On the way there, I sat with a man who serves on the board of the Human Rights Campaign. We had a really deep discussion about the role of gays and gay marriage in the world of adoption. No politics. No moral high ground. Just an intellectually stimulating conversation about what this looks like in our society and the issues that surround it.
On the way home, I sat next to a 72-year-old retired fourth grade teacher on her way to see her son and grandchildren. We talked about the role of learning in young people’s lives; the importance of having a family; and the ways that education can help the poor and orphaned.
What opened these discussions? Thank you notes.
I had decided to use my time on the plane to write thank you notes to many of my donors, telling them how important their role is in orphan care.
And once again, this fundraising thing surprised me with gifts of connection I never would have seen coming.
You see, I’m not a fundraiser. I don’t like asking for help. I like working hard, and putting my head down and pushing through. I like keeping my circles small when it comes to money.
That doesn’t work when it comes to this hosting adventure. It’s not something I can afford on my own. It is not something that I can just work harder to get.
Yet I have been called to do this. Compelled.
And it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Fundraising plays on all my fears. I don’t want to be seen as helpless. Needy. Whiny. Pushy.
In fact, I have a few friends who work for nonprofits and are required to raise support for their salaries, and in the past, I have pitied them. Those poor people, always worried about how to make ends meet, always being judged about how they spend their time and money, always looking ahead to the next season and wondering if there would be enough.
And here I am, on the other side of it. And I look at those same friends and I wonder how they do it with such grace. Such faith. Such subtlety. I have realized that they have been living a much richer life than I was, holding tight to my own fortitude and solitude.
I think that maybe God has a sense of humor.
I feel comparatively like an elephant, stumbling around, making a fool of myself. I fear that I am the Amway salesman, the person who is getting hidden on Facebook, and groaned about as I walk near. I fear that I am the complaining Israelite talking about how, sure, I had manna last time, but what about tooodaaayyy??
I think that these fears come out of a very real place. We can get caught up in the American dream of pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps so much that we forget what it is to live in a community willing to cheer you and offer you help, advice, and support. And I think that attitude is exacerbated by the Christian principle of giving in secret, which has somehow become ask-in-secret and don’t-talk-about-money-ever. Letting go of these ingrained presuppositions has been difficult for me. It’s something that I fight daily at times. I don’t want to be weak. I don’t want to be financially open to others.
Oddly enough, I have found that this attitude is rooted in selfishness. It’s me wanting to be self-sufficient and closed off to those around me. I want to do me and my life without the input of others, whether financially or emotionally.
All of that has changed for me in this last year. I have come to believe that this is the wrong way of living in the light of the Generous.
But it’s scary. I don’t always know what to say to people. I don’t always have the gracious words when my own heart is fighting this “weak” position I have been put in. And I keep asking myself why would I be called to this if I couldn’t do it on my own?
I think the answer is there in the question.
While I was in Chicago, I attended a workshop about fundraising, and the speaker shared different times in the Bible when fundraising was mandated and praised. Nehemiah asking the king for funds to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Moses requesting that the Israelites pool their resources to help one another. Paul commending the sacrificial giving of different churches. Even Jesus, asking the young boy to share his loaves and fishes with the crowd. What a ridiculous proposition.
“But,” the speaker said, “God always pays for what he orders.”
It’s so true. If it is ordered, there will be the funds for it. They may come from donations, or from an unexpected job opportunity, or even from a loan or second mortgage or grant. But they will come.
And the most wonderful thing about it is how I have seen a community grow around me. I wasn’t meant to do this alone. This is not just my journey. The longer I do this, the more I see a plan much bigger than just me helping one or two children.
And today I’d like to highlight some of the things I have seen on the financial side of community.
Every hosting, I have received a surprisingly large donation from an unexpected source—a family friend I haven’t seen in years, a student with a limited income, a college acquaintance I only keep up with on Facebook. Additionally, every hosting I have received a donation of several hundred dollars from a person I have never met. Every time it has been a different stranger. How does that happen??!!
I have gotten donations from people on fixed incomes, from college students, from families who saved up change in a jar for my hosting. One woman has done several fundraisers on her own for me—I had little to no involvement in them. Some of the most treasured and sacrificial donations I have received have been the smallest….and they have almost always come at the moment when I needed that exact amount. Tears have been shed over these donations, both in the sending and the receiving, I am sure.
We recently had a spaghetti dinner at my church, with the funds benefitting three host families. This was the first time we had tried an event of this scale, and because of our guesstimating and the turnout, the actual tickets sales were enough to just cover the cost of the supplies. If ticket sales had been the extent of the income, we would have simply broken even. However, through generous donations, we made a total profit around $1500. It was sacrificial donations that allowed us to have more funding for each family. It is a humbling and overwhelming feeling for me to walk away from an event I had poured hours of time into, knowing that it was not my work that brought in any of the funds; it was the generosity of the ones who attended, the ones who gave more than I had asked. And then gave again. There aren’t words for that.
If I listed the people who have given financially to me here, you would likely only recognize a handful of the names because the funds have come from such different sources. What a testament to the people who have come in and out of my life. They are not known to one another. They are not connected in the same circles. They have not met one another; they have sometimes not even met me. The people who have given are more varied, more spread across the country, across the history of my life, than I could have ever expected.
How then do I express these things? When strangers on a plane ask me about the thank you notes I am writing, how do I say, “I am trying to say in a small amount of space how their generosity has filled my soul in an unspeakable way”? I can’t put words to it. So I simply speak of my heart…for these children, for this community, for these dear people who have given so much. And in speaking, I find yet another connection being built.
I didn’t do that. Others did. It was because of them that I could open my mouth and speak.
Sometimes we tend to look at the front lines—the people going on mission trips, the people hosting, the people building wells in third world countries—and marvel. I think that too often, though, we focus on that. When we only look at that side of it, and not the support system at home, “It’s like applauding God with one hand” as one speaker said last weekend. Without the donors—those who give of their money, their time, their prayers, their emotional support—there would be no going and doing. There would be no service.
You who have donated in any number of ways…you matter. I have spent so many hours worrying over your opinions of me, when I should have been marveling at your generous hearts. If I have not communicated that clearly in the past, I want to do so now. What you do makes what I do possible.
And you make me want to be better. As a planner, I often look ahead. I look at my bottom line, and I see that I do not yet have all the funds I need, and I despair. I am offered a new opportunity that will require more fundraising, and I tremble. How can I ask again? How can I speak? When I am in that place, my words can sometimes come out of that anxiety.
I want my words to not speak about a need and how I fear because of it, but to speak about a need and how that has provided an opportunity to see faithfulness and community.
Your continued support of me has little to do with me, and so much to do with your hearts and grace toward me. It makes me want to shout even more loudly about faithfulness and what is possible when the body works together.