I was doing some research that I thought might help us understand what generous giving looked like in different generations.
Then, I ran into the story of Sunshine Oelfke.
Sunshine is five years old and lives in Michigan with her grandmother because her mother is addicted to drugs and has been in and out of prison.
One day early this month, Sunshine’s grandmother, Jackie, noticed that Sunshine had emptied her piggy bank out onto the floor. She had made stacks of nickels, pennies, and dimes. And then Sunshine stuffed some coins and some crinkled dollar bills into a plastic baggie and put it in her backpack.
“Nobody messes with the piggy bank,” Jackie says, so she asked Sunshine what she was doing with the money.
“I’m going to take it for milk money,” Sunshine explained. “I’m taking it for my friend Layla. She doesn’t get milk. Her mom doesn’t have milk money, and I do.”
So that day grandmother and granddaughter went to the kindergarten teacher at Birchview Elementary. It turned out about half of the twenty children in Sunshine’s class don’t get milk each day because it costs $0.45 a carton.
Sunshine gave her teacher the $30 she had saved and a few days later happily told her grandmother: Guess what! My whole class got milk today. Now Layla has milk money.”
Jackie was moved by the statistics about the children in the classroom and her granddaughter’s generosity, so she created a Go Fund Me Page.
As of this morning, it’s raised over $12000. That’s enough for milk for all of Sunshine’s friends class of 2030 for the rest of the school year. The rest will help Sunshine’s classmates with nutritional and educational needs, including a hot lunch at school and field trip costs.
I didn’t expect that.
I didn’t expect the story about generosity would come from a kindergarten with a drug addict for a mother.
The prophet of Israel, Samuel wasn’t looking for a generous giver. He was looking for the next king of Israel.
Samuel listened to God and went to Bethlehem, to look at the sons of Jesse. When he got there, he had his criteria in mind. He knew what he expected a king to look like.
First up was Eliab. Samuel looked him over and thought, “Yep, this guy looks like he fits my criteria. He looks like a king.” That’s probably because when Samuel was looking for a king, the criteria weren’t what we use to find a President. Some qualities might be the same: wise, well-spoken, selfless, having the best interest of the country in mind. But back then, kings also had to lead soldiers into battle. Kings were part of the fighting. So kings had to be physically imposing. Big and strong.
Samuel was what Samuel was expecting tall, strong and imposing.
But God says, “Nope. That’s not my criteria.”
You can imagine Samuel’s bafflement. Had a list of criteria. Met the list. But it’s not the right one.
Samuel listened to God and passed over Eliab. He looked at the next son. Next son was tall strong, probably a little less experienced in battle, but still met the criteria. This is what Samuel was expecting, but God says, “Nope. Not meeting my criteria.”
This goes on, as we know, through seven of Jesse’s sons. Jesse and the seven sons and all the elders must have been wondering what was going on. Why couldn’t Samuel figure out what the right choice was here? And Samuel must have been wondering who was going to meet God’s criteria.
And then finally there was no one left. Samuel was out of options.
Ever been there?
I have. I imagine we all have. I’m pretty sure that at some point we each thought that God was going to do something. Our plan depended on it. We had criteria, good criteria. We ran the plan, it didn’t pan out, and then we ran out of options.
There are people who set themselves up to work in one industry or another, saw an injustice and blew the whistle on a powerful person and found themselves blacklisted from the work they wanted to do. There are people who have planned all their lives to have a home in Napa Valley, and now their home, their crops, their future is mere embers. There are couples who were certain they would be the best parents ever, but they never conceived. There are people who saved up for a good retirement, and then the paid the medical bills or helped a drug-addicted child, and now they have nothing.
We thought we knew what to expect. We had criteria. We did what we were told. None of it worked. Now, we’ve run out of options.
Like Samuel, we crane our neck around at God and say, “I thought I was doing what I supposed to do. And now there’s no one. Nothing. No options.”
Except, of course, that there was.
The problem was that the one that was left didn’t meet any of the criteria.
He wasn’t tall. He wasn’t strong. He had never been in battle and didn’t look like he was ready for it. He was inexperienced and completely unqualified. He was like a kindergartener with a piggy bank of coins. There’s no way David could be king.
But he was. The runt of a shepherd, the forgotten son of Jesse, was the one God intended. He wasn’t what Samuel – or anyone else expected –but it was part of God’s plan. There’s nothing wrong with strong, imposing, a brilliant warrior. It just wasn’t what God was looking for. God was looking for a kind-hearted five- year old growing up in a non-traditional household.
Samuel couldn’t see what God saw in David that day. What Samuel did do was listen to God. He listened to what God was saying about all the options that met the expected criteria even though it meant bumping right up into no option. And then Samuel listened to the way God looked at David. Samuel listened, and then he looked again.
What was not an option became the best choice – God’s plan.
It wasn’t an easy choice.
God saw into the heart of a ruddy boy that day and saw that David would be a great king in many ways, establishing Israel as a political and military force, returning the people to God. But David would also have ethical failures of disastrous proportion, criminal behavior that was unjust and imperiled the nation. God’s best choice doesn’t necessarily lead to a smooth path, the expected outcome. God’s choice always makes a way forward – for God’s people as a community and each of God’s people.
Maybe you are one of those people who has run out of options.
There’s no money in your bank account. There’s no love in your marriage. Maybe in your work you have tried one reasonable effort or equation that made perfect sense, met all the criteria and it hasn’t panned out, and you’re at the end of your wits. Maybe you’ve tried everything to manage your pain or your depression and it just never goes away.
When there are no other options, God is still speaking.
We make our plans. We have our criteria. We establish expected outcomes. We have a list that we clutch it in our hands and our hearts when we look for the next right thing to do. It might work. But it might not.
If we are listening, though, God will point us to the right choice. God has a different set of criteria.
The way ahead may not be easy. It won’t be what we expected. The right choice may not be perfect or pretty. It will make way for our life and the life of the people of God.
Sometimes God chooses someone or something we would never have expected.
Sometimes the unexpected person that God is calling is the youngest son of a shepherd.
Sometimes the unexpected person that God is calling is a kindergartener with a piggy bank.
Sometimes, the unexpected person that God is calling is you.