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Philanthropy Shining Lights

All In

A shared mission of generosity has given Mark and Laura Pflug more joy and a stronger marriage

When Mark and Laura Pflug first started out, they had very little. They made a pact that if they became wealthy, they wouldn’t succumb to the temptation of an affluent lifestyle. They had no desire to keep up with the Joneses.

Or so they thought.

Then Mark climbed the corporate ladder, working for a large law firm in midtown Manhattan. His job, he joked, was to make rich people richer. But he was good at what he did.  He earned rewards for his work in mergers and acquisitions and private equity. The harder he worked, the more money he made—and the more he felt he deserved it.

“Things for me have always been identity driven,” Mark said. “I love cars, I love watches, I love nice things. But also I want other people to recognize that I’m successful or I’ve done something good.”

After a six-month stint in Hong Kong for his job, Mark rewarded himself with a loaded sports car. He compiled a playlist and planned outfits for his rides. “It was getting kind of ridiculous,” he admitted.

So when Laura came back from a weekend retreat on generosity, Mark was intrigued but hesitant.

She had attended a Journey of Generosity (JOG) event hosted by a friend who worked at Generous Giving. “I didn’t know what I was in for,” Laura said. “I came to learn it was basically a conversation about God and money.”

The women gathered in her friend’s living room talked about generosity in ways Laura had never heard before.

“I was trying to digest what I was hearing,” she said. “I felt like God was going to start prying my hands open.” Her world was about to change. She just didn’t know what those changes would look like or how Mark would respond.

It turns out, he wasn’t ready to jump in with her, but he watched as she began walking out her own version of radical generosity—letting go of her art.

Laura is an abstract painter specializing in acrylics and mixed mediums. Many of her paintings are titled after emotions and are vivid explosions of color and textures. She started by giving her paintings away. Then she began selling them and donating the money.

“My anxiety came from the fear of losing what we had,” Mark said, “because we did work hard for it, and the things that we did have—like a nice home, the nice vacations that we took—it felt to us like that was what was sustaining us. I felt like if we lost those things, would we really be happy?”

Laura opened a giving fund with the National Christian Foundation. The day her fund went live, she got an email from a friend offering to pay $10,000 for one of her pieces.

She saw a whole world of ministry open up to her. “I think in the past it was always about ‘us’—the effect we could have because Mark was the one making money,” Laura said. “God started to show me that I had a lot to give.”

Meanwhile, Mark’s interest grew. Laura was obeying what she felt God asking her to do without worrying what other people thought. “It felt to me like she’s really owning who she is,” he said. That captured his attention.

Mark’s turning point came during a meeting for a church leadership program. As the men around him discussed the topic of stewardship, he felt God asking him to give up the sports car. “For some reason I still don’t fully understand, I agreed,” Mark recalled. “Little did we know that God would have something so much bigger in store for us.”

The next turning point came when Mark found an invitation in the trash for a Generous Giving conference. (Laura admitted to throwing it away, thinking Mark wasn’t ready). He called and signed them up. That first night of the event, they were both crying. Mark felt affirmed that his skills were a gift from God but challenged that his success wasn’t meant to fill his own coffers but to invest in the Kingdom of God.

Mark and Laura walked away from that conference knowing two things: they were supposed to list their home—“we didn’t want our house to define who we were anymore,” Laura said—and they wanted to give $500,000 to help launch a ministry in their area. To do that, they would need to free themselves from the expensive lifestyle they were supporting.

Almost overnight, the couple went from giving 3-4 percent of their income to giving 40.

They sold their house, expecting to downsize and use the excess money to give larger chunks to charities. Instead, they bought a large house in Fairfield, Connecticut, ideal for gathering large groups of people together, so they could host JOGs and other events.

“It’s God’s house,” Laura said. “When we bought it, we said, ‘God this is yours. Whatever you want to do here, we’re up for it.’”

Mark and Laura also helped start Generosity NY to gather resources and facilitate community for donors in New York. In one Generosity NY discussion panel held this past January, Mark encouraged attendees that generosity isn’t just for the wealthy.

“God gives to some more than they need, so they can be caretakers of those who need that. It builds relationships,” he said. “Think about what it is you have that you have more than you need—money, relationship, influence, an idea—and be willing to share that.”

One unexpected benefit of growing into a lifestyle of radical generosity was that it strengthened their marriage. Prior to their interactions with Generous Giving, Laura said they battled some of the “falling out of love” syndrome. Walking this journey together gave them a shared mission.

“God’s drawing us together and giving us unity of heart and mind, and that’s been a beautiful thing,” Mark said.

Watch Mark and Laura tell their story here.

Christina Darnell

Christina Darnell is a freelance writer who has contributed to WORLD, The Charlotte Observer, and other publications.