Grace, gratitude, and grandma’s tattoo

If you’ve ever run a fundraising campaign, you may get it when I say it made me feel beyond helpless. But my despair turned to gratitude when it was met with an open-hearted giver. Now I – a grandmother of nine – have a tattoo to remind me what I learned.

As imperfect followers of Jesus, we’re called to nurture in ourselves certain qualities that he himself embodies perfectly – love, generosity, forgiveness, and compassion – to name a few. But gratitude is different. Gratitude sets us apart from God in what may be the starkest of realities: We are needy, and he is not.

This is why gratitude is a particularly humble trait. It means I am helpless, and God – almost always by means of another needy human – comes to my rescue. Gratitude presupposes a certain amount of desperation. In fact, there have been times in my life when intentional acts of gratitude (daily thankfulness journals, letter writing, saying the words out loud a lot) provided the dramatic perspective shift I needed.

“If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine,” God says in Psalm 50:12.

I am desperate for God, whether I know it or not

When I started Refuge Coffee Co. six years ago, I embarked on a deep, somewhat precarious journey into my own helplessness. The deeper I went, the higher the heights of gratitude I got to experience.

Refuge wasn’t quite two years old when we decided to launch an ambitious capital campaign to purchase and outfit a second coffee truck. We were still very much a start-up with a not-yet-proven model, so asking for more money felt rather audacious.

But what we lacked in history, we made up for in innovation. We put together a crowdfunding campaign with some very creative “gift levels” offered as incentives to donors, including this one: “For a $5000 one-time donation, our founder – who is a grandmother of nine – will get a tattoo!”

I started out somewhat delusional, certain that people would be lining up to give $5000 and get me a tattoo. (A tattoo I would not in a million years have wanted under any other circumstances, by the way!) I also thought we’d reach our goal quickly. But we didn’t.

God wanted my nothing

One morning, after checking our campaign on my phone and noticing, yet again, no change in the abysmally low donation numbers, delusion turned into despair.

“Lord,” I said, “I was not made for this. I’m an embarrassment, and I’m letting our entire team down. I have nothing to give.”

Then I did what I sometimes do when I feel desperate; I let my Bible fall open to a random page. I landed on Luke 21, where Jesus, observing a poor widow at the offering box in the temple, told his disciples:

“Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in everything she had to live on” (Luke 21:3).

I knew I didn’t have a wealth of skill or experience or influence to give to Refuge. But I sensed that all God wanted from me that morning was my “nothing,” and that comforted me. I had a busy day ahead, so I prayed a relieved and grateful prayer, and moved on with my day.

A few hours later, a young woman I barely knew called me. I knew a dozen young women like her who lived in Clarkston, single women who were zealous for Jesus, somewhat naïve, and who worked low-paying jobs for the privilege of spending their free time ministering to their refugee neighbors.

“May I come to your house?” she asked, “Today?”

That seemed a bit presumptuous, as most requests do when you’re already too busy, but I managed a polite “yes.” We arranged a time and, later that afternoon, she showed up at our front door with her Bible in hand. After a little small talk, she launched into her reason for coming:

“Kitti, I visited Refuge last week for the first time, and I haven’t been able to get the mission off of my heart since. Yesterday, I read Luke 21, and I made a decision.”

She opened her Bible and read the words out loud, looking up at me when she came to “everything she had.” She then handed me a personal check for $5000. It was indeed everything she had.

I have to admit that my first thought was “Do your parents know about this?” It felt so reckless. And yet, as we continued to talk, I discovered that she was wise, careful, and – in this moment – obedient. It was the act of someone who is desperate to please God. I want that kind of desperation, don’t you?

The Apostle Paul said that while giving is necessary and meets real needs, it also “produces abundant and bountiful thanksgivings to God” (2 Corinthians 9:12, The Message).

To me, this is the beauty of gratitude, that we get to join God and create it in others. Instead of just preaching to the world that people need Jesus, I wonder what would happen if we gave recklessly and thereby produced humble gratitude in others?

In the end, Refuge reached its audacious goal. And I got a tasteful tattoo on my wrist, which acts as a permanent reminder to me that God does not need anything I might have to give him, but I desperately need him. I am grateful for the reminder.

Prayer: Oh Lord, I thank you for all of your gifts. Remind me that I desperately need you. Help me release everything I have into your hands – even when I have “nothing.” Transform my gifts in order to meet needs and to create gratitude in others.

Application: Think of times when you had “nothing” to give. How might you offer that up to God? (Hint: beginning with gratitude is never a bad idea!) How can you express your desperation for God today in your giving?

Related Reading: Psalm 50:8-15, Luke 21, Acts 17:22-29, Psalm 9

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