I use to have a long-sleeve, light blue workout shirt. It was of those non-cotton things that was great at keeping me warm when it was cold out and cool in hotter weather because of the material. The color coordinated well with other workout clothes. And it fit perfectly. I loved that shirt! One of the reasons I loved it so much is because my mom bought it for me. It was a cherished gift because she’s not nearly as outdoorsy as I am and only goes to REI when she’s shopping for me, so it meant that she not only knows what I love to do and the apparel needed for such activities but also took the time to go to a place that she wouldn’t typically go just to pick out a gift.
I loved that shirt. I wore it all the time. When I went to look for a picture of me in it, there were many more posted than I even remembered — retreats, hiking, trips and so on. I wore that shirt more than any other long-sleeve in my workout collection…for about seven months.
My final appearance in that shirt was on a seven-day hiking trip in Africa. And I didn’t lose it.
At the end of our epic trek up a hill, we — the seven of us who embarked on the adventure together from the States — had an opportunity to donate gear to the incredible/amazing/wonderful/humble/inspiring porters who were the only reason we all made it up to the top. They served, encouraged and supported us in ways that are unfathomable. I attempted to blog about that and failed. There are no words that do justice to the awe and gratitude felt toward this group of men, the 20 of them that the seven of us needed. So when we arrived at the bottom of this mountain on the last day, shared a meal and stood around to say our good-byes, we all jumped at the chance to sort through our piles of gear that isn’t available in Tanzania to give these guys who are out in the elements every week serving others. I had a pair of ski gloves with me that were my “old” ones, so I easily handed those over. I had purchased a new Nalgene bottle that had no memories marked by stickers, so I tossed that in the pile. There were a few other things, too: a short-sleeve shirt and a pair of socks.
And then I found myself looking at my blue shirt. My favorite blue shirt. It was a youth x-large, but the arms were a little long and it certainly wasn’t snug on me. Some of these men were skinny and short. It would fit one of them. I knew that to be true. The other two long-sleeved shirts I had were tight and short on me, so they wouldn’t be useful to any of these men. But this one could be. My favorite blue shirt.
I tossed it in the pile quickly without thinking. I knew if I hesitated that I’d justify the decision and change my mind. We hugged good-bye and climbed on the bus. As we drove away from what surely will be one of the most incredible experiences I ever remember and seven days that provided hundreds of life lessons, I chose to stop thinking about the shirt, not thinking that it would be a big deal. It was, after all, only a shirt.
That blue shirt, however, has surprised me by that it has taught me.
I’ve learned that gifts were meant to be given away. God blesses us in abundance out of his love for us because he knows what we need and what we like, according to who he uniquely created each of us to be. But those gifts are not ours to own forever. Instead, they are ours to use to the best of our ability for a time — perhaps decades, maybe months and, sometimes, only for minutes.
I’ve learned that true sacrifice hurts, even if only a little, because if not, it wouldn’t truly be a sacrifice. Yup. I learned that. Over a shirt. I still think about that shirt when I’m looking for something similar in my drawer of workout clothes. I wish, selfishly, at times, that I didn’t give it away. I wish that I tossed the decade-old, off-white one in the pile, even if it was probably too short and tight for any of those men to use. I wouldn’t have missed it as much.
I’ve learned that I am selfish. I’m inclined to give out of convenience and ease but almost never give when it sacrifices my own needs/desires/comfort, at least in ways that I can’t control. I budget my tithe, plan out my time and have margin in my life so that I can “give” when needs arise. But rarely give anything in a way that pains me and is not what or how I intended to give.
This morning, when I went digging through my drawer of workout clothes and that blue shirt came to mind, I found myself wondering how amazing it would be if I made a habit out of giving abundantly with what God has given me…