Generous With Our Homes

In the years of our marriage, we’ve done very little entertaining in our home for many reasons. First, many times our home wasn’t big enough. When we started homeschooling twelve years ago, we knew our homes would be small from then on. In fact, since then, we’ve lived in apartments and town homes with only one house thrown in during that time. It doesn’t bother us or our kids, but having people over tends to be more difficult the smaller a person’s home is. Second, we’ve felt self-conscious, or at least, I did. Because of the choices we had made about educating our kids, we didn’t have a lot of money and didn’t think people would like spending time with us because of it. And finally, we haven’t opened our home a lot because we tend to be introverts. We walk into our home and expect it to be a shelter from a world which has become dark. We want to be by ourselves until the next time we have to go out and be a part of the world again.

We’ve used these reasons for years only opening our home when our kids wanted to have people over or when I’ve wanted to invite special children over. (Children tend to not be as judgmental as adults are.) We’ve also found bigger spaces to have eighteenth birthday parties for our sons because we knew we wouldn’t have enough space to host all the people they wanted to invite.

But, God wants us to open our homes to others no matter how much we have, and I’m just now realizing this might be a good thing for me. When I was younger, people opened their homes to me. There was one family in particular, while I was in college, who have always made me feel like I was a part of their family. They are family to me, and I am family to them. I’ve always tried to pay that hospitality forward, but not as much in my home as I possibly could have. And I’ve realized that needs to change. The Bible verse the author used in today’s devotion and her words themselves particularly touched me. First, here is Hebrews 13:16 from the Message version of the Bible. “Make sure you don’t take things for granted and go slack in working for the common good; share what you have with others. God takes particular pleasure in acts of worship–a different kind of “sacrifice”–that take place in kitchen and workplace and on the streets.” I believe making that sacrifice will lessen the loneliness of the people I come in contact with and will in turn lessen my loneliness. The author of the devotion agrees. “But brave people recognize that they can use their home to love others with the love of Christ. Brave people are generous with their homes. Brave people share–even their sanctuaries–with others.” (100 Days to Brave, Annie F. Downs)

So, will all that, my husband and I have been cleaning and re-organizing in preparation for the hospitality we want to begin. I’ve been walking towards the bravery required to make the invitations. God is giving me courage as I’m considering taking the first steps out of my comfort zone with regard to my home. Hopefully, we will be able to show God’s love to the people who enter our home like my friends did all those years ago with me and like God wants us to do today. Praying for all of us as we consider how God wants us to be generous with all the aspects of our lives!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

Generous With Our Words

I spoke of how I had done a bad job with words during the month of May last week. (http://thrivingingrace.com/words-can-heal-and-words-can-destroy/) I reminded myself and us all that our words could heal as well as destroy our relationships with each other. Now, it’s time to talk about being generous with our words.

Being generous. In my small corner of the blogging world, I’ve met some incredible people from all over the world including two young people from Nigeria who share my faith. It’s been interesting and enlightening to get a glimpse into their culture and the things that matter to them. Through their writing, I’ve learned how they are different from me and how they are the same. It reminds me of the Scripture from Acts 2:44-47. “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Even though we are different, we are still the same because we are all children of God.

You might wonder why I write all this in a post about words. Well, the words of our posts are what offer encouragement and community to each other since we are located halfway across the world from each other. When I see a post from either of them, I read it and comment if God leads me to do so making sure I tell how it encouraged me and what a good job they did with the post. More often than not, God has given them words to help me grow in my faith, and I make sure I say that as well. They are both neat young people, and it has been a joy to encourage them.

This is what the author talks about in today’s devotion. God wants us to speak words of grace and love into the lives of others. There’s a verse in Proverbs that describes what this looks like. From Proverbs 16:24, “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”

These words are a pinprick to my heart; actually, they are several pinpricks, enough to where I’m bleeding. I know I haven’t done well with this. In fact, I think we all have problems being gracious with our words. It seems like every time I turn around people are being ugly with their words. We use our words to hurt others and to gossip, and we don’t care who we hurt. We also lash out at others who hurt us not caring that we are doing the same thing. We live in a polarized world.

God wants us to be different though, and He showed me how through an encounter yesterday at VBS. I have been assisting in different areas this week, and yesterday, went to an area called Kid-Vid. The lady in charge has younger children, and it had been awhile since I had seen her and had an in-depth conversation. She knew my younger son had just graduated from high school and wanted to know what both of my kids would be doing this summer and next year. Then, she asked me what I would be doing since she knew I would now have an empty nest. She seemed to be genuinely interested so I told her about this blog and the stories and books I hoped to write–the things I wanted to pursue now that my children were grown. I was so touched. I’m not sure she knew how much it touched me because it was just an ordinary conversation. But, to me, it was invaluable and a soaking of love for my soul. She showed interest in the person I am and hope to be, not the person she thought I should be. She spoke genuine interest and love into my life and made the loneliness go away, if only for a moment. God used her to show me what generous words of love looked like, and I will never forget how those words made me feel. Thank you, sweet sister!

What she spoke into my life was a direct reflection of this quote by the author in today’s devotion. “When we put God’s Word in, diligently and routinely, the lesser things fall away. God makes us new, again and again, and we can be intentional and generous with our words to ourselves, to each other, and to God.” (100 Days to Brave, Annie F. Downs) I want to be like that. I want my words to heal hearts instead of hurt hearts. I want to feel confident in who I am in God’s eyes so I can speak like that into the lives of others.

I think this might be why God has put me on this journey to bravery, and I want to end with these words from the author as my prayer for us and especially for myself because I know I need it most of all. “Friend, be brave. Be different in a world that uses words to hurt. Use your words to heal, and use them often. Give those words of life, the words found in Scripture, to as many people as you can.” (100 Words to Brave, Annie F. Downs)

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

Generous With Our Money

This is a hard one, y’all. I’ve been challenged and continue to be challenged with how God wants us to be with our money. It’s the area where I am the least brave. If I have the choice between paying for a place to live and food to eat versus giving money to the church, usually, the first one will win out. We all tend to be most interested in our own survival. And then there’s the question the author asks in today’s devotion. “But are you brave enough to believe that if you are generous with your money, you won’t run out?” (100 Days to Brave, Annie F. Downs) My answer to that question most days is ‘I don’t know.’

And coupled with that answer is one of the main reasons I might eventually lessen my involvement on social media. At least lessen the amount of time I look at other people’s pictures. Because, sometimes, I have a hard time looking at the pictures of someone’s trip to Hawaii, Europe, or somewhere in the United States, reconciling it with that particular person saying we needed to give more to the church, and being jealous that they got to take those trips. Now, before anyone gets bent out of shape, I’m talking about how I feel and how I’m sinning when I have those thoughts, not about anyone else. 🙂

God wants us to be generous with what money we have and not wish we had someone else’s money. This one is so hard for me and is a part of my giving story. So, for the rest of this post, I’m going to re-post something I wrote last year. I hope you are blessed.

The Complexity of Giving–My Giving Story–January 2017

On Saturday, someone I know posted a Facebook status asking people why they thought people didn’t give to the church. I was interested in what people might say so I kept going back to the post over the afternoon though I had no intention of answering the question myself. Why, you ask? My answer would have been more complex and might not have fit in the character limit for a Facebook comment. Actually, that’s not true. 🙂 I don’t know what the character limit for a Facebook comment is. I just thought it would help you understand that my experiences with giving involve a story more complex than a Facebook comment.

But, then I saw the sound bites start to come in. “up to their eyeballs in debt” “not agree with church leadership choices” “not connected” “easiest expense to dump when necessary” “We are all selfish.” “amount spend on bricks and mortar and not on helping people” The sound bites went on and on. Now, I’m not saying these aren’t true. Most news reports have sound bites that draw people to listening to the whole report, and with the attention span we all have nowadays, the sound bite might be the most we get out of the issue. This is sad, but it is what it is.

That’s when I heard the promptings from God. ‘Daughter, you need to share your story. People need to know giving to me isn’t a sound bite.’ I argued with God a bit. My story involves a painful part of my past that I would prefer not to revisit. But, as those of us who are believers know, arguing with God tends not to work.

So, in all its glory, here is my giving story.

I didn’t grow up in a Christian home. God wasn’t spoken of in my home, and neither was tithing. If we did go to church, which wasn’t often, it might have been at Christmas or Easter. My parents would hand me a few dollars to put in the offering plate, but that was it.

When I was a teenager, they allowed me to go to church with a friend. I think it was a prompting from God. I heard about Jesus and his unconditional love and grace, and it was amazing to me. I accepted Christ as my Savior not long after. I started learning about the Bible in my youth group and during the services. I heard teaching about tithing and giving too, but it seemed far above me. I was a teenager, after all, and didn’t have a regular income to tithe. It was also not being reinforced at home. So, I continued putting a few dollars in the offering plate at this church and the other churches I went to as a teenager and didn’t think about it anymore.

Then, I went to college across the country from my family. I found a college church and a campus ministry to become involved in. I thrived in college because of this community and made lifelong friends. We were encouraged to give, but community was what was most important. We were college students, after all. This was a precious time for me. Like I have said, I still have relationships with some of these people over thirty years later. We did mission work. We were a part of our community and impacted lives for Jesus. I ended up going to graduate school at the same university so I was in college for six years.

Eventually, though, I entered the real world and started working as a teacher. I was still going to church and still giving, but something changed. It was no longer about the community or serving God. It was about seeing how much you could accumulate. The talk among my friends was who had the newest car, who had the newest clothes or music, or who had a boyfriend. I was still at my college church which I loved, but there was one thing it was missing. Single guys! The message I was getting was that it was time for me to settle down. I decided I needed to try some of the larger churches in town. I went through a couple of boyfriends and then found the man I would eventually marry when I went out for visitation with the church I had started going to. It was love at first sight. He was recovering from surgery, but there was something about his kind eyes, his sarcastic wit, and the way he made me laugh that I was drawn to. He asked me to marry him six months later, and we married a year after that.

For the next few years, we drifted between churches. We were both Christians and wanted to go to church, but we couldn’t find anywhere we felt comfortable. He also had not been raised in the church so neither of us had good teachings about giving to draw from. We also had not had good teaching about community. In particular, I remember one Sunday School class where we were asked when we were going to buy a home with the implication that living in an apartment was not a good thing and that we would not be welcome if we didn’t buy a home. We did not stay at that church.

We moved across town a few months after I found out I was pregnant with my first son. After he was born, we decided we wanted to plant roots in a church, but not one where we would be noticed. We went to a few smaller churches, but then found a bigger one we liked. There were things to be involved with and ways to serve so we became involved pretty quickly. We also started giving more, but we weren’t tithing, and it wasn’t as regular as it should have been. We had our second son, and he was dedicated in that church. Life was good.

But, we started noticing things, little things at first, and then they got bigger. Because, you see, we had moved to one of the wealthier parts of town. We were not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination. The talk at some of our Sunday School class fellowships started to be about what houses people had bought, what cars or boats people were thinking about getting, and where was the best place to get exclusive children’s clothing. My husband and I tried to keep up, but there was only so much we could do. The talk was about the toys and not about Jesus. Oh, we still helped people, but the unspoken implication was that we were better than them. As I think back, it makes me sad that we lost sight of who Jesus was in this church.

Then, it started getting noticed that we didn’t have as much or give as much as other people. The people who gave the most were recognized at our church. It was a competition we had no hope of winning. People would give us the side-eye if we were not wearing the best clothes or not driving off in the nicest cars. Conversations would stop when we walked up. I remember one thing in particular. My husband asked a guy in our class where his jewelry store was–that he wanted to buy me something. The guy replied in a snooty voice, “Don’t bother. You can’t afford anything in my store.” We were in shock and didn’t know what to say.

This was all building to something though–something that would take us away from that community. A family tragedy brought something out of the shadows that had happened a long time ago. It was something that made us unworthy in the eyes of the person who found out. He thought it was necessary for the whole church to know, and we were betrayed. The hurt was unimaginable. We had lost what we thought was our community. Fortunately, my husband found a job in another city, and we moved there not long after.

My first thought upon moving to our new city was to find a new church. I wanted to meet people. We did find one. It was where our older son was baptized. It didn’t take long for the same things to happen again though. People thought they were better than us because they had more and gave more. What we gave wasn’t enough. It hurt me down to the core of my being. We left that church and the church itself for what we thought would be forever. We told ourselves we could be Christians without having a church. This is true, but we didn’t understand what we would be missing out on since we had never been in a true Christian community.

Years passed. We moved to the Midwest and then back to the Southeast. Our kids grew, and we decided to homeschool them. Finally, we moved southwest from where we had been after we had experienced another family death, surgery, and job loss. Finding another church wasn’t even on our radar, but God hadn’t given up on us. My fifteen year old son asked if we could go to church, and a friend told me about one and said we needed to try it. We’re still there, almost five years later. It was so refreshing. No one cared that we lived in an apartment. We were welcomed warmly every single time we walked in the door. And this was with me staying in the background after I had walked in trying to figure out these people and what agenda they had. For the first several months, I just came and participated in the services and figured the agenda would come out soon enough, and we would be hurt again. It didn’t though. My sons made friends, and the trappings didn’t matter. We learned the way God truly meant for us to love one another. I didn’t know how wealthy some of the people were until we actually went to their homes. They were that down-to-earth. No one knew how much other people gave to the church.

Several months passed with all of this staying the same, and my husband and I talked about becoming consistent givers. We had never done this, but we were in a place that was touching our family in miraculous ways so we wanted to try. God blessed us from that first time of giving. Now, I’m not saying we became instantly wealthy. We didn’t. We have gone through heartbreak galore over the last four years–unemployment, multiple hospital stays,  health concerns, and just struggling to believe God and our community wouldn’t desert us again. It was logical. We had been deserted before so there was every possibility it would happen again. We haven’t been deserted though, and I don’t believe we will be even though I relive our pain every year at stewardship time. Sometimes, I flash back to the past when I hear stewardship sermons because of what we went through, and we are giving now.

So, before you reduce someone’s giving to a sound bite, ask them what their giving story is. It will probably be more complex than you think.

God’s blessings on all of you today!

Generous With Our Wisdom

When I went to church on Sunday, I went early so I could pray. After I was done with my prayer time, I ran into a friend of mine who said he had some visitors coming he wanted me to meet. Turns out it was a mom with two teenagers from my old state who was also homeschooling. If that wasn’t a perfect set-up for sharing wisdom, I’m not sure what would be. It made me feel really good to have that conversation about what homeschooling in my state was like. I shared wisdom and knowledge that I often feel like I don’t have.

God wants us to share our wisdom with others though many of us have the same hesitations I do about whether they have wisdom or not. The author of today’s devotion asserts that we do have wisdom, but also points us to Scripture where it says we can ask God for it. From James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” Wisdom was also the only thing Solomon, from the Old Testament, asked God for, and it was given to him abundantly.

So, God gives us wisdom to share with others which makes us qualified. No matter how young we are or how old we are. We just need to be brave enough to believe it and to share it.

I remember another time when I was the recipient of some much-needed wisdom. It was right before we moved to the state we’re living in now. I had just found out we needed to have a cover school for homeschooling our sons. I had done some research online, but wasn’t sure what the best choice would be. I asked some of the moms on a homeschooling website I frequented what they knew about them, and they were generous with their wisdom. By asking that question, I also found that we would be moving near one of those families, and we met them in person the first weekend we were there. Meeting that family changed our family’s life. I am so grateful these women were willing to share their wisdom at a pivotal point in my family’s life.

In conclusion, God will give us wisdom to share, and we need to be willing to share it with others. May we all be willing to share what God has given us!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!