It was probably 20 years ago, though I don’t remember the exact date. I was just a kid, at home in my safe little world. But we had friends who had gone into missions. The whole family, gone for months at a time, off spreading the good news. This time, it was to Bulgaria. I doubt I could have even found it on a map, but off they went. A few adults stepping out in faith and a group of YWAM kids on fire for God.

Our friend Mike recently shared this story of his first trip to Bulgaria with our church, and though it’s so long past, it spoke to me on so many levels.

They showed up in a bus in this tiny Bulgarian town. They were there to preach to the gypsies. Now, I don’t know what you know about the gypsies, but let’s just say that they’re not well received in Europe. They’re the outcasts, the unloved ones. They’re viewed with suspicion and prejudice and have been for centuries.

And this town they arrived in…it’s not like any town we know. There are no fast food restaurants, no food trucks waiting on the corners. And to hear Mike tell the tale, they didn’t arrive with big plans. They arrived with big faith…and a few dozen hungry teenage mouths to feed.

He said he got off that bus not knowing exactly how he was going to find food for 40 teenagers–food was kinda scarce in that region. Times were tough. But he started down the road looking for restaurants that could take their crowd.

Then, down the street, a man came running. Waving his hand. Yelling, “Don’t you dare! Don’t you dare!”

Make stopped, turned, probably frowned. Probably wondered if, somehow, he was taking the food from this man’s family by trying to buy it for his group.

The man huffed to a halt in front of him. “Don’t you dare,” he said again, “steal my blessing. I am to feed you. My wife has been cooking for days. Come. Come. All of you.”

This man and his wife had never met these people before. They didn’t know they were coming–even the group didn’t know they’d end up in this town. But the Spirit knew. And the Spirit had made arrangements.

The group followed this man back to his small house and found tables set up outside. Pots and pots of steaming food waiting for them.

Bulgaria has, since then, been a second home to this family mine loves so well. I always love listening to their stories, but this one…this one is something special to me.

When Mike stood at the podium shouting out an echo of that long-faded “Don’t you dare steal my blessing!” something went tight inside me. Because how often do we steal blessings from each other?

We’re a society of prideful, arrogant, self-sufficient people. We rely on the money we can make, the health insurance plan we can afford, the car we drive, the clothes we buy. We rely on us. Not on God, not really. Not most of the time.

And on each other? Forget it. Even in the church, we have this idea that it’s great and noble to give…but it’s chafing to receive.

I have a friend who jokes about having “the gift of receiving.” It’s a joke…but it’s also true. It’s a gift, one many of us deny. But by denying someone else the opportunity to give to us, denying them the opportunity to be generous, WE ARE STEALING THEIR BLESSING.

Because when you give, unreservedly…

When you give, without thought to how much that will leave you with…

When you give, not even knowing if the people will show up…

When you give, sacrificing your own pleasures, your own time, your own sustenance

God gives back. And He gives back from His storehouses, which, let me just tell you, honey, are a whole lot fuller than ours. He gives back with eternal life, not just in heaven but here on earth. He gives back with spiritual understanding. He gives back by making less become enough. He gives back by turning people who were once sinners into saints. Now. Here. He gives us His glory, His promise, His Spirit, His truth, His power.

But if we’re not let to give–if we don’t let others give to us–then what?

As the holiday season approaches, as Thanksgiving looms around the corner, I’ve been talking a lot to my kids about how the most noble gift, the most noble giving, isn’t to the ones who will give us a present in return–it’s to those who can’t.

I’d say I also need to teach them how to receive, but to be honest, that’s something kids already know. Right? It’s another part of childlike faith, because every gift we give our kids is undeserved. They don’t earn it. They don’t give us something in return. They receive in love and give back love. Something we un-learn as we age, but which is oh so important.

Because I have nothing but my heart to give my Father. Nothing but my heart and my willingness to let Him use whatever else I have for His other children. That part’s not so hard to understand. But I also need to have hands willing to receive from others when it’s their turn to give–even when I look at them and think, “But I have more than they do, I can’t take this from them.” I can’t just give, expecting blessing. I have to be willing to let others give too.

The next time someone wants to do something nice for you or give you something, I hope you pause before you refuse. I hope you stop to think, “If I say no, if I try to do this/get this on my own instead, am I stealing their blessing?”

I hope we all pause to consider what we might be really taking from them by refusing to accept a gift from their hands.

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