How a year of giving changed my eyes.
In the year of our Lord 2017, I resolved to give 20% of my income. At the time I was making about $54k dollars per year, living modestly and still earning more than enough. I’m an independent single adult female who lives with roommates so there aren’t many pricy responsibilities in my life. Why I chose to do this? Well, I figured adjusting my lifestyle to accommodate for giving right off the life transition I made at the end of 2016 would be beneficial. I was new on my job and planning to settle in the DMV area.
Before the year started I went to my budget and estimated how much my current giving would get me to the goal. I was guaranteed 10% for sure.
If me giving 10% of my income is a shock to you then you probably don’t know me. I’ve consistently gave 10% of my income since I received allowance as a kid. It was one of the few financial lessons that was taught to me. My increase is due to God’s provision, so I always return, in thankfulness, a portion of my increase. I was taught 10% and I haven’t waivered much in my lifetime. I’m not theological here, I was just taught 10% so I give 10%, I’ve never had to question it for my benefit.
The Planned Giving
In addition to my guaranteed 10%, I had already been giving to some missionaries for several years. So this bumped me up to a whopping 13%. I determined that I would boost their monthly giving amounts (to match 15%) in order for it to be less work to reach my goal for the year. In retrospect this is painful to see that such a small percentage of my income goes to planned giving, but more on that later.
The Spontaneous Giving
With 15% being out of the way, I figured it would be pretty easy to spontaneously give the last 5%. I immediately thought about birthdays and put my family in the budget to intentionally give [larger] gifts over the year. I also thought about friends, and though most did not have a hard line in the budget I made sure to go and give at every birthday party I was invited to over the course of the year. This had a strong showing at the beginning of the year and I was pretty worn out from birthday parties. When April hit I realized I was still only floating at around 17%, I had to make adjustments.
This is around the time I decided I would take my spontaneous giving to the streets. This is also the time where God started showing His humor in my desire to give. Since a lot of my time was spent in Chinatown at that time (most locals know it is the hot bed of begging activity in DC), I decided I wouldn’t turn down anyone who asked me to buy them food. So for the month of April I bought someone’s dinner three times a week. I literally started sprint walking, hiding, putting my earphones and J-walking on a consistent basis. And I was consistently cornered. ::God is laughing.::
Since I was so determined to give, I didn’t have to make many lifestyle adjustments. I’ve been a minimalist since 2012, so materialism was also not a challenge to overcome. The adjustments came when June hit and I was still around 17-18%. Would the spontaneous gifts cover the spread? Or would I just come up a couple thousand short?
I discovered there are several ways to give outside of presents! I buckled down on being intentional. I added another monthly missionary donation (I actually had several requests from missionaries, God is still laughing). I continued buying dinners, but my focus shifted to friends, outings, and experiences. Moral of the story is I bought A LOT of dinners in 2017.
Toward the end of the summer I was coasting a bit when I got a letter in the mail. It was my giving statement from Cru. This was such a wake up call. The statement actually included all of my giving EVER to Cru. I was a vet, 10 years in the game (SN: I’m forever playing this game). This actually surprised me because the statement showed how consistent my giving was, even through several years of unemployment. It convicted me because I had not even been that consistent to myself. My ambitious heart didn’t have a balance, and I mean that literally, I had no significant savings. I had to re-evaluate things.
All those dinners I bought were bothering me too. Once I was walking to the train at Union Station when a teenage boy asked me to buy him some food. “What do you want,” I asked. “McDonalds,” he replied. God laughed. I walked with him to McDonalds and we stood in line. When it was time to order I told him to order whatever he wanted. Someone had called me on my phone so I went to answer. He motioned to me that they were ready to pay and I slid my debit card. The cashier handed me my receipt, and the boy replied, “thank you very much ma’am.” The total was $4.97. It broke my heart as I walked away.
My concern shifted to a quote that was following me around at the time. People need a hand up and not a handout. All of my giving outside of the street dinners, were to people just like me. People who were educated (and most likely college educated), people who had the ability to go get a job wherever they pleased. I saw for the first time that my privileged eyes only gave handouts. I was strapped, all my money had already been budgeted. I had to re-evaluate things.
You can decipher the lessons you want from this essay. I’m not forcing you to learn anything, I’m simply sharing what happened when I decided to give 20% of my gross income. Perspective was the first lesson I encountered, that coupled with intentionality. I planned to give and then sought to give over what I had initially planned. My eyes picked up on needs and opportunities. Those routine opportunities were never questioned. The budget always had room for more giving because I sought to give before I sought to buy.
The next lesson was joy. There wasn’t many times where giving left me disappointed. The next lesson reality. Giving started to be transactional. That may seem like a buzzkill to its glorification in this essay, but it’s not. The transactional nature of giving is the reality. You can actually quantify your giving. You don’t just have to be a generous person. You can be a 20% person. There’s nothing wrong with that.
“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Most don’t question if this saying is true or not, but I would just like to reiterate this is true. It feels like this is the part that everyone might be looking forward to reading. You might be wondering, Is is true? How were you blessed? Well let’s just say God laughed at this part too. 2017 had an unusual aura of blessings in it, quite literally the more I gave the more blessings I saw. As the year went on they got more and more ridiculous and by the end of year they were so sentimental I will cherish them for years to come. I could exhaust you detailing every blessing, but I’ll just share one of my favorites.
Every year, for the last four, my bff Lindsey and I take a WNBA vacation to watch games. In 2017 we had planned to go Seattle. Seeing as how I’m not a baller, I was keenly aware that I would have to be proactive in saving enough money to make the trip happen. One Sunday as I was serving at church I met a couple visiting from Seattle. As I was speaking to the husband I mentioned that I would also be traveling to Seattle in the summer for vacation. He immediately responded, “You should stay with us,” to which I had no response. Then he went to grab his wife who had stepped to the side, “Honey she’s coming to Seattle this summer,” he said, to which she replied (on God), “You should stay with us!”. We exchanged information and Lindsey and I spent an entire week in Seattle, eating our lives away, driving their car to the rainforest, and attending the WNBA All-Star Game (fo’ free, on row 1, behind Lenny Wilkens and Bill Russell).
Though this was not short of amazing, blessings actually reigned down even more by end of the year. I even got a raise on the job. To be honest, I thought I used all my blessings in 2016. I was set, sure that if God never did anything else for me after 2016 he had done enough. God laughed. Reciprocity is acting on the good in this world. I am convinced it is the good in this world that encourages people to do more good. The Pool family didn’t invite Lindsey and I to Seattle just because they are nice, they’ve practiced hospitality in their home for years, we were merely in the rotation between some missionaries visiting from Thailand.
The Next Year
What do I do now? This year has been interesting. While I never intended to stop giving at any point, I was also not going to chain myself to 20%. Yes, even after all that abundance I just relayed in that last section. I didn’t count all the meals, nor did I embrace the street giving as much this year.
This year I learned what giving can actually be. My time will always be more valuable than money. So I’m investing in people, educating others, giving to more organizations who are doing the same. I’m very much still learning what and where God wants me to give, but I will always know why. If I see a need I can meet I don’t hesitate, because Nathalie is not going to save the world, but I can help who is in my path. I can team up with people who specialize at lifting the underserved and oppressed out of their situations. And yes my home will always be open, the Gospel comes with a house key.
What did I do? Looking at my reconciled budget, 19.18% of my gross income. What is important to understand is that my 19.18% is likely equivalent to about 7% to most of my peers. It’s not about the dollar amount. It’s about opening your eyes [your perspective] to what you desire to see in this world.