My dad chuckled when he told us kids that he was conceived under an apple tree out behind the barn up on the old DeJong place.
There’s something about the thining, dim edges of a story like that, well, a kid can’t forget.
I never dared ask my Grandma Ruth about the truth of the claim either, her and I being polite women and all.
Yet when the Farmer and I got married and were slinging our own babies up on hips and out to the barn, when we started baking birthday cakes for kids of our own, that was what we set on to give each of the kids for their second birthdays —
an apple tree of their own.
Seemed like a passing of a torch, in some ridiculous, unspoken Edenic way. Seemed like it doesn’t matter how we’re all the same kind of different, we all come from pretty much the same neck of the woods. The genesis of us all is an orchard made of love. The kids hauled a train of of pails out there.
Sloshing these 5 gallon buckets through how many baking-hot summer days to keep those pale-leaved trees alive. I stood at the window washing dishes, watching them grow. Trees and kids.
Every year the apples fell in these heaps in the fall, bent and bound on a lavish giving, and it was a thing. Something I don’t want to forget. The kids ask me what I want for my 40th. The Farmer gets a pen and the backside of a sheet of scrap paper and pulls his chair up close. But, hey, come on — who needs more when you’ve got a full laundry basket of damp, balled up socks, your own full set of crows feet, smile tracks and love handles, and some shiny stretch marks to boot.
Let’s count it all good. The kids goan. The Farmer grins, elbows a love handle. Okaaay then. Look, why we don’t do it like this.
40 G.I.F.T.s — 40 Give. It. Forwards. Today.s- 40 Intentional Acts of Kindness, that still look a bit haphazard and random, and sure, we can be the GIFT, but nobody’s thinking gifts like those wrapped up with a poised silk bow at Macy’s. More like a gift stuffed in a creased dollar store bag with some used and crinkled tissue paper. So what if your life’s going to be messy. Perfect isn’t the plan. Purpose is.
The Farmer scratches them down and scratches some hair-brained ones out and we try again.
And when we get to the last G.I.F.T. idea, #40, we wait for an epiphany, pen poised and nobody’s got anything – and then I do: “One apple tree. I’d like to plant one apple tree somewhere.”
Because there was this tree in India and there was Kundulla and when you get wrinkles, you get thinking about roots and limbs and how we are all connected.
Kundulla and I are both the oldest, daughters of farmers.
While I was watching the trees growing in the orchard here, Kundulla was getting beaten and gang-raped under a tree in India. She was 13.
Her father had married his little girl off to an older man and now her mother-in-law had supposedly sent her to the field to work.
Only she’d actually sold Kundulla’s hardly- woman body to a bunch of young men for the afternoon. There are things you want to forget. A leaf given to the wind.
What do you when you are 13 years old and the mother of the older man your father married you off to – sells your skin to be used and taken and discarded? Who in your family do you trust when you are robbed of dignity and left for dead?
Shamed and betrayed, Kundulla didn’t run back to her father or mother, or her husband’s family, but to an uncle. He took her in and cared for her.
And then said, since she had brought shame on the family, it’d be be best for him to find her a job and a new life in Calcutta. So her own uncle, whom she trusted, sold 13-year-old Kundulla into a brothel to begin her new life….
There are days that the only thing a family tree seems good for is firewood.
For years, Kundulla stood alone and “in the line” of Sonagacchi, Calcutta’s largest red light district, men buying the use of her thin body for their own momentary lusts.
For years, the trees out in the orchard reached a bit to the sky.
There is nothing ever that can stop anyone from being grafted into the family tree where One took the Tree so that you could have the whole eternal sky.
“Yeah. 40 G.I.F.T.S – 40 Give. It. Forward. Today.s —and let’s make the last one a tree.”
The Farmer scratches that one down as the last G.I.F.T for my 40th birthday.
And the One who hung on the Tree, He answered that young lawyer’s question about the essence of the kind of life God requires of all human beings —- by saying we all have to Be The G.I.F.T.
When the young lawyer asks Jesus what kind of life God requires, Jesus tells this story of the Good Samaritan, one who was robbed and beaten and left for dead – one who had medical needs, and a Samaritan met them, one who had financial needs, and a Samaritan met them, one who had protection, shelter, nutritional needs, and a Samaritan met them.
Jesus says the very essence of the kind of life God requires of all human beings — requires giving your very life away.
Jesus says that to get in on the best life — give the best of your life away.
Jesus says that whenever you meet needs — you meet God.
Jesus says that — Giving It Forward Today isn’t an optional feature to the Christian life — it’s the operative feature of the Christian life.
“This is a great shock to the people in the Bible-believing churches,” offers Tim Keller, “because they’ve always thought that, even though it’s nice to take care of the poor and it’s good to take care of people who are needy, and it’s a nice thing if you can get to it, almost everybody in the Christian church thinks of it as an optional thing. We should all worship. We should all evangelize. We should all have fellowship. We should all sit and listen to the Word of God. But social compassion is optional – Do you see how that’s not true?”
The Real Believers, the Real Live-ers – are the Real Givers.
Giving It Forward Today isn’t a bonus optional feature to the Christian life — it’s the bedrock operative feature of the Christian life. Be the G.I.F.T.
That’s how God tells the Real Believers, the Real Live-ers, from the real religious: The Real Believers are the Real Live-ers – the ones who are the Real Givers: “When I was hungry, they gave Me something to eat and when I was thirsty they gave Me something to drink, and when I was imprisoned in sin and shame and poverty and lovelessness, they gave Me the keys to free.”
And the CounterGrace Christians, the CounterGiving Christians, are the Counterfeit Christians – the ones who have No Real Excuses: “Lord, when did we ever see You hungry? When did we ever see You thirsty? When did we see You imprisoned?
And Jesus will say: How you treat the poor, is how you’ve treated your Lord.
Jesus will say: If your god was yourself and your money and your comfortable ease, then I was never your God.
Jesus will say: If you didn’t Give. It. Forward. Today. — why would I think you would want to give Me love for all eternity? Depart from Me – I never knew you…. and you didn’t have the time or desire to get to know Me.
These are the goats.
Nowhere is Jesus saying that the work of social justice is how you work your way to Christ.
Everywhere Jesus is saying that the work of social justice is the sign that Christ is at work in you.
There are trees — the trees out in our orchard. There is the tree which tried to spread its limbs over Kundulla’s raped heart.
There are trees abundant with giving leaves. And there are trees barren of any green or giving, who are just about standing proud.
Only the giving tree is living.
The work of the giving leaves doesn’t actually give the tree life – the work of the giving leaves means only that the tree actually has life.
Unless we are giving – our faith isn’t living. Unless we Give. It. Forward. Today. — why would we want to give Him love for all eternity? Unless we are the G.I.F.T. — we will get nothing.
Unless our lives are generous — our faith is starving to death.
Julian, one of the last Roman emperors, vainly attempted to revive paganism in the face of Christianity spreading everywhere. In disgust and desperation, he wrote one of the pagan priests about the main reason why Christianity was unstoppable:
“Nothing has contributed to the progress of the superstitions of these Christians as their charity to strangers.
The impious Galileans provide not only for their own poor, but for ours as well.”
Roman Emperor Julian didn’t see Christianity’s cultural currency as much in worship, though it was vibrant; he didn’t see Christianity’s cultural currency as much in its Sunday morning services, though they were full; he didn’t see Christianity’s cultural currency as much in its conferences, its t-shirts, its loud lobbying or fiery preaching or angry blogs, though they were all to come.
Roman Emperor Julian saw that Christianity’s most potent, unstoppable currency in the culture was how Christians took care of their own and those not their own, how Christians took care for their poor and the world’s poor, how Christians were irresistable to the culture, because they were a G.I.F.T. to the culture.
In India, Kundulla makes herself the G.I.F.T.. When her parents die, she inherits a small plot of land — and she asks Freeset if she can give the land as a G.I.F.T. to them, to start another place for discarded and trafficked women to join Freeset, to have an opportunity to be grafted into an eternal family tree, rooted in the One who hung on a Tree to hold them close forever.
And in North America, we are the kin, the limbs of the family tree of Real Believers, Real Live-ers, who are the Real Givers, who everyday decide to Be The G.I.F.T., who buy a coffee for the guy behind us and tuck a gift in the mailbox for the mailman, who carry the groceries out for the frazzled mama with the new baby and a tantruming toddler and who drop off doughnuts for the nurses working the late shift at ER.
We are the Abolitionists and the Freedom Fighters who look at the trees and think of Kundulla and our sisters curled naked under trees and we are the limbs of the family tree who are dead and do nothing but who are alive and give shelter.
We live this: Be the G.I.F.T. We Give. It. Forward. Today. — we give it forward today, everywhere, because we want nothing more than to give Him love for all of eternity.
We are the ones who look at the calendar, who see time passing by, who want our lives to add up to more meaning than some tacky glitz in our closet or some egotistical gleam in our garage, who want our lives to add up to an eternity of loving God. We are the young and the old and in between who are the Esther Generation who have been called for such a time as this – to risk our lives, to go out on a limb right now, for our family outside the gate.
If you really are part of the family tree of God – you have to go out on a limb. You have to be the Giving Tree.
There’s a turn of the calendar page and what are our lives really about and adding up to and where are the leaves and the fruit and the signs of His life unfurling and ripening in us?
And there are 40 G.I.F.T.s written down in the Farmer’s handwriting– there are 40 ways to Give.It.Forward.Today – sunflowers to the lady at the checkout and cookies for the guy at the bank and hidden quarters for the kids in the park — and there’s no better way to celebrate a life, today, than becoming the G.I.F.T.
My Dad shows up with roses for my 40th. I choke back the ache of grace. We are limbs around each other.
When we head out to be the G.I.F.T. – 40 G.I.F.T.s – I grab one of Kundulla’s bag at the back door, the one with the tree and the nest on it, and it’s about a life that counts more than one thousand gifts – a life that begins to count ways to to Be The G.I.F.T.
A life that’s rooted in Christ and finds its beginning and life and end in being a limb, out on a limb, because if we are going to be real branches of the true vine, we can be nothing less than like Christ in giving and He stretched Himself so far out as to nail Himself to a Tree.
The kids buckle up and the Farmer turns to me at the end of the laneway, the 40 G.I.F.T. list in hand, and says, “And at the end, we’ll go plant a tree?”
And yeah, I nod, but it ends up that whole life can be the gift of the Giving Tree….
*Updated (You all astounded us! #EstherGeneration)
Be the the G.I.F.T. —
~ Be The G.I.F.T. — and do one random/intentional act of kindness today and share it with me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram? Tag it with #BeTheGift #1000Gifts — I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than us all becoming the G.I.F.T. — Give. It. Forward. Today. (I’ll be looking for your G.I.F.T.s there today and sharing my own Give. It. Forward. Today. there too!) You can print out your own Be The G.I.F.T. labels right here.
~ Join back in here *Wednesday and, Lord willing, I’ll post how our 40 G.I.F.T.s went as we gave ourselves away in random and intentional ways, and the birthday cake, and the planting of our tree!
~ Be a G.I.F.T. to Freeset and women like Kundulla — (let me know, and I can celebrate with you?)
~ *Updated: The Limited Edition One Thousand Gift bags at Freeset sold out in only a few hours, even in the midst of crashing the site with 3 plus servers — but our God is unstoppable and this #EstherGeneration won’t stop storming the gates of the enemy until the captives are FREE! Thank you, thank you, for freeing so many women. Would you consider another bag from Freeset to set free just one more woman? I can’t thank you enough…