Tag Archives: generosity


Being open to the presence of God

Sometimes my liturgical seasons seem to get their wires crossed—I experience Lenten contrition in August or Easter joy during Advent. This year, I am resonating more with Advent than with Lent.

Advent begins with the image of the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light (Isaiah 9:2). That is what I am experiencing as Lent begins—walking in light. The darkness of the grief that has gripped me for the past six years seems to have lifted, and my spirit feels light and free. Instead of donning sackcloth and ashes, I feel like laughing and dancing.

Joy and gratitude have taken up residence; contentment reigns. For as long as this feeling lasts, I want to enjoy it.Lent-God-spiritualitySo, about Lent.

True confession: I am addicted to chocolate and rarely go a day without it.Lent-God-spiritualityOne year, just after college, my housemate and I gave up chocolate and alcohol for Lent. I thought giving up alcohol would be more difficult, but it was not. At the grocery store, I repeatedly noticed candy bars on the checkout conveyor belt. How did that happen? I would wonder, knowing full well that I must have put them there, even though I was completely unaware that I had done it. Giving up alcohol for Lent? No problem. But chocolate? No way.

I have a desk drawer at work designated as the snack drawer—it is stocked with chocolate in a variety of forms—granola bars with chocolate chips, chocolate covered almonds and straight-up chocolate candy. It is not a secret stash, and anyone is welcome to dip into this treasure trove of sweets.Lent-God-spiritualityOne Lent, a staff person said she wanted to give up chocolate and asked if I would be willing to join her. She wanted me to empty my snack drawer because she feared the temptation would be too great for her. I explained that I give things up for Lent to become holier—or at least more focused on God—and giving up chocolate would only make me grumpier.

My fasting for Lent tends to be more about giving up being judgmental or being critical or being impatient—more attitudes than actual things. Changing my attitudes seems to have more potential to be transformational in my spiritual journey than changing my eating habits.

My Lenten reflection book encourages making Lent “a penitential season,” and says the purpose of penitential practices (prayer, fasting and almsgiving) is “to open oneself more fully to the presence of God.”

This Lent, I want to fast from judgmentalism, scarcity, stinginess and fear—and feast on  abundance, joy, trust, generosity and gratitude. This Lent, I want to bask in light and live in freedom.Lent-God-spirituality


Vulnerability as a gift

Every winter, my church participates in a rotating shelter program for people who are homeless; this year, thirty men are staying with us for a week.

Our parish school closed years ago, but for this one week, classrooms are converted into bedrooms, the gym into a cafeteria, and a large meeting room into a gathering space with televisions, games and snacks. It is an excellent example of repurposing.

I love the outpouring of generosity this program elicits, as parishioners step up to serve as hosts, prepare meals, provide transportation and do laundry. The planning for this week is spearheaded by one couple who start months in advance to make sure they have enough volunteers lined up to meet the needs of our guests this week.God-vulnerability-serviceMost nighttime shelters are set up for sleeping, and the people who are staying usually have to leave for the day. The rotating shelter program operates under the same rules, but holidays are the exception.

On New Year’s Day, I was one of four volunteers who spent the afternoon with our guests.

The day before, I was aware that our guests were arriving that evening. Throughout the day, I held the guests, organizers and volunteers in prayer. I was conscious of how blessed I am to have a home with heat—and to earn enough money to be able to pay my heating bills. All day, I thanked God for my blessings.God-vulnerability-serviceTwice in my life, I have been without a home and had to rely on the generosity of others to have a place to stay. Both times, I was humiliated and felt incredibly vulnerable; and I did not like it.

So being able to offer hospitality to others through this program is especially meaningful to me.

The afternoon started with lunch in the gym/cafeteria. Each table was decorated with a small bouquet of fresh flowers, creating a feeling of spring inside—in sharp contrast to the sub-zero temperatures outside. I sat with two other volunteers, and after we had finished eating, one of the guests came to our table and offered to clear away our dishes.

“Thank you,” we each said as he carried away our trays.

“I like to help,” he commented.

Being vulnerable and needing to rely on the generosity of others can create the sense of being a taker, of having little or nothing to offer. It took me a long time to understand the gift of vulnerability—the gift of seeing myself as being an opportunity for others to be generous.

My time as host on New Year’s Day included refilling water pitchers, replenishing snacks and helping guests with their medications. Last summer, I learned to play Euchre (a card game that is popular in Michigan), and I spent part of the afternoon in a Euchre game.

I can think of no better way to start the New Year than to put myself at the service of others, and also to be an opportunity for someone else to serve.



Which path?

My bucket list included the Cotswolds, so when I was planning to visit friends in Ireland, I decided to tack on a few days to explore English villages with thatched-roof cottages and hillsides dotted with sheep.

trust-God-vulnerabilitytrust-God-vulnerabilityI had been hiking in the Lake District of England some years ago, so I had a basic understanding of how hilly the English countryside can be and how difficult it can be to follow hiking directions. On that trip, our “leader” was a friend who had hiked in the Lake District several times before and assured us his guidebook was reliable.

We got hopelessly lost the first day, and since it was November, the sun began to set in late afternoon (our “leader” had only hiked there in the summer and had not taken into account the shorter days of November). His confidence waned along with the daylight. Fortunately, we found our way back to our village, but we were a bit more skeptical the rest of the trip.

Over the next few days, I came to understand that the guidebook was written with locals in mind—people who had grown up hiking these hills and would know which stile was the one just past where MacDonald’s barn used to be. We were in the dark, and I quickly began to mock the guidebook. Turn left after the second black sheep, I would offer, because that was about as helpful as the directions in the book.

Walking in the Cotswolds seemed more reliable because there is actually a path called the Cotswold Way, a walk of about 100 miles from Chipping Campden in the north to Bath in the south. I planned to hike only the first part of the Way and thought, “How difficult could it be to follow a path with a name?”trust-God-vulnerability

Silly me.

My B&B host gave me maps with the local hikes clearly indicated and instructed me to follow the signs for the public footpaths which would take me to the top of Dover’s Hill and the start of the Cotswold Way. There I would find signs decorated with acorns to indicate the Way.trust-God-vulnerabilityI crossed through the first two fields with no problem, but the third gateway was surrounded by sheep, and I was hesitant to scatter them—not out of fear, but out of politeness. Why should they have to move just for me?

So I turned right and followed the fence line up the hill. Eventually, I found the footpath again and managed to find the start of the Cotswold Way.trust-God-vulnerabilityThe walk from Chipping Campden to Broadway is 4.5 miles and I knew that walking across the fields would take longer than a straight 4.5 mile walk back home. But after more than an hour of walking and no sight of Broadway or the Broadway Tower (which I expected to be able to see from a distance), I was getting discouraged.


Broadway Tower

Just then, I met a young man walking in the opposite direction and asked if I was on the path to Broadway.

“Yes,” he said. “You go on this path another quarter mile and then cross through two wheat fields.” He paused before adding, “Broadway will be on your right.”

At the end of the two wheat fields, there was still no sign of Broadway—only another field on my right.

Eventually, I found my way to Broadway and enjoyed an afternoon in the village.

I decided to take the bus home.

The next day, I planned to visit Hidcote Garden which was three miles in a different direction. Rather than risk getting lost on the footpath, I decided to take the bus to the town a mile from Hidcote and then just walk from there. Armed with my map and directions from my host, I felt confident—only to walk much more than one mile with Hidcote nowhere in sight.trust-God-vulnerability

Fortunately, lots of people walk the paths, and I am not averse to asking for directions. Sure enough, I was on the wrong path. Once pointed in the right direction, I found the garden with no problem.

By then, I had begun to reflect on the paths as a metaphor for my life.

At the end of that day in Broadway, I had allowed myself a little pity party. I am alone, I whined to myself. Oh, I have loving family and friends, but since Jim and Ted died, I am not loved in the way I once was. I am not important to anyone in the way I once was. Poor me.

Here I was in England, staying at a lovely B&B, visiting churches and museums built hundreds of years ago, wandering through exquisite gardens and enjoying fine meals—and I was feeling sorry for myself. That was not the path I wanted to follow.

Rather, I want to be on the path that continually calls to mind my blessings, the path that invites me to gratitude and generosity.

Perhaps, like Broadway that first day, the destination is not visible as quickly as I want, but my days in the Cotswolds remind me to relax and trust that God is guiding me, and if I can do that, I can appreciate wherever I am along the path and eventually get to where I am meant to be.


Being amazed

As I read Chapter 6 of Mark’s gospel, the word amazed caught my attention (Mark 6:6), and I let my mind wander to times I have been amazed.

I usually think of amazement connected with beautiful things like sunrises or art or performances—delightful things that touch my heart—but in this passage, Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith.

I wondered how Jesus would react to my faith: would he be amazed at the strength of my faith or at the lack of it?

Then another scripture passage came to mind: Mary and Joseph were amazed at what was said about their son when he was presented in the Temple. (Luke 2:33) This is an amazement I can more easily relate to—something someone says that startles me, new information that shifts my perspective, a new insight. I can imagine Mary and Joseph thinking, “Is he talking about our son?”

Like the practice of noticing what I notice, being amazed can help me live in the present moment and appreciate the world around me.

Too often, I let things pass by without taking note or fully acknowledging the gift of God in them. Not just sunrises or art or performances, but also acts of kindness and compassion, words of encouragement or praise and good deeds done selflessly.

But, I am trying to be more aware, to pause and notice the goodness around me and to thank God for all the generosity I see.meditation-God-generosity

I work at a cancer support center where emotions can be like a roller-coaster ride. One person receives good news at the same time someone else receives bad news. One person’s treatment is successful and another’s is not. It can be difficult to take it all in and stay present.

Recently, one of our members brought in chocolates for our front desk, and a few days later, another brought flowers.meditation-God-generosity

Both of these women are in difficult situations, each facing surgery and each dealing with complications that create uncertainty for their futures. They are both in physical pain.

Yet, there they were bearing gifts. Their selflessness and generosity amazed me. Even in the midst of difficulty and uncertainty, they were magnanimous.

Their kindness and thoughtfulness touched me deeply and made me wonder if I would think of others if I were in a similar position. Would I be able to be so generous if I were facing difficult surgery? Or would my thoughts be focused on myself, my fears and vulnerability?meditation-God-generosity

I imagine that both of these women have been practicing generosity for a long time, so it is a part of who they are and how they live. They are generous without needing thanks or even acknowledgement. They do it for themselves, because they are following some internal impulse toward generosity. Amazing.

In the following days their acts of generosity, the most often-asked questions at work were, “Who brought in the chocolates?” and “Who brought in the flowers?” Others noticed. And appreciated. Simply amazing.meditation-God-generosity




Pondering Christmas

I got to know my neighbor Margaret soon after I moved to Eddystone. A few weeks before my first Thanksgiving in the neighborhood, Margaret lost her job; her husband was also out of work. I had gotten a free turkey from the grocery store and offered it to her. “That’s perfect,” she said, adding that she was preparing a holiday meal for one of our neighbors. I was astounded. I wanted to tell her that she and Rich needed the help, but, instead, I just gave her the turkey.

Without jobs and raising one of her nephews, all I could see was Margaret’s need, but she saw her blessings. She and Rich had a large family, they were healthy and they had a home. The job situation was a bump in the road for Margaret. Our neighbor’s issue, though, was long-term.

It was the first of many lessons in being other-centered that Margaret would teach me during the time we were neighbors.

Four years ago, Margaret asked me if I would join her in reading and discussing It’s Not About Me by Max Lucado. She established the reading schedule and we began, but soon after we began reading the book, Margaret was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and had surgery. She picked up an infection while she was in the hospital and spent the next four months being treated for the infection. Our book discussion halted.

Margaret and I were neighbors for fourteen years before she got sick—plenty of time for her to show me what it meant to live as a Christian. She was always available to help anyone who needed it. Every summer, she went on a week-long mission trip with her church, taking along everybody who responded to her invitation. When she was unemployed, which happened a few times over the years I knew her, she would take the train downtown and serve breakfast at a mission for people who were homeless. Margaret was the epitome of selflessness.

So when she asked me to read and discuss It’s Not About Me, I was surprised. “Margaret,” I said, “you could have written that book.” She disagreed. She saw the areas where God was inviting her to grow beyond herself and thought the book would help identify her blind spots.

Margaret had hospice care at home the last few weeks of her life, and during my last visit to her, just days before she died, I told her I had finished reading the book and confirmed my initial impression. “You could have written that book,” I told her.

Margaret comes to mind as I ponder the coming of Christmas. Her giving and forgiving is my everyday example of the meaning of Christmas. She lived her life knowing that she was held in the embrace of a loving God and that everything she had was gift. Her yes still inspires me.


Every year, I go on a week-long retreat. For me, where I go on retreat is not as important as what I bring—my Bible and journal, plus a desire to grow closer to God and an openness to hear God’s word.

Last week, I went to a retreat center just south of Toledo, Ohio, which sits on a small lake.

I spent one day of my retreat reflecting on the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-47), which led me to remember all the people who visited me when Jim was sick and since he died. I tried to recall each person who selflessly supported us, and I lifted them up in prayer. I am so grateful for the generosity shown to us by so many people.

When I met with my spiritual director the next morning, I talked about the people who have been so significant to me over the past few years and how blessed I am by friends and family. She asked me if my image of God had been impacted by the abundant generosity I had received from friends and family. Where was God in the mix of my friends? Did I think of God as a friend?

These were interesting questions for me. I think of God as being abundant love and forgiveness, as accepting me as I am and wanting what is best for me. But, do I think of God as a friend?

I was pondering these questions as I walked along the lake that day. The water was very calm and the sky filled with bright white clouds.

At one point, the sun broke through the clouds, and the lake became a mirror image of the trees along the shore and the clouds in the sky. So sharp was the reflection that I thought if I took a picture, it would be nearly impossible to tell which way to hold the photo.

Two sides of the same reality, one the physical world of trees and sky, and the other a clear reflection.

Is that how I see God? I wondered. Reflected through the abundant generosity of family and friends? Or do I see my family and friends reflected through the abundant generosity of God?

I am not sure which way it goes, or if it matters to me. I do know that the generosity of my family and friends has helped me draw nearer to God, to trust God more and to believe that God blesses me in more ways than I can ever ask or imagine.


Practicing Gratitude

I tend to agree with Job’s outlook on life—that we cannot only accept the good things that come our way; we must also accept the bad (Job 2:10).

Living in gratitude is my sign that I am accepting whatever life brings me—good or bad. When I am feeling grateful, I know that I am focused on the good in whatever is happening in my life and investing my energy in what is positive and hopeful. Those difficulties that inevitably happen in life don’t go away, but, when acknowledged, get transformed into invitations to accept and let go.

When my friend Jim was sick, we practiced gratitude every day. We would talk about all of our blessings—the people who were helping us, the great medical care he was getting, all the prayers and cards—the very fact that we were still alive.

On the 8th of each month, the anniversary of the day he had a seizure and was diagnosed with brain cancer, I would retell the story of that day. We would talk about how fortunate we were that I found him, that he lived near an excellent hospital and that he was able to get the care he needed.

In the midst of this horrible diagnosis—very aggressive and incurable brain cancer—we were able to find so much to appreciate.

At one point during Jim’s illness, I thought about starting a blog and inviting people whose lives had been affected by cancer or some other tragedy to write about the generosity and kindness they received; I was certain others must have felt as blessed as we did.

With the blog in mind, while talking with a woman whose husband is a cancer survivor, I asked her if she remembered people’s kindnesses while her husband was sick. Without hesitation, she told me this story: her husband was diagnosed in late November and she was in shock and not thinking of decorating for the holidays. One day, a neighbor hung a Christmas wreath on their front door. She was touched by his thoughtfulness because decorating was far from her mind and the wreath made her happy and grateful every time she walked through the door.

Her story reminded me of the night I came home from the hospital to find someone had done some weeding for me. I never found out who did it; some generous person who saw a way to help and acted. I was so touched by their good deed, and so grateful.

Such simple acts of kindness can make a huge difference.

Practicing gratitude helps me be more aware of the generosity of others. Bad things are part of life; I accept that, and I chose to focus more energy on being grateful for the good that life brings me.