In the midst of this season of giving, I offer you three stories of those who share.
1. We had a good Thanksgiving Day with my parents and family. The night before Thanksgiving, my dad always asks if I'll help organize the neighborhood church Thanksgiving service. My friend Aaron was kind enough to preach, and Kelly and I led the music. A guy from the neighborhood showed up early for the service and hung out. Apparently he's new to the neighborhood, just experienced his second divorce, and is struggling to find employment. My dad struck up a conversation with him and, upon hearing that he had no Thanksgiving plans, invited him to spend the holiday with our family.
Side Note: this is just like my parents. I never realized how frequently they did this when we were growing up. Whenever someone didn't have anyplace to go to get a meal, my parents swooped in and had them over. It didn't matter whether or not they even knew the person, they were welcomed at our house.
So when the guy (his name is Ray) got to the house, he admitted that he was a former alcoholic who had made some poor life decisions. He had very little to his name, so my parents started emptying the house of things to give him. He didn't have any pots or pans to cook with, so they even gave him theirs. I ended up taking him home that evening and had the chance to see his little apartment. It was a rather crappy place that was completely bare. I naively asked Ray, "there's no bed here. Where do you sleep?" He answered that he was afraid of keeping many possessions in case he was evicted, so he chose to sleep on the floor. We had an unused mattress over at the church, so we arranged a time to get it to him, so he can now at least be elevated and not so cold when he sleeps.
At the end of the day, I was truly thankful for how God has provided for my family. And I felt blessed to have grown up in a house where the teachings of Jesus were lived out before my very eyes.
2. In the same vein, I think about my friends Scott and Robin. They live in Price Hill with their kids and remind me a lot of my parents. When you live in the midst of people who have constant needs, it's very easy to ignore them all together. The Duebbers refuse to do this. They have a third floor that they've used at multiple times to house people in need. My times we talk about giving, but we do so as long as it doesn't interfere with our personal space. When you open up your home to others, you sacrifice the sacred realm but receive blessings that few ever get to experience. I'm excited that little Toby and Aimee will have a similar experience that I did in my youth: witnessing their parents display unparalleled generosity.
3. This past Sunday I had the opportunity to preach at my friend Everett's church. I call Everett my friend, but he's actually my parents' age. I've known him since I was an obnoxious preteen and have been blessed to have maintained a relationship with him throughout the years.
Everett has become a hero of mine, because over the past thirty years he has ministered in one of Cincinnati's most difficult neighborhoods. Sure, Walnut Hills can be rough, but it's nothing compared to the Fay Apartments area. Ministering in the city can be exhausting but Everett (and his faithful wife, Bonnie) refuse to give up. Their church was one of the few inter-racial churches among the independent Christian Churches. Now, the population of the congregation is almost entirely African American.
Side Note: Preaching in a black church is like Red Bull for a white preacher; you get giddy from the excitement because of the vibe. People are fully engaged, they give you verbal responses, and a good joke will make you feel like a world champion. My time at the President Drive Church of Christ did not disappoint. Even though I barely had any voice because of a cold, it worked out great. I'm not sure I'm hard-wired, however, for worship services that last well over two hours.
Even as Everett and Bonnie inspire me, their church did as well. At the conclusion of the service they had a "sharing time" where people offer up prayer requests and what they're thankful for. An eighty-year old woman offered that she was thankful that God had taken care of her through all of her life's struggles. She then turned around and looked at me and said, "and I want to encourage our young preacher today. You did a good job today, and I really believe that God is going to continue to use your gifts to change our city." It was some of the best encouragement I've received all year.
Surrounded by such a great cloud of givers, I can't help but be in the mood. Who's giving around you? Where's the generosity in your life and how are you using it to impact others?