Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Heart of a Giver - Even in Stepford

If you are a parent, you know that your kids teach you every bit as much as you teach them. During my ten and a half years of motherhood, I’ve learned a lot from my children and am a better person, not to mention mother, for it. My son has taught me to lighten up and that it’s OK to have fun. He has also taught me that I am a good mother. He doesn’t say this directly, but he lets me know in sly little ways by making comments like, “Mom, you’re nothing like (insert any perceived bad mother’s name here).” My daughter has taught me that I need to be more organized and that I need not accept my disheveled closet or trashed minivan as a fact of life equivalent to the sun rising in the east. I haven’t acted on this yet, but I’m considering it. When my children bring these little lessons to me, I enjoy them immensely but am not really surprised by them. After all, I know myself well enough to know that I’m consistently too serious and too hard on myself (particularly in the area of motherhood). I also know that I am a disorganized mess in many areas, not all, but certainly my closet and my car are out of control.

However, what does surprise me is when my children teach me a lesson regarding something that I’ve been trying to teach them. Our family lives in a place I like to call “not the real world.” We live in affluent suburbia. The kind of place where your annual household income can be in the top 10 percent of the nation, but not in the top 10 percent of your community. Because of this, no matter how much my family ever has materially, there will always be, not someone, but a whole group of someones that have more. Further, that whole group of someones will be your neighbors, fellow church members, and your children’s friends and classmates. Please don’t misunderstand where I’m going with this. I love my community and the opportunities that it presents my children ... it is safe, has excellent public schools, a strong community spirit, and superb public places for my family to enjoy. It’s just that all the material blessings that surround us can leave our family feeling deprived. Which is insane. Completely, totally and certifiably insane. In order to battle this insanity, I’ve been really working over the last year with my children giving and teaching them to recognize and appreciate the blessings in their lives.

When my husband and I joined our church eight years ago, we started down the path of giving. It wasn’t much at first and many months I’m not sure how we kept our commitment. However, it has been a true journey of faith and while we’re not where I wish were, we’ve been able through God’s grace to increase and keep our commitment each year. When we started on the path of giving, tithing 10 percent of our income was our goal. However, as we learned more about giving, the tithe became less and less the goal. What we’ve been working on in the last year is how to stabilize our lifestyle so that as our resources increase, we expand our giving not our lifestyle.

In light of this, it’s not unusual to hear me discussing this idea with my children especially when they complain that they need something they don’t have. Last Saturday morning my daughter was in the back seat of my minivan complaining that her life was unfair because her brother “always” got to choose the song on the radio. At this, I broke off into what turned out to be a lecture rather than the teaching moment I was hoping for:

“Sweetheart, we just spent more money at breakfast than some people in the world make in a month. Our car not only has a radio, but a CD player, cassette player, air conditioner, heater, automatic doors, leather seats, DVD player, and seat heaters. You are driving around in a CAR that is nicer than a lot of people’s homes.” I was about to add that we were truly blessed to have this car and the home we lived in so there was no way possible that her life could be defined as unfair, when my son joins the conversation.

Him: “Well Mom, our seats don’t have heaters ... just yours.”

At this moment the switch flips in my head and I go from “patient teaching mommy” to “irritated, I won’t raise ungrateful brats mommy.”

Me: “That is SO beside the point. I know you both understand what I am talking about and if I hear any more complaining about what song is on the radio, we’ll just turn it off.”

For the rest of the day, I thought about ways I could have handled that conversation differently. I also felt very discouraged about the fact that my children just weren’t getting it.

Fast forward five days, and not only do I feel differently about my children getting it, but I realize that I’m the one that might need to some work in this area. My children’s school is currently running a three week program entitled “Pennies for Patients. ” The kids are supposed to bring loose change each day to be donated to a charity that helps sick children. So for the last week and half I’ve rounded up all the loose change in my house to give to my children to take to school. This morning my daughter reminds me just as we’re walking out the door. I hand her my wallet and tell her that once we’re in the car she can take all the change out and put it in her bag.

Her (opening my wallet): “Mom, there are five one dollar bills in here, can I have those too?”

Me: “Sure, that’s fine just take what’s in there.”

This is a small thing ... grand total maybe $5.75. However, what ensued next was amazing. My daughter is the saver in the family. She will save her allowance money, pennies she finds in parking lots, change she bums off her grandparents, and money sent to her in birthday, Easter, and Halloween cards. Because of this, she has somewhere between $50 and a $100 in her purse at all times. If she takes money out to spend, she won’t spend any more until she has replenished her stash. This morning, her purse happened to already be in the car and this is what happened:

Her: “Mom, can you hand me my purse?”

Me: “Sure. Are you going to give some of your pennies?”

Her: “Yes! The sick kids need help.”

To my utter amazement, I watch in the rear view mirror as my daughter empties the total contents of her purse, probably $75, into her donation bag. Without regard to the amount, she was apparently following my example of giving everything I had in my wallet. And while I was speechless, my mind was telling me I needed to not let her do that. Why? Why after all I’ve been trying to teach my kids would I feel like I needed to squelch her giving? I asked if she was sure that she wanted to give all her money and she said she was sure. As I contemplated my next move, my son joins in:

Him (reading my mind): “You know you’re not going to get that back and now you won’t have any money just like me.”

Her: “I know that ... but the sick kids need my money more than I do.”

Me (preaching to myself rather than them for once): “You know what the Bible says about giving ... ”

Him (cutting me off): “Yes, we know. Givers are blessed and all that will come back to her somehow at some point.”

Her: “I’m going to be REALLY blessed. I mean, I already am … Just look how much I can give!”

Me: “You truly have the heart of a giver. I’m very proud to be your mommy. I love you.”

Her: “I love you too.”

As my kids exited the car this morning, I thanked God for all they were teaching me and I prayed that I would be a good steward not just of my material blessings, but of my biggest blessings of all, my children.

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