The intention to do good for others as part of my life plan has always been there…it was just cemented during my child’s Make-A-Wish trip to Disney. (View previous post: .)
But even though the intention was in my heart, I would always roll my eyes whenever someone like Oprah preached that we all needed to be more generous with one another. “Someday,” I’d promise her through the television screen. “Someday, when I’m obscenely rich like you, I’ll be able to afford to be more generous.”
I meant it, too. Maybe I wouldn’t ever be a media tycoon, but my plan all along had been to be so successful I could afford generosity. Problem was, when I had no money, I was saving for the day when I would have money. And when I had money, my expenses somehow became proportionately higher.
Someday, I continued to promise myself.
I put a plan in motion and started a business. It was tied to real estate, so you can probably imagine where that business ended up. Any money my wife and I made from that venture was fed right back into that beast…and when it finally grew huge and bloated, and finally died, it collapsed right on top of us. It took us a few years to crawl out from underneath its Jabba-The-Hutt-like remains.
Someday, I realized, was never coming.
I needed a new plan, and when Lifeline Church’s Pastor Dave began preaching about God’s plan for my wallet, I realized the plan I was looking for was a very, very old plan. Again, I used to roll my eyes at this sort of talk, but it really was the same plan I had all along, just with a very subtle twist. I had always intended to be more generous…someday. The twist was to take “someday” out of the equation.
To start today what I had been working so hard for and missing all along.
That meant with each paycheck I had to take 10% off the top for God, 10% off the top for saving, and figure out how to live off the meager remaining 80%. The first and the second shares go to God and me…the rest goes to life.
The first to God.
The second to me.
The rest to life.
I had been doing it backwards all along. I hate it when Oprah’s right. What to do with the first 10%? I figured I could put aside a little from each paycheck for Make-A-Wish. I called them up to ask how to go about sponsoring a child’s wish. The Illinois chapter was pushing to reach their annual goal and had just a handful of remaining wishes to grant. The cost to sponsor a wish was $5000.
“$5000?” I asked, swallowing, catching a weird irony that I had just managed to save $5000 and some change. It took me four years of crawling out from under that beast to finally have $5000 to call my own again. I had finally just got the mortgage caught up.
It was the biggest $5000 I had ever had.
“You can have it,” I said to Make-A-Wish, trying hard to hide my anxiety.
Someday had come.
I hung up the phone and paced. Now I needed to write a check. My brain paced along with my feet. What the heck was I thinking? I couldn’t afford this! But I could afford this. Nope. I couldn’t. I wrote the check but didn’t sign it. I paced some more, finally scribbled my name, and put it in an envelope.
Before sending it on its way, I did something I wouldn’t call normal for me. I prayed on it; that it would find its way to a family that needed it; to give them a moment of absolute awesome; and for the child, a long and healthy life. I put a stamp on it, put it in the mailbox and put the flag up.
I chuckled at myself every time I happened to peek out the front window to see if the mailman had come. What was it about money that made me so anxious? When the flag was finally down, I sighed. “Good,” I said to myself. There was no turning back. No undo button. It was truly in God’s hands…or at least, the mailman’s.
Later that day, a phone call came from out of the blue from a friend. Money was coming my way. More than enough to cover the gift to Make-A-Wish. I hung up the phone. I had stopped pacing. Frazzled nerves washed away as I bent over and caught my breath.
“Okay, God,” I laughed. “I get it.” I laughed some more, and not just because money was coming back to me. I really do love a good irony as much as I do a good lesson.
Sometimes the universe laughs at us, and sometimes it lets us in on the cosmic joke and laughs with us.
Generosity isn’t about affordability. As Pastor Dave says, it’s about giving…anyway. It doesn’t have to be some grand gesture, but it can be grand. It can be as subtle as a simple smile that says “I understand.”
In its simplest form, generosity is intention in motion.