Encouraging compassion

We watch the disaster footage from Oklahoma, and my little bleeding-heart 6 year old went running for her piggy bank. I tried to convince her that our family donation through Samaritan's Purse was enough, mostly because I didn't know where to send $5 cash and a letter from a 6 year old, but she wasn't easily deterred. After a few tears and begging from her, I started to look for somewhere to send her letter and donation. I found a church on the ground helping those in need, and we sent off her little note with the instructions to give the whole envelope to a family with children if possible.

It's easy to dismiss or belittle our children's small gifts, the small bills and the quarters they save for months and then suddenly want to give away to someone in need. It's easier to click "Pay Now" on the internet than it is to deal with these seemingly petty donations that come from our children's treasure coffers. Does this rob them of their desire to help out? I think it can.

There is a jar on my oldest daughter's desk that holds over $70 in coins that have been collected by the children over the past 6 months. In swirly hand-colored mosaic print, the label reads, "4 are sponsered chidren", a 7 year old's attempt at "for our sponsored children". The kids want to send small gifts for birthdays and holidays to the 4 children we sponsor in Mexico through World Vision. At first, I encouraged them to put only 10% of their birthday and cleaning money into the jar. They dissented: we don't really need spending money, Mama, they said. "You already buy everything we need, and those children don't even have enough food!" It can be overwhelming as a parent, trying to decipher how to teach your children to be generous while also teaching them financial responsibility so that they don't become another mouth for givers to feed. There are times, though, when their childish logic makes better sense than mine, and I can't deny them the opportunity to give to others.

It is more blessed to give than receive, the Bible tells us. Having been on the receiving end of many delivered casseroles and helping hands to clean my home and tend my children when we've suffered through major illnesses like cancer and brain infections and heart failure, I understand this, deeply. I hate being the receiver. It has taken many years to learn to accept help gracefully. I wonder about the stoic Mexican mama pictured with one of our sponsored children. How does she feel when her child goes down to the school to eat two meals a day, meals that she couldn't provide? Is it difficult to sign your starving child up to receive aid from some more fortunate family half a world away? I imagine it is.

I admire the grace with which hurting people are able to receive our gifts. I admire my children's giving spirits. Sometimes it is a little more work to help them develop this character trait - compassion and empathy - but it will be worth it someday. So we let them take their hard-earned quarters to the children's Drop in the Bucket offering at church, we mail letters off to tornado victims, we go to Target to buy gifts for two 12 year olds and a 13 year old in Mexico.

The smiles on their faces tell the whole story: yes, it is a blessing to be the giver.

How about you? Do you help your children give of their time or money? What activities have worked best for your family, volunteering together, making donations, serving food? We are always on the look-out for new ideas!