When you write a book about the subject of giving it tends to open some doors and close others.
Most of us are so conditioned to save and always be careful with our money, that we are conflicted (to say the least) when someone starts sticking us in the ribs, talking about “paying it forward.” Doors close. It’s such a private affair. Nobody’s business. Even churches, which exist on the generosity of parishioners, tell them to “go home and pray about” what they should donate.
The sign says PRIVATE, NO ENTRANCE. Personal. None of your business. None of mine.
But then, what do we—who are not Bill Gates—who, like you, have mortgages and car payments, what do we do about the fact that giving is so great? I mean, how do we keep a secret like that from all the people who might really want to get involved in something so amazing as changing the world?
I don’t know about you, but to me it’s pretty impossible. So what DO we do? We stick our toe in the door and whisper “just give a little tiny bit.” “Just give a little bit.” “just give.”
And this is how: To begin a generous life, you may want to start small. Give a little when you feel like it might be a good thing to do. Do it because the kid looks so out of luck. Do it because the smile you get is worth a million. Do it because someone asks for a donation and it seems like a good place to plant a seed.
The thing is, no one wants you to spend the kids’ college fund money. No one wants you to give up the ranch. But some have given up everything and they can teach us a lot. Amy Carmichael left her home and family in Ireland near the end of the 1800s and traveled to India where she opened an orphanage. She worked as a missionary there for 55 years without ever returning home. One of her famous quotes was “You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.”
By 1913 Carmichael’s orphanage cared for 130 young girls who had been taken as Hindu temple servants. As a temple servant, these girls were forced to financially support the priests by taking “sexual assignments” or what we call prostitution. When the children were asked what it was about the orphanage that saved them, they most often replied "It was love. Amma (Amy) loved us."
Who wants to live without that kind of love? Who doesn’t want to open that door? If you do, you’ll find the most generous, open, accepting people inside. People, like you, that give out of love and compassion, people who understand the value of every human being.
Open those doors. You don’t have to sell the sofa, just do what you can and feel how good it feels. Do it often and let the feeling spread down to your toes and up through your brain. While you’re feeling good, like Amy Carmichael, you might just change the world.
Here’s to Amy,
People who are new to our website have asked how the idea of promoting world changing generosity came about, so I thought I’d back up a little and give them the information they were wondering about. It seems a little strange when I tell it, but before I go on, I’ll say that everything I learned to do in every job I’ve had has led me to this place.
I have been a writer, editor, manager and a life-long spiritual searcher, so when all this began, it somehow felt like the natural next thing to do.
So here’s my story: More than two years ago, my husband, was heading up a team to develop an arm of the National Christian Foundation in Indiana. As he stood on a ladder, trimming our arborvitae he was deep into having a conversation with God about how to promote generosity among Christians.
This is not something he normally does. I mean usually it’s a one-way, conversation, but today it became a two-way discussion, which I was made aware of because he climbed down off his ladder and came into the kitchen where I was washing the dishes to tell me what God had said.
He reported—most excitedly—that God had told him He didn’t just want Jim to teach Christians about being generous. God had said He wanted Jim to teach all people
about generosity. Meanwhile I was smiling at him with eyebrows raised and a wide grin… My face was kind of stuck that way—like I was looking at a man telling me that he was now going to pull a bowling ball out of his shirt pocket.
But Jim wasn’t giving up. He explained that we would be writing a book about generosity and it would feature not only why we give, but how to give and would feature the tenets of all the major religions—even atheists and agnostics. That word “we” really stood out to me.
My smile started to fade at that point. He was dead serious and before long had dived head first into research and statistics and the (actually fascinating) principles that every one of these major religions and thought groups has on the subject of being generous. Who knew?
Jim did most the research, and I did the lion’s share of the writing, but we both did a lot of everything and it not only gave us a chance to work together, it also educated us on so many levels. And so it was that writing the book itself became a gift.
We were able to find and tell some amazing stories of things ordinary people have done and are doing to help others who are not as fortunate as they are. We were inspired every day by the creativity and determination of people who are not rich—not even a little wealthy—whose idea and action made a difference in one person’s world or the lives of many people.
Now, that our book, “World-Changing Generosity”, is out, the response has been amazing. And for me (the person who was afraid that writing about Wiccans and Spiritualists would be too shocking to many readers) it has been a happy surprise to find out that, for many, that’s the most interesting part of the book.
Meanwhile, the book has refocused my own thoughts in the area of giving as well. Everywhere you look, the design and function of the world is circular. Seed is planted, the very circular route of the sun shines down on it and the seed takes root and blooms, making more seed of its own, and then it dies back into the earth to reappear again in the very circular nature of our seasons.
Giving is the same. As we plant seeds we always have a harvest and interestingly, we harvest what we have sown. Being generous makes others more generous to us as well. Giving encouragement enables us to reap armloads of encouragement from others. Kindness begets kindness. And, best of all is the deeply rooted satisfaction that generosity emits in our lives. Like a plant whose roots break apart even the hardest stone, we become vulnerable to all living things and thus experience the wonder of a truly generous life.
Everyone has their own story to tell. You have your own story, I just hope that living generously is a big part of it.
NancyCo-Author of World Changing Generosity “World-Changing Generosity: How You Can Join the Movement of Ordinary People Making an Extraordinary Difference for Those in Need”
is available at Amazon.com
It’s January and with a few notable exceptions the U.S. is cold today. Most of the Midwest, East Coast and Plains are in the 20 degree range. Meanwhile, all over the country, there are homeless people living on the freezing streets and in the city of Nashville, TN, there are about 2200 on the streets this year.
Whatever the contributing factors are, all over the country you'll find families, veterans, runaway youth and re-entry populations who call cardboard boxes and the underside of bridges home.
When Sofie Hoolhorst, a five-year old girl heard about a homeless man on a freezing night in another state, she motivated her family to join her in an effort to collect coats and blankets for those who were homeless in her home city of Nashville.
Five-years old and she’s concerned about those who are homeless. Where does that come from? Trust me. Five-year olds are not naturally overly generous. These kinds of responses from children are the direct effect of family members who talk about helping others and parents who involve their young children in conversations that point out ways to alleviate hurt and provide for others’ desperate needs.
When it is a family goal to be a help to others, children soak it up like a sponge. Then, when they are confronted with an opportunity to respond they jump at the chance.
So when Sophie wanted to help, the Hoolhorsts’ put the word out and collected donated coats and blankets. Then they walked the streets of downtown Nashville to meet, greet and provide for those living outside in the cold, giving birth to a movement called “Let’s Warm Nashville."
The Hoolhorst legacy is one of imaginative effort on behalf of others—expecting nothing in return—unless, of course, you count a deep feeling of contentment and peace. How great is that?
In this space I talk a lot about people who have done amazing things for someone else. But this story is about an engineer who has affected the lives of more than a million people. His name is Don Schoendorfer and he was on a trip to Morocco when he saw a woman drag herself by her hands across a dirt road as she dodged traffic.
That vision led him to develop an inexpensive but durable wheelchair that he hoped would change the lives of people like her. Since he began, his Free Wheelchair Mission (FWM) has given away almost a million wheelchairs. In 2015 alone, FWM gave away 74,000+ wheelchairs in 37 countries.
This young man is one of those recipients. His name is Soun and he lives in Roarng Leu Village in Cambodia. Since 2006, when he fell and suffered a spinal cord injury, he has been unable to work. As in the case of most paralyzed people, he suffered from depression and sadness because he could not care for his wife and children. Said Soun, “I prayed to God for a wheelchair,” prayers that were answered when he received a GEN_1 wheelchair through FWM’s partner, CBN Cambodia.
Whenever FWM’s wheelchairs are distributed, crowds come out to see what is happening. Villagers are incredulous to see care being shown to the least among them. No longer dirty, stuck at home and left out of society, the wheelchair recipients come alive again and are always struck with awe and gratitude and the new life they have been given.
Free Wheelchair Mission has identified its passion and concentrated its efforts on changing the lives of the world’s disabled poor, one person at a time. It is a move Jim and I strongly promoted in our book, World Changing Generosity. Each of us has the opportunity to look at a hurting world and to identify our own passions.
What moves the needle with you? Do you care about childhood diseases, clean water efforts, teaching agricultural methods, ending homelessness, or any of the other needs in the world? Find your passion, locate, learn about, and support those charitable efforts that you care most about. You will be doing the good in the world you have always wanted to do.
I am babysitting today for a seven year-old (Jack) and a 10 year-old (Katie).They love to drag out an old barn and two houses from the toy chest and set them up. The barn makes a long "mooooo" sound when you open the doors, and comes with a herd of two-inch horses, cows and people that these two love to make stories about and just let their imaginations create a world for.
Today they decided the barn and houses were the Triple “C” Farm, which stands for the family’s (pretend) Corn County Company, a firm that produces organic vegetables and provides organic milk to local groceries. The two-inch people had a grand time today. There was a proposal, a wedding and a round-up of all the horses. But most importantly, we talked about the way the farm makes money and how the family spends it when it is paid for a product the farm produces.
We made $5,000 pretend money from the sale of milk this day. So I asked them if they remember what we do with money. They remembered: “We save some, spend some and give some.” So, we figured out that we should think about giving at least $500 and talked about the charities we know about that we’d like to support. The kids came up with one that cares for wild horses. We pretended to give that one $50. Then we gave a charity that feeds hungry children half of the rest, $225, and the other half went to a pretend orphanage in Haiti.
All that might sound silly. But, these kids have developed a real vocabulary for giving. They have exercised a thought process and discussion process for deciding what charities do the kind of caring work that matters to them. And, maybe most importantly, the idea of giving away part of the money they have is an exciting opportunity that they embrace.
Generosity in a “me” oriented society may not be a child’s natural tendency, but given a little education and an opportunity to volunteer and give real money in child-appropriate situations, these kids can surpass the understanding of their peers in one of the most important lessons of life: The lesson that it is better to give than receive.
Raising a generous generation is up to us. All it takes is a little time for some fun.
Living Longer on the “Helper’s High”?
Think you feel good when you volunteer to read to the elderly, or plant vegetables in an inner city garden space, or any of the other great things you probably do to help others? There might some real evidence why that is!
Back in 1956 a team of Cornell University researchers began following 427 women who where married with children. The researchers thought that the housewives with more children would experience the greatest stress, therefore supposing that these women would also die younger. But the researchers were wrong.
They learned that education, class and work distinctions did not affect the women's longevity, nor did the number of children the women had to care for. After following the subjects for 30 years, they learned that although 36 percent of the women who volunteered experienced a major illness over the years, of those who did not volunteer, 52 percent experienced a major illness. Hmmm.
Another study revealed that older adults who volunteer simply live longer than those in the study who do not, while still another study found early death among those who were volunteering a lot was 44 percent lower than those who did not--a greater effect on longevity than those in the study who exercised four times a week!
Here’s the medical deal: When we do good on behalf of others we reduce our stress levels, thus reducing the adverse affects of hormones like cortisol and high heart and breathing rates that adversely affect our immune and cardiovascular systems. These stress responses weaken the body’s defenses opening us up to abnormal cellular changes, including premature breakdown of natural functions and even cancer. In studies of telomeres—the end-caps of our genes—researchers found that long-term stress can shorten those end-caps, and shortened end-caps are linked with early death.
“Ultimately,” said one source, “the process of cultivating a positive emotional state through pro-social behaviors—being generous—may lengthen your life.”
So, add this evidence of a longer, even happier life to your own urges to put your hands and heart to work for others. Most people don’t need this evidence…but it is certainly nice to know. Happy helping all you great people!
Children going to the mall and posing for a picture on Santa's Lap is an age-old tradition. But what happens when a kid doesn't want to?
At one of the thousands of shopping malls around the country, a loving mother and dad took their son Brayden Deely to sit on Santa's lap. But Brayden is autistic and sitting on Santa's lap can be a fearsome thing for some children. Since Brayden would only lie on the floor, this generous Santa got down on the floor with him to give Brayden the full experience.
When you think about it, Santa--whatever he is called around the world--is noted for one big thing: Generosity.
It is his vital mission, each year to give something wonderful to every child.
How wonderful that Brayden's parents now have that picture with Santa, and how wonderful there are Santas like this.
A declined credit card, not enough cash to pay a $200 grocery bill, a long line of annoyed customers behind you, and a crying baby. It's enough to make most parents want to sink into the floor, and probably how Jamie-Lynne Knighten felt one night earlier this month at a Trader Joe's in Oceanside, Calif., as she tried to calm her 5-month-old and find her phone so she could call her bank. But then 28-year-old Matthew Jackson stepped to the front of the line and offered to pay for her haul. "It just felt like this … great big bear hug," Knighten says. After refusing Jackson's offer, she eventually took him up on it, on the condition that she pay it forward when she had the chance. Knighten got his name and the gym where he worked, and tried to call him more than a week later.
But the manager began crying on the phone: Jackson had been killed in a car wreck less than 24 hours after he came to Knighten's rescue. "Why are the good people of this world taken too soon?" Knighten wrote in a Nov. 20 Facebook post. "He was a year younger than me and engaged to be married."
Jackson's mom, LeeAnn Krymow, says her son's good deed exemplified his spirit, even when he was a child. "He loved to be kind." Knighten has set up "Matthew's Legacy" Facebook and Twitter tribute pages to "honor a one in a million man by spreading hope and kindness to everyone we meet."
What do we make of a story like that? Life seems so unfair sometimes. But people like Matthew Jackson leave a legacy of warmth and caring--and not a lot of people do that. Of course he will be missed by his family and friends, but an act of kindness starts a ripple effect that touches so many more people than you know. Matthew has found his way to eternity and will be always be remembered for his generosity and kindness.
Elizabeth Drury is a generous woman, married to a generous man. Together they stepped across a line from comfort into a place of radical caring. It is a journey she shares here.
My husband and I receive a lot of credit that we don't deserve, especially when it comes to generosity, and it bothers us more than it used to.
We're generous by some standards. We tithe. We try to share time, money, and abilities. Scott serves churches and charities in fundraising, estate planning, and stewardship services, so in a sense, we've practically gone "pro" with the topic of giving.
But a much higher measure of generosity has made us blush with shame and aspire for more. We recognized it not by hanging around people and places where we were comfortable and knew the social ropes, but by crossing a socioeconomic boarder and staying a while.
A year ago, in quite a departure from the familiar, our family began attending a church of primarily poor and homeless people near Washington, D.C. The experience has brought incredible friendship, learning, and growth for us and our teens.
It all began when we met the pastor, who described enthusiastically the church's upcoming ministries on Thanksgiving Day. "We usually get lots of volunteers earlier in the day, but clean-up can be a long, lonely process," she explained, adding with a sparkle, "And we can always use more mashed potatoes!"
So, bearing pots of steaming spuds and gravy, we showed up—the whole family—to lend a hand.
Earlier that frigid Thursday, church members (most of whom live in dire poverty themselves) had assembled at a rented community center at 6:00am to pick up homeless men and women from hypothermia shelters around the county. They prepared donated food and lovingly served breakfast and a turkey dinner to 180 people. Everyone broke bread together and shared a worship service. At mid-afternoon, volunteers in vans returned guests to the shelters or street corners from which they had come.
Then, nearly staggering in exhaustion, they cheerfully tackled what looked to me like Dish Armageddon. They mopped, scrubbed, and sanitized. They cleaned the restrooms. They spent hours delivering leftovers to shelters and painstakingly storing other items in a rented closet. As we followed their instructions in helping out, we each wrestled with a convicting question:
Am I that generous?
At the last, when the enormous mess had finally been conquered, the couple overseeing the work commented with a smile, "The Lord must have sent you in answer to our prayers—because last year we did this job by ourselves." Dumbfounded, we discovered that they gave themselves to this labor of love not just on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas but on each and every Sunday on a slightly smaller scale—and they did it with no guarantees of extra help. Am I that generous?
As we started helping out more often, we witnessed unflinching physical affection among people in all states of cleanliness.
Once, a drunken man in a violent temper burst through the door with unfastened, freshly soiled pants. Others rushed to help him get changed into something clean, dodging his fists and insults.
On Easter Sunday--how should I describe it?—a bowel catastrophe interrupted an otherwise lovely lunch. Before it was contained, it had taken on epic proportions. My family and I washed dishes (suddenly a lesser Armageddon by comparison) from a safe distance while others graciously helped clean up the mess, careful to protect the panicked adult's fragile dignity.
Am I that generous?
We hear dozens of requests after meal times. Does anyone have a grocery bag? A container? A cardboard box? Ziplocks for leftovers? A carton of chocolate milk? Always, yes. With startling generosity, people who possess very little share the treasures they have. It's the most vivid picture of community we've ever seen.
Offerings include modern-day widow’s mites: pennies, free burger coupons, and bus tokens—costly gifts, indeed.
Many, including the pastor, open their lives to sufferers of schizophrenia, Tourette's, drug addiction, alcoholism, lice, criminal records, uncontrolled diabetes, sexually transmitted diseases, and other very messy realities. They share their cell phone numbers, bearing incalculably inconvenient burdens.
I know it’s not about comparison, and of course, poverty and generosity do not necessarily go hand in hand. But, honestly, am I that generous? Are you?
Recently, during a seminar sponsored by our denomination, Scott and I were seated around a table with friends from this church, and discussion took an uncomfortable turn. Someone thanked us for our generosity, and others chimed in.
We chafed at the unfounded accolades. Friendship isn’t benevolence; blessing goes both ways. And in God's economy, not all giving reflects generosity.
Tithing, after all, is something we believe God expects, sort of a minimum standard. Scott gets paid for his giving-focused job; he doesn't do it for free. And I would have made those mashed potatoes, anyway, even if we had stayed home. Generosity may have had little to do with it.
So around that table, we could only object with croaking voices that the credit was wholly undeserved. We have the easy part.
By sharing life with lovers of Jesus who might never be able to write a check, we've learned profound lessons about precious generosity. They have shown us that God wants to cultivate within us and his Church an exponentially greater capacity for giving than we have ever known.
Venture close enough, stay for a while, and the believing poor may teach you, too.
On Halloween, when Georgia State Patrol Trooper Nathan Bradley responded to the scene of a car accident, he found Donald and Crystal Howard dead at the scene. The Howards were the parents of four children, ages 13, 10, 8 and 6.
Bradley moved quickly to request permission to care for the children while they awaited the arrival of their grandmother, who was driving from Florida. Meanwhile, the trooper took the kids out to eat and then to the Georgia State Patrol Post to feast on Halloween candy and enjoy a marathon of Disney films. Bradley wanted the children to enjoy the evening before delivering the awful news the next day.
The 13-year-old Howard son later contacted Bradley, explaining that upcoming costs for the funeral and transporting the parents' bodies to Florida would amount to approximately $7,000. An impossible sum for the grandmother to assume.
So Bradley created an online fundraiser
, which received an outpouring of support from generous individuals. The original $7,000 goal was quickly surpassed, reaching more than $117,000 from almost 3,000 supporters. And the numbers continue to climb.
"They keep saying, 'You have more and more,' and every time I hear 'more,' I just want to cry," the children’s grandmother told the local news. ” I didn't know people…cared so much. I've never dealt with this, never. It's just so amazing."
Bradley continues to update the GoFundMe page as support continues to flow in. According to the website, “sums donated will be given directly to the family” to first cover funeral costs, and any additional donations will be “placed into a trust fund that is set up by the family and will be used to provide higher education” to the children.
With all the drubbing police officers have been getting lately, this story is a wonderful reminder of the generous and caring men and women who wear blue and care so generously for the people they serve.