments, a newborn nephew with daunting special needs, an injured Granny, saying farewell to a cat of 17 years and being bitten by a neighbour's dog -- all within a very short period of time. It feels rather Job-esque, and I'm conscious of not wanting to be as unhelpful and misguided as Job's friends were at times. But, like them, I'd like to be present with Sue through this challenging season and to encourage her in the midst of it -- literally, to impart courage.

This week is for honouring an inspiring individual, and I'm inspired by Sue. By her gift as a writer, as a fellow traveller on this journey with me, and as someone graciously figuring out how to walk with God through whatever life brings. I'm thankful for her influence in my life and on many others', and I'm hopeful that this money will help to get more of her books published. She'd write them anyway...but it's even better if we get to read them too.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Graduating from Parent School

All through high school, my friend Sue and I suspected that there must be a 'Mom School' that everyone's parents secretly attend, because they all seemed to say roughly the same things. When I had my first baby, she found the textbook: How to Mom. Well I guess now I've found the real thing...

I have recently started volunteering at a local pregnancy care centre. When I asked the Executive Director what they were 'short on' these days, I expected her to say diapers or sleepers or office supplies. Instead, she told me that they would love to purchase graduation gifts for a group of moms (and perhaps a dad or grandma or two) who are completing a 13-week parenting class later this month. They've been working on building life skills such as cooking and budgeting and raising resilient kids -- and Sarah wants to recognize them for their commitment to becoming better parents. I appreciated the generosity and fun behind her suggestion. It occurred to me that all of us can learn from the example of these new parents -- would I be as willing as they are to invest in becoming a better-equipped mom? As I do every week here, I feel privileged to contribute toward celebrating their accomplishment. So this month, as many parents applaud the efforts of their grown children walking in their gowns across the stage as they graduate from college or university programs, it is my pleasure to applaud the efforts of these local parents who are willing to work hard to make sure their babies get there. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

To Give or Not to Give...to Japan...that is the Question

My eldest daughter came home with yet another form from school. This time, it was an appeal by the school Board on behalf of the victims of the Japan earthquake and tsunami. The Board was giving families an opportunity to make donations that would be funnelled through a couple of different reputable organizations.

I hadn't yet decided where today's international donation would be going, so in the morning rush I gave my daughter a cheque made out to the Mennonite Central Committee's Japan Relief fund and sent the whole brood off to school. I've always had a lot of respect for MCC as an organization and for the people I've known who have worked there. They have a reputation for thoughtful, practical work meeting basic needs and engaging in peace and social justice work. (They also produce yummy international cookbooks). And I do tend to contribute to relief efforts when natural disasters strike.

So why did I feel uneasy? Was it because it seemed odd to me that the school Board was asking for money for this? (Why not other world needs?) Was it because it was highlighting and therefore endorsing the work of a couple of charities? (Why not others?) Or more fundamentally, was it because it's Japan -- wealthy, organized, well-educated, innovative Japan -- with enough resources to look after itself?

Very soon after, my wise friend Matt posted this link on Facebook. It put words to some of my discomfort -- Japan is not even accepting assistance from the vast majority of countries offering it!  Matt's post also  introduced me to a very interesting site called Good Intents. The headline on the site is "Good donors are the key to good aid" and it follows with this:

"Good intentions are not enough for aid to be successful. If assistance is done poorly it can hurt the very people it is supposed to help. Accurate information and sound practices are also crucial to smart aid. This website provides readers with the knowledge, tools, and resources they need to ensure that their donations match their good intentions."

I then went to the MCC site to find out exactly what they are doing with Japan donations. I was chiding myself for not having looked sooner -- they don't even have programs or staff in Japan! -- but they are giving the donations to like-minded organizations working locally there.

So was I wrong to write a cheque to help the victims of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami? I hope not. It was not my most well-researched donation, and I suspect a chunk of it will end up paying for administrative costs for more than one organization along the way. But suffering is desperately difficult, for rich and poor alike. And the urge to respond to that suffering is one that I want to encourage rather than cynically repress, in myself and in my high schooler. So I think it's OK. Not great, but OK.

It's a tough call. What do you think?

(Thanks to all of you who have passed along your ideas for future weeks. Please don't think I'm ignoring you -- we'll get to them in time. Keep the messages coming!)