Sunday, December 8, 2013

My Season of Giving

This Christmas season has been a very joyous and heat-felt one for us thus far. It has been close to a year and a half that my wife paid off her student loans and we officially became a debt free household, and this Christmas season has kind of been the first in which we are coming to realize just what that means.

In addition to our Christmas budget we also have been saving even more than in previous years to do spontaneous giving. It has been absolutely incredible, fulfilling and humbling to help out various causes and needs within our families and the city we live in. Our home church participates in an excellent program, partnering with a local organization that provides year round education and care to single-moms and their children here in Chicago. For the Christmas season our church placed a Christmas “Wish List” for the organizations participants. Lists included the bare essentials for children, socks, underwear, gloves, coats, shirts and jackets, and shopping for these items was an unbelievably humbling experience for me.

Usually when out shopping, especially for clothes, I do my best to get in and get out of the store as quickly as possible, finding only what I need at the lowest price. It wasn’t until I was in the store with my chosen child’s list in hand, that I slowed down, sought out quality and honestly would have been perfectly okay blowing my entire giving budget to help meet this child’s needs. I remember being the age of my chosen child and having a selfish list of toys and various other items that I didn’t need. Instead this child was in need of clothing essentials and basics, and in the climate I’ve grown accustomed to here in Chicago, can honestly make the difference between life and death when the Lake effect weather takes grip on the city.

So I paused a lot and did my best to stretch my budget as far as it would go while buying items that were of the best quality. I stopped often and had tears fill my eyes in the store, because I really did want to fill my cart to the brim with everything and then some for the child I had chosen. I couldn’t remember the last time I wanted to spend so much while shopping. It was quite an interesting place to be at given my frugality over the years, but I suppose that was the point now wasn’t it? I whipped my budget into shape, got out of debt, am steadily investing for the future and freed up my monthly income to be able to give where there is need. And while I didn’t buy out the entire store, I genuinely hope that my child’s Christmas season is a happy and loving one, and I hope that somehow my gifts will help in some way to add to that.

In addition my wife and I chose this year to open up an Educational Savings Account with a considerable initial contribution for one of our nephews. This was something that we had been talking about doing for a few years and we finally decided to pull the trigger on it this year. Admittedly a part of my motivation to finally do it came from my own extended family.

I received news just a month ago that one my nephews, a current Senior in high school, will be enlisting in the US armed services at the conclusion of his Senior year. I asked him why he would chose this, and a part of his reason was to be able to fund his way to college.

And that piece of his reasoning gave me a pretty solid punch to the gut. Up to this point my wife and I have done an excellent job of taking care of our own household first to be able to give, and I think God wanted to show me that the time to step up our giving is now. While we are on a trajectory through our investing, budget planning and plentiful household income, there are opportunities to give that we don’t have to wait to reach the pinnacle point to hit.

While I am proud that my nephew is willing to serve his country and not take on debt to finance his college education, a huge piece of me wonders, “what if?” What if I had opened an ESA for him, say when he was 10 years old and our extended family helped fund it until now? If the money was readily available, would he consider the military as an option for his future? The truth is that I don’t know. This is the current reality that we live in and I can’t go back in time to change it. Instead I told him that I love him and I genuinely hope that God leads him to where he is supposed to be in life. And while is in service, to be the best Christian example that he can be and to let his light of faith shine bright each and every day to those around him. And I also saw it as a reality check to not wait for some giving opportunities to come to me and instead go out and make them happen.

So as the sun is beginning to set on 2013 I feel like we are getting a good running start on spending, saving and giving our disposable income in ways that bring happiness and enrich our lives while paying attention to the needs that God calls us to wake up to.

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