Giving: Is It All About the Sacrifice?

By Holly

joduma / Pixabay

joduma / Pixabay

I can picture her sitting at the head of the dining room table; it’s midnight and she’s just getting started. Photos are strewn across the brown leather table protector; sticky album pages wait for their fill of memories, their place in the finished gift.

It is 1992, before scrapbooking is a thing. There are no 12”x12” decorative pages or digital layout tools. My mom’s project will take months, countless late-night hours. I am fourteen, old enough to understand how much our youth pastor, Kevin, who is moving from the Midwest to Las Vegas, will appreciate my mom’s efforts, and young enough to absorb a definition of giving.

The scrapbook project is mammoth, covering more than a decade of memories from hundreds of people with no help from the internet. Just an old-school photo album, kitchen shears, Scotch tape and an ambitious woman’s self-sacrifice.

Sacrifice. It’s the cornerstone of giving, right? We hear it from the pulpit on Sunday mornings and TV ads comparing monthly latte budgets with the cost of school for a little girl in South Africa. We feel it when a friend shows up and lets her millions of other things wait and when those who have the least gather the most tags from the Angel Tree. We see it at midnight through teenage eyes.

And, all the while, the story of the ultimate cruciform-shaped sacrifice pulses through our veins like a dare to choose a selfish, guilty life or a sacrificial, giving one.

We do our best to choose the latter.

Then one day, somewhere between fourteen and forty, sacrificing and giving become one and the same. Spiritual synonyms. Sacrigiving. We find our ourselves trying to feel the cheerful heart that God loves as we search for the right ways to give – the ones that come with words like inconvenient, uncomfortable and risky. The stuff that will move us from our cozy, protected, latte-filled lives into the unpredictable, risky, faithful world of sacrificial giving.

We spend a lot of time wondering if we are sacrificial enough, and may find ourselves creating sacrificial scenarios to cancel out our selfishness, and hyperfocusing on giving because it’s what God called us to do.

But there’s this thing about giving that God says over and over again, this thing that gets lost in sacrigiving: Obedience is better than sacrifice.

Even thousands of years ago when sacrifice was worship and the goats were slaughtered in the name of faith. Even then. Even in 2016 when we have too much, spend too much and eat too much. Even now.

God wants our obedience more than our sacrifice. And so it seems that God only wants our sacrigiving if it is out of obedience.

I saw my mom sacrifice; I didn’t know it was obedience.

Even now, I don’t like the word, “obedient.” It feels parental, submissive, even robotic. Maybe that’s why it’s easier to go for the sacrifice. Or maybe it’s just that sacrifices are tangible, seen and praised.

But it helps me to learn that the Hebrew term for obedience, shema, means “to listen.” And the Hebrew language does not separate hearing from responding. I like to think that this means we can’t listen to God without changing.

Shema first. Change me first.

As I enter this season of giving this is my prayer: Shema.

Shema first. And the giving will come.

Giving: Is it All About the Sacrifice?

By Holly

joduma / Pixabay

I can picture her sitting at the head of the dining room table; it’s midnight and she’s just getting started.  Photos are strewn across the brown leather table protector; sticky album pages wait for their fill of memories, their place in the finished gift.

It is 1992, before scrapbooking is a thing.  There are no 12”x12” decorative pages or digital layout tools.  My mom’s project will take months, countless late-night hours.  I am fourteen, old enough to understand how much our youth pastor, Kevin, who is moving from the Midwest to Las Vegas, will appreciate my mom’s efforts, and young enough to absorb a definition of giving.

geralt / Pixabay

The scrapbook project is mammoth, covering more than a decade of memories from hundreds of people with no help from the internet.  Just an old-school photo album, kitchen shears, Scotch tape and an ambitious woman’s self-sacrifice.

Sacrifice.  It’s the cornerstone of giving, right?  We hear it from the pulpit on Sunday mornings and TV ads comparing monthly latte budgets with the cost of school for a little girl in South Africa.  We feel it when a friend shows up and lets her millions of other things wait and when those who have the least gather the most tags from the Angel Tree.  We see it at midnight through teenage eyes.

And, all the while, the story of the ultimate cruciform-shaped sacrifice pulses through our veins like a dare to choose a selfish, guilty life or a sacrificial, giving one.

We do our best to choose the latter.

Then one day, somewhere between fourteen and forty, sacrificing and giving become one and the same.  Spiritual synonyms.  Sacrigiving.  We find our ourselves trying to feel the cheerful heart that God loves as we search for the right ways to give – the ones that come with words like inconvenient, uncomfortable and risky.  The stuff that will move us from our cozy, protected, latte-filled lives into the unpredictable, risky, faithful world of sacrificial giving.

We spend a lot of time wondering if we are sacrificial enough, and may find ourselves creating sacrificial scenarios to cancel out our selfishness, and hyperfocusing on giving because it’s what God called us to do.

But there’s this thing about giving that God says over and over again, this thing that gets lost in sacrigivingObedience is better than sacrifice.

Even thousands of years ago when sacrifice was worship and the goats were slaughtered in the name of faith.  Even then.  Even in 2016 when we have too much, spend too much and eat too much.   Even now.

God wants our obedience more than our sacrifice.  And so it seems that God only wants our sacrigiving if it is out of obedience.

I saw my mom sacrifice; I didn’t know it was obedience. 

 Even now, I don’t like the word, “obedient.” It feels parental, submissive, even robotic.  Maybe that’s why it’s easier to go for the sacrifice.  Or maybe it’s just that sacrifices are tangible, seen and praised.

But it helps me to learn that the Hebrew term for obedience, shema, means “to listen.”  And the Hebrew language does not separate hearing from responding.  I like to think that this means we can’t listen to God without changing.

Shema first. Change me first.

As I enter this season of giving this is my prayer:  Shema.

Shema first.  And the giving will come.

A Story to Help You Breathe Before the Holidays

By Holly

Illuvis / Pixabay

Have you heard the story about the gardener and the Emperor Moth?  The one that celebrates the necessity and power of struggle and attempts to answer the why of suffering? By showing what happens when a gardener tries to free a moth by snipping its restricting cocoon with a pair of scissors, we are reminded of the purpose behind pain and that, sometimes, rescue is exactly what we don’t need.

I love that even moths give up sometimes.  I love the gardener’s tenderness and the imagery of the fragile veil – a hair’s breadth of tissue – providing exactly what the moth needs to grow a body and wings that can fly.

And, in this season of busyness and giving, I find comfort in this:  Because the Emperor Moth resisted the struggle, it never flew.  It couldn’t stop it’s healing, growing work just because the Starbucks cups turned red or the pre-Black Friday emails piled up in the inbox.  It didn’t matter what was going on in that vast world less than a millimeter away:  the Emperor Moth was meant to be in a season of cocooning.

Maybe, in these post-election holidays, the pressure to give, help and serve feels greater than ever.  There’s a distinct empowerment that arrives with the aftermath of 18 months of bearing witness to so much hate and division.  We renew our belief that change really does begin on the ground, even when the earth we travel consists of humble small town sidewalks, swampy November soccer fields and minivan-worn suburban streets.  We feel more certain that there is something we can do, that small acts done with great love really do matter.

So when you are asked to do more, be more and give more this holiday season, when you feel like there’s a fire within you that’s waiting to be put out with saying, “yes,” when you want to crash into the end of 2016 like a combat-boot clad Mother Teresa…pause, breathe, and ask yourself:  What season am I in?

Because the Emperor Moth resisted the struggle, it never flew.

And…isn’t time always a season of giving?  

Like the Emperor Moth, there are times that we must struggle in our own thin cocoons before we can do what we need to do in this world.  And if that’s happening for you now, the pressure – temptation, even – to get out there and do more, be more and give more, can make its way through your thin, protective tissue just like the gardener’s shears.  The needs of this broken world can press in so hard that escaping into busyness feels like the only way.

But what about your wings?

Do you want to be swollen with untimely yeses and premature escapes or filled up with acceptance of a season that is more cocoon than wings?   Swelling retreats; it fades away by being squeezed and compressed into something smaller, a substance reabsorbed.  But a filled-up person pours out into the world.

If, in these uncertain holy-days that will wrap up 2016, your season is one of healing, growing, grieving or refining, remember the story of the Emperor Moth.  Remember your struggle needs space, even when what’s out there is tempting and good and seems like it will fill you up.  Breathe.  And remember the season of giving, loving, helping and changing is one that never ends.

Because the Emperor Moth resisted the struggle, it never flew.

The world wants you to fly.

I First Saw You When…

klimkin / Pixabay

I love my new job. I love my co-workers and I love the clients I get to work with. I love to witness joy in the midst of some of life’s struggles. I love the singing, the smiles, the hugs and the endless words of encouragement they share with one another. I never thought I’d be working with developmentally disabled adults nor senior citizens with dementia and Alzheimers.

But I believe that God knew it all along and I believe He gave me glimpses of this desire all throughout my life. As I reflect on my childhood and adolescent years there is ample evidence that God was grooming my heart for the very vocation I find myself in today. And I am more than humbled and grateful.

 

I First Saw You When…

I first saw you
around age 6.
You stared at me
and I stared back at you
from the noisy booth
at the Korner Kitchen.
Every other bite
of strawberry shortcake
was interrupted by your
different look.

I first saw you
in grade school at Santiam;
you were in a “resource” room
and I was fascinated
that we shared the same first name.

I first saw you
when I heard my grandpa
talk of an “odd” fellow,
a distant adult relative,
who needed to be cared for
by a family elder.

I first saw you
in a group home,
though at the time
I just accompanied my mom
to visit her friend and
her friend’s mother.
You would come down
to eat meals and watch tv.
Sometimes we ate
crunchy molasses cookies.

I first saw you
when you invited me into
your single-wide trailer
as I was collecting dues
for your daily paper
which I delivered.
You were so short, frail
and nearly blind using
a magnifying glass
to read the paper
and your Bible,
which you showed me.

I first saw you
at 14 years old
when your wife
asked me to sit with you
each Thursday night
while she went to play bingo,
just to make sure
you were ok.
You were frail and weak.
We watched Wheel of Fortune
and I did my Geometry.
It was sometimes awkward,
but I’ll never forget you, Oly.

I first saw you
after my conversion to Christ.
I volunteered at a Soup Kitchen
and helped take your plate
to your table
because you had a walker.

I first saw you
when I worked for my father
in his sawmill
and watched him employ,
mentor and encourage you.
You could neither read nor write
and you walked in swaying gait.
We laughed a lot when we
made those wooden pallets.

I first saw you,
when I watched my boyfriend
(now husband)
befriend you in college
and he counted on you as a friend
no matter the developmental differences.

I did not know those firsts
would shape into a now.
A now that feels very
fulfilling
humbling
purposed.

 

 

Does God Always Have the Answer?

By Holly

Yakir / Pixabay

Pulp, Extra Pulp, Less Pulp or Pulp-free? Calcium, Vitamins, Iron Added? Not from Concentrate or do I care? Scanning the six-foot wide refrigerated section of my neighborhood grocery store, I am reminded of just how many choices we have here in the First World.

Experts say the average adult makes at least 35,000 conscious choices each day. I believe it. From groceries to alarm clocks to parenting to callings, our days are built on decisions. Habits, self-images, morality, religious views, circumstances, time and emotions draft the shape of our decision-making blueprints as we carry on with our days, weeks and years.

Maybe you are a decisive person who is unfazed by a statistic like 35,000. Or perhaps you consider yourself “indecisive” and relate to this number with a feeling of overwhelm. Wherever you fall on the decisive continuum, you can be sure that one day, somewhere between 1 and 35,000, you will be forced to stop in your tracks and stare down our decision-making process because you simply don’t know what to do.

Even though one could easily argue that the only certain thing in life is the present moment, many of us struggle with uncertainty. In my life, not knowing brings out the worst in me: sleepwalk-like trips to the pantry for handfuls of chocolate chips, Google idolizing, whining, victimizing, anxiety, control…all of the opposites of faith and mindfulness.

But (sometimes fortunately and sometimes not) God gave us free will. And not knowing is part of free will. So what do we do when we’re faced with decisions that have far weightier consequences than pulp or no pulp, and we have no idea what to do?

My answer: Try to get clarity. Lame, I know. But, as a person of faith, I lean toward believing that God will give me clarity. And, until recently, I believed that if I made the right moves and waited it out, God would pretty much always give me an answer.

For some time now, I have intentionally chosen “a” instead of “the” (as I wrote about here) and “and” instead of “or.” It is one thing to write and talk about a principle, and quite another to live it out.

So, earlier this year when I struggled with a big decision with long-term consequences and, up to the very last tick on the decision deadline, had no clarity, I had no choice but to wrestle with this question: Does God always have the answer?

I had done all the faithful stuff: prayed the prayers, asked the questions, read the verses, sought the counsel, carved out the space. I had even applied my tried and true Andy Stanley-inspired series of questions that I reserve for such times of indecision. But God did not give me answers.

God was not silent or distant. I felt divine presence as I struggled with what to do. But I wanted more than presence; I wanted clarity. I began to wonder if I was missing something – perhaps I wasn’t paying attention when God sent me a sign or wasn’t still enough to hear that small, distinct voice.

Eventually, the new part of me that likes to emerge from the corners of my seeking soul and challenge my boxed-in views of God raised her hand halfway and timidly asked, “What if God doesn’t have the answer?”

My response: What if God doesn’t have the answer? What would that mean?

That, in this situation, God is more concerned with being close to me than telling me what to do? That God will love me and take care of me no matter what choice I make? That there can be more than one good decision? That, sometimes, God wants me to choose?

Yes.

With God’s love comes freedom, and with freedom comes choice. Too many times, we hear the word, “choice,” and our dualistic thinking barges in and draws its signature line to separate good/bad, right/wrong, or wise/foolish. Rather than question the presence of the line itself, we aim for the right side of it. With the best intentions, we set out to make a decision that will do all the things – honor God, fulfill God’s will, serve the people we love – to keep us on His side of the line.

But God is not a line-drawer.

And free will is more beautiful and complex than God’s test of our ability to choose right or wrong. It’s born from a love so big that “right” doesn’t have only one way, our process can be just as important as what we choose, and, sometimes, God leaves things up to us.