Each year, the church I volunteer at raises funds for toys that will be distributed to our local Community Outreach agency. Parents are given a time when they can pick out gifts for their children. Our youth are tasked with going out and spending the money raised at church to buy gifts for teens – because who knows what a teen likes, better than another teen? I had meant to donate at church, but I had forgotten to. For a variety of logistical reasons, the gift fund was seriously short on resources, when an appeal went out this morning.
All of this brought back memories of an earlier time in my life. My children were young and I had just gone through a divorce. Lessons in poverty were piling on me. There was no money for Christmas gifts. I was trying to figure out what to do, when a gift came out of nowhere. Charlie was a Bible Study friend in my church. He asked his adult children to give the money they would have spent on him for a gift, to me instead. He wanted me to be able to buy gifts for my children. With seven children and falling through the cracks of social service agencies at the time, I was incredibly grateful for his kindness. He repeated that action for the following three years, as I worked my way out of poverty and through seminary.
This morning, I thought of the circles we travel in life. There are moments when we are the receivers. We find ourselves alternately grateful and awkward in that place. I remember the deep gratitude that I had the resources to choose gifts for all my children. There was also the awkwardness of being the person who needed help. I did not want to be that person. It is a humbling experience to discover other people are giving up something of theirs, to make it possible for you to have what you need for your family.
So today when I made a donation, I remembered the people who have graced my journey. I thought of those who reached out to me when I was a struggling newly singled mom. I thought not only of Charlie and his family, but others along the way who made it possible for me to survive those years. I thought again how life goes full circle. Sometimes, we are blessed to receive, at others we are blessed to be the one who gives.
“In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Acts 20:35