Meaningful Gifts- Stories Remembered While Packing

Today’s post is one more in the spirit of “Christmas in July,” the guiding theme for this month on the COMPASS blog.

Boxes, boxes, and more boxes... Packing, packing, and more packing...

Boxes, boxes, and more boxes… Packing, packing, and more packing…

I currently find myself in the midst of more boxes than anything else. My wife Allison and I are busy packing as we’ll be moving soon, leaving Minnesota to return to the Pacific Northwest so Allison can begin her pastoral internship.

As I have been packing, I have come across a few things which have been gifts to us over the years, and they have me thinking about meaningful gifts. Most of them aren’t special or meaningful to me because of their fiscal value (if they have any). The stories that go along with the gifts and the memories they have given have a value far beyond their monetary worth.

Here are a few stories and memories of my most valued gifts:

  • I am a pianist and vocalist. I love to work out my stress on the piano, and because of this I have quite a bit of sheet music that I’ve been packing. Last week as I was going through some of it I came across a song that had been written and dedicated to me by my good friend Tom. The gift of that song, a thank you for serving in leadership in a particular congregation, brought me to tears when I was surprised with it in worship a couple years ago. Finding the music again brought back many memories and joys from those years.
  • Christmas in JulyThis morning I was sorting through many of our holiday decorations, especially our Christmas ones. I wanted to make sure that our nativity scenes were all packed snugly and comfortably so that they hopefully will make the trip unscathed. I took particular care of our largest one, a crèche that was a wedding gift from my Grandma. It was the scene I grew up playing with, and when Allison and I got married my Grandma said I should have it. I’ve been taking care of it ever since because it brings back many memories.
  • Last weekend I was packing some of my jazz CDs and some baseball things. I credit my love for both in a large part to my other Grandma and Grandpa. The gift of great conversations about how the Mariners are doing, dreaming about what it will be like when they make it to the World Series (sadly, which definitely won’t be this year), and listening to the melodies and improvisation of Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Irving Berlin, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra and many others, are areas of interest which I share with my grandparents. And they bring back great memories.
  • It’s pretty easy to tell what Allison and I do for a living based on what we’re packing. Clearly the things we have the most of are books. We’re definitely life-long learners, and I am grateful for the gift of a deep understanding and appreciation of vocation which was instilled in me growing up by my parents. Thanks Mom and Dad!

As I write this today, I have to admit I’m grateful for many gifts which don’t fit in boxes like the ones I’m packing. Of course, many of these things help me remember the gifts of faith, hope, and love that we have in God. Gifts with the most worth in our lives are often holy moments in life that come unexpectedly. Just today I received an email and call expressing great news of a miracle. A family friend battling a terrible form of cancer just found out that thanks to prayers from all over, and her willingness to hit her pancreatic cancer head-on, her cancer mass is gone. It hasn’t just been reduced, it’s gone. That sort of thing doesn’t just happen. It’s a miracle, I believe. And for that, and so much more, I am giving thanks today.

What gifts with valuable memories stand out to you? What stories are attached to them? And for what do you give thanks today?

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Why I Give: some personal Christmas in July reflections

During July the COMPASS blog is sharing reflections on giving in the spirit of “Christmas in July.” Many of the most frequent posts have been more practical in nature about finances and choices. This post is a bit different, and is a reflection about some of the reasons why I give.

Hi! My name is Timothy and this is my wife Allison.

The picture of my wife Allison and I that introduced you to us a year ago on this blog.

I began working with the Ecumenical Stewardship Center as Communications Associate a year ago. In my first post here on the COMPASS blog I reflected on “Why Do I Give?” Given this month’s theme, I thought it would be a good time to revisit that post and see what (if anything) has changed in explaining why I give.

1. I give because of the Good News.

My giving is part of my response. Deep down my giving to the church and ministry is part of my joyful response to what I believe is the good news of the Gospel. My giving to causes, relief organizations, and other agencies is also part of this response. I deeply believe that I cannot earn salvation, but rather that is God’s work and has already been done for us. All I can do with that good news of love and grace is to live joyfully in response to it: sharing that good news with others, living life fully and abundantly, and giving thanks.

2. I give because there is a need.

My giving is also usually initiated by being moved to act in response to a need in the world. When I see someone hurting or not being cared for, I wonder, “What can I do to help?” If my wife and I can give a financial contribution, that is wonderful. If our budget is constrained, we can still give through volunteering and helping in other ways. (In a practical sense, this is where the idea of “Time, Talent, and Treasure” is made real through giving.)

3. I give because I want to.

There is no greater joy in life than the feeling of helping another person, or bringing a smile to someone’s face.

4. I give because it’s part of God’s work.

I believe that the way I serve and give are part of God’s work in the world and that we all are called to share in this work. Our vocations and God-given gifts, strengths, and passions aren’t meant to be hoarded, but are to be used in service to our neighbor to build up the Kingdom of God.

5. I give because I grew up in a family of givers.

A family of givers

A family of givers

I give because I grew up in a family of givers. My parents talked about money, not as a way to intimidate us or make us worry, but because they knew that sharing their understanding about money, finances, and stewardship would make those subjects more comfortable for us when we were older. As part of this, I grew up receiving an allowance and started a savings account at a very young age. The only stipulation my parents gave us with that allowance was that we would give a portion of it to God through offering at church or to non-profits. Over time, I learned and came to believe that this giving to God was a returning of some of what God had actually entrusted to my care. I credit my desire to give especially to my parents.

Those are five reasons why I give. Now it is your turn. As we continue to celebrate “Christmas in July,” why do you give?

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Planned Giving… it IS for Millennials, too!

During July, the COMPASS blog, is sharing stories, tips and reflections all about gift giving. Today we welcome back writer Nicole Brennan from Barnabas Foundation, who shares about the significance and importance of planned giving, especially for Millennials.

A friend of mine is currently developing an app to streamline generosity in all its many facets: donating, volunteering, attending an event, and sharing news about a cause. When I asked if he was including planned giving, he said “it’s too big of a fish to hook now.”

seedFor those of you who may not know, a planned gift (or planned giving) is just that: a gift that requires planning. (Novel, I know!) Whether you set aside some funds in your lifetime through a donor advised fund, or leave a portion of your assets to charity through a will, it’s planned giving. I happen to think it’s not too big a fish, it’s just a misunderstood one- and a great way for Millennials to create their legacy.

You see, as Millennials, we may not want to think about our imminent death. We also may feel that financially, we have nothing to spare for planned giving. (I don’t know about you, but as a 20-something, renting an apartment, and squirrelling away a few bucks in a savings account, I don’t think I have much to give away.) But through my work at Barnabas Foundation, I came to realize that I have “unknown affluence.” As a Christian, my true treasure is in heaven, but I have a lot here on earth, too. I just didn’t know it.

One of the volunteer groups I am active with is the Legacy Corps: Support for veterans and their caregivers.

One of the volunteer groups I am active with is the Legacy Corps: Support for veterans and their caregivers.

There are several ways to give a gift: through our time, talent, and treasure. I love volunteering and give my time freely generally because I feel it is the most abundant aspect of the three. However, I can easily give my “treasure” away immediately, if only I budget. Tithing and stewardship is a way of life, and can be part of our giving even after we pass away. You can do that by creating a will.

Now I know most of you Millennials are thinking, “A will isn’t for me,” but a will is an important document to have at every age. It can save your family hassle, can appoint guardianship of your children, direct your money where you want it to go, and provide many tax deductions.

Here’s a little homework for you: make a list of everything you already own. Include items like your car, laptop, furniture, pension, life insurance, savings account, those bonds from 8th grade graduation- anything that would be considered an asset. All of that can be included in your will: your earthy, material possessions.

Leaving a lasting testimony behind- especially a faith statement- is an important aspect of a will. This shapes your legacy- your proverbial monument- but what are the bricks that build it? Your monument- your legacy- is built by the bricks: the volunteer hours you freely gave, the fundraising on behalf of a worthy goal, the prayers said in the stillness, and the financial support for these causes. Planned gifts are important and creative bricks to show your support during and after your time on earth.

What does your monument look like? What is your legacy going to be?

profileAbout the Author, Nicole Brennan: Hello there! I’m passionate about living a stewardly lifestyle, while being adventurous and frugal. I currently live in community with six other 20-somethings in downtown Chicago and work as a Marketing Assistant at Barnabas Foundation, a partner of ESC and COMPASS. In my off hours, you can find me volunteering at a nearby homeless shelter, enjoy live music with friends, or watching reruns of Parks and Rec. Email me at or tweet me at @BarnabasFdn.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Christmas in July- Gift Giving


As we move from June into July, we cross the half-way mark of the year. We celebrate the heart of the summer in the Northern Hemisphere, including Independence Day celebrations in the United States and Canada Day fun in Canada. We also inch ever closer to Christmas.

Christmas in JulyFor those of you who give gifts at Christmas, by being in July now means that you now have less than six months to do your Christmas shopping. However, if you are like me, you are less focused on the consumer aspect of purchases and more on the act and importance of giving. Hence, our theme for July is “Christmas in July- Gift Giving.”

During this month on the COMPASS blog, we will be sharing stories, tips and reflections all about gift giving. You will hear perspectives from different writers on topics like:

  • Giving gifts to organizations, non-profits and congregations
  • The importance of planned giving
  • Frugal tips for gift giving
  • Advice and ideas for budgeting for gift giving,
  • Reflections on the faith and theological motivations for giving

As a planner, I believe it is never too early to plan one’s budget and spending for the months and year(s) ahead. If you like to give, like my wife and I do, that means it takes some serious thought about the realities of our budget and planning months ahead by setting aside a certain amount that can be used throughout the year on the purchase of gifts. You’ll hear more about that as well.

I am excited for this conversation, and I hope that you will share your perspectives, ideas and reflections as part of our shared learning by engaging these upcoming posts in comments on the blog, on Facebook, or even through Twitter conversations.

I would also like to invite you to take a more active role in the conversation. If this topic sounds of interest to you and you have a story or perspective to share, please share their wisdom and experience through the writing of a guest post in this series. If you are interested and willing to write as part of this series, please email or comment as soon as possible.

If July is not going to work for you to write, but you are interested in sharing a guest post, we also need more writers for our August theme, “Stewardship for Young Adults- Ideas for faith communities starting in the fall.” I will share more about that next month, but if you are interested in being part of that topic as well, please let me know and I can give you more of an advanced invitation and explanation.

I am looking forward to our conversation! Happy Summer, and Merry Christmas in July!

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.