People often think being a giving person means giving money, but if we follow the example of Jesus Christ we will learn that it is much different. Why? Because throughout the life of Christ we see that he didn’t give money, but instead gave time, love, healing, forgiveness, hope, and peace. We also read what he taught about giving food, clothing, shelter, and even friendship to those in need. I’ve often had to address the idea of helping those in need with my husband and my children. Some get it, and others still haven’t. But for me, giving to others in need was instilled through my parents. It always seemed that although we were a big family (9 kids) and not wealthy by any means, my parents always found the money to take care of needs that they saw others needed, even if it meant going without something at home. As kids we never saw the sacrifice they made because there was always food on the table, clothes on our back and a warm home to live in. Even as a teen my mother set the example for me, by taking me with her to clean the home of someone who was bed-ridden from illness or surgery, or were elderly and couldn’t do it all themselves. I never even thought of it as doing what the Bible ask us to, because it was just something we did.
As an adult I often found the television full of ads yelling “help these children”, “help those refugees”, or “give or else”, and my heart would feel the sting of guilt that I couldn’t help them all. Many were for secular, non-Christian charities. I remember often wishing I had the money to send to each one of these charities…that is until I answered an add for a job with UNICEF. I went to their week long training session, and came away with a disappointment at those charities that advertise on television. I found UNICEF to be a pyramid scheme, where those who are suppose to be helped by it, getting the least in the chain of their financial breakdown. They often hired low-income people, homeless, and single moms to walk the pavement going to each business asking for donations. In return they gave the donor a little stuffed animal with the UNICEF tag on it. Donations usually ranged in amounts from $5 to $25, which would be turned in back at the UNICEF office. From there the cost of the stuffed animal was removed. Then they broke down the amount to go to each level of the company workers, with the most being received by those on top, and the one walking the pavement getting barely 10%. I saw workers walk all day from 6 a.m. to dark, and barely make $5 a day. It was a sad situation, even more when I saw that very little went to the fund for those it was meant to help. That was enough of secular charities for me.
I then decided I would help through Christian organizations that I knew were helping around the world. Many of these type of Christian charities are great for getting your family involved in giving, and through this teaching them about why it is important to take care of those in true need. For example, with my youngest daughter, we’ve saved quarters for months to put towards feeding centers here in the U.S. and also in Africa. Many of these around the world also serve as home and school for children. I found that I can’t help everyone, but I can help some perhaps even closer to home.
After my oldest was born, I went 24 years before having another child. During that time I found there was a great need for foster homes in the Los Angeles area. As a foster parent we gave a home to almost 15 children, and of these 15 we adopted three. I was surprised at the stats of children in foster care and even more that there were 18,000 children who needed to be adopted to get them out of foster care, and that is just in L.A. County back in the 1980’s. I can’t imagine what the amount is now. When a foster child doesn’t have a home they are sent to a large home, like a orphanage, for children. The conditions are often worse than in most prisons, and the dangers for small children are often greater. It was unbelievable that our government entities allowed such a place to even exist. Once we had adopted our last three foster kids the house was full and we couldn’t take any more.
So now I had to find other ways to help. Most churches now have what they call a “food pantry” to stock up on items to take to those in need. I began putting a few extra things in the basket each time I went grocery shopping and would take them to the church on Sunday. I still do this, but allow my daughter to take them to donate.
My oldest daughter and I would go on mission trips when she was a teen to the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. We found children there living in a small house or hogan with as many as 18 to 20 family members. Often they had only one outfit to wear each day. Some were without shoes, and still others didn’t even have the basic underclothes to wear. We worked with the natives through Christian mission churches often pastored by an indian from their tribe. It wasn’t unusual for a teen to use some of the money sent with them to go into town and buy something they saw a child needed. Even my daughter bought underwear and shoes for a little girl. There was a young man at this reservation who had a great talent for playing instruments although he had never had any formal lessons. He was training with the pastor to be a missionary to his own tribe who would travel around the reservation sharing the Gospel. I ran the Bible School that summer, and would always find this young man in the sanctuary of that little church, trying to learn to play the songs that we taught the children. I would set and teach him on my guitar how I played them in the time before the children arrived, often joined by various teens from our church who also played instruments. I found out through the pastor that the young man loved those times and would miss them until the next summer when we returned. I also found out that the young man was praying that God would provide him with his own guitar to use in his ministry. I thought what could I do about it, since I used mine for my own areas of ministry, and needed it for the rest of the trip. Well, God answered his prayer and mine, when I was given a new guitar at Christmas that had a thinner neck for my small hands. I had the teen director from our church contact the pastor from the mission church and ask him if that young man still needed a guitar. The answer came back…yes. With a message to him that we would see him that summer, and were working on helping, we left it at that. When summer came it was a blessing to take my old guitar and leave it with the pastor to give to the young missionary native when he returned from his rounds. We asked him not to mention who it was from, but just to say “God answered prayer.”
As a single mom, with 2 kids still at home, I opened my own store off my house. We lived from sale to sale during that time, but it allowed me as a single mom to be home for my daughters, and yet work. Behind our home was a trailer park filled with veterans who had served their country and then were forgotten by them. Most had severe health issues linked to their time in Vietnam, and many had long since lost any contact with family because they found it hard to find a job that understood their health difficulties. But these men were like fathers and brothers to me, and like uncles and grandpas to my girls. They watched out for them, let me know if they saw the oldest doing something she shouldn’t, and when they did work during harvest time, they often brought us boxes of fresh oranges and other produce. I often wished I could help them out as well, and found myself praying that God would show me a way. One day when talking to my landlord’s wife, I mentioned that I would like to do something for the guys in the trailers. Her husband was their landlord too, and was a veteran who had been blessed in life. That is when she mentioned one of the guy’s had a birthday coming up and knew he would not even get a card from his family, as he had never received one. That is when God showed me the way. With her help, I found out every veteran’s birthday. My store was a novelty gift store offering balloon bouquets, party planning, and even a rent-a-clown. That’s right…I was the clown. With list tacked up behind the counter, each day one of the vet’s birthdays came up my daughters and I would create a balloon bouquet, make a card signed from “your secret family”, and decide on a special gift for that vet. We would sneak to the door of their house, and leave it on their porch, with the balloons tied to the gift. Then we would sneak back inside our home and peak out our back window to watch the look on their face as they were surprised by the birthday gift. We went from just doing this to hosting holiday meals for the guys, never letting them know that we were doing this just for them, but just doing it as something special for our neighbors. The landlord and his wife helped me provide enough food for the dinner and for each of the guys to take home a big plate of leftovers to eat that week. I’m sure they knew in their hearts that we knew their need, but we never told them. We got the blessing of knowing that they felt that someone cared, that they were getting a good homecooked meal and the feeling that there was family around who cared. I got the joy of knowing that my children were learning the joy of giving to those in need, and for caring for others. We may not have been rich in money at that time, but we were rich in blessings from God…blessings of the heart.
Even the use of our talents can be a form of giving. There is the memory of a Mother’s Day when a frazzled nurse ran into my store and asked me if I could come to the local Nursing Home as a clown and put on a program for the people there. The act they had scheduled had canceled at the last minute and they had no one to replace it. At the time I was a single mom with 2 kids at home and we had a couple of my daughter’s friends over helping us with getting ready for a birthday party in a local park. After talking with the kids, I told her we had the party to do, but if she didn’t mind giving us a couple of hours we would be there. My daughter’s friends rallied with us, not only helping set up, entertain, and clean up the birthday party, but in donning clown costumes, and going with us to the Nursing Home. We told jokes, sang silly songs, and even did the Hokey Pokey. I had taught the teens how to make balloon animals and flowers, and that day each of them went table to table talking to each of the elderly people there while making them a balloon creation as a gift. On the way home, the teens were so excited about the whole experience, yet touched deeply by some of the sad stories that the Nursing Home residents shared with them, of never seeing their kids or grandkids, of being lonely and of feeling like no one cared anymore. It went right to the hearts of these 3 teens, and they didn’t take the situation lightly asking if we could go again, just so they could visit the people they had met. This was a time when our giving came through the use of our talents. All the money in the world could not have filled the need of those elderly adults like just having someone listen, make them laugh, and spend time with them. I have since been blessed to use other talents I have to fill the need of others, from making a special backpack for a child to carry his oxygen tank in, to teaching a young lady to sing who’s parents couldn’t afford lessons, to even tutoring a child with severe learning disabilities to help him build confidence in his learning ability.
Each of the above examples from my own life are blessed memories. I’ve never thought of myself as giving anything, but in thinking about this and looking back I was surprised at how many times God opened a door and led me into giving something to help another. These are only a few of those times, and each one, when remembered also brought a renewed feeling of being blessed to be able to do so.
You see the point I’m getting at is…no we can’t help everyone in the world who is in need, but we can help some in need, and that we should be willing to do so. Sometimes the least selfish are those who have the least, because they know what it is to need, and in their heart they can’t stand to see someone else suffer. As Christians we are to give to those in need, and sometimes we are leary because of feeling like we don’t want to encourage that money being used for drugs or alcohol, sometimes we have very little to give ourselves. But one thing I have learned is we are all able to help someone in need along the path of our life, and often if our heart is attuned to God, we find that there are many that we can help. When we allow God’s Will to be first in our lives, we also find that he often provides the means to help others. There are a variety of ways God opens the door for us to give to those in need, and there are safe and legitimate ways to give so that you know where your money or items are going and that they are truly being used for those in need, whether it is giving a lunch to someone holding a sign at a street corner, or donating toys to Toys for Tots or Angel Tree, to seeing if your local hospital can let you provide something special for children or adults who are there for a long period of time, such as books, quilts, even gifts at Christmas. Don’t forget those in nursing homes, because many haven’t seen family for a long time, and for the most part are forgotten. Just going in and reading to them, playing a game of checkers, can be a form of giving that is cherished beyond the money you give. Don’t let your own finances limit your ability to give. Give of your time, possessions, talents, and most of all yourself and your love for others. The blessing you will get from being a giving person far outweigh any treasures you can receive on Earth. Helping others is truly like wrapping them in the loving arms of Jesus Christ.