(Photo taken by Joel Muoz)

Written by Amanda


Can You Ever Have Nothing to Give?

I have this tender memory, almost nine years aged in my mind. I’m standing amongst racks of baby girl clothes, engulfed in pink tulle and flower prints. I gently finger the soft cotton fabric as though the clothes themselves are as fragile as the tiny babies they will adorn. A seven-day-old newborn sleeps contently in her car seat next to me. I have one ten dollar bill tucked into my pocket. It’s all I have.

When I was five months pregnant, my husband’s business ran dry overnight. He couldn’t find work and due to a tax fiasco (long story) we owed thousands in back taxes and couldn’t collect unemployment. We had to move in with my parents. We couldn’t afford a crib or a stroller. All we had to give our baby was everything everyone so generously gave us. Since we hadn’t found out the gender of our baby till she was born, as the baby’s first real outing we loaded her up to the baby super store because my mom wanted to make sure her granddaughter had her fair share of pink and ruffled bottoms. I grabbed the only money I had, determined that while it might not get me a head-to-toe outfit, my daughter would have at least one thing that came from me.

It’s silly now how that memory can still evoke tears. That strange mix of knowing just how little money we had and how much our friends and family gave us—a place to stay, a crib, tiny baby clothes, little baby things—and how much I needed that one ten dollar bill to do—not only did it need to buy an outfit, but I needed it to bundle up and deliver all my love and my promise to care for my daughter. I wanted her to know I would always give her everything.

I think this one memory can sum up a whole lot about generosity. Others were generous and gave liberally to the young couple in the middle of their first real trial by 2008-recession-fire. It wasn’t just our needs either, I can remember someone putting a few hundred into an envelope, handing it to Mike, and instructing him to take his wife out of town. We got to see the beauty of church in action for us. And while it was humbling, it wasn’t a tight-wadded trickle. It was over-the-top generous.

My husband was generous in his lack. For four years, Mike bounced around from job to job—11 to be exact—taking whatever he could get, however temporary it might have been. He worked with migrant farm workers through the grape harvest, he poured concrete in July, he went door-to-door for the census, he took down wasp nests and dealt with other pest problems, he failed out of academy three weeks shy of graduation and had the courageous audacity to try again because he wanted to provide for us. I loved my husband when I married him, but watching the great unfolding of his character through our lack—madly in love. He reached in and scraped the very bottom of himself and gave everything he had.

In the looking back, there isn’t a single part of me that wishes I could go back and relive that time with more money or in a house of our own. God gave us good gifts—sustaining gifts—that all the magazine-picture nurseries could never make up for.

I think in this post-prosperity doctrine church age we can get the generosity of God all wrong. We throw around the word “blessing” like candy at a parade. We label the accumulation of things as blessings as though attaching the word blessing relegates our bragging to something more humble and spiritual. Sometimes it sounds like it’s been thrown in as an afterthought: Oh yeah, I should probably give God some credit for this. If you buy a new house…#blessed. If you go on an amazing vacation…#blessed. If you have a loving marriage with a wonderful spouse… #blessed. If you have a brood of healthy, fine-behaving kids…#blessed.

By our own use of the word blessed, we seem to define it as a measure of our successes, our possessions, our health, and our family size. If we follow our logic of blessing out, it’s as though we are saying blessed are they who have things because God has clearly shown them favor.

Our idea of blessing looks a lot more like entitlement. I do everything right. God gives me everything I want.

This view is in direct opposition to Jesus’ own use of the word blessed. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the gentle.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the pure in heart. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are the persecuted. Blessed are those who are insulted and persecuted and have all manner of evil said against them for My sake.
Matthew 5:1-11

Blessed are the broken, blessed are the lacking, blessed are those who have to fully rely on Me.

Dependence on God seems to be the exact thing we run from. It’s that same feeling I had standing amongst the baby clothes. We want independence and self-sufficiency. We want to give, but we want to give out of our abundance. Here’s what we need to know about the generosity of God: He doesn’t value what we value. He doesn’t see how we see. And He gives us everything.

God gives us His own self—and literally until it hurts. It’s like that moment when the crowds were surrounding Jesus wanting Him to miraculously make more food appear and Jesus tells them to eat His flesh and drink His blood (John 6:25-58). While we might groan in our temporary struggles: Oh God, give me everything I need so that I will need nothing. God says: I have. I have given you my own Son. And He never leaves us greedy and whiney and unchanged. He lovingly leads us. We get stuck wanting everything and miss that Jesus is everything.

And the thing about that kind of generosity: it leads us to do the same. To reach in and pull out everything. To not give out of our abundance, but to give out of our lack. To reach in until we find that final ten dollar bill, because the first ten dollar bill doesn’t hurt, but the last ten dollar bill is passing on kind of love we’ve received and a testament to our faith in the never ending supply of God.

And here’s the thing: when we give in our lack, we don’t just give stuff. We give away the love and generosity of God Himself who gave us everything.

“If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
And the LORD will guide you continually
and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail.”
Isaiah 58:9-11

Untitled design (2)Amanda is a law enforcement wife and a homeschooling mom to three. Her family has called Reality Church of Stockton home for three years. When Amanda’s not pulling her toddler off the bookshelf or explaining to picky eaters why vegetables need to be eaten, she enjoys iced lattes, bird watching, and deep conversations. She lives clinging to the hope she has in Christ that in spite of all her short-comings, she shall be called an overcomer yet. You can also find her writing her broken stories on her blog at Amanda Conquers.