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Generous Gestures for Generous Living

He couldn’t get out of the building fast enough.  After a quick visit to the school, my almost-kindergartner had had enough. His excitement mixed with fear stirred up anxiety for me. And like a guardian angel, my friend and her second grader appeared and asked if her big kids could walk my son to his room on the first day. The relief was palpable.  Generous gestures like this one are opportunities to share our friends, our access, creativities, knowledge, passions, stuff, and time within the constraints of whatever our season of life might be. You don’t have to be rich and strategic to be generous, just a bit intentional.

LIVE FULLY IN THE LITTLE YEARS

When I left a six-figure salary to start a family, I lost a bit of my independence, influence, and purchasing power. One blurry morning, not long after my professional “retirement,” I found myself literally pinned down by 8 pounds of a colicky newborn who had finally fallen asleep on my chest. I felt trapped, insignificant, and spent. In the years of raising small children, you may feel like you have nothing to give, but there is a secret about living fully in this season, and it has everything to do with giving.

GET CREATIVE WITH YOUR GESTURES OF GENEROSITY

Constraints give us new opportunities for creativity, including expressions of generosity. Some of the constraints my friends and I have experienced in this season of life have included feeling bound, bored, and burdened. But I‘ve watched others lean into these constraints—I’ve done the same—and saw generous gestures result in joy and a greater sense of fullness of life. You can too. Here’s how.

FEELING BOUND?

The world was once your oyster, but now you rarely leave the four walls of your house, and you are never alone. When my oldest was six months old, Lara, 16 years younger than me, asked if I would spend time with her as a mentor. She regularly came over to hang out. We talked about life, books, our love of food, friends, and Jesus. She would organize shelves while we visited and I loved her for it. After a while she asked if I would be open to spending some time with her friends. We are now five years in to a bi-monthly supper gathering of three or four young women around our table sharing life, laughs, tears, and wisdom.

Lara’s generous gesture of inviting me in to her life within the constraints of mine showed me that even in the midst of being stuck, I could invite others in. I had life experience that was valuable to others and sharing it was liberating for me.

Feeling bored?

You have plenty to do, but folding laundry, unloading the dishwasher, and feeding people (again) don’t present the mental stimulation you once enjoyed. Next time you feel bored, think creatively and include a few others. Here are some ideas:

  • On a frivolous whim, I bought a disco ball. Preschoolers love winter dance parties.
  • I borrowed this idea of book parties from an article I read. We pop popcorn, make a fort, climb into my bed or hide under a table, and read silly books.
  • I’m a sucker for a theme. Election Day? Red, white and blue food. Groundhog Day? Groundhog trivia with mini-meatloaves in “groundhog” shapes. Friday night? Driveway tailgate with fried chicken and viewing of the television show Friday Night Lights. Summer boredom? Winnie the Pooh “expedition” with “provisions” and a Lewis and Clark themed nature hunt.
  • Christmas? Birthday party for Jesus with cake, candles and nativity reenactment. The possibilities are endless. Our family has done all of these (and more!) and we often include others to share the fun.

You can also look for ways to surprise and celebrate others. When our friends adopted a teenager from another country, a friend and I blockaded their driveway with balloons and signs to welcome their daughter home from the airport. We “door decorated” another friend’s home when he landed an awesome job after a jobless season.

Big or small, generous gestures take the initiative, include others, and can make the mundane more interesting.

Feeling burdened?

You have too much stuff, not enough places to put it, buttons are missing, your cars need maintenance, you feel like your house isn’t quite right, and everything seems to break. How can you unload, share, or repurpose that which burdens you?

Once, we needed to take a meal to a friend with a new baby, but first had to walk through a sea of toys before we could even leave our house. In an act of desperation, I asked my son to pick out Matchbox trucks to give to the baby and the baby’s brother. He loved being a part of a generous gesture, and I eliminated something without cleaning up!  There are other ways your “burden” can become a blessing.

  • If you donate clothes or other items, consider a family you know who might be blessed with some of those hand-me-downs.
  • We recently bought a new car. We asked each other how we could bless others with this purchase. I will admit that a part of me died when we decided to buy a minivan, but it was a practical purchase that will allow us to carpool and help others with transportation needs.
  • The bedrooms of our house are full, but we love having guests and wanted to offer something other than the floor for an overnight. We have a small den that did not get much use, so we hung doors on the opening to the hallway and purchased a sleep sofa for that room.
  • A young friend of ours got married, and she gave us permission to take the flowers from her wedding to elderly ladies at a nursing home. Precious children delivering flowers to older women is a generous gesture that encourages everyone.

It makes a difference

An older friend brought me pumpkin shaped cookies with my kids’ names on them last Halloween. I don’t think I had spoken to another adult for two days. I felt remembered in the midst of feeling bound, bored, and burdened with sick little ones at home.

Have you been blessed by a generous gesture from someone else? Taking the initiative, including others, and adding a little intentionality—creative or not—can be a life-generating gesture for you and your friends and neighbors.

Heidi Metcalf Little

About Author

Heidi Metcalf Little

Heidi Metcalf Little speaks, writes and advocates for a variety of policy and philanthropic interests. With a career that began in business, she has worked in the nonprofit, policy and philanthropic sectors. Heidi earned her BA from the University of Virginia and her Masters in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School.

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