Thankful Giving and Change

by on November 22, 2010

Grabbing nibbles all morning of the food being prepared for our Thanksgiving lunch is one of my favorite parts of the day. I wink and sneak them to my children as they pass by. They get the message, “Don’t let Mom see you with the contraband, but enjoy it.” I’m thankful that I can provide for my family like this. I’m thankful we are not forced to live like the majority of the world lives. I’m thankful I don’t have to wonder whether I can feed my kids next week, or tomorrow, or tonight.

It is difficult for me to truly be thankful when I give because I have always had so much abundance. I have always had plenty and never needed more. Yes, we’ve wanted more, but never needed it. Witnessing how most of the people on this planet live opens up our eyes to what needing more really is.

Its a hard line to find, using money to educate yourself about how the rest of the world lives or using that same money to make a difference in how they live. Maybe its a cart and horse issue.

Last year we sent our eleven year old son to Ecuador on a medical mission trip. It changed forever how he sees the world. We could have used that $2,000 to feed a lot of people right here at home. Instead we felt investing it in his life would reap a longer return in how his life would change the world. He wanted to go to Ecuador again this coming year. My wife and I decided that he could go as long as he found ways to pay his way. He had learned 80% of what we wanted him to learn on the first trip. Going a second time would be great, but might not be the best choice. He agreed. Not only was creating the ways to generate the $2,000 going to be hard, but investing the time of generating those funds and go on the trip wasn’t going to be easy for a 13 year old either.

Hurt can come in the form of time, money, or emotion. Giving thanks when you have personally experienced the hurt, witnessed the hurt of others, or know the hurt is yet to come can be a much more thankful giving. My wife is leading her nurses to Ecuador again in 2011 and this time it is my turn to experience the thankfulness of those who are hurting.

Flying to the other side of the world, or driving to the other side of town, it is getting uncomfortable with how I live and how others live that changes me. We don’t have to go to Ecuador to experience the things that change us.

I took a challenge a few years ago and it has affected not just me, but my children because of how I pass on my view of the world to them. I’m passing this same challenge on to you. Want to be more thankful? Want to view the world differently? In the words of Roy H. Williams:

It’s 5:00AM and I’m sitting at the bar of an all-night cafe on the wrong side of town eating a three-dollar breakfast, listening to the smelly, funny stories of downtrodden people who know each other well. Their sparkling banter gives me a glimpse into problems I’ll never touch, victories I’ll never celebrate, a life I’ll never have. These are they who will never have internet access, a credit card or cable TV.

But they seem happy.

I’ve come here to learn what it means to be an outsider in America.

People tell me they want to write. I respond, “You can’t find a pencil?” In truth, few want to write. Most want only to have written. People tell me they want to travel, have adventures, meet interesting people and learn about different cultures. They want to expand their world. I’m betting you can guess my answer to that one… “If you will expand your world, you must crawl on your hands and knees, get on your belly and squirm under the fence that surrounds your insulated life.”

For most people, travel means being pampered by accommodating servants in exotic places. But interesting people, strange cultures and high adventure don’t await you on the other side of the world. They await you on the other side of town. Are you willing to get on your belly and crawl under that fence? Will you invest an hour to enlarge your world? If you will actually do it, not just think about it, but really do it, and write to me about it, I will send you a special gift of initiation. These are the rules:

1. You must arrive and be seated in a 24-hour eating establishment between 1:30AM and 5:30AM in a part of town where you rarely go. Or perhaps a truckstop beyond town’s edge. The further outside your comfort zone, the better.

2. If a man, you must go alone. If a woman and concerned for your safety, you can take one other person with you. But make sure your friend understands the goal isn’t to chat with each other, but to glimpse a whole other world that exists side-by-side with the one you know.

3. While you’re eating and listening and absorbing this strange new reality, think of what these people need most and how you might help them get it. While you’re at it, you might also think a little about what they have that you don’t. There is a rich sense of community among the outcast.

Don’t tell yourself you can’t do this, or that you are already there. Reading this post disqualifies you as being a part of the demographic we’re speaking of.

For those of you willing to sacrifice a little sleep, and be grateful for it the next night, I’d love to hear your stories. Post them in the comments. God can use the experience to change us and bring more gratefulness.

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