The Oscar-winning film The Blind Side tells the story of the Tuohy family and their adopted son, professional football player Michael Oher. Now, the Tuohys tell their story in the new book In a Heartbeat. This week’s Words of LIFE comes from their book.
If the message you take from our experience is that a rich, white family tried to save a black kid, then you will totally miss our story’s meaning. It has nothing to do with where we were from, how we lived, or how much money we had. It’s not important what color we were, whether we had glasses or didn’t have glasses, what kind of shoes we wore. All of that is irrelevant. Some people have tried to make it relevant – but they emphasize the wrong thing.
It so happened that when we first met him, Michael was a black, sixteen-year-old male. But those words are just adjectives that describe the person we tried to help and ultimately came to love. Making him a part of the family was an unconscious act, and it happened in a heartbeat.
It’s equally true, however, that the outlook on life that allowed us to open our hearts and home to Michael was developed over the course of our lifetimes. If the impulse was sudden, the two of us had been thinking for several years about our philosophy of giving.
One of our deepest beliefs is beautifully captured in the Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians. The seventh verse of the ninth chapter of 2 Corinthians reads: “Each must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” After many years of attending church together, and helping to found one of the fastest-growing congregations in Memphis, Grace Evangelical, we came to believe that a cheerful, spontaneous offering, no matter how small, could be increased and made powerful by God. Our faith helped us understand that it was up to us to be generous and make ourselves available to be used by others.
We also became convinced that in order to really give, we had to get our hearts right. We had to learn that it was important to let go of any particular agenda. What were we hoping to achieve when we gave? We knew that it couldn’t be, “We’re looking to go out and help a fourteen-year-old Hispanic boy today.”
So many people we knew wanted to make a difference and yet they waited for a really important cause to come along. Or they waited for their big bonus check to come in. They said to themselves: “I want to save Africa.” Or: “I want to save the American Indian.” They had an agenda. But why is it necessary to have an agenda? Because it relieves our conscience? Or makes us look good to our bosses? Or makes us feel good about ourselves? Because it makes us more appealing to the congregation? Or gives us more points on our Visa card? Or means the United Way is going to give us a plaque?
The more we thought about the nature of true charity, the more we realized there’s a paradox in Americans’ general attitude toward giving: as a citizenry we are at once charitable and stingy. According to the National Philanthropic Trust, 89 percent of American households give to charity. Sounds impressive, but think about this: on average, we donate just 1.9 percent of our household income. To be frank, that’s miserly. Especially considering how enriched some of us are, that percentage is well below what it should be. And by biblical standards – as most Christians would undoubtedly agree – it’s downright shameful.
As we reflected on our ways of giving, we came to see that we often approached charity too formally. Giving shouldn’t always be a prescribed ritual or ceremony. It doesn’t need to be accompanied by properly stamped paperwork. If we worried less about the procedures and methods of giving and concentrated more on a giving state of mind, we might have more to offer than we know.
It pained us to realize that we too often failed at the simplest kind of giving. While we were waiting for a great cause, or focused on an agenda, we chose not to notice someone standing right in front of us. We looked right past the woman in the grocery store taking things out of her basket because she was short on cash or the elderly disabled man in line at CVS.
Ultimately, we agreed that by embracing a smaller and more cheerful kind of giving, we might ease a lot of everyday problems. It took several years, but slowly, informally, we found ourselves arriving at a simple conclusion: it wasn’t important to do something great.
Instead, we decided to take this approach: do small things with great love. If we could do that, little opportunities to give might grow beyond our wildest dreams.
Excerpted from the book IN A HEARTBEAT: Sharing the Power of Cheerful Giving by Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy, published this month by Henry Holt and Company, LLC. Copyright (c) 2010 Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy. All rights reserved.