I know I’ve already written past the 4th grade years a week or so ago, but on #tbt (Throwback Thursday) it seemed an appropriate time to share a story from that glorious age: the day I won $1,000 out of a box of Captain Crunch cereal.
There is a whole area of study in human development that believes the most important time of a person’s life is the fourth grade. There’s something about that age that cements core childhood thought habits and patterns, and where a child’s belief about themselves and the world around them begins to come into focus. These scientists (behaviorists?) see an uncanny connection between 4th grade belief systems and adult behavior.
When it comes to fourth grade, I actually don’t remember much. I remember Mr. Vanderhoff and that I really liked him as a teacher. I remember that we got to be out in the “new building” in fourth grade, so that added a new layer of coolness to getting older. I have a few other scattered memories (like playing Oregon Trail on the Apple II E’s in the library) but most remembrances are pretty hazy.
However, the memory of when I won $1,000 from a box of cereal is vivid.
It was a Saturday morning when I stumbled out of bed and wandered into the kitchen. I grew up in a cereal family, where cereal was eaten day or night, and the prize in the box was never left to the second person. When I woke up on that Saturday, I was a little surprised to see I was the first to climb in to the box of Captain Crunch because my brother Phil had been required to attend a day of school reserved for extra special students: Saturday School. So he had gotten up well before me, but had chosen not to enjoy the Cap’n that morning.
Pleasantly surprised, I opened the box, and dumped a healthy pile of the golden deliciousness into my bowl, and poured a little too much milk make sure I’d have enough for seconds. As I crunched away, I reached into the box to pull out the mystery prize, only to discover, much to my disappointment, that it wasn’t a game, but a silly poster of Cap’n Crunch himself. I turned the box around and read that there was a special contest involving these posters and the winners would receive their choice of a 5-minute Toys-R-Us shopping spree or $1,000.
I finished breakfast then removed the wrapper that protected the poster from total Cap’n Crunch dust decay. There was the Cap’n, holding on to a flag pole, with a big cheesy smile. Apparently the flag had a secret glow-in-the-dark message that I would only be able to see in our hall closet, the one room in the house without any outside windows. So I took my poster into the closet and I couldn’t believe the two words I saw:
I shrieked. I woke up my mom and told her I had won $1,000. Knowing the sweet, never sarcastic, always truth-telling child that I was, she replied in her most motherly tone: “No you didn’t. Now go clean your room.” I was going gonzo because I knew I had won, but I needed my mom to verify this great moment of truth. She wasn’t ready to be duped by her fourth grade son (who was known to carry jokes waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay to far), so for several minutes she didn’t even think about checking the poster. Finally, whether out of true curiosity or just a desire to end this really bad joke, she took the poster and held it up to the light, revealing it’s secret message: “You Win!”
She read the box carefully and I began parading around the neighborhood boasting about my prize. I think I knew from the outset that I was taking the $1,000 because I had been wanting to buy a computer like my friends all had, a Commodore 64! Sure enough, the rules confirmed that I had indeed won the prize and we sent our poster off for verification.
During that time we talked a lot about the prize. I thought about the 5-minute shopping spree for a few minutes, but realized that computers were not included in the list of acceptable items, so I went back to the grand. The day my prize letter arrived, my parents carefully read the form and I selected my prize of $1,000. I still remember the day the check arrived and my dad took me to cash it. The banker gave me ten crisp hundred dollar bills and I had never seen so much money in my life!
$300 of it went into the bank. Out of a depth of kindness (or pity?) for my brother who passed on the prize, I think I threw a Franklin toward his future school bills. I gave my parents $150 for buying the groceries and then spent $350 on my new computer, a black and white TV (aka: monitor) and a floppy disk drive. I was in heaven!
Now some of you math geeks added up the money and said, wait, that only adds up to $900. Pat yourselves on the back for your astuteness, the rest of you go back up and check their work. My mom tells this part of the story from that corner of a mom’s heart that’s reserved for moments her children “get it,” and they are filled with so much motherly pride. I think my brothers and sisters filled most of that space in my mom’s heart, but I have at least one moment that takes up a little real-estate in that corner of her heart!
When the money came, my mom said, “Ok Joe, you have $1,000, how are you going to
spend it?” We had already been talking about groceries, bank, computer etc... but she wanted to know that I actually had a plan. I quickly corrected her: “I have $900 to spend and I will buy a....” She stopped me, “What do you mean you have $900?” I put on my best theological hat and explained that God gets the first 10%, so $100 was going to Him. That left me $900. I think she actually teared up a little.
The day I put the $100 bill in the offering plate is good for another story (something about pride and gifts given to draw attention to one’s self?) but the principle was important. My parents had taught me early on that no matter how much or how little you made, at least 10% comes off the top and goes to God’s work.
I look back at that prize money and realize that I didn’t even bat an eye at giving money to my parents, giving a consolation prize to my brother and especially about returning one hundred bucks to the Lord. It was engrained in me to give be generous and to be a willing and joyful giver, that from the outset I was readily prepared to share what I had been blessed with. I haven plenty of other moments where my generosity was lacking, but that big moment in my life, really set a standard in my life, one Traci and I still try to practice today, whatever the season of life. And the cool thing about generosity is this: it’s not just about money.
God expects His children to be generous with everything they have, because everything you and I possess has God’s fingerprint all over it. Did you work for your money? Well who gave you that capacity to work? Did you win $1,000 out of a cereal box? Who put that box in your local grocery store allowing it to fall in your cart? Did you inherit your parent’s fortune? Who gave you life and placed you in that family to begin with? God knows it all, He directs it all, and so there is nothing we can simply claim as our own. James reminds us that every good and perfect gift comes to us from God.
In 2 Corinthians Paul gives a powerful teaching about generosity and stresses three key principles:
- Give generously according to how God has blessed you
- Give regularly
- Give out of love and joy, not guilt
While Paul was teaching specifically about money, these same three principles apply to all of our giving. Give of your time generously, regularly and out of love and joy, not guilt. Give of your hospitality with generosity, regularity and out of love and joy, not guilt. You pick the gift, and these three principles apply! Notice, too, that we aren’t instructed to give everything away, but simply to be generous.
The Overboard Life requires a truly generous spirit. And generosity is never in comparison to anyone else, but always in comparison to God’s abundant blessing and goodness in our lives. The reason God is the standard is because no matter how much you and I give, it’s impossible to give more than God has already given to us -- you cannot out-give the Great Gift Giver!
How can you be more generous today? Don’t let selfishness, fear, control or scarcity keep you from being generous with the gifts God has given you. Give generously to the Lord and watch how you share in a great harvest of righteousness and joy.
24 down, 16 to go.
Go ahead and take the plunge -- giving generously -- because life is always better on the water!