Wednesday, February 20, 2013

How to Be a Cheerful "Getter"

  "There's a group of us that get together and we give alms and...well, I thought you could use it..."  the elderly lady in the grocery store was handing me an envelope across her shopping cart.  Scribbled on the folded paper was a shakily written word:  ALMS.

  I stared at the envelope as a plethora of varying thoughts ran through my mind.   Did I look needy? I had forgotten my daughter's good jacket at home so her brother's old coat was tucked around her and it looked kinda shoddy.  Did I look incompetent?  My one year old was currently screaming her head off.  Alms?  Really?  What are we, still in the Dark Ages here?  Besides, I didn't need any money. 

  There was a time when I did need it.  Daniel and I struggled financially for the first four years of our marriage.  Our business barely covered our basic needs, and living in the Bay Area certainly didn't help.   It is very humbling to be in a place where you cannot provide for yourself.  Our country is a land of wonderful opportunity.  But opportunity might not always make it possible for you to pay your bills.  And I'm not talking luxuries here.  We were buying basic groceries, gas and rent with the left-over going to electricity, phone and that last only when we could afford it.   We would have been set up pretty nicely if we had gone onto Welfare, but neither of us believed in the government's role for that, so we had much less than the "average" poor person, if there is such a thing as an average poor person.

  Just to be clear here, we have always believed in tithing so the first ten percent of anything we made went to God.  There are those who will claim that you will never be in want if you do so.  My experience taught me otherwise.  Oh, I'm not saying God didn't provide.  But it was often not the provision we were hoping for.   There were times when the table was very bare indeed or money for the rent was not there in time.   It just wasn't.  And insurance?  Ha!   Insurance, my friends, is a luxury, whether the government says it is required or not.   But God did take care of us.  We were not turned out of our apartment.  We never actually went hungry. 

  At first it was really hard to accept help.  But this season in our lives was not a short one.  So, we had to have help.  One day there was nothing left in the cupboards for me to make us lunch or dinner.  I was crying and Daniel came to me and said, "Let's just ask God, Christina."  We prayed and he went out to get the mail.  When he came back he held a late shower gift in which there were three gift cards to Target for $50.00 each.    Or there was the time when the woman I had met on craigslist the month before opened up her home for us to stay for three weeks until we found another place to live.   I once developed an abscess in my tooth since we couldn't afford dental care.  When you're rocked by pain like that, your pride gets a lot less squiffy about accepting help.  Our small group leaders at the time took me to their specialist and footed a $1500.00 bill to get me the root canal I needed.

  So, what can I say?  The longer we were in that place of need, we really began to look at God as the fulfillment of our needs.  And rather than beating ourselves up over our inability to afford ourselves, we started to look at the provision as a miracle no matter where it came from.  We started looking to God as the One Who was responsible for taking care of us.  He really was the provider of our food, our rent, our health needs.  And He did it His way.   

  It is still a humbling experience to be given to.  But humility is not a bad thing.  And when you understand that God is moving someone's heart to assist you, you begin to gain a new perspective of what that means for that person.  (I totally recommend The Blessed Life by Robert Morris for more on this). Basically, you know that when someone gives to you, he or she has just gotten in line for some major blessings from God.  It's just how His kingdom operates.

  So here is this sweet little old lady, rather shabby herself, offering her gift to an unknown stranger.  A gift I am aware that I don't need.  What do I do?  Try to explain all of this to her, as my one year old continues to scream and both of our cold groceries grow warm?  No.  God knew all about this and He is very intentional.  He taught me several years back about how unnecessary pride is.  He taught me how to receive when I needed every gift that was offered.  I should certainly be able to receive now that I no longer need it.

  I smiled at the lady and said, "Thank you" as I took the envelope marked "Alms".   I didn't peek inside it then, but I tried to smile very appreciatively at her again as I passed her on the way out to the parking lot.   Who knows what the cost was for her?  What she may have given up for the unknown someone who would be on the receiving end of this envelope?   I almost hope she has given something up!  Sacrifice is an incredibly beautiful gift.  Just think how delighted God must be with her!
  I know that I am not this gift's final destination.  ( I am this envelope's final destination, though because when I pass along the $20.00 that was painstakingly crunched up inside I will do so without an envelope that has "Alms for the Poor" written on one side.  Being a cheerful getter can be challenging enough without adding in the whole medieval beggar word picture.)    I am the "getter", and in that, I am a conduit.  God's blessed me, He's fulfilled my needs, and He's taught me to receive.  And I get to receive this so that I can pass it along to the person who NEEDS it.  Woo hoo!  It doesn't get any better than that. 

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