Friday, December 16, 2011

A Response

I feel blessed today.

Actually, I feel blessed almost every day.

And in feeling blessed, there is nothing I enjoy more in life than passing those blessings on, in blessing others.

I have come to realize that in the wider world, this is unusual.

Not so in my corner of the world, by any means.  And so it confuses me when people are astounded by acts of kindness and generosity.  Doesn't everybody do this kind of thing?  Doesn't everyone seek to bless others?  Don't all people attempt to meet the deficit of others by giving from their own abundance?  Well, don't they?

Apparently not.

And the first time I realized this was when I was catapulted to the upper echelons of friendship by . . . giving someone a ride to a funeral.  It was a bit of a drive, Manhattan, NY to Delaware.  But seriously, I was in graduate school and I only had one class that day.  I skipped it, hopped behind the wheel of a car and drove.  All I really missed out on was a lecture and time to do homework.

Those of you who know me at all know that means I missed a lecture and time reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince again in anticipation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows release a few short months hence.  Seriously, who has time to study when there's good literature available for reading?

But this blew people away.  First, the friend I drove to Delaware felt that this put him forever in my debt.  Second, everyone I was introduced to by this friend after the fact said, "Oh!  You're MB...  P told us all about you!  What you did for him...that's's amazing!  I mean, who does that kind of thing!?  I don't know anyone who would do something like that for another person."

Seriously, who are you people?  And how have you been so deprived of acts of kindness that driving a person to a funeral makes that kind of impact?

When I was finishing up my Master's degree, I had a friend who regularly told me how unusual I am.

Now, for the record, I consider myself a pretty thoroughly average individual.  I figure I'm about as average as you're likely to find anywhere in the world.  And while it's true that I have certain gifts and skills of a highly unusual nature, I figure my core, my center, who I am in my heart of hearts isn't anything particularly unusual.

When my grad school friend would remark about how extraordinary I am, I accepted it graciously, but figured, "Well, sure.  But everyone is extraordinary.  Anyone, provided the right circumstances, would resopnd in precisely the same way."  Wouldn't they?

And I guess I'm coming to realize that this is not necessarily the case.

Some background:

I grew up in the great state of Iowa.  In a rural community.  Of 50.  Yep, that's a period after that zero.  Not 50,000 as some unfamiliar with Iowa have assumed.  Just 50.

I grew up attending a conservative congregation in a liberal denomination.

I grew up in an aloholic household rife with abuse--physical, emotional, sexual.

I grew up as a welfare kid.  Free school lunches.  Food stamps.  Section 8 housing.  Title 19 Medicaid.

I grew up in poverty, a house where there was never enough.

Yet, somehow, I grew up in a home that operated from an economy of plenty rather than an economy of want.

Part of that is due in no small measure to the extraordinary people in our church.

One year, my father was arrested for drunk driving the morning of my birthday.  I think I must have been turning 5 that day.  Of course, one of the downfalls to small town Iowa is that damn-near everyone owns a police scanner.  This means everyone knows everyone else's business.  And they are a gossippy bunch.

But this day, one of the women in the church gathered the rest of the women in the church and they brought over pizza and Pepsi and made sure I celebrated my birthday.  And they loved and supported my mother, too.

The people in my life during my childhood weren't always so forward in their support.  Often when it comes to family secrets, things that are typically considered shameful, they would not step in.  But they were there, in the wings, just waiting to respond if ever someone asked for help.

Throughout the years I've continued to be surrounded by people like this.  People who operate from an economy of plenty, often choosing to postpone their own wants to meet someone else's need.  People who know what lasts (people) and what doesn't (stuff).

I've striven to be this sort of person.  As one who currently lives in poverty but who is ineligible for any kind of assistance programs, it is not often that I have the opportunity to bless others with material goods.

Oh, I've got some skills in the kitchen, and for $20.00, I can make Christmas gifts for a whole legion of people.  And I do.  In part because I love cooking and baking.  But mostly because I love to feed people.  Because I love to meet needs.  Because it happens so rarely that I have something to give.  I delight in the opportunities when they present themselves.

It happened recently, however, that someone I know, and about whom I care quite deeply, was suffering.  The holiday season is never quite as bright as it should be for those short on family.  Add to this dire financial straights and things were looking quite bleak.

Now, it just so happened that I have an occasional job on the side that provides a very small amount of recompense.  It isn't much, and it's inconsistent.  And in the way many small churches run, it's never truly clear how much time will pass between service rendered and payment received.  There is simply no way to plan or budget for this.

And so it happened that while I was waiting for a check to arrive, I discovered that a friend was in need.  And as I had no immediate need for the funds--I was planning on sticking them into my savings account for a long-term goal--I began to pray about it.  I was struck by the thought of providing for the needs of another.  It wasn't much, and it wouldn't go far.   But it was all I could do.

I decided to do it.  Coming up on the holiday season, I said to myself, "If that check comes before Christmas, I'm passing it on.  The whole of it."

So, when I showed up to church on Sunday, December 11, 2011 and found a check, that's exactly what I did.  I passed it on.  All of it.  Because I saw a need, and I knew that I had the ability to meet it--at least in part.

Because this is what has been modelled for me by others in my life, through the course of my entire life.

Those who have loved me have done a greater service to the world by enabling me to love others.  And all of it is founded in word's of Jesus, which I'll paraphrase:  The Greatest Commandment?  Love God.  Love people.

But how do we love God?  By loving people.

Whatever you do to the least of these....

Seems pretty simple to me. 

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

We all carry the divine spark.  In choosing to invest in people, we place our hearts in the very center of God-ness.

It's not rocket science.  But it is awfully rewarding.

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