Life As Gift: Three Questions That Unleash Generosity

The alarm breaks through your semi-conscious state beckoning your brain to move your arm to hit the button. Instinctually, without opening your eyes, your hand finds the snooze button that transports you to another 10 minutes of blissful slumber. With the next intrusion of the alarm, you feel your legs slide off the bed and your feet hit the floor. You shuffle to the bathroom, take care of business, and let your shower usher you into a state of greater readiness for coffee, breakfast, and the challenges ahead. Another day begins. 

How will you handle the stress that comes with living, moving, being in this world? What sources will you draw from for energy, motivation, insight, or discernment? Will you respond to people, issues, and challenges based on assumptions, biases, or comfortable actions you have collected through the years? Or, will you approach the day like a new baby you cradle with sacred care and wonder? What if there's a much larger purpose to live for that you and I are missing?

The book Three Cups of Tea tells the incredible story of military veteran and mountaineer Greg Mortenson whose life purpose became entwined with the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Despite danger, fear, hardship, and even being kidnapped, Mortenson pursued the mission of building schools for young girls and became a catalyst that pulled both people and governments into fighting terrorism with books rather than bombs.

At the risk of grand reductionism (I encourage you to read the book) I share with you today three lessons that came to me in the form of simple questions.

1.  Am I willing to wait?

We live in a hurry up world. If you ever doubt this go to a busy airport and try crossing the human traffic, everyone with roller bags in tow, on their way to their flights (Which I recently did for a morning flight from Atlanta.) I had visions of what my forehead would look like with a thousand little grooves and shoe prints on it! Whether its lines at the airport, traffic on the freeway, or the fast lane of expectations we encounter everyday at school or work, the clear cultural value we have established is "fast is good and waiting will not be tolerated."

It begs the question (But we must ask), where has this hurry up culture gotten us? In the US, research overwhelmingly confirms that we are the most stressed out, overweight, violent, and incarcerated people in the developed world.

In Three Cups of Tea, a conversation is shared from Haji Ali of Baltistan, Pakistan and Greg. Haji states, "The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea you become family, and for our family, we are prepared to do anything, even die."

Mortenson frames the lesson he learned when he says,

“We Americans think you have to accomplish everything quickly. We're a country of thirty-minute power lunches and two-minute football drills. Our leaders thought the "shock and awe" campaign could end the war in Iraq before it even started. Haji Ali taught me to share three cups of tea, to slow down and make building relationships as important as building projects.”

It's an important point to ponder. For all our striving for success, often compelling a race to the finish line to meet lofty goals and deadlines, have we jettisoned discernment, connection, and perspective that only shows up when we take the time to wait? What if we made more space in our schedules for mindfulness, relationships, and meaning making?

2.  What do I fear?

When Julia Bergman visited a school for girls in a rural village in the Himalayas, she said, "I am not a religious person, but I felt I had been brought here for a reason and couldn't stop crying.” Then she met Greg who was equipping villagers with resources for the school. "I want to help," she said. "Is there anything I can do?" Greg said, "Well, I want to collect books and create a library for the Korphie School." With a sense of predestination, Bergman replied, "I'm a librarian."

To Greg's amazement, Julia offered to fly to Pakistan and accompany him on the trip he planned to take by road from Peshawar to Kabul. "It's a very courageous thing to do," he said. There was still fighting happening along the route but he couldn't talk her out of it. She knew the women of Afghanistan had suffered under the Taliban and she was desperate to help them. In April of 2002, Julia stepped across the Landi Khotal border post wearing a porcelain pendant around her neck that read, "I want to be thoroughly used up when I die."

Wow! How freeing would it be if we, like Julia, chose to let go of whatever it is we fear so that we could grab on to meaning and purpose with both hands? What if, for all of our well-laid plans, we are missing out on the most fulfilling aspects of life and the growth that comes from sharing our gifts and resources without concern for our own benefit or welfare?

3.  Will I live as if ALL of life is gift?

The real life stories lived out in Three Cups of Tea are both convicting and challenging for me.

What if I take on the perspective that drawing breath each day is not a right but a privilege? What if, instead of the narrow focus on my own pursuit of happiness, I choose to pour out my talents and resources to serve others? I am hoping that you, like me, may be inspired to look at the way you are living life. I don't consider myself a poet, but today I humbly share how these lessons are still simmering in my brain, impacting my thoughts, and tearing at my heart.

To Live Life as Gift

Life is a powerful force waiting to exhale

into a world of thick swirling air

A prism of infinite potentiality and power

sufficient to chase away the darkness


Yet, assumptions made shield wandering souls

from simmering vitality waiting to burst forth

just beneath the crusty ground of human striving

Trapping dreams and values in a vault of good intentions


The secret comes in living all of life as gift

hearts palpitating through thin veils of flesh

Ready to climb the shear cliff challenge each day posits

with the primal cry, "I am alive!" "I have purpose!" "I belong!"


To live life as gift is to awaken every morning with a curious expectancy

waiting with baited breath for each moment's unfolding and

Listening for love's gentle whisper to oneness with others;

Embrace, connect, laugh, play, work, forgive, serve


To live life as gift demands sacrificing the insidious compulsion to control

people, time, money, things, outcomes

Releasing opportunities like homing pigeons to move and breath and do their creative work

in souls who have forgotten the way to freedom