October 5, 2014

Give it Away

So at about 10:15am this morning God told me to get off my butt and do something. Clearly, I did, because what else could I do? I blame the whole thing on Jen Hatmaker.

Some of you may laugh, but this fall I started my very first Bible study class ever. I decided I needed some Mommy time each week and Protestant Women of the Chapel (PWOC) seemed like a good fit. It’s a military, multi-denominational group that meets once a week with snacks and has a bunch of Bible studies and child care.

I eased myself in by doing a study of Jen Hatmaker’s book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. For those not familiar with the book, Hatmaker, a blogger, writer, and pastor’s wife, took seven months and dedicated each one to an area of life that she felt was excessive. It wasn’t just about getting rid of those old snow shoes you said you’d use but never did; it was about trying to re-evaluate her life through the lens of how much she has just by virtue of being a US citizen versus the vast majority of the world. If we all took a few minutes to compare our lives to those struggling, we’d be pretty embarrassed and possibly even ashamed. It isn’t about trying to make you give away family heirlooms. It’s more about opening your eyes to the real needs of those around you and making a difference where you can. That’s where God tapped me on the shoulder this morning.

Like many churches, ours has communion on the first Sunday of every month. As a member of the choir (I sing Soprano), I have to be at both services. There’s not enough time to go home, so today I took 7 with me so I could do my reading between services.

So there I am, in this nice little library room at my church, eavesdropping on a Sunday school class of people old enough to be my grandparents and reading. Suddenly Hatmaker shares this story about a friend of hers who suddenly realized that Staci, her daughter’s friend’s Mom, was seriously struggling. Single mom, working full time and going to school. The family owned two plates. There were three of them. So Hatmaker’s friend demanded a list of what that family needed. Four days later their apartment was furnished and their cabinets were full down to a bowl of Red Delicious apples on the counter. When I read that story of how a small group of women completely transformed that family’s life, and quite possibly saved them and their future, I cried. I cried in a cute little library at my church while trying not to attract attention.

Suddenly I remembered that a few days ago I pulled on my maternity skinny jeans and found $80! That is quite a bit more than the crumpled $1 I’d expected to find when I unfolded the bills. My clothes had just come back from a round of pregnancy with my cousin in Nashville, but a few quick texts resulted in the fact that neither of us remembered misplacing $80. How comfy are our lives when $80 misplaced makes no lasting impression? In the end, I decided we could split what was essentially the windfall, and we each ended up $40 richer.

Then God poked me in the head. I picked my butt up and drove around the corner to the Dollar General, a store, incidentally, that I’d never stepped foot inside before. Being honest, I felt like it was for poor people. I didn’t need to shop in a place like that. In this case, it was a block from church and for $51.30 I bought 34 toiletry items for Welcome Central, a local non-profit that connects people in need to services in the community. They’re a first line of defense and the people who come to them are often on food stamps and have immediate needs. While you can buy tobacco and alcohol with food stamps, you cannot buy toilet paper. (Because that makes total sense.) So I bought toilet paper and shampoo and soap and combs. I bought a moment of dignity for someone in a rough situation. I bought the comfort and confidence of being able to present yourself, clean and refreshed to the world.

What else would I have done with $40? Nothing noteworthy. It would have been spent at Target on things we almost certainly didn’t have a lasting need for or on an Elsa wig for H’s Halloween costume (I’ll freely admit, that’s still happening, though it had better not cost $40! Thankfully I am blessed enough to start seeing the poor and still afford to give my five-year-old a bit of magic.)

As I headed back down to the choir room after dropping off my bags of toiletries in the atrium, I was amazed at how God had so clearly spoken to me in that moment. I’ve always been a Goodwill donations person, but I can be pretty lazy the rest of the time. I was even more amazed when I checked the flyer and realized that  though I’d been meaning to grab an extra shampoo at the Commissary anyway, the last day to donate was next Sunday, when I would be out of town. That moment in the library was the moment. The only moment when I could make that difference with money I’d lost and never missed. Money that could feed a family for a few days or help a bunch of people who just needed toilet paper.

It makes me wonder what else I miss in my frantic Mom-of-young-children world. Probably a lot. But my eyes and ears are opening, and I hope they never close.

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