Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A Journey of Many Gifts

As a youngster my concept of giving was narrow. There was little gratitude attached, just a sense of obligation.  I was part of the privileged American middle class, and should, maybe once a week, think briefly about those who were less fortunate. I remember my younger brother complaining about having to eat his vegetables and my mother admonishing him, “There are hungry children in other countries who would love to have your serving of spinach.”

“Well, get me an envelope!” My brother had replied, as we all shared a laugh, and quickly went on with our other conversations.

When I was in high school I had a teacher who volunteered at a nursing home. He invited us students to join him, and I was introduced to the concept of giving of one’s time. I became a regular volunteer serving cookies and coffee, listening to the lonely elderly reminisce. I became interested in learning about life when bread was 10 cents a loaf, and everyone sat around the radio.  I learned what it was like to live during the great depression, and why one old gentleman who had known true hunger, never went anywhere without crackers in his pocket. I had my first true lesson in giving—I was getting more back!

Luke 6:38 ESV

“Give, and it will be given to you…”

When my younger sister was picked on I stuck up for her, ready to punch out anyone who pushed her around. Being the youngest in our family she was sometimes teased unfairly, and I took up her cause. (Okay, sometimes I took advantage of her and talked her into trading her new dolls for my old snarl-haired ones). But I had learned to give of myself, to get involved. And for decades now I have cherished the gift of our lifelong friendship.

Then in 1997, when our ten-year old son, Chris, was diagnosed with leukemia, I learned a brand new lesson—how to receive. Suddenly, the tables were turned. Fear and uncertainty, along with missed work and mounting bills invaded our world. Food was left at our doorstep. Charities stepped in to give us a place to stay while we were at the hospital. Strangers became angels whose mission was to make our life easier.

I’ll never forget the day hundreds if people showed up for Chris’s bone marrow drive. The blood bank had to send 3 blood mobiles to accommodate the record-setting crowd. When the blood bank ran out of permission forms the manager of the supermarket at the shopping center opened up his office and copier for their use.  He even sent out trays of food to feed the volunteers. Our misfortune had become an opportunity for others to give. We had become the recipients of a city-wide act of love.

“Then the people rejoiced because they had given willingly, for with a whole heart they had offered freely to the Lord…”

When Chris went to be with the Lord at the tender age of 14 he had given us the greatest gift of all. We had laughed, loved, and shared true intimacy. His last words were “Thank you for being such a good Mom and Dad. I love you.”  Is there a greater gift than a grateful child?

Witnessing this nourishing flow of giving and receiving had an impact on Chris’s younger brother, Jarrod. He grew into a young man with a servant’s heart. He was protective of others, defending a friend who was bullied at school, and scrutinizing his sister's boyfriends. Last summer, after a morning of spear fishing, he brought home dozens of fish. “We can’t eat all of those!” My husband, Rob, had exclaimed.

“I know,” Jarrod had grinned, “I’m having a cook-out.” He went to Walmart, bought a grill and seasoning, and drove his catch down the local homeless camp. After feeding the street folks Jarrod returned home with joy in his eyes. He had learned that magical lesson. The happiest people are those who give.

Acts 20:35 ESV 

“In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

A few weeks later our beloved Jarrod died in an accident. Once again, we have become the weak, the poor in spirit. But I am learning to look at my sons’ lives as a gift. I was chosen to be their mom for a short, precious time on time on earth. My books and my speaking have enabled me to help other families dealing with loss. www.maribethditmars.com.  But maybe, most of all, they remind me that Chris and Jarrod will be with me in heaven forever.
And that is the gift that I must continue to give to others—the gift of hope.

Luke 23:43 (NIV)

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

1 Corinthians 15:22

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.