Carolyn and I were married 15 years ago, in May 1992. Wow. I’m more in love with her today than ever. I truly married and still enjoy the companionship of my best friend. Our home is one of playfulness, laughter and endless surprise. We’re deeply imperfect, blessed people.
The first few months of our marriage made that really clear.
While in college, my best friend (pre-Caro) and I started a graphic design business. We were doing “desk top publishing” when folks were still a little confused about how to use a mouse. For three years, Advantage Advertising ruled the roost in Arkadelphia. The truth is, there were no other chickens on it.
In the winter of 1990-1991, something weird began happening to me (more so than usual). I began to deeply struggle with what I began to identify as my life’s “calling.” God was knocking gently, but consistently on my aspirations. The whole idea of becoming an immensely wealthy Christian business prodigy began to evaporate. Friends and mentors helped me process what I now understand as my “call to ministry.”
Fast forward to May 1991. Caro and I married, honeymooned in Eureka Springs and then settled back into a townhouse (complete with hot tub on the deck) in Garland, Texas. I began a youth ministry intern position there the first Monday back from our honeymoon. A couple in the church let us live in their gorgeous townhouse while they were working out of town for a year.
Rewind a tad. In the year before our marriage, I had sold my share of Advantage for $15,000 and headed to seminary. While Caro and I did the long distance thing during my first year at seminary, I proceeded to buy all kinds of cool stuff. A Macintosh LC (looked like a gray pizza box), all kinds of baseball cards, and well, more stuff. After all, that money would be coming in monthly, and it would all be easy to pay off. During the course of that year, however, it became apparent that the guy who bought the business wasn’t going to be able to continue its success. He began to be late with the payments, and after much prayer and struggle, I decided to completely forgive him the debt.
Fast forward to week two of our marriage. Our first paychecks came and then so did Sunday in our new church. Carolyn wrote out a check for at least 10% of our income. I had a heart attack. You see, I was now a debt machine, and our minimum payments, bills, etc. exceeded what we would be able to give. A four month argument began.
It went like this:
- Jeff: Carolyn! We cannot afford to give right now!
- Carolyn: We’re giving.
- Jeff: Can’t you add?
- Carolyn: Can’t you see?
- Jeff: God understands.
- Carolyn: More than you know.
Or it went something like that.
In a huff, I conceded to give what I thought at the time was an exorbitant amount. (I’d always been a $20-offering-plate-dropper before that; I don’t think I’d ever considered how huge 10% was, I’m ashamed to say.) I thought, “Ha ha, when we go broke at the end of the month and are begging in the intersections of Dallas, she’ll see how right I was…”
First month came and went, and we were fine. How or where the money came from, I don’t know. Second month, same story. We were giving, but I was giving grudgingly, not cheerfully. But we were still giving. (I think you should give even when you don’t “feel” like it. After all, feelings are often wrong.)
Long story short… after several months of this, I began to be able to give with astonishment and gratitude to God. He had proven His faithfulness to me. Through Carolyn’s steadfast (and strong) encouragement, her faith had carried me through an important lesson: God can be trusted completely. My giving adds nothing to Him. However, it multiplies blessings of knowing God better to the giver.
It was no “coincidence” to us when a few months later, Carolyn received some money from a trust that had been set aside for her when she was young. (Notice the money came through Caro… I think that was significant for me.) With that money, we were able to pay off all debts, AND put some into mutual funds. It was astonishing. Truly.
I have never, EVER looked back and regretted learning that lesson. Even though I had to eat, swallow and pass humble pie. Yes, it was pridefully painful. But it taught me more about God’s love and faithfulness than I could ever learn in seminary. Obedience in giving to our Creator and Redeemer yields rewards much greater than financial ones.
If you’re interested in learning more about living generously, I’d encourage you to check out livinggenerously.com.