The Wrong Way to Pay it Forward

by Sami

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Emma would have been 17 years old today…but she died tragically almost two years ago. Her parents, Paul & Tiffany, are friends of mine from the blogging world and when they lost her, we all lost a treasure.

Paul & Tiffany describe Emma this way on her tribute website,

Emma Evelyn Ivanovsky is our 15 year old daughter who died tragically on August 10, 2015 in a tractor accident. Emma was visiting family and helping to take care of a ranch full of animals and her Great Grandmother in California. She left this Earth exactly how she lived, she was generous and fearless. Emma was an extraordinary “normal” girl, she loved reading and music, softball and basketball were her sports and she loved spending time with her family, especially “The Littles”, her younger siblings. Emma’s very favorite thing to do were random acts of kindness. Emma was generous and I am not even sure she realized it, it is just a part of who she was. She gave with her love, her time and her money.

What stood out to me, even more, was that Tiffany took the time to send me a card just months later when my father passed away…for she truly understood the grief I felt, but in a much different way. While losing a parent is difficult, I cannot even draw a comparison to what it must be like to lose a child.

Still, she didn’t minimize my pain, but instead, encouraged me and let me know she would be there even in the months following his death when most of the rest of the world forgets the loss and yet your pain still lingers.

So today, I decided to pay it forward for Emma. I printed out Random Act of Kindness cards from her tribute website and set forth to do good in my community. I started by buying breakfast for friends in town and challenged them to steward the gift to others they’d come across later today.


Then I went to Starbucks.

Although I went inside to pay and sit, I wanted to pay for someone’s order in the drive-thru in hopes that the chain of giving would continue.

As a naturally frugal girl, I was tempted to ask for the smallest order – perhaps someone just grabbing a quick cup of drip coffee (is that even a thing? You can tell I drink tea…).

But I didn’t.

I just offered to pay and asked them to hand a card to the recipient. It just so happened that as I was picking up my drink from the counter, I overheard (& saw) the exchange of my unknown gift recipient.

I can’t tell you anything marvelous happened, but she did agree to pay it forward to the car behind her! I quickly gave a small stack of cards to the drive-thru attendant in hopes we would start a generosity record.

But much to my dismay, the next car did not follow suit. In fact, they didn’t even look mildly surprised or exceedingly grateful that their order had just been taken care of by a stranger.

I sank slowly into my seat to ponder what just happened.

My excitement of just a minute ago washed away to sadness as I somehow felt like I had failed her legacy.

Then I remembered something I wrote in my journal not long ago about gifts. You see, I used to buy my dad gifts for his birthday; he would open it, examine it, thank me and then immediately respond, “Do you want it?“.

This transaction hurt and infuriated me. Eventually, I stopped giving because I felt like my heart was being rejected. But as I’ve aged and matured, I’ve come to realize his only responsibility was to receive the gift; what he did after that was entirely up to him.

Too often, we live in guilt because of something we’ve been given, feeling like we have to clutch it with closed fists forever or worse, do something to repay the giver. For too long, I gave gifts with the (silent) expectation of getting something in return, even if it was just praise or gratitude.

If I feel moved to give someone a gift, that alone should be enough for me to do it; their potential response (or lack thereof) should not influence my giving in any way. It may be an act of generosity or even obedience, but that is exactly it, my act.

I needed to learn to let go of my expectations.

So as I sit and write this to process my feelings, I rest in the contentment of knowing why I did what I did, and who I did it for. The gift wasn’t really for the person in the car I never met, it was because an angel named Emma watches over me and is teaching me to be generous without the expectation of anything in return, much like our heavenly Father would want.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— ~ Ephesians 2:8

When you receive a gift, receive it for what it is: something that is unmerited that you didn’t necessarily deserve…and yet you were blessed with it anyway.

And when you choose to give a gift, do so without expectation of anything in return, but only to know that you are stepping out in faith and love.

But if you do decide today to give a gift, even the smallest of gifts, I ask that you do it for Emma. She may have been taken from this earth too soon for our hearts, but we can still allow her legacy to live on through us.

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