This Fall in worship, the community at Woodlake Lutheran Church, is exploring the theme of “I love to tell the story.” Timothy’s on staff, and we’re there pretty regularly. Each Sunday (and Saturday) a different non-staff person tells a faith-related story and connects it to “Why I give” as we enter a season of focusing on stewardship. Pastor Diane Roth asked me to do it this week, and of course I went long, but here’s what I shared with the congregation.
My earliest memory of giving to a church was participating in offering in our Sunday worship services back in Bellevue, Washington. As a kid it was such a thrill to touch and pass the offering plate if only for a split second, and to feel like it mattered that I carried it from the person on my left to the person on my right – usually my mom and dad. It wasn’t my allowance, but it mattered and it made me feel like I mattered.
Now with my own family of me, cat, and husband, we give a portion of what we earn to this church. You might know my husband, Timothy, who is the interim music and worship director here who started in September. Diane asked me to share my faith story and why I give and I initially said “Why?” because my husband is on staff and that would be weird. But she said she wanted lots of different voices, and my story, so here it is.
In 2010, the average college student graduated with $25,000 in debt – and that’s before they took on any other additional loans for graduate school, a mortgage, or life expenses. In Minnesota, in 2013, the average debt of a graduate grew to $31,000.
As part of a family paying back loans on two college degrees, three graduate degrees, and moving and life expenses – you might think giving to a church is low on our priority list. But it’s not.
We moved from our homes in Washington state to Minnesota a week after we got married. Over a few days we drove a U-Haul to the midwest to start a new chapter together as graduate students at Luther Seminary in St. Paul.
Consistently, we have leaned on our faith and spirituality to get through tough times of homework and homesickness and can we talk about winter in Minnesota – just that alone, connecting with God and being hopeful that Jesus will bring about a new life of abundant joy – that’s been our breathing in and breathing out over the last four beautiful years.
But that’s why we give ourselves to our people and to God.
We give our intellect to online blogs, communities, and organizations who want to rethink what it means to serve their neighbor.
We give our energy and our bodies to our communities when we walk around Lake Como and smile at neighbors, and when my girls at Zumba class show up because they are hungry to be courageous and seek out human connection just as much a I am.
We give money to communities whose mission and vision we align with, like here at Woodlake and a local community sourced agricultural business.
We give our hearts when I give away scarves I make or when Timothy designs a friend’s dream ordination service.
I give because it was never mine. I can stare all I want at that black or red line in our monthly budget, but that won’t do anything. I give because I am fearfully and wonderfully made by a God who I don’t always understand, but one that I love because God’s relentless love is one that I can place my hope in. Giving our money is a fraction of how we give ourselves to our people and to God. I respond to God’s dreams and love for me by giving my questions, my curiosities, my money, intellect, passions and energy to God’s people – which is partly a church, but mostly, the world, because so far I haven’t found a place where God’s presence does not exist.
If you ask them where they were when Kennedy was shot, people in my parent’s generation will tell you their story at the drop of a hat. People in my generation will be asked for the rest of their lives, “Where were you on September 11, 2011?” My mom was doing my hair before school and we watched the terror unfold on TV 2,000 miles away.
Young people are keenly aware of their prejudice and power to stand up for and with the voiceless in the world. Even though it might not reflect in a giving tally to a church, I would guess that we are not the only twenty-year-olds who are ripe and ready to give ourselves to God and God’s people. I give because I want look back when I’m older and say “Remember that time when we made a change? I was a part of that.”