Reflections: A Personal Journey of Generosity with Karen Outlaw

Across the country, NCF’s team members are some of the brightest, most passionate experts in charitable giving. We do what we do because we share your biblical view of generosity, and that inspires our work every day. We know that everyone is on their own personal journey of generosity. We’re here to help you along your journey, and we take that honor seriously. 

As NCF team members, we’re often motivated by what we’ve experienced on our own journeys of generosity. This month, Karen Outlaw, NCF Rocky Mountain’s Director of Giver Services, is sharing her story. Karen’s journey includes navigating a new season, empowering women in giving, and a family legacy of generosity that began with an unending supply of warm tortillas. 

Karen, tell us about an early experience with generosity. 

My grandparents immigrated to California from Mexico, and I grew up immersed in the traditions of a large Mexican family.  Food and fellowship is a huge part of that. My grandfather was always filling up bags of ripe fruit from his orange tree to share with neighbors. My most vivid memory of their generosity is Sunday meals — I can still smell the fresh tortillas that my grandmother made every week. Over the years, it became an open house where neighbors, family members, and friends (nearly everyone in our community) gathered to share a meal and conversation. It was fun because you never knew who would show up, or how many! What’s amazing is that it was like the story about the seven loaves and two fish. To this day, I don’t know how grandma knew how much food to make. There was always, always enough to go around; we never ran out. That is the Lord’s generosity right there!

My grandparents hosted Sunday meals their entire lives, and the legacy continued in my family long after they were gone. My grandparents didn’t have a lot, but it was important to them to share what they could and provide a place where people could gather and be taken care of. Since I grew up with it, I didn’t understand it as generosity until I was older. I just thought that’s what you did — open your heart and your life to others.

Sounds like a Mexican miracle! How did seeing your grandparents share their lives connect with your beliefs about biblical generosity? 

Jesus calls us to be generous. He exemplified that through everything He did on this earth. He walked the walk, right? Knowing that Jesus personally experienced everything He asks of us draws me so much closer to Him. And although I will never do anything to equal His ultimate display of generosity in how He gave His life for mine, His example compels me to live a life of  generosity to the best of my ability. I think that’s the connection for me: it’s not about how “much” I give of my time, talents, or treasures, it’s where my heart is concerning my giving – just like my grandparents opening their home. If my generosity is ultimately for the glory of God, He can work miracles with what I give. 

Speaking of heart … NCF has been a true example of generosity for my family. In 2017, I was working for NCF part time when my husband of 30 years, Mike, was diagnosed with cancer. NCF came to us and said, “We know you’re walking through this. We want to be your family and journey alongside you.” I began working for them full time and haven’t looked back. I had never experienced that level of radical generosity from an employer. Everything NCF does starts with the love of Christ, and experiencing that first-hand catapulted what biblical generosity looks like in my life. It’s a calling to be here, and I’m so proud and grateful that I am. 

How do you live out generosity in your daily life?

I lost my husband Mike to cancer in 2019. While he was alive, we sponsored nine-year-old Irine through Compassion. She was so special to us because, while I have two children from my previous marriage, he and I didn’t have children together. Once we became empty nesters, we were able to share this child with just the two of us. We felt blessed to be able to support her needs financially, but it became so much more than that. God worked so beautifully through our letters with this little lady, especially while Mike was sick. Mike was the letter writer, and as he shared with her how to pray for us, her wise, encouraging words in return  were direct gifts from God. Irine is 17 today, and I continue to sponsor her. She’s become an important part of our family, and continues to be a special connection to Mike. 

Being on my own is a new season of life. Right now, generosity looks a lot like being still and asking the Lord what He has next for me. I’m taking time to discover what my Giving Strategy looks like for me, Karen Outlaw the single woman. An area my heart leans toward is widows and orphans. It’s amazing how many widows I’ve connected with in the last two years through NCF and beyond, and women in general, who need help understanding their financial influence. I understand the process of grief they’re walking through, and believe the Lord has something for me to do for them. 

Another passion of mine is the fight against human trafficking. As I learn more about this cause, I feel more and more called to give of myself to help. Lastly, I am wired to serve, so I give a lot of my time and talents to my church. As an NCF director, I have a lot of exposure to the needs in our area, so I spend time serving my community where I can.   

You mentioned there’s a need to reach women in generosity. What is NCF Rocky Mountain doing in this space? 

Only 6% of Christian women feel confident and equipped to handle the resources God has given to them. By 2030, American women are expected to control much of the $30 trillion in financial assets that baby boomers will possess. 95% of women will be, at some point in their life, the primary financial decision maker for their family. Year after year, research conducted for the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI) reveals that households headed by women, at all levels of income and wealth, are more likely to give. The opportunity to engage and impact women is one of the greatest opportunities ever for healing the world. We are starting slowly by building relationships through conversations. We want to get it right, so we are intentionally finding the right people to help us champion our efforts within the community and create solid direction for further growth. Eventually, we will host JOGS (Journey of Generosity) and TOGS (Taste of Generosity), smaller conversations over lunch or dinner, exclusively for women. (Send Karen a note to learn more about upcoming Women’s JOGs and TOGs). 

You have two children and almost-six grandchildren. How are you leaving a personal legacy of generosity for them?

Although my family was generous, I wasn’t raised with conversations or an understanding about what it means to be financially generous. For Mike and I, we chose to teach our kids generosity by spending a lot of time serving our community. Our kids observed from us  how those commitments came before other weekend activities. NCF has taught me so much about how we can use our financial blessings – whether small or large – to send more to our favorite charities, connecting with the larger movement of generosity taking place around the world. The year I started at NCF, I opened giving funds for all of my children and grandchildren for Christmas. I wanted to share with them the story I was learning about generosity and what it can look like in our family. It has been so special to watch them explore their passions and find where their hearts want to give. My hope and prayer is that as I continue my journey with God and follow what He has in store for me, my family will see me exemplifying generosity as Jesus has for us, moving that legacy forward.