Is it better to give?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately, in between packing boxes and sweeping Godzilla-sized dust bunnies that have quietly come into existence over four years of behind-the-furniture neglect. This current upheaval in our lives has caused me to look back over the last several years and ask myself how we ever got here.  It has also made me ask myself what I would like to see in our future, if we are ever so blessed as to achieve our goal in finishing the house.

But mostly I have been pondering where we are at in this very moment- this tenuous, day to day, moment to moment craziness that our lives have suddenly become. I have had many people approach me with questions, trying to figure out just why we are doing what we are doing.  I have had people worrying, doubting, unsure of the wisdom of our decision. (which is totally understandable.  I am doing the same thing every day) For the most part, people have been understanding, but I have had the occasional person pitying poor me and my children for having a husband and father who is putting his family in this difficult position, declaring that if it were them, they would not stand for it.  This has been frustrating for me, since I do not like to be pitied, but I understand it is all part of putting our lives on display to some degree, as we have. I know our situation is confusing. And so I would like to try and clarify these things for people, and give some kind of outline to the jumble of emotions and myriad of extenuating circumstances that are defining our lives just now.

First of all, let me just say that this whole scheme is something I have been pushing hard for, not something my husband has been forcing me into.  It has been a decision made after much prayer and consultation with others.  And boy-o-li, as soon as we decided to take this crazy step and the prospect of getting out of our current house became a real one, the over-crowded feeling of seven people in two small bedrooms (and one bath)- the need to leave this less than friendly neighborhood- the urgent desire to finish a long awaited project- all of it intensified dramatically.  I suddenly felt that we had to get out or bust.

Sunday afternoon was particularly trying in this respect- Steve was out of town, we had come home from church slightly exhausted to a rainy, quiet afternoon.  I really wanted a nap, and so despite the rain, I told the boys I would like them to go play outside.

I had just dozed off when I was suddenly awakened by the unmistakable sounds of gunfire.  One, two, three, four, five, six shots in rapid succession, followed by a dramatic squealing of tires and shouts from down the street.  I remained on the couch, frozen for a second, realizing that I had just sent all of my children out into a war zone.  But before I could panic fully, they were all scurrying back inside, eyes wide, gasping about bad guys and guns and ‘what was happening?’  I herded them all to the kitchen, and then, peering cautiously out the curtains, tried to see what was going on.  But after the initial uproar, things quieted down, and it appeared that no one was hurt.  My heart stopped racing and I could breath again.

My sister and brother in law came by to keep me company for the rest of the afternoon.  As we tried to chat, the boys were noisily wrestling all over the living room, and several times I found myself trying to send them back outside.  But then I kept remembering that outside was not safe.  We made it through the evening, but the following morning, I was up with the sun, packing like there was no tomorrow.  This is only one of the compelling reasons for my preferring life in a trailer.

Of course there are days when the uncertain prospect of the future months has caused self-pity to creep into my heart, but it is far from my biggest struggle.  When I think about it, I am no stranger to roughing it.  It comes with the territory, being married to a contractor who is always moving on to the next renovation project.  But even if I had married a man with a normal 9-5 job, a man who followed the expectations of a society that considers having 2-3 children and a nice (finished) 4-bedroom house in the suburbs as ‘normal’, I’m not sure I would be content with such a life.  I love the challenge of a new project just as much as my husband.  I’m not afraid of getting my hands dirty.  In fact, the busyness of renovation and the intense labor it requires satisfies something deep inside me.  I love going to bed at night, exhausted from a day of intense physical labor- feeling like I have accomplished something big.

I went out to coffee with some girlfriends several weeks back, and as we were talking about the house, one of them said-

“Nicky, if we had lived in the pioneer days, you would be the one up in the covered wagon with your bonnet on, heading west and we would be the ones staying put, waving goodbye and saying “Have a nice life.  We’ll miss you.”

I laughed heartily at this depiction of myself, and in a way, felt liberated that someone had recognized this fact about me and was willing to joke about it.  Because there are times when I feel ashamed of the fact that one of my favorite things to wear is a pair of sturdy shoes, a grubby t-shirt and a hankie over my hair.  I feel funny admitting that I like to come alongside my hubby and learn to swing a hammer or tackle an insanely large renovation project like the one before us.

Of course, I don’t want to live perpetually that way.  I am going to want to be settled in a proper home again, and probably sooner than is possible, given the amount of work we have to do.  But I don’t consider those things as the biggest obstacles to overcome.

What has been the hardest thing for me has been to finally get to the point of being forced to ask for help.  With that ‘pioneer spirit’ that I seem to possess comes a stubbornly independent streak- a determination that I will be beholden to no one.  For eight years we have held on, waiting for the time when we would have everything together, assuring everyone who asked that we would ‘figure it out somehow’.

And even now- even when I have put the word out that we are finally willing to accept help, I am humiliated and ashamed over the fact.  I avoid people’s eyes when they ask me about it. I find myself mumbling, making excuses, still trying to get out of further direct offers for help.   Deep down, I know this is all fear- fear of failure, fear of people donating their time and money and effort for a project that might ultimately fail.  It is an intense feeling of vulnerability- being this open.  The more people who are involved, the more responsibility I feel for making sure that we succeed- the more guilt I feel for having failed all these years.

In our struggle to come to this decision I have searched the Scriptures, hoping to learn how to be willing to graciously ask for help.  But when you read about helping in the Bible, it almost exclusively talks about being willing to help others, talks about being a cheerful giver- free with your time and money- not being stingy.  We have longed for years to be the kind of people that could be on the other side of the fence, helping other people out of tight spots, being the cheerful givers that God’s Word describes.

But being commanded to give to those in need presupposes that there will be those that are unable to give, at least of their money.  And I never wanted to be one of those kind of people- I can’t imagine anyone who would.

I was griping about this fact to one of my sisters once, and she gently reminded me that in my refusal to be willing to ask for help, I was denying other people the chance to fulfill that important function of the body of Christ.  I was willing to concede that she had a fair point.  But all that that left for me was an enormous piece of humble pie to swallow.  And humble pie is not tasty.

Since I posted our fundraiser link 5 days ago, we have received an average of 1,000 dollars a day.  How this makes me feel is difficult to describe- it isn’t exactly happiness- more of an uncertain gratitude that makes me second-guess everything about the worthiness of our goal and our right to ask for this generosity.

But slowly, tremulously, there is a new found joy underneath it all.  In our willingness to admit our need for help comes a death to self that is both painful and liberating.  It brings into view a larger picture than our own individual story, and characters are beginning to come into play from all over the world. It is a beautiful and wonderful thing.

So now I am simply praying for the grace required to play the humble role of receiver, trusting that if God allows it in the future, I will some day be able to be the most cheerful giver of all.  And I believe that begins with a simple Thank You.

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