Monday, November 18, 2013

All That Dough

"So, how much of that money should you give to the Lord?"

I was never exactly happy to hear those words from my father, but he never failed to ask them every time any precious green paper found it's way into my hands.

"Uh... ten dollars?"

"Right. That's a tithe, but would you like to give an offering? An offering is above and beyond what you are required to give."

"Is five dollars okay?"

He never pushed it. "That's just fine."

When the big gold plate passed by me on the next Sunday, I watched my fifteen dollars go with it. At least I got to keep the other eighty-five.

I would watch Dad slip his check into the plate every other week. Daddy made a good bit of money and I always got a lot of presents for Christmas and my birthday, along with a hearty allowance for chores, so I never really paid much attention to what my parents gave to God's house.

Years later, when my Dad left the business world and became an Associate Pastor at Mt. Pleasant, I knew that things had changed. Around that same time, we adopted my sister Clara. We began to clean showrooms to cover the extra costs. I sometimes complained because of the time and work it took, but Mom showed me how to clean toilets, wash windows and dust with perfection. I swept and mopped miles worth of glossy wood floors.

Daddy always put that check in the plate. Always. Sometimes I wondered. Why do other girls get really nice, popular clothes? Why do those kids get razor phones and even Blackberry phones (those were actually popular in the day)? They didn't have to work for them. On the flip side, I knew that some kids worked even harder than me. Some children didn't even have food to eat or new clothes even from the cheapest stores, but I didn't think about them... I thought about the rich children and all that they had.

Time has passed and some of those "rich children" grew up with a very selfish and spoiled mentality. They were always on the cutting edge, but their families happiness was a facade. Suddenly, I realized that I had more than they ever had. Those days that my family cleaned those showrooms were some of the most treasured days of my childhood. I can still smell the aroma of fresh pizza from the Italian restaurant floating through the cold mountain air as we lugged the brooms from the trunk. I can still hear Kandace singing as she went around getting up the trash. I can see Daddy through the front window in his toboggan, his nose red, as he wipes the water off the glass. I remember all of those talks as we rode up the mountains to work... those talks that I wouldn't trade for a million dollars.

Mom and Daddy gave and gave. I once asked them how much money they would have had if they had never given all that they gave. Dad said, "Why ask? The Lord has blessed us because we gave. It was His anyways." But I still managed to figure out that we could have bought a beach house, maybe had a boat, had really nice cars and purchased clothes at very expensive stores. We COULD have.

You know what? Many "Christians" chose the life that my parents avoided. They call themselves "followers of Jesus," but I sure don't see them carrying a cross. I speak to myself as well. It saddens me to watch young girls post and flaunt pictures of expensive brand clothe bags on social media. It saddens me to watch retired people hold up all their money with tight fists and nearly obsessively save for their own pleasures. Why? Where is your cross? Where is my cross?

I don't care if I own a Michael Kors purse, Neiman Marcus boots or Lucky Brand sweaters. I don't care if I live in the nicest neighborhood. I am so uncaring about it all. Why? Because it's ridiculous. The brands aren't bad in themselves, but it seems so wrong to me to spend money so freely on such small things when all of that cash could help grow the Kingdom of God! Why aren't our desires God's desires? Does it makes us feel better to stare at our nice cars and cute clothes? That happiness always wears off.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. 1 Timothy 6:10 (ESV)

Yes, I want to look nice. I want to be stylish. But I don't believe that I need manicured nails and overpriced glitz. I want peace. I want joy. I want to know that my money goes to something that matters.

This Christmas season, I implore you, give your children and grandchildren something worth so much more than junk. Give them love. The gifts I received all those years ago have long since gone to Goodwill, but the love I received never left my heart.

My parents taught me a great lesson each time that offering plate passed: It's all God's anyways. It's a lie to believe that nothing can ever happen to our solid financial foundations. They surely can and will eventually crumble. Mom and Dad gave when they didn't have it and they were blessed.

I want to be a cheerful giver. I want to receive the blessing of giving. When you and I finally start giving to the One who already owns it all, we will see how futile and foolish it was to cling to the trappings of this world. We will be able to live like God's children were always intended to live... carrying our crosses and yet, walking with ease because "His yoke is easy and His burden is light."

Stop wasting life worrying about all of that dough.

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it." Malachi 3:10 (NIV)

Friday, November 1, 2013

Two Years Ago

Two years ago today I woke up and burst into a panicked sob. Sleep had temporarily relieved me of my burdens, but with the first ray of daylight meeting my eyes... my sorrow pierced my heart. My mind flickered with thoughts of the previous night.

It had been Josh's last day home. The ten short days of his leave after boot camp were over. The last hours had been spent sitting around our friends, Jason and Katie Church's, bonfire. Our Bible Study had ended and we had finished off the rest of Halloween night, eating smores and laughing by the firelight.

The past ten days had taught me more than I ever imagined that I would learn. Each day with Josh continued to lead my heart in a deeper friendship. Boot camp had changed Josh. He was more solid and godly than I had ever seen him. His enthusiastic zeal for the future made my heart leap. I chastised myself for imagining us anything more than friends. I had had a crush on him five years before. That "crush" had nearly broken my heart with his leaving for seminary and the pain of him forgetting me. It was a mistake I would always regret. Yet, it sometimes felt like it was happening all over again; except now I was older and he was much wiser. One thing stayed true... he was leaving again.

My face flushed with the hot heat of the fire as Josh said nonchalantly, "I probably won't be back for about a year." For a moment, my mind went nuts and with all my heart, I wanted to disappear. I wanted everything to fade away and to never think about Josh again.

Then it was over. Everyone left and Josh needed a ride home. He was living just two minutes down the road with his dad. When I let him out, it was an awkward moment. I felt my insides ripping out. He couldn't leave for a year. Or was this it forever? There was a quick, "stay in touch" and a pat on the shoulder and he was gone.

I don't remember getting home. Mom and Dad asked how things went. I forced a smile and said that it all went well. I went to bed shortly later. As I lied on my bed staring at the ceiling, I prayed.

Why do I feel this way if he is leaving? Why am I so young? Have I let my heart get tangled against all of my intentions? 10 days. That was all it took. Lord, please help him. I love him. It is different now. I love him so much that I would be willing to let him go if it is Your will. Oh, what is Your will?

For the first time in my life, I had to tell Mama and Dad about my feelings toward Josh. Too many teenage girls had held onto their emotions and feelings, letting them eat them raw while their parents were perfectly capable of being a fountain of encouragement and wisdom. I was a blubbering fool as I cried on Daddy's chest.

"Oh Daddy! I am going to miss him so much!"

He looked at Mom with a concerned face as he spoke to me. "Honey, Josh is gone. Pray that God will help you move on."

He encouraged me to focus on what I had decided years before. I would not give my heart away, especially to someone who had no desire for it.

Yet, as I laid awake that November 1st morning, a soft whisper drummed a message into my mind. Josh is only gone for a while. My feelings weren't in vain. Tears rolled down my face as I prayed with all of my soul.

Bring him back to me or take away this longing. 

Looking back, I see that if I hadn't been willing to give Josh up... I would have hurt myself deeply. God gives when He knows that you have nowhere to turn but to Him. November 1st 2011 was a grim day of fear and worries, but a year later I was preparing to get married to the very man God had ordained for me to love. The words "I love him" may have first hit my thoughts that Halloween night, but God had ordained that love before the earth was set on it's axis.

The secret to love: if it's true love, you are willing to give up everything for it, even if it means seeing it leave you. If it's of God, it will come back. True love is putting God above all that you desire and saying, "it's yours." We love because He first loved us.... it's encouraging to remember that He has true love mastered.