Monday, November 5, 2012

Growing Gratitude and Generosity

I was milling around the fourth grade classroom trying to give off that I’m-a-nice- substitute-but-don’t-try-to-pull-anything-with-me look. It was serving me well as the only sounds were the squeaks and scratches of markers and pencils.

With only a few weeks of school remaining students were putting the finishing touches on their individual yearbook pages. There were pages detailing their likes and dislikes, goals and fears, handwriting samples and illustrations. And sprinkled throughout the pages were thought provoking questions like this one:

What would you do with a million dollars?

I’m pretty sure my fourth-grade-self would have written, “I’d buy a lifetime supply of K-Swiss shoes, 3,000 Cabbage Patch Kids, a Swatch Watch with 465 hues of interchangeable wrist bands and an underground swimming pool.” Then all would be well.

But what would would be the heart's desire of a fourth grader in 2012?

Peeking over the shoulder of one boy I read, “I would buy all the video games in the world.”

I smiled and nodded knowingly. Oh the bliss of being able to choose from $1,000,000 worth of video games! Mario and Luigi would practically be family!

Weaving my way between desks I stopped beside a girl who’d attended another school where I had subbed earlier in the year. I remembered her mostly because her little sister was adorably chatty, while she seemed quiet and sober.

Little Sister freely rattled off details of their situation. They were living in the domestic violence shelter, and their mom was looking for a place with a fence so they could play outside. I hated to imagine what had brought them to that place, but since she was attending school in a different part of town I hoped they’d found that place with a fence.

Curiously, I peered over her shoulder to see what she would do with $1,000,000. In her best cursive she had written, “I would buy food for all the hungry people.”

I would buy food.

No wish for lunch with Taylor Swift.
No blathering about Justin Bieber paraphernalia. 
Not even a wish for a plastic Swiss time piece.

What would make a fourth grader want to buy food for all the hungry people? I could only assume she’d been one of them.  

My heart broke and then was strangely instructed:

Generosity and gratitude grow more quickly in the soil of need 
than in the suffocating overgrowth of abundance.

It’s a sweet blessing when all we “need” is a few more video games or a plastic watch.

Most of us lack nothing necessary. Sometimes, I can’t even conceive of a gift to buy my own children. When that is the case, as it is for most everyone reading this, gratitude and generosity must be modeled and cultivated repeatedly.

But I suspect that in the barren place of need, generosity and gratitude grow unhindered by the entanglements of abundance.

If you’re looking for a way to model and cultivate generosity and gratitude, come join a whole bunch of people for “Feed MyStarving Children.” Check out the details here.


  1. Hi, Shauna, I've been going back and reading your old blog posts. I've read them before, but I enjoy your writing so much! This post reminded me of a similar situation before I retired from teaching. On the 100th day of school I handed out a photocopy of a $100 bill. Students glued them in their journals and were to write on the topic, "If I had $100, I would …" Every child wrote as expected about things they would buy for themselves. A few considerate ones listed something for themselves and also for family members. Noah, however, wrote simply, "I would give it to my mom because she is broke." He, more than the other kids, lacked the latest toys and clothes. Yet, he alone had compassion for someone other than himself. Known as a "behavior problem" around school, his writing really stirred my heart. He and I had developed a special bond even before that time, but later when my patience wore thin, it helped to remember his sweet, unselfish spirit hidden within. I love your quote about generosity growing in the "soil of need." This incident is a testimony to that and an unforgettable one for me.

    1. That is a precious story, Kay. Thanks for sharing it. Makes me wonder where these precious little ones are now