Gifts…

I don’t have too many childhood memories that I recollect with great detail, but for some reason this one and a few others stick. It is like I have a limited photographic memory of certain events (for example, I could tell you exactly what happened the night my dad stabbed me with a steak knife for having my elbow on the table or about the time I broke my friend’s parents window with my bare behind—neither of which are the brightest moments in my life…). I couldn’t tell you what I had this morning for breakfast, but for some reason I vividly remember opening a particular gift from my grandparents on Christmas morning when I was just a wee-bob.

I don’t recall exactly what the gift was (so much for that photographic memory huh?) but after I saw it I spewed the words, “It ain’t easy being cheesy.” Along with the drop of blood from my elbow and the broken window, their expressions have been etched into the small wall of memories in my huge noggin. They looked hurt and confused. I didn’t know why. I mean all I was doing was quoting my favorite cartoon commercial. Chester the Cheetah was all the rage in the mid-80’s and I loved Cheetos—probably because we never had the chemical filled treat in our house.  I didn’t know that cheesy was a synonym for cheap or inferior. Regardless, Chester, Grandma and Grandpa Parcell taught me a thing or two about receiving a gift.

More often than not, I am ecstatic about getting a present.  I know we always hear that the Lord loves a cheerful giver, but I have to believe God also enjoys appreciative recipients. Hailey and I are in Malawi because of cheerful givers, yet we sometimes wrestle with what it means to be smiling recipients. The generosity and participation of those that are supporting us is a huge affirmation of God’s call for us here in Malawi. Before we came, it made me confident that this was indeed God’s plan for this time in our lives and when the body of Christ comes together to affirm a call it is a beautiful thing. So why do I so often struggle with being a recipient?

We were inducted at the Lingadzi C.C.A.P last Sunday. It was a long but very good day. There were a bunch of speakers, a time where they asked me to affirm my commitment to the mission of the Church, a moment where pastors shared Scripture as words of encouragement and then I preached. I was prepared for these parts of the service. What I wasn’t prepared for was what came next. The praise team blared some Chichewa songs and Hailey and I sat in the front of the church next to a man holding a basket—A basket for gifts for the new pastor and his wife. The masses started flowing down the aisles, dancing the entire way. When the church emptied, those that were sitting outside during the service came in to greet us and celebrate. Some dropped money into the basket and others brought physical gifts. It went on for at least a half hour. Dancing, cheering, gift giving—The General Secretary of Presbytery grabbed a microphone, sang along and encouraged the worship team. We shook every person’s hand and hugged some. I’m fairly certain a good number of people passed through the reception line more than once. This was the most cheerful giving I have ever experienced. Yet, for some reason my former friend Chester sat on my left shoulder, with his stupid sunglasses and horrendous grin, whispering unappreciative cheesy lies in my ear. How could I accept all of these gifts? Fortunately, I didn’t just imagine a silly cheetah on my shoulder.

In many of the people walking up to greet us I also saw the poor widow, from the twelfth chapter of Mark, with her two copper coins. Jesus watched her, as she gave all that she had. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for her, but I’m also certain she was grateful to be giving. When I picture her I don’t see an old woman hunched down, limping to the front of the treasury line complaining because she won’t eat later that night. No, I see a woman waving around her cane in jubilation, dancing and maybe even singing some songs in Chichewa.  POOF, Chester vanished.

In that same story we read of rich people giving out of their abundance.  I don’t know if those that gave us gifts on Sunday gave out of their abundance or not, but I am positive that I am one of the rich people, not knowing how to give everything I have. I am not like the woman. I have never learned to fully trust God with the financial part of my life—which is probably why I am so uncomfortable as a recipient of a gift when I know it is a sacrifice for someone else. I know people have sacrificed financially to have Hailey and me serve here and we are doing all that we can to be good stewards of what we have been given. Perhaps one of the reasons we are here is so that we can learn to cheerfully give with all that we are (and thus receive in the same vain).

A dear friend, who has taught me much about stewardship and gift giving, says it is all God’s anyway—I think he’s right. Maybe I just need to learn to trust God more fully and to be more obedient to what Scripture says about money. Another friend told me recently that her professor at seminary stated that if every American that claimed to be Christian actually tithed we would have enough to end world hunger…twice. I know that, by not always faithfully tithing, I have done my part to further starvation and poverty in the past.  And I am ashamed of it. We all should be. We have been robbed of the celebration that comes with trusting God with all of who we are and all of what we think we own (remember, it’s all God’s anyway).