Thursday, March 31, 2011

Joan's Gift

I've been friends with "Joan" for more than eight years.  I first met her during a time of excitement and transition for me (and for her too); she moved into the apartment that I shared with my sister and another friend just weeks before I got married.  Right from the start, she was a blessing to me.  I remember her helping to set up our wedding reception room and jumping in to help with some of the logistical challenges of our wedding day.

Our friendship grew out of those early acts of service as well as a common desire to grow to know God better.  Over the years, she's also been our housemate, babysitter, and my accountability partner.  I trust her with my deepest secrets; she is a true friend.  So of course I was eager to meet her sister, who was in town visiting from California last week.  Plans were made to meet her sister along with a couple of Joan's current housemates at our local farmer's market for lunch.

As we arrived at market and sought to track down our friends, I pulled out my shopping list.  I don't usually carry much cash, and I knew that we may need to skimp a little when purchasing lunch; otherwise, I wouldn't have enough for the groceries that I needed.  I was distracted with this financial challenge when I found our friends.  After we made plans for a meeting place and I left to find lunch, Joan's housemate stopped me and handed me some money.  He explained that Joan wanted to pay for each of our lunches.  My first response was to refuse the money.  I asked why she would want to do that for us.  It was so unexpected and seemed so unnecessary.  "Because Joan is Joan," was his reply.

Perhaps some background information would be helpful here.  Admittedly, I've always been a stingy person.  As I was sharing this story with some friends from church, we joked about how the emphasis on simple living among Mennonites sometimes has this affect.  Raising two kids on a single income has made this character trait more pronounced.  I've been seeing how a lot of my decisions revolve around money and how not to spend any.

So Joan's act may have seemed like a small gesture, but its impact on me was great.  I ended the mental gymnastics of how to buy $30 worth of food with $20 and the agonizing over the impact of each purchase.  I bought everything on my shopping list.  I bought lunch.  And I even bought a couple of cookies as a special treat.  I felt free, like a burden had lifted.

Joan's generosity is like God's generosity.  None of us really has what we need; we all come up short.  We can spend lots of time making plans for how we can get eternal life, for how we can be good enough.  But it won't work.  We can't make $20 into $30.  We will never have what we need without a gift from someone else.  But God, being God, stepped in and gave us Jesus.  I spend a lot of time questioning God, wondering why He allows bad things to happen, worrying that He is stingy.  But He's truly generous, extravagant, lavish.  He loves us.  He gave us His Son.   We are free to live - really live - not a life where we focus on our lack and how to account for it - not a life where there is never enough.  But instead, a life where our true needs are taken care of.

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