When I was running my financial advisory firm we always gave a Christmas gift to our clients. In 2002 I gave them Kingdom Assignment, a book written by pastor Denny Bellesi and his wife Leesa to motivate their church members to experience the joy of giving. The following Christmas I decided to try my own version of their exciting strategy.
At first it seemed like an expensive decision for our firm, but we went ahead and sent every client a $100 check. Along with the check were instructions to give the money to someone in need, and then to send a letter telling us the story. The money could not be given to a relative or an organization but to individuals they had never given to before.
We had clients in over 40 states about half of whom were believers. Most were from typical upper middle class families. That decision started them – and us – on an incredible journey of joyful giving, and resulted in a notebook of their stories that we put in our waiting room to inspire others. Here are a few of those stories, with names and details modified to protect their privacy.
“I don’t know any poor people.”
Bob was a wealthy single man who lived alone and didn’t have any church affiliation. When I saw that he hadn’t cashed his check after 10 days, I called him. He said he was really busy and “didn’t know any poor people.” I suggested that he cash the check, go into the city and give out $5 or $10 to the homeless. At least it would be something.
After our conversation, he decided to go to a small neighborhood grocery store in southwest Chicago. He got a cart and acted like he was shopping, but he stayed close to the checkout counter. He noticed that several women checking out had to take things out of their cart because they didn’t have enough money. When there was a lull at the register, he handed the checkout lady $100 in small bills and instructed her to use some of the funds for those people who couldn’t afford everything in their cart. She agreed to tell the customers it wasn’t from the store, but from a person who wanted to give them a Christmas gift. And she knew most of the local shoppers, so she knew who really needed the money.
Going back to his cart, Bob stayed close enough to observe what happened. He was so moved by the responses from shoppers that he got another $200 and watched for a couple more hours. He later told me he realized how little joy he would have received from spending that money himself, compared to the joy it brought to the recipients and to him as he watched.
On a Mission From God
Cindy, one of our long-term clients, was in a Monday night Bible study. One December evening as the group shared prayer requests, Heather, a single mom, started expressing how badly she felt because she couldn’t afford Christmas gifts for her children. Cindy knew this was her moment: “Excuse me, but I am on an assignment from God!”
As Cindy explained her assignment and handed Heather the money, Heather began to cry. The entire group was moved by the gift. The evening seemed to have a very special meaning for all of them. Cindy said later that if it had been her own money, it would have been awkward for both of them. But the assignment made it easier for her to give and for Heather to receive.
Luis was a successful small business owner who routinely gave a small gift to each employee at Christmas. This year there was one employee who really needed money, but Luis could not think how to treat him differently than the others. When he received my check with instructions to give it away, it solved his problem. The interaction between Luis and the recipient was very meaningful.
Even more meaningful to Luis, however, was duplicating the assignment with his large family, who always gathered at his home for Christmas. This year, when they drew names for the family gift exchange, Luis told them to give their recipient a $50 cash gift with the same instructions: give it away and then write down the experience. At the Christmas gathering, family members read their experiences to each other. It was a very special gathering for the whole family. Even the young grandchildren, who still received their Christmas gifts, were impacted by the excitement of their parents and the stories of giving. Luis said his family was considering making this experience a Christmas tradition.
A Christmas Turkey
Loretta was a widow who had a big heart but lived on a tight budget. She knew exactly what she was going to do with her $100. With two of her grandchildren, she fixed a big Christmas meal, turkey and all, using her favorite recipes. Then the three of them delivered the still-hot, home-cooked meal to a single mom and her kids. Loretta’s heart warmed to watch her grandchildren excitedly carry the food into the kitchen. The family who received the meal was touched, but Loretta believes the impact on her own family was equally powerful, and she knows they will never forget that experience.
Pastor Gives it Away
Sonia was the first woman pastor her church had ever had. She was just beginning her pastorate and decided to invite a different family over for Sunday brunch each week. When she received her $100, she gave her gift anonymously to a family she knew was in need. She wanted to find out how the money had impacted them, but she couldn’t ask directly. So she invited them over for Sunday brunch. During the meal Sonia was thrilled to hear them tell the story of how God had met their need, and they never discovered she had been the means God used to do it.
Julia had gotten involved in a children’s ministry in Africa. She had been trying to get her 75-year-old friend and neighbor, Ann, to go with her to Africa. Sally wanted Ann to experience first hand what a few thousand dollars could do for the children.
The week before their trip, Ann was stressed out by all she had to do to prepare, including housecleaning. She never even considered the idea of hiring a cleaning lady. It was out of the question to pay someone else for a job she was fully capable of doing herself. Julia told Ann she had a deadline to give away the $100 before the trip and practically begged her to take it to get her house cleaned. It was the only way Ann would have accepted the money. The gift helped Ann prepare more peacefully for the trip and inspired her to make a sizable donation to the ministry in Africa.
Betty, The Walmart Greeter
Tom and his wife Marianne retired to a town in the south as Tom’s health began to fail. Every Saturday morning, Marianne would take Tom with her to Walmart, pushing his wheelchair through the aisles as she shopped. And every Saturday, Walmart employee Betty would greet Tom and Marianne at the entrance to the store. She was always pleasant, and her welcoming smile lifted Tom’s spirits.
After many visits, Tom realized it would be easier for Marianne to do her shopping without pushing him around the store. So rather than staying at home, he suggested that she leave him by the front door to visit with Betty. Over time, Tom found out about a hardship Betty was going through, and when his $100 came in the mail, he knew exactly what to do with it.
Tom and Marianne both felt their excitement build as they looked forward to Saturday and the surprise for Betty. When they told Betty that they had to give $100 away and presented the cash to her, she could hardly believe it. Her tears of gratitude became their own best Christmas gift. They certainly never expected to have such a meaningful relationship with their Walmart greeter!
One December my wife and I decided to give friends a date night and take their two oldest children on a giving adventure into Chicago. After some fun at Navy Pier, we began walking down Michigan Avenue. As we walked, we saw homeless people huddled in doorways and alleys, trying to keep warm. We gave each of the kids ten $5 gift cards to McDonald’s. Then with our encouragement they would approach a homeless person, give them a card, and tell them God loved them.
There were many wonderful experiences that night: people’s warm smiles of surprise and gratitude, the kids eagerly searching for the next person, the exciting stories they shared with their parents and friends. We encouraged them to carry more cards around and keep looking for people right in the suburbs who needed a gift and God’s love.
Over the years Margaret and I have truly experienced that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” God has blessed all of us in various ways, and we all have something to give. Whether it is money, a kind word of encouragement, or expressing appreciation to a friend, our heavenly Father gives back to us more than we could ever give to others!