Thursday, December 17, 2009

God, the Foolish Giver

Grand total from the missions church of 3,000+ members that I attended for over a decade: $4

We've told you about it before, but the only money we got from the church (aside from wonderful, dear family friends!!) was from the sweaty palm of a young girl who told her parents she wanted to hand over her chore money to us. I bought a small felt bird in Slovakia that we have hanging in our house, and it is to remind me of the faith of that little girl.

On top of that, our votes for Obama caused people to withdraw support, the economy crashed, TWR mistakenly told us we have about three times more funds raised than we did, and we only raised half of what we wanted to. (That disappointing departure date turned out to be the month we found out about David's cancer, by the way. Sometimes God gives us answers sooner than we expect.)

Ugh. So, no, thankyouverymuch, I did NOT want to fundraise for our trip to Thailand.

We decided, after much debate, to sell Mike's 2000 Toyota Corolla instead. It was worth exactly the amount we'd need for our trip. I was explaining this to a friend over lunch in Philadelphia who had had a rough year. Hugging her good-bye and driving home, my gut wrenched. Uh oh. The conversation later went something like this:

God: Give them your car.

Us: Um, I'm sorry, I believe we agreed that we would sell the car and use the money to go save children at-risk of prostitution in Thailand. You're welcome.

God: Give them your car.

Us: Fine, we'll sell the car to them at a cheap price. Everyone wins.

God: Give them your car.

Us: Oh, also: It's an ugly car with no hubcaps. They won't even want it.

God: Give them your car.

Us: (expletive)

We asked them if they wanted our car, and they refused, as we knew they would. But we insisted it was what God freaking wanted us to do, so they said they'd only accept it if they could give their current car to someone else in need. Wouldn't you know it--someone had just approached our church the night before that they were in need of a car. Case closed.

Oh!--the abundance of joy and grace we experienced in that situation can simply not be described. I have chills right now, feeling so unbelievably blessed to have been able to be a part of helping this family that we hold so close to our hearts, even in this janky, non-hubcap way.

One of the most famous verses in the Bible is "God GAVE His only son" to save the world. So, to put it simply, God's plan for giving is hardly tithing ten percent. Francis Chan, author of "CrazyLove," was criticized by his church for giving all his (significant) book profits away. They told him he should be saving it for an emergency--he has three daughters to look after, after all. He was sharing this in context of his growing work with sex trafficking, and he said "An emergency?! You want to tell me about an emergency? There are children--girls like my three daughters--who are being raped day and night. Is that not an emergency? Oh, wait, it's not MY emergency, right?" Yikes. American Christianity is so often a far cry from that conviction, I fear.

We were chewing on a lot of thoughts about money in Europe after meeting Phyllis and Myles Wilson, our new dear friends. They spoke at a conference in Austria our PR department hosted, and we spent some time with them afterwards. I can't explain how we connected, but they shifted our focus and encouraged us beyond words. They are from Ireland, so I don't think the fact that our plans overlapped in Philadelphia for one day was an accident. We met them at Monk's (they're Irish, for crying out loud), and I calmly explained to them that we would never forgive them for the ways they ruined us. "We gave our stinking car away! Right when we need the money" I protested. Their reply: "Exactly."

I also told them all the reasons sending out more letters about Thailand was a bad idea. We already asked people for money and what if we need it again in the future for something "more important." They suggested people would want to know, at least, and hinted I should think on it. Mike, who was convinced asking people for support was the right thing to do (and knew the Wilsons would agree), waited patiently for me to come around.

We got back to Grand Rapids, an internship and full-time volunteering between us. We prayed like crazy for God to provide.

Then Mike was offered a full-time position. I stopped praying, relieved.

Then Mike's company decided to switch to a freelance model, which means he's technically laid off, but they might have work for him in the future. I started praying again, sweaty. (Yeah, I noticed that pattern too.)

Finally, I agreed to a compromise: When we sent out our Christmas letters, we'd somewhat include a suggestion of financial support---but only because we were sending out all those envelopes with stamps anyway. I shared this whole long story to you to show you the crazy journey God has taken us on this year with giving, and to show you this year's ending that I personally find outstanding. So:

We have received money from the following people: my brother, an atheist Jew, two lesbians, and the agnostic couple upstairs who slipped $200 worth of bartending tips under our door.

I. LOVE. IT. Isn't that great? Do you know what a better story that is than us just selling our car?! Do you know how much better off we are being blessed by our friends and, in turn, allowing them to feel blessed by giving?We've gotten several hundred dollars already from the places you'd least expect. And when I say "least expect," I'm rolling my eyes at how boring we can be! Do you know how hilarious and beautiful and wonderful these gifts are to us? These are all people who we absolutely adore and every single one of their gifts was accompanied by unbelievably humbling notes that brought us tears. You guys know who you are, and I'm sending a public thank you to David, Sarah, Allison, Heather, Kevin, and Lindsay.

You might argue with this, and that's fine, but that to me is such a picture of God's creativity, his desire to show us things in unexpected and uncomfortable places, his willingness to be radical and crazy, just like he was when he gave his son over to death for a whole world full of people who still aren't that interested.

So, yeah, we got a pretty great lesson on radical gift-giving this Christmas. And even though the historical likelihood of Jesus being born on December 25 is slim, I'll take it just the same and thank God for being the most ridiculous, outrageous, and foolish gift-giver ever.

Note: I am going to post this on our joint blog because we're going to revive that temporarily for postings before/during/after Thailand.