The giving journey for Tracy Autler started on Thanksgiving Day 1993. Away from her family, living in an apartment on the lower end of town, a single mom to a 3-year-old and eight months pregnant, she was relying on welfare and food stamps to get by. While other families were preparing for their Thanksgiving feasts, Tracy would do the best she could with canned food.
Standing in her apartment and looking at the sparse collection of cans on her shelf, Tracy heard a knock at the door. What in the world? she thought. Who would be coming to her door on Thanksgiving Day? Weren’t people at home with their families, eating turkey and watching football? She opened her door and simply couldn’t believe her eyes. Standing there was a man from a local restaurant with a delivery for Tracy: a full Thanksgiving dinner, complete with all the trimmings. He said it was from an anonymous donor, and before Tracy could ask any questions, he handed it over and left. Tracy was so overwhelmed that she spent the rest of the day crying.
Surprised and amazed, Tracy decided she needed to know whom to thank for this extravagant and timely gift. However, she couldn’t figure it out. She called her parents, but it wasn’t them. She asked her friends, but no one knew. Tracy couldn’t believe that someone outside her circle of friends and family had noticed her situation and done something about it without drawing any attention to himself.
Years went by, and Tracy still had no idea whom the mysterious Thanksgiving dinner had come from. In time she moved out of that apartment and began working as a nurse at a local hospital.
And then it happened. Seven years after that special Thanksgiving meal, a woman named Margot was admitted into Tracy’s care. Margot had multiple sclerosis, and her condition was becoming critical. Tracy remembered Margot from her time on welfare. She had lived in the same apartment building as Tracy. It was clear that Margot didn’t have much longer to live.
Three days before her death, Margot took Tracy’s hand in hers and, in a frail voice, whispered two words: “Happy Thanksgiving.”
In that moment Tracy knew who had given her that Thanksgiving dinner. She would never have guessed that Margot—the unassuming neighbor with multiple sclerosis—was behind that generous gift. Tracy still gets tears in her eyes when she tells the story today.
I’d call that story “I Like My Neighbor.”
Margot saw Tracy’s situation that Thanksgiving Day and did something extraordinary—she gave her the perfect gift without anyone asking her to and without asking for anything in return.
That one gift had a massive impact on Tracy’s life.
Moved by the anonymous donor’s generosity, Tracy purposed in her heart to do generous things for other people too. The very day she got off assistance, she took a basket of gifts down to the welfare office for anyone to take. The welfare officer was stunned. Can you imagine the look on his face? Who does something like that?
And that was just the beginning. Since then, Tracy and her husband have become foster parents and adopted a son. She regularly looks for opportunities to give. The last time I heard from her, she was getting ready to volunteer her Saturday afternoon at the local Humane Society. One of her latest ideas is to leave five-dollar Starbucks gift cards with little notes for her coworkers to find, just to make their day better. This year Tracy and her family made a New Year’s resolution to find 100 opportunities to give to other people. How inspiring is that?
What I appreciate most about Tracy is that she doesn’t do her giving to be noticed by others. Since that Thanksgiving Day in 1993, she has discovered the joy that comes from giving. Now she’s hooked. She doesn’t give to make herself look good—she gives because she likes giving. It makes her feel more alive. “It’s how life should be,” she says.
Giving changes us
There is something incredible about giving when it’s our idea. Opening our eyes and ears to the people around us and asking, “How can we give?” is a profoundly life-giving and satisfying way to live. One of Jesus’ ideas was that it is more blessed to give than to receive. I have found that to be true. The generous life is the only life worth living.
Just imagine—what if every single person on the planet woke up and, like Tracy, looked for ways to give? What sort of world could we create through the simple, powerful decision to live generously? Whoever you are, no matter how much or how little you have to share, making the decision to give regularly to others—daily, weekly, or monthly—will enrich your life and change the lives of the people around you.
When we choose to give, we change, and the people around us change. When we move from awareness to action, miracles happen. When we allow giving to be our idea, a world of possibilities opens up before us, and we discover new levels of joy. If you, like Tracy, get hooked on giving, you’ll find yourself asking, “How generous can I be?” When that happens, you’ll realize that, not only are you loving life more than ever, but you’re also a part of creating a more generous world—a world that is better for all of us.