Friday, July 9, 2010

In a Heartbeat: Sharing the Power of Cheerful Giving - What can you offer?

In a Heartbeat: Sharing the Power of Cheerful Giving
On October 1, 1962, James Meredith became the first person of African descent to attend University of Mississippi, affectionately referred to as "Ole Miss." In Fall, 2006, Collins Tuohy, rich white 110 lb. athlete started college at Ole Miss with her brother, Michael Oher, rich black 300 lb. 6'4" athlete. That same semester, the two further crossed racial lines by having Michael and his teammates lunch at the Kappa Delta sorority. 

"The Blind Side" is a delightful book about NFL Ravens right tackle, Michael Oher.  One child out of a gaggle, a drug addicted mother had lost custody of Michael and her multiple other children.  Once in the custody of the state, CPS lost track of him in his early teens.  Cared for by a smattering of helpful people, nobody took responsibility for his well being besides Michael himself.  Still, Michael did have enough connections to often find himself a warm couch or floor to sleep and someone helped Michael gain entrance to a private school on scholarship.  It was at Briarcrest, the private school, where Michael caught the eye of Sean Tuohy, a father of two students.  

Eventually, Sean talked Michael into coming over after school and studying.  Michael started staying over on the sofa, folding his sheets and blankets with military preciseness.  For Leigh Anne Tuohy, mildly OCD (mildly may be exaggerated here), it was love.  
Leigh Anne is a force to be reckoned with.  When Leigh Anne barks, a person does not argue but jumps right to it.  When she tells you that church starts at 10:00 a.m., you'd better be dressed and shined by 9:30.  Frankly, the woman scares me senseless and, strangely enough, I want very badly to meet her.  Her no-nonsense ways leave no doubt that I could learn much from her.  Her husband and children may not necessarily fear her (although they should), they respect her.  

Both Sean and Leigh Anne were born into modest means.  Sean's were much more bare bones and appreciated the kindness of others who reached out to him, giving him a chance to attend good schools and find success as a businessman.  Together, they decided very early on to be doers of the Word and not hearers only.  Charity did not begin with Michael Oher.  It began much, much earlier.

Although philanthropic, the Tuohys did much more than give of their money.  They currently earmark 25% of their income for charitable causes.  They also give of themselves.  Collins, now in her twenties, volunteers at a high school as a coach because the school didn't have one.  Sean was volunteering at Briarcrest at the time that Michael first caught his eye.  They offered their home as a haven for many students until their parents came home from work.  The difference between them and Michael is that Michael didn't have any parents and didn't have a home.  He was strategically splitting his time between sofas and other warm places so as to not wear out his welcome when he was invited to stay at the Tuohy's home.  My guess is Leigh Anne informed him he was staying and showed him his bed. 

The point of the book is to give a glimpse into the lives of the family.  Michael Oher was going to be successful.  Sean and Leigh Anne did not save him.  However, they made his saving himself a whole lot easier. 

In the Tuohy's words:

Q:  Besides dominating the New York Times bestseller list, The Blind Side has also broken Hollywood records. Why do you think your family’s story has captivated so many people?

A:  We think people love the story because they recognize some aspect of themselves there. We want to be the kind of people who really make a difference in the world, but so many people are convinced they don’t have the resources to be that kind of giver. We wrote In a Heartbeat to share our story in our own words precisely so that people will begin to realize that they can be the kind of people who help change someone’s life.

Q:  Let’s talk about the problem of homeless and needy children in America. How do you believe this problem can be solved?

A:  There are a lot of intractable problems in the U.S., from terrorism to health care. But the problem of children in need is curable; we can all do something about it today, individually, through the smallest acts. If every church in the U.S. sponsored one child, we could wipe out the problem of homeless children in this country. There are a million Michaels. Not every kid has the potential to become a star player in the NFL, but he or she may be the person who grows up to cure cancer, or becomes a great husband or wife to someone.

Q:  How do you respond when people marvel at the risks you took as you brought Michael Oher into your family?

A:  You know, you take a risk every day of your life. When you get in your car and drive across a bridge you take a risk. You don’t know if your tires are good, or if the pilings are going to hold, or if the bridge will fall in. But you don’t really stop and think about it, do you? You don’t get up every morning and kick all four of your tires. You don’t stare at the bridge and say, ‘Yeah, I think it’ll hold me.’ How did you know that bridge wasn’t going to fall? Yet you went right ahead and crossed it. Everybody takes risks, every day. You just don’t realize that’s what you’re doing.

Q:  How do you define “cheerful giving”?

A:  This is not giving to impress someone who may be watching, and it’s not giving because you feel guilty. The Bible says it best: “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”-- II Corinthians 9:7

Q:  In the book, you sum up your philosophy of giving in “The Popcorn Theory.” Tell us more about that.
A:  The Popcorn Theory is about noticing others. It’s about seeing, not turning away from the immediacy of someone in need. It starts with recognizing a fellow soul by the roadside—even if he doesn’t seem to belong in your lovely red brick neighborhood and he is the biggest damn piece of popcorn you ever saw and his problems seem too immense to take on. It’s about assigning that person value, and potential. Like popcorn, you don’t know which kernel’s gonna pop. They just show up. It’s not hard to spot ‘em. The Popcorn Theory goes like this: “You can’t help everyone, but you can try to help the hot ones who pop right up in front of your face.”

Q:  What if I don’t have many resources? How can I be a cheerful giver without a bunch of extra money?

A:  Too often we think we lack the means to improve someone’s lot. We’re wrong. The Popcorn Theory doesn’t require you to write a large-scale check, or to take a hungry boy with eyes like leaping flames into your household. But it does require that you perceive the person standing right in front of you, and extend a hand in kindness. Consider this story we heard from a U.S. Senator during a trip to Washington for an Adoption Coalition convention:

There is a little-known Congressional initiative to give internships to young people who were so unwanted they have aged out of the foster care system. This Senator employs one such young man. One day the Senator passed by the mailroom, and paused and turned around. He noticed that his intern, fresh out of foster care, had reorganized all the old files. “This room has never looked so clean,” the Senator said. “You did a great job.” A few minutes later the Senator decided to get a cup of coffee. He returned to mailroom and found that his intern had tears streaming down his face. “Son, did I offend you?” he asked. “No,” the young man said. “That’s the first time anyone has ever told me that I did something good.” This gift had nothing to do with money. What this kid needed most was encouragement and self-worth, and that’s what he was given.

Q:  As you share your story, one of the points you stress is that generosity is not just your personal value. It’s a core value for the entire family. What specific things have you done as parents to help your kids become cheerful givers?

A:  One of our practices is something we call “Get one, give one,” which means when you receive something, give part of it away. To impress the lesson on our daughter Collins, we sent her to camp with underprivileged kids and on a searing mission trip to the Guatemala City Dumps, where she saw families living in lean-tos amid the garbage, yet with pictures of Christ hung amid the wreckage. Collins came to understand how fortunate she was: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” (Acts 14:17) She also learned how important it was to share some of what she’d been given. Long before Michael came into our lives, Collins and Sean Jr. learned to accept the presence of kids sleeping on the sofa or lounging around the house. Friends at the Briarcrest School whose parents worked two jobs. One afternoon 7-year-old Sean Jr. came home to find them playing with his X-box. He sought out Leigh Anne and said, “What gives?” She replied, “We’re just helping them out. Be generous.” Sean Jr. went back downstairs and watched the brothers play a video game. “I’ve got the winner,” he said.

Q:  In the book, you point out that the most important gifts your children gave each other had nothing to do with money. Tell us about those gifts.

A:  As Michael became a member of the family, he and our other kids gave each other two small but crucial mutual gifts—loyalty and protection. At Ole Miss, Collins and Michael went everywhere together, and they and their friends achieved a new level of racial integration at that old southern school. Even now, when our family attends Michael’s games, he remains extremely protective of his sister, insisting on one occasion that his teammate walk her to the car to keep her away from unruly male fans. And for Sean Jr. having Michael in his family means they do more as a family—he gets much more of each of them.
This is one of the blessings of cheerful giving. We have always felt that Michael gave us far more than he received. All we did was put a roof over his head. He has given us back a stronger sense of home and family.

Giving is a lifestyle choice for the Tuohys.  Few of the common people can feed 25 football players Thanksgiving dinner or charter three school buses and buy football tickets for a school student body to attend an athletic event. But what can we do?  When basic hygiene items are on sale, can we pick up a couple extra and give to the homeless shelter?  Buy a school uniform for a child who needs one?  Double our charitable contributions to our church?

As a family, we have participated in a couple of service opportunities.  Both came into my little head thanks to an assignment I received from church.  I became a humanitarian leader.  The nice thing about this assignment is that there are two of us.  One of us in a quilter who regularly holds quilting circles at her home because she's just wonderful like that.  Between her organizational skills and the marvelous talent she and others possess, people all over the world are greatly blessed by having a warm place to sleep.  The other person assigned to this great work is me.  Frankly, I had to dig a little deeper to find my humanitarian talents.

Frankly, I have enjoyed my relationship with our church's humanitarian center.  If you ever get to Salt Lake City, find out where it is and schedule a tour.  It is truly mind boggling.  Want to help?  Go to, find Humanitarian Needs, click on kits, and, as August approaches and school supplies go on sale, grab a few extra supplies.  Exact needs for kits are listed here.

My own family spent an evening putting together hygiene kits.  I love the story of the young woman whose life changed because of one little hygiene kit.  It is included in that post.

What few people know, although it is not surprising, my own family has gone through a hard time when we had very little.  It was disheartening not only to wonder where our food would come from but the emotional and spiritual isolation from others was deafening.  Those few ventured out to offer assistance are seared in my heart.  My only regret is I allowed pride to get in the way of blessings for not only my own family but the giver.  I stoically refused any assistance.  I robbed others of great spiritual gifts.  But I remember who are they are.

As our situation improved, although still trying to get our feet on the ground, it came to my attention that there was a woman that I didn't know but someone else did.  Her husband had left her with her three small children, one of them critically ill.  She lacked marketable skills and her pantry and refrigerator was bare.  Because of my own recent experience, I knew I could not allow her to feel isolated and worry about food for her family.  I quickly rallied my four children together and we had a family council.  When I say family council, I dictated what we were going to do and they agreed to do what I told them.  

Another brilliant idea I gleaned from my Humanitarian assignment in my congregation was an idea I'll call Meals in bags.  I found a few easy recipes, copied them onto cards, and the kids and I went shopping.  When we came home, we arranged the food into organized bags with a recipe stapled on top.  If the recipe called for a cup of shredded cheese, we overcompensated by buying a brick of cheese big enough to feed them for awhile.  A cup of rice turned into a #10 can. 

My resident spy on this woman's house informed me when she was home and my children were carefully instructed to not say a word once we entered her house.  We invited ourselves in, each carrying at least one bag and/or a gallon milk.  I instructed her where the recipe cards were, which bags held perishables, and we filed out.  She had no idea who we were.  She asked who it organized it and I simply told her that the woman who did it doesn't want to be identified. It was a win/win situation.  My children had the opportunity of self-less giving.  This woman had dinner food for a week (plus a couple of boxes of cereal) and kept her pride. If, perchance, one of the readers of this blog happens to know and remember this incident due to knowing this woman, SHUSH!

Develop an attitude of giving.  Nothing is too small to make a difference to someone.  That's the Tuohys strategy.  Grab a Christmas wish off a Giving Tree.  Volunteer an hour at Project Read.  What can you do?  What do you have to give?

Comments welcome and encouraged.  This is a great opportunity to share ideas.

No comments: