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June 2017 - Generosity Gameplan™

Edward, dog and JohnI used to think acts of generosity were strategic or spontaneous gifts we give. Now I believe generosity is how we live. This has been coming to me for some time now, and I sort of got it right in Connected for Good. But this notion catapulted to my consciousness when my ‘adopted brother’ Edward tragically died after being thrown from a horse. Hundreds and hundreds were affected by this loss; friends, students, fraternity brothers and colleagues joined his wife, two adult sons and four grandkids to mourn. This loss has been the deepest sorrow I’ve ever felt, and therein lies the insight about generosity.

Edward, like his uncle, who was my stepdad for 45 years, was so tight he squeaked when he walked. He drove old cars and endlessly repaired them and delayed replacing anything until its warranty was long gone. He saved everything like his Depression-era dad because “you might need that someday.”

Edward was not a donor the way you and I look at it. Oh, he would make a charitable gift from time to time, but he was so loved because he spent himself on others…constantly. He was always available- for any chore to help anyone. Widow’s “honey-do lists,” unemployed friends needing a cup of coffee and a listening ear, grieving widowers who could not get out of bed to mow their lawns are just a few ways he gave of himself.

Here is the insight: We are wired to contribute, not consume. Lives of consumption isolate our souls from the true source of happiness. Contributing to the well-being of another turns out to be the most powerful and undervalued expression of generosity. This way of living is not strategic at all, and those who live like this would hesitate calling themselves generous…and never philanthropic. However, the lives they touch feel loved somehow, and the giver flourishes. And when the giver is gone we come to know that generosity is spending ourselves and not just our money.

Read my book, Connected for Good: A Gameplan for a Generous Life, to discover stories of others who have been, become, or continue to be generosity champions.

woman of color with lip glossMiss Mary is a not-so-ordinary childcare worker at the YMCA who came to me for advice. We had no friends in common, no referral source…she just found me through Google. And she told me this story:

“A girl named Sarah and I were reading a book together and I pulled out some lip gloss. As I applied it to my lips, Sarah looked up at me and said softly, “I wish I could wear lip gloss.”
I asked her if her parents allowed her to and she said, “Yes, but I’d rather not, because my lips are ugly. I wish I had pretty lips like you.” Sarah said this because she has an unrepaired cleft lip.

I told Sarah that her lips were beautiful and that she, too, can wear lip gloss. When her mother walked in, I asked if It was okay for me to give her daughter lip gloss. As I applied it to her lips, I told her, “When people tell you that you’re not pretty, tell them with confidence that ‘I know I’m not pretty, I’m beautiful!’”

I pulled a compact mirror out to let her see how beautiful she is and how anybody can wear lip gloss, no matter the shape or size of their lips. She smiled, gave me a big hug, and said, “I LOVE YOU!”

The lip gloss that Mary gave to Sarah was no ordinary lip gloss. It was Mary’s own brand that she made at home, packaged, and marketed in a startup business called BU (Beautiful You).
After telling me this story, Mary asked me an amazing question. “How do I start a foundation so that I can help children like Sarah get the medical help they need for cleft lip and palate?”

This question came out of Mary’s instinct for generosity. She is hard-wired to connect with God and others, and her heart naturally formed a desire to help kids like Sarah who have little means but are beautiful. Mary herself is not a woman of means-she is working two part-time jobs while she starts her lip gloss business.

“Forming a foundation is premature; helping Sarah is not,” I told Mary.

To begin, she will ask her trusted doctor to build a relational bridge with a surgeon at Children’s Hospital and propose a partnership to get Sarah’s surgery done. Mary will sell lip gloss and donate a portion of the proceeds to cover the surgery. She’ll relationally engage all of her customers in Sarah’s life through a grassroots marketing campaign. Not that’s an amazingly ordinary Generosity Gameplan.cleft palate image

By all worldly mile markers, Mary’s priorities are disordered, but her courage, boldness, and innocence are inspiring and a lesson for all of us who are stuck in Generosity Gaps (as she was leaving the office, Miss Mary asked, “What’s a Generosity Gap?” I was happy to let her know that she’s definitely not caught in the Action Gap, the Accumulation Gap, or the Gratification Gap)!

If you were to ask me a question like Mary’s about how to act on your generous heart’s desire, what would it be?

Read my book, Connected for Good: A Gameplan for a Generous Life, to discover stories of others who have made generosity beautiful, in all kinds of ways!