The Magic of Generosity

Today was a good day. Today was a great day! Today was Santa Day at the humble thrift store where I serve. Santa Day for us, is like Black Friday, but with more affordable items and for a good cause.

For awhile now, I knew that this day would be special. In the many moments when I thought about moving or was interested in a different job, I would pray that life would keep me at the store until at least, Santa Day. I wasn’t quite sure why, but I knew I wanted to be a part of it.

On Santa Day at our thrift store, children from all over the county come to share their Christmas wishes with Santa and munch on delightful holiday treats as their parents capture memorable photos of them with Santa (for free)! Parents enjoy shopping through a store full of new clothing and toys priced at a very affordable rate. And we, the workers, enjoy dressing up in our elvish costumes as we spread Christmas joy to everyone who enters in.

This year was incredibly special for me, because God gave me an opportunity to be a part of it. God let me in on the magic of generosity.

Our thrift store, linked with a larger Christian non-profit, is solely based off of donations. And any money we raise beyond operation costs benefits our food pantry, which serves nearly 800 families per month in the country where we serve.

We collect new donations all year in preparation for our big day. We contact Santa and arrange his visit to our small Kentucky town from the North Pole. Homemade snacks are baked, elves are gathered, and we pray – oh how we pray: for donations of clothes and toys, for safety, for joy and to ward off greed. And God who is compassionate and loves so dearly to provide for his children, provides! He delights in our delights, and through gratitude he multiplies our fishes.

This season, while praying for God’s providence in the toys realm, I felt him whisper, “Be the change.” He was granting me an opportunity to be generous, to be a part of the magic of Santa Day. I love opportunities to be generous!

You don’t have to be rich to be generous, that’s for sure. I live very simply, and nearly comfortably. 🙂 I don’t make much, but I always have what I need (though sometimes it comes through seemingly uncomfortable circumstances).

The thing about giving, is it usually takes some sort of sacrifice. I knew what God was calling me to do, and I knew that in order to obey, I would need to sacrifice my joy of creating and giving gifts to my friends and family. And I love giving gifts! So. Much. 🙂 It felt weird and uncomfortable as I made the Facebook event informing my friends and family that I wasn’t going to be sending them cards or gifts this year. In some instances, I even felt guilty. I had to double-triple check with my mom to make sure that she wouldn’t feel disappointed at Christmas when all my other siblings gave her and my step-father gifts, and I did not. She was fine with it, and even wanted to be a part of it, because she’s a generous person too!

I explained that “This year I’m changing things up.” I said that instead of spending money on stamps and Christmas cards, or presents and gift wrap, that I would use the money to buy toys for children and families in need. Instead of creating something cool (because I am pretty crafty) for people who have more than they need (and it would probably gather dust on a shelf or in a shed anyway), I would show my appreciation for their presence in my life by paying it forward. The joy of a child brings out the true meaning of Christmas anyway. I also invited family/friends who usually send me cards or buy me gifts, to pay it forward as well. By the urging of the Holy Spirit I asked friends to donate gifts to the store, or to give to an organization of their choice. I knew that even though I love receiving gifts (almost as much as I enjoy giving them) that I really didn’t need anything. I am already blessed beyond belief!

I learned a lot about generosity and God’s providence in this season of preparation for Santa Day. God showed me the benefits that could be reaped by asking others for help. He taught me to listen and obey. I learned the importance of patience, and the promise of his faithfulness. He always provides. Whenever I started to saddle up my high-horse, Pride, he threw me to my knees. Humility became a close companion. Though one of the most crucial things I learned was the importance of gratitude. While reading, “The Broken Way,” by Ann Voskamp, God awakened this revelation in me through these words:

Charis. Grace. Eucharisto. Thanksgiving. Chara. Joy. A triplet of stars to reveal the outline of the fullest life, thanksgiving, joy…

He took it and gave thanks. Eucharisto. Then He broke it and gave. How many times had I said it, ‘Eucharisto precedes the miracle’? Thanksgiving precedes the miracle – the miracle of knowing all is enough. And how many times had I read it – how Jesus, ‘took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people’? Eucharisto – Jesus embracing and giving thanks for His not-enough – that preceded the miracle. But why hadn’t I been awakened at the detonation of the revelation before? What was the actual miracle?…

Not enough was given thanks for, and then the miracle happened. There was a breaking and giving – into a kind of communion – into abundant filing within the community” (Voskamp, 30-31).

Though this passage is talking about the miracle of the breaking, I was struck my lack of gratitude in my prayers for providence. While asking over and over again for God to provide more toys, how had I forgotten to thank him for the ones he had already given us? Though it seemed like not enough, it was still something to be thankful for. I was praying that he would multiply the loaves and fishes, but I didn’t even think to thank him first.

. . .

Gratitude. What if Thanksgiving wasn’t the only day we focused on gratitude? This year seems to be a year of changing things up for me, as I spent this Thanksgiving quite differently than I usually do. Instead of eating myself sick, I fasted. Instead of being surrounded by close friends and family, I fellowshipped with my Lord. Instead of boycotting Thanksgiving day shopping – I went on a shopping spree. Though my friends and family thought I was “struggling” being all alone on a holiday, this time I thrived! I sipped tea (I allowed myself hot tea and water during my fast) and journaled, I watched the parade and worked out, I took the dog I was sitting out for a walk, and I spent my Christmas budget’s worth on toys! Not too often do I get to buy cartloads full of toys. 😀

I also did one other thing differently (that I hope to repeat).

Impressed by the Holy Spirit, again, I decided that I wanted to be a blessing on Black Thursday. I prayed that I would be a calming presence for my fellow shoppers, and in the spirit of giving, used some of my budget money to purchase five $5 Starbucks gift cards. My thoughts were that I would find a mother with a cart full of kids, or someone incredibly rude (you never know who’s fighting a battle) and bless them with a cup of sugar/caffeine. However, when the time approached, it was much too chaotic to seek out individuals and in all honesty, I was a bit faint from my fasting.

While waiting in the line that weaved through the aisles, I remembered something. I thought of a few instances when families showed me kindness while I was a front desk clerk at a hotel. The light in the darkness of that job were the moments when guests would buy me supper while they were out to eat in town. Such a simple gesture, but it meant so much to me! With those memories in mind, I decided to show my gratitude to the store clerks that checked me out at each store. They have to deal with us crazy customers, and I know that it can be a completely thankless job. However, they are necessary and deserve to be appreciated! Their smiles revealed joy to me, the same joy I felt. The magic of generosity.

. . .

My coworkers and I start each morning out with prayer. Soon after my revelation of gratitude before the abundance, I thanked God for the toys he had already provided us. That afternoon, we received a shipment of toys that put my donations to shame. (Comparison is no bueno, another lesson I learned… The more the merrier is more like it!) God provided, he provided indeed! And though I struggled between shame and defensive pride of my donations, through seeking God, I realized that someone else’s gifts can’t outshine mine, and vice versa. Comparison is a fruitless sport because we all are necessary. All the toys and clothes that were donated were necessary.

And as I checked people out today, seeing who purchased what, I knew that God had a plan for each gift. There were a few gifts I remember thinking while shopping Really? You want me to buy this Lord? but today as I saw who bought them I knew that it wasn’t just a crazy voice in my head, but that God had a purpose way beyond me buying whatever it was. I was just the messenger. 

It blows my mind really. God’s timing, his providence and the fact that he would let me be a part of something so wonderful. He doesn’t need me, but he wants me, which is the beauty of it all. I’m so incredibly thankful that he let me in on the magic of generosity this holiday season.


Flash[back] Dance

I love how words can flow onto a page, like swift-moving boots on a gymnasium floor. I love how places, music, beats and scents stir up and awaken moments of before. I love being alive to the fact that we only get one chance at this one great dance – to strut our stuff,  to shine, to share as we move forward and flow backwards and shuffle side-to-side. One dance to sweep someone off their feet, or to be swept… To lead, or to follow… To live, and to dance.

Step clap, step clapclap. Step clap, step clapclap.

Forward and backward, the 18-passenger van moved. Rain was pouring down and down, as the tires seeped deeper and deeper into the mud. Two of his sons and I tried to direct him and problem solve as the van and trailer unsuccessfully maneuvered out of the wrong direction. The small hill, holes and curve of the dirt, now mud, road were no help, nor was the sun that no longer shone. Dark, rainy and cold. Though he had missed the stop, and the large load went several feet in the wrong direction (with no easily-accessible turnaround in sight), his frustrated tone remained pleasant. We were all well-soaked and mudded by the time our wise ol’ neighbor pulled up in his pickup truck, ready to pull our guests back onto the right path. At the end of it all, as we apologized, our guests seemed grateful – knowing that this was expected in our occupation. Ministry. Service. Rain. Mud. Crickets.

Slide to the left, Slide to the right. Criss cross, Criss cross.

Community, criss-cross, friends criss-cross, memories. The movement of our souls: dance fights, dancing in the rain, dancing to the music, break(dance)ing in the new floors, dancing as we cleaned, dancing as we did the dishes, dancing through the days. Oh how our souls were moved by each other, and towards one another. Criss-cross my heart, I’ll never forget how we danced, and how you moved me.

Now I gotta cut loose! Footloose! Kick off the Sunday shoes.

Kevin Bacon. Warehouse. I believe I can fly, fly, fly, fly, fly, fly.

Wobble baby, wobble baby, wobble baby, wobble.

I wanna learn the wobble!

Luckily, I don’t remember…

Think again…

Back room dance break. Teaching the wobble. You’ve got this. Laughter ensues.

Back it up, big girl, back it up. On repeat.

Grapevines right and left, smoothly flowing. Running forward, hitch, turn and back.

This moment, is where I want to be. Here. Now. Breathing. Moving swiftly and smoothly. Learning new steps surrounded by those who dance this through their dreams. Right, left, forward, turn and back, and again and again. I wish I could stay in this dance forever. Moving, loving, learning, growing, trusting, flowing… This Kentucky life, this Kentucky dance.

Darkness. Drip drop, dripdrop, dripdropdripdropdripdrop. Bright, bright lights in the rearview. Tires shutter trying to get a grip along the rain-soaked and leaf-coated road. I pray. I’m going too fast, but the bright lights behind me are too close, and too bright. I breathe. I hear a calming whisper to let go. I release my foot from the break, steady the car and survive the S-curve.

The phone rings. One of those phone calls you know is coming, but you don’t want to answer. I sink down to the ground as I hear the words, “It’s time… Not much longer.” I hang up, hug my knees to my chest and allow the tears to flow. I can’t hold them in. Drip drop, dripdrop. Breathe. I’m enveloped in a hug, embraced. Breathe. It’s going to be okay, yes it is, yes it will be.

The open freeway moves along, heading down south to the land of the pines… Hey, hey-ey, momma rock me.

Ode to the roadtrips, the weddings we traveled to. We celebrated each other. We danced and shouted Jackson County, Kentucky at the top of our lungs every opportunity we were given. We listened, we learned, we journeyed. We didn’t always know where we were going, but we knew the value of the journey. The now, was all that mattered, and we lived it up to its fullest.

And we will continue to do so. We will continue to dance on this road, wherever it takes us.