Tag Archives: generosity

Be a Joseph

Our Christmas homily included the advice: Don’t be an innkeeper; be a Joseph.

The innkeeper in the Nativity story, the guy who said there was no room and turned Joseph and Mary out, was probably a realist—all his rooms were filled (Luke 2:7). Granted, he may have been inundated with people seeking shelter because of the census so he had no empty rooms, but the priest wondered if the innkeeper had considered all his options? Had he thought of giving up his bed so that a pregnant woman could rest comfortably?

We don’t know. Maybe another pregnant woman had arrived earlier. Maybe…. Well, we just don’t know. The story handed down to us is not a first-person account, so we can only guess at what really happened that night.

The more important thing to consider, though, are our own actions.

We don’t have to go far to find people in need, people facing difficulties, struggling with illness or life’s challenges.

How are we like the innkeeper, turning people away when we feel we are at our limit and they are asking us to make room for them?   

Do we do things a certain way because we have always done them that way? Are we so focused on one course of action that we cannot see alternatives?

When life seems full, do we shut the door and say enough? Or do we make room for one more?

Compare that to Joseph, who had already made up his mind to divorce Mary, until he had a dream suggesting a different course of action. Then he pivots and does as the angel in the dream instructed (Matthew 1:19-24).

I wondered if the innkeeper might have had a dream that night after turning Joseph and Mary away, a dream when an angel told him to go find Joseph and Mary and offer them his bed. But upon waking from the dream, he only said, “I had the weirdest dream last night,” and went about his day as usual. Haven’t most of us done that?

We are all invited to change course from time to time, to reframe a situation, get a different perspective.

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Can we be like Joseph and be willing to rethink our decisions, to make new decisions based on new information? Can we be guided by the whispers of the Spirit when we feel a nudge to reach out to someone, to offer assistance or comfort? Can we hear the voice of God in our dreams and gain insight into a new direction for our lives?

As I review my journals from this year and remember different events, I am aware of how often I am like the innkeeper, choosing to be comfortable rather than stretching to meet another’s need.

My friend Steve (who died ten years ago) used to start each year by choosing a word or phrase to guide him through the year, something that the Spirit had whispered to him.

Be a Joseph is my phrase for 2023.

Mutual admiration society

Someone was telling me about a friend who had died, sharing the admirable characteristics this person had, which made me think of my own friends and what I admire about them.

One of my friends, someone I have known for almost fifty years, endured a debilitating disease when she was in her fifties. She recovered, but she was left financially depleted, and so she took a job overseas where she could make enough money to restore her retirement nest egg. I am not sure I could have uprooted myself and lived in the different places she lived, and I admire her courage and determination.

Another friend has incredible clarity about her values. When I think about standing up for what one believes, I think of her. She is unwavering in her commitment and untiring in deepening her knowledge about the issues that shape her life. I admire her clarity and commitment.

My dog died two years ago and rather than get another dog, I started dog sitting—inspired by the woman who had been my dog-sitter. Her love of dogs is pure, and the joy she gets from them is delightful to see. She helped shape me into the dog-lover I have become and she inspires me by her willingness to tell the world how much she loves dogs. I admire her childlike love of dogs and her freedom to express that love.

Several friends have lived in non-traditional communities—such as Catholic Worker Houses and l’Arche—and I admire their ability to successfully navigate community living.

Several friends inspire me by their generosity. One friend loves to cook and to share what she cooks, and another loves to garden and has helped me in my garden. I admire people who find their passion and are generous in sharing it.

I could go on and on, but I will stop there and invite you to think of your friends and what you admire in them. And once you have a good list going, start telling your friends what you admire about them. Perhaps they, in return, will share what they admire about you, and you can start you own mutual admiration society.

All that positive energy has the potential to transform us and our world.

Imagination in prayer

At Mass last Sunday, we heard the story of the Prodigal Son with intro parables about the lost sheep and the lost coin. (Luke 15:1-32) These stories introduce us to at least nine (9) characters:

  1. a shepherd whose one sheep has strayed
  2. a woman who lost a coin
  3. the friends and neighbors who rejoice when the sheep and coin are found
  4. a man who has two sons
  5. the older son
  6. the younger son
  7. the pig farmer who starved his workers
  8. the father’s servants and
  9. the older son’s friends

Nine different personalities inviting me to step into the stories and imagine myself in each role.

All week, I have engaged in imaginative prayer with the scenes in this Scripture, placing myself in each of the roles portrayed, letting the scene play out and looking at how I am like the person or how I am different.

For example, when am I put myself in the place of the shepherd, I wondered if I would be willing to leave what I have in search for something lost. It is a risk to leave the safety of the known, and I wondered if I would take the risk.

My opportunities to take risk don’t usually involve sheep, but as I let this image play out, I thought about the safety and security of my circle of friends, and I wondered if I am willing to take the risk of inviting someone into my circle of friends or even just to reach out to someone who seems to be on the outside. Do I tend to play it safe or am I willing to stretch beyond my comfort zone?

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The woman who searches for something precious that has been lost is an easy one for me to imagine because I frequently lose things (mostly earrings, which is why I had an extra hole pierced in one ear so I can still wear the remaining earring). I tend to tear the house apart and retrace my steps looking for a lost earring. But what about other things? Do I persevere or give up? Do I persevere in prayer? In hope?

How am I like the forgiving father? The rebellious son? Or the dutiful son? When am I like the servant who has to prepare something for others to enjoy while I just look on? Or like the local pig farmer who cares more for his pigs than the people who work for hm? How do I react when a friend complains about unfair treatment from a parent?

Each of the people in these stories help me to see myself in relation to God and to others. Each invites me to imagine myself inside the Scripture passage and learn something about myself, others and God.

On my walk one day, I realized that each person represents a different character trait, and it reminded me of the words stenciled at my neighborhood school—incoming messages through different avenues.

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About love

Soon after we met,

Ted asked me out to dinner.

I said “yes;”

he heard “no,”

and forever after he was convinced

that I was not interested in him romantically.

Maybe I wasn’t,

because we became just friends.

Good friends,

travelling companions,

confidants,

soulmates in a way,

but never lovers.

In some ways, I think he knew me better than I knew myself.

He would tell me that I was crushing on someone before I had any idea—

or was it rather that because he suggested a crush, I developed one? Hmm.

He was always generous in his gift-giving

(I remember the day, soon after moving into my new house,

arriving home from work and seeing

a gigantic Tiffany’s box on my patio).

Ted ate at fine restaurants, traveled first-class and generally lived large.

But he never forgot his working-class roots—

he claimed to be the first man in his family to wear a tie to work

(having been a lawyer before he opened his bookstore).

He supported numerous non-profits and schools, usually requesting anonymity.

“Don’t let your right hand…”

Ted was a fan of all things Hitchcock.

One time, we met up in San Francisco to recapture the scenes in Vertigo.

We visited all the sights and stayed at the hotel in the movie.

He thought because I am a Madeline,

I should pose for the Madeline shots

(like pretending I was going to jump into the water beneath the Golden Gate Bridge).

He would have been happy if I wore a blond wig for the picture,

but I drew the line.

He wanted me to move to southern Oregon

and work with him in his bookstore.

If that was a test, I failed.

Oregon?

Too far (three flights each way).

Still, we talked several times a week

until he got esophageal cancer,

and then we talked several times a day

until he had to get a trach

and talking was too difficult for him.

Then just I talked.

We only argued once in the thirty-two years I knew him.

Mostly, he made me laugh and helped me enjoy life.

He trusted me, and he loved me.

I loved him, too,

and I miss him every day.

Set an intention

Make room for

more light in your life and

more joy in your heart.

Set an intention for

peace and love to flourish

and chaos and fear to diminish.

Let generosity grow and scarcity shrink.

Count how many times a day

you say thank you or

offer a compliment.

Notice the abundance in your life and

act for those who have less.

Pray for those in your family or neighborhood

who face challenges and are struggling, and

those around the world who face tyrants.

Remember those who are grieving.

Reach out to those who are lonely or lost.

Every act of kindness ripples out into the world and

then comes back to us,

bridging the space between us and

reminding us that we are one.

Looking back

In the way of the digital world, this popped up in my computer, seemingly out of nowhere. It may have been the first post on my blog nine years ago! Since this is the weekend before Lent, I thought I would repost it:

Last year on the Sunday before Lent, we heard the prophet Isaiah proclaim that God is “doing something new.” Those words caught my attention. God was definitely doing something new in my life at the time.

My best friend Jim was living with me, and he was dying from brain cancer. As he and I looked ahead to Lent, we talked about what new God was doing. We were fairly certain Jim would die before Easter, and he was looking at Lent as his final journey to Jerusalem; he was on his way home to God.

I was walking by Jim’s side, and every day brought something new—new symptoms, new issues and new ways to know my inadequacies. I had no prior medical experience, and nothing in my life to that point prepared me for caring for someone with end-stage brain cancer. Every day I learned something new.

Every day also brought little joys as we learned to let go and trust God. Family and friends helped us in many ways—shopping, cooking, doing laundry and working in the garden to name a few. I had a deep appreciation for people who responded without hesitation to my calls for help and who gave selflessly. Their generosity touched me and affirmed my faith. 

Jim lived until the Tuesday of Holy Week and died at home and at peace. Since Jim’s death, I have continued to be aware that God is doing something new in my life. My old life is gone, and I am creating a new life.

I want to hold onto the lessons I learned during Jim’s illness and let them guide me into the next chapter of my life. I want to be open to whatever new God is doing in my life.

Love heals

Love healed me.

Sometimes poured out generously,

like the snow that covers everything in its path as it falls,

until what was there before has been transformed into

something unrecognizable,

something pure.

Love healed me.

Sometimes with strings attached,

doled out sparingly

as though there is not enough,

as though the love that is given to me robs someone else.

I snatched those bits of love tossed my way and

gathered them together until there was enough to cover me and my brokenness.

Love healed me.

Imperfect love.

Whether abundant or scant,

overwhelming me or nibbling at the edges of my brokenness,

all love heals.

Don’t be cheap

I had flown to the East Coast to visit a friend for the weekend, and as she and I were leaving her house for a trip to the Shore, her husband said to her, “Don’t be cheap.” Of all the adjectives I might ascribe to this friend, cheap is not one of them. She is one of the most generous people I know. Already on this visit, she had gifted me with a box of chocolates, a sweater and a poncho.

To be fair, her husband is perhaps even more generous than she. I remember once when she and I were going out to dinner and he was meeting up with friends. We all ended up at the same restaurant, and he put his credit card on our table and said, “Order whatever you want. This is on me.”

I sometimes wonder if this is their competition—to see who can be the most generous. There are worse couple-competitions, and I am often the happy recipient of their big-heartedness, so I am not complaining.

Anyway, his comment came back to me a few days later after I had flown home and was on the parking shuttle. I had meant to get change for a tip for the shuttle driver but had forgotten. Normally, I would give a $3-$5 tip (which I think is the going rate), but a $10 bill was the smallest denomination I had. My interior conversation went something like this, “Ugh, I forgot to get change. Well, that’s on me; this will be an early Christmas gift for the driver,” and I decided to give him the $10 bill.

Just then, the man across from me said to his companion, “A $5 bill is the smallest thing I have for a tip.” His companion reached into her wallet and pulled out two singles.

“Don’t be cheap,” I wanted to say, but didn’t.

I know there are times when I can be cheap, when I act out of a sense of scarcity instead of abundance. I often catch myself after, but by then it is too late.

I shared this lesson with my spiritual director, and she suggested I expand my understanding of the admonition “don’t be cheap” to all the talents and gifts God has given to me freely and abundantly.

I am deeply grateful for all the many good things in my life; my life is rich beyond anything I could ever have asked or imagined.

The admonition “don’t be cheap” will hopefully be a reminder to catch myself when I am tempted toward living out of scarcity and fear—financial or otherwise—so that I can instead live out of abundance and generosity.

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undance

Soften my edges

Wispy pink clouds,

fluffy puffs,

like cotton candy,

dot the morning sky.

They speak to me of dreams and hopes,

of things delicate and precious,

of fairy tales come true,

and remind me of  

the people who bless me

with kindness and generosity.

Every pink sky is an invitation

to soften my edges and receive

what the world offers.

Check your ego at the door

I once belonged to a networking group of about a dozen people, all leaders in our field. One of the ground rules for our networking sessions was to “check your ego at the door.” We all claimed to be “servant leaders” which would imply that our egos would be kept in check, but the reality was that when two or more successful people got together, a game of one-upmanship often ensued.

Some of these people had international reputations; others were leaders in our local community. The “ego” rule made it possible for us to meet as equals. If someone started name-dropping or praising their own achievements, another member would gently recall the rule. It got to the point that only one word was needed to rein in an inflated sense of self. “Ego,” someone would say.

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hum

I have often thought of that rule, especially when working with nonprofit boards which are usually made up of successful community leaders. I gently remind them that the most important thing about nonprofits is the mission, and I invite them to stay focused on advancing the mission of the organization rather than focusing on their individual contributions.

I am fortunate that my dad was not into hero-worship; he often said that everyone “puts his pants on one leg at a time.” No one was any more important than anyone else in my dad’s eyes. His attitude has stayed with me, and I think it has served me well. (I do have to admit, though, that I was somewhat starstruck the time I was standing next to Ray Charles at JFK Airport and when I was sitting just a few feet away from the Pope.)

Competition is a cornerstone of capitalism, and it is common to encounter successful people who love to tell you how they built up their company or scored some big deal. My eyes tend to glaze over during those monologues; I am much more interested in those who praise all the people who made their success possible.

My friend Ted was one of those people. He was a successful lawyer, well-known in his field and treated like a big deal at his work. He was very generous with his resources and often donated to the nonprofit where I worked—always requesting anonymity. “Don’t let your right hand know what your left is doing,” (Matthew 6:3) was one of his favorite Bible quotes.

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I think all of this has come to mind because I am leaving my profession to embark on the next chapter of my life. When I told my boss I was leaving, she repeated something she has said to me several times since our two nonprofits merged a few years ago—she is amazed that I gave up my job as executive director and set aside my ego for the sake of the mission.

Perhaps it is unusual; for me, though, it was remembering to stay focused on the mission and to check my ego at the door.