When God Breaks Your Heart With Giving

      “…{the poem} raises an important and again characteristically modern issue about how faith is known and shared. In the end, everything depends on trustworthy human relationships.  A person who has been damaged and betrayed in one set of ‘horizontal’ or secular relationships may be genuinely prevented from opening in the ‘vertical’ dimension to the Divine.”  Malcolm Guite, December 11th reading from ‘Waiting on the Word’(emphasis mine)


 My friend Jill and I volunteered six weeks ago to co-lead the charge of organizing, planning and staffing our church’s annual Christmas Store this year. This is a two-day, nine-hour event where we serve our community by providing an opportunity for guests to ‘shop’ for household and personal items, clothing and best of all, toys, completely free of charge.

All of the items in the Christmas Store were new donations to our church from the surplus of a large relief organization here in the Seattle area, along with toys and cash given by members of our church over the last few weeks. People gladly gave and we gladly spent.

Organizing, staffing and scheduling this kind of undertaking is an enormous task, but Jill and I know each other well and have complementary organizing and communicating gifts so we were game for pulling it all together.  There were hours on the phone, email conversations, texting each other, in person meetings with volunteers and our Pastor—all the necessary elements that go into an event this size.

Prior to the Friday/Saturday store hours things seemed to be going swimmingly. Volunteers stepped in to add their muscle—as only volunteers can do–of hauling boxes, moving furniture, schlepping tables and the like.  The Scripture about “outdoing one another in doing good” (Hebrews 10:24) kept running through my mind; some of the guys lifting tables and boxes exhibited a healthy competitive spirit in getting the job done.

Six hours into the unpacking and set up process, however, Jill and I sat back and watched as tables filled up with merchandise. Our stealth bomber sorting team were piling items atop tables that seemed to be spilling over into every available space, including the floors around the tablecloth-skirted tables.

She looked at me and said, “This was a lot more fun until right about now.”  We were both overwhelmed at the visual input of the space around us and I for one felt buried at the enormity of what we were going to do. There were plush blankets and 8 million pairs of canvas shoes and men’s body wash and all manner of balls and books and dolls and pillows and…..you get the idea.

I confessed I felt like crying myself.  I was waaaaayyyy outside my comfort zone—I like organizing things on paper, but in actuality, the stuffing and piling and sorting of STUFF made me feel like I was going to drown. When Jill made the statement she was actually an introvert who liked being alone, we both laughed out loud. We had 35 families coming with over 100 family members to serve, there was no turning back.


It’s funny how God shows up to do what only He can do after you say that first “yes” then commit to serve  it out. The realization dawns you actually ARE in over your head; the only way out is to look up to let God do the work and get glory for doing the impossible.

When we opened our doors at 6 p.m. Friday night, there was a quiet kind of magic in the air along with the Cambridge Singers Christmas music in the background. The apartment residents we welcomed were also overwhelmed, but in a good way.

While guests shopped, we heard stories of hard times, challenging job situations, homelessness and want. But these people who seemingly had so little? Not only did they give back to us with their thanks and their hugs, but with the openness with which they received our prayers, inviting us into their brokenness with open arms.

Guite’s line above, that “everything depends on trustworthy human relationships” was certainly borne out in the time we spent with those folks we got to know while we all plugged in to that ‘vertical dimension.’

holding-baby-at-christmas-storePeople trusted us with their deepest needs and heartfelt tales–like the single mom going to school and volunteering at her son’s onsite co-op because she wants to invest in his education. Or precious Joy, whose daughter I’m holding in this photo (used with permission). She takes the bus into Seattle every day and works in Housekeeping Services at Children’s Hospital. Joy might have been needy when it came to Christmas toys (she was thrilled at the two Barbie Dolls she was given) but there was a well of life in her to give away.

“Hey,” she said as she left,“if you know anyone looking for a job, the Hospital is hiring in my department. And we train folks.”   I noticed on Joy’s intake form under, “How can we pray for you?” she wrote, “I want to open my own day care some day.”  I felt a little jump of joy inside when I read that.

But there were large doses of sadness, too. Elena, whose fiancé had passed away suddenly from cardiac arrest last July, then whose father died in August. Her lips quivered as she told me this Christmas season has been especially hard on her 7 year old son, “but the new toys will help.”

There were scores of other stories because our team was large and we each touched different people. I’m sure I’ll hear more as the week goes on and the reports come in.

I can’t speak for Jill, but I may have harbored some thoughts about all the good we were going to do for these folks living hand to mouth and paycheck to paycheck. As if my income and bank account somehow afforded me the special privilege of looking at them as different than me. But the adage proved true—it IS more blessed to give than to receive.

Each person going out the door with bags under their arms hugged practically everyone who helped them more than once. And we hugged them back, brimming with tears. They were tears of relief, tears of joy, hearts spilling out through the eyes of those God had sent through the doors. With our Guest’s effusiveness it was hard to get a word in edgewise, but I exclaimed every time I could, “no, no….YOU have blessed us by coming, seeing your thankfulness and joy.”

The tables were almost empty when we closed up our Store at 4 p.m. that day. Every soccer ball and football gone. Soft pillows and warm blankets, diapers and children’s warm hoodies, even gift wrap and bows had been given away.  Another team of rock star volunteers showed up and while I sat my tired body down to count numbers, check off my people list and review their names, the community room at the apartments was transformed.

Tables were hauled out in the pouring rain to an awaiting truck, surplus merchandise back into totes, furniture placed where it belonged, floors vacuumed. The Christmas Store was gone, but not the memories.

Memories of how people’s lives had been touched and changed, cares lifted and relieved, hearts unburdened.

Jesus’ words settled in my spirit–when we become broken bread and give away all that we have, WE are fed and filled.  We become the gift, as Ann Voskamp says.

My Christmas came early this year and I have received more than I ever could have imagined. Perhaps I was the neediest of all.





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5 thoughts on “When God Breaks Your Heart With Giving

  1. An inspiring event told with heart-touching words from a beautiful heart. Thank you, Jody! P.S. Love that picture of you with the little girl. You look radiant — not a bit tired!!

  2. auntie jody – beautifully written! thank you for opening up your heart and being honest with us – I see myself in your words and i am encouraged to give even when I feel at the end of myself. It is worth it to offer a trustworthy relationship as an opening to the Divine – what a gift that we get to give. love you.

    1. Adrienne, you are so sweet. God comes close in our ‘yesses.’ May we both continue to hear Him when he asks. love you back.

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