Monday, May 30, 2016

To Be Remembered

Growing up, my sister and I loathed Memorial Day weekend more than any of the remaining 51 weekends of the year. It almost always occurred on the tail of the last day of school. While other kids were getting together for celebratory parties, we were piling into the brown station wagon to make the three-hour schlep to my grandparents' farm in northern Missouri. 

The routine was almost always the same. Our aunt, uncle and several cousins would join us around the large table for a farmer's feast of at least two meats and twelve vegetables. These selections would be followed by a half a dozen desserts with plenty of iced tea or coffee to wash it all down. And then we would pile back into the car and head to what felt like every cemetery in a twenty mile radius of the farm. 

A careful routine would continue when we got to the family burial plot in each place. Grandma Great would take a bucket of fern and carefully lay sprays across the ground covering the buried body of a beloved family member. Then Grandma and Grandpa would lay carnations, roses and other flowers on top of the fern. When the burial site was sufficiently decorated, we would make our way to the next relative's gravesite. 

These actions are how we remembered the dead. There were more traditions accompanying Memorial Day than there were Christmas. While we rarely appreciated what was taught to us while standing in the hot summer sun, we could not escape learning a bit more about our relatives and their lives each May. 

I now rarely make it to the family farm on Memorial Day weekend. While I respect these traditions, I've come to imagine different ways of remembering the dead. Or, more importantly, I've sought to imagine more fully how I want to be remembered. 

Just yesterday I saw a picture of three young children whose father died earlier this year. I've never met these children, but I saw their father's face so clearly in each child. Many people continue to live through their children, leaving their mark through facial features, large bone structures or even stubborn habits. But we have chosen not to have children of our own, making me want to plan even more passionately about what legacy I'll leave. And in the last decade of serving Mount Vernon Place, I've seen lives making a difference long after they took their last breath.

At the turn of this century, our congregation was dwindling to a few dozen incredibly faithful senior citizens who had first come to the church as government workers in the 40s, watched it grow to more than 4000 members in the 60s, and then take a nose dive into decline. But a couple of members loved their church enough to want it to continue to make a difference long after their death. They established a $1 million endowment, and without this money on which to draw during very lean times, the church would have likely closed many years ago.

Another church member worked with his three sons to establish a scholarship at a nearby seminary. He gave a large enough gift to permanently endow an internship at our church. Every three years, the seminary gets to use the scholarship as a recruitment tool, the church gets to select an extraordinary incoming student, and the student and congregation get to learn together for three years. I love telling people about Howard's gift and seeing how Howard continues to live through the impact these students make on our community. He would be so incredibly delighted!

According to LexisNexis research, approximately 55 percent of all adults in our nation do not have a will or any plans for their estate. Less than half of us have made intentional plans for how our lives can continue to live after our death. And yet, none of us get to live forever. 

I learned early that one of the greatest gifts older adults can give their children is to make plans for their long term care. I now know that one of the greatest gifts we can give to institutions we love is to make plans for our generosity to be embodied long after we live.

What are the organizations or institutions that have made a difference in your life?

Where do you regularly give money each year because you believe in what they do and want to support it? 

What if one person could have their dream realized every year because of your intentional planning and generosity? 

What if lives could be touched and transformed through you on a regular basis, even after your death? 

It's all possible with careful, thoughtful and generous estate planning.

I'm more than okay if no one ever visits my grave. But I want my light to continue to shine in powerful and profound ways. I want to be as generous in my death as I have sought to be in my life. I want to be remembered by making a difference. 

What about you?

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Another Gospel

I'm spending the week at a worship retreat on the edge of Lake Tahoe. It's an extraordinary place where you can find your breath being taken away at every twist and turn - in part because of the thinness of the air in the higher elevation - but mainly because the scenery is so incredibly beautiful. God's handiwork is on full display in this extraordinary place. I've found myself called to prayer often.

This morning's walk led me to an amphitheater near the side of the Lake where the names of the four Gospel writers are powerfully on display: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. But there's another pillar there. There is no name attached to it. The bench at the base of it is a little broken while still offering an invitation to come and rest for a while. And yet, the invitation for me was far greater than a place to sit and rest. What I experienced was a call to imagine again how my life is proclaiming the good news. What are the stories my life is telling, the fruit of the Spirit I'm embodying, the images of Jesus I'm reflecting? If God is still speaking, which I believe God is, then how is God speaking through me and my life?

And what about you? How is God speaking through you? If you were to write the stories of Jesus at work in your life, what stories would you record?

It's that question that has challenged me a bit as I realize how closed I've been to some of the movement of the Spirit around me. It's been an incredible start to the year in terms of growth and "success." I'm about to finish my 11th year at Mount Vernon Place where we have seen total transformation of our neighborhood, building and congregation in addition to dozens of lives. I would not trade this time for anything. I regularly say I have the "best job in Washington."

But my prayer for this season is not more people in the pews or anything that can be captured on a statistical report. Rather, my prayer is to see Jesus - to not just open my ears to hear him or my eyes to see him - but to unlock my full life to follow him, to let go of whatever might be holding me back, and to partner with him in such a way that there are more beautiful stories worth telling.

What about you? What stories would you want to include in your account of the good news?

Friday, April 15, 2016

Twenty Years!

I started mapping my life at the age of 11. Surrounded by a community of people who regularly took time to name my gifts, I knew I had strong leadership abilities at an early age. Raised by a mother who took me to hear Zig Ziglar as a teenager, regularly told me I could do whatever my heart set out to do, and never let me forget I was beautiful, I was gifted early with a healthy self-esteem and the desire to keep a list of goals on my bulletin board at all times. Educated at an all-women's college, I learned the power of feminism at its best and met Hillary Clinton on the Saturday before the general election day in 1992.

I knew I wanted to run for office. I would finish college, move to Washington for a few years - first to intern at the White House and then to work on Capitol Hill. I would then return home to Missouri, enroll in law school, and eventually run for office. The original plan would have me in the United States Senate at this age of life.

The first parts of the plan came to fruition. I spent my last semester of college in the White House Office of Scheduling and Advance. I was quickly hired as the scheduler for a Congressman from Ohio who lost his election later that year. After a few months of unemployment, I was given an opportunity to write letters for a Senator from Iowa. And I loved it. I loved the work, my coworkers, cocktails at Congressional receptions, and the exposure to Washington's political power and process.

But there was another side of my life that was equally fulfilling - a place that utilized my gifts more abundantly than my role on Capitol Hill. It was a place that called forth the best from me, giving me more opportunities to flourish than I had experienced since college. The place was the church, a United Methodist Church I could walk to from my apartment on Capitol Hill.

I'm still not sure what the pastor saw in me, but he gave me every possible opportunity to serve. He allowed me to preach without first hearing me speak in front of a wider audience. He suggested I be chair of the Church Council at the ripe age of 24. And he invited me to chaperone a youth trip to New York City in April of 1996.

I'd never been to New York City. I said "yes" in large part because it was an opportunity to go for free. I had no idea that the journey would completely change my life, and I sometimes wonder if I would have gone if I knew at the time that transformation was part of the package.

The young people on the trip captivated me with their honesty, their vulnerability, their willingness to share whatever was on their hearts. The energy of the city seduced me into believing I might be called to move to Manhattan or go to business school instead of law school. By Saturday evening, I was using a Wal-Mart calling card to phone my mother from a pay phone at the Staten Island Ferry departure gate. With no one answering, I left a voice mail. "Mom. It's me. Everything is great. We're having a wonderful time. I just want to let you know I'm not going to law school next year. I'm not sure what I'm doing. But I'll call you tomorrow."

"Tomorrow" held the opportunity to worship at Riverside Church where Dr. James Forbes was the preacher. I had never heard such an extraordinary preacher whose voice seemed to penetrate every inch of that magnificent structure.

We then boarded a bus, and my pastor took the microphone normally used by a tour guide to offer a closing prayer. "Thank you, God, for this journey. Thank you for the safety you have provided. Thank you for what we have learned. Thank you, too, for the ways in which you can use experiences like this weekend to call people. Please be with all whom you have called during this time together as they discern how you are working in their lives."

I had not articulated any of my changing thoughts to my pastor. The Spirit, however, was interceding - not with sighs too deep for words - but with words that named why I wouldn't be going to law school the next year.

That was twenty years ago yesterday. It was Sunday, April 14, 1996 when I first heard that voice, when I first started to learn as much as I could about seminary and the process that leads to ordination. It was twenty years ago when I was placed on a different path and given one joy after another for which no one is truly worthy.

How might God be calling you? What are the places that most name and claim your gifts? Who are the voices that speak most powerfully to you?

Thank you, God, for this odd and wondrous calling. Thank you for the precious gift of serving you through this messy, beautiful, life-giving thing called the church. Thank you for a pastor who saw you at work in me and cultivated your call on my life. Please help me to never take your call for granted but to instead seek to continue to serve you as faithfully as I possibly can. Amen. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A Journey to Belief

One of the deep gifts offered on Easter morning was a testimony shared by a woman who also joined our church on Sunday. I have known Julie for years as someone who used to visit our church a couple of times a year. I have then been given the holy privilege of walking with her through her grief over the last ten months. Her words were powerful, and they touched many people. She gave me permission to share them here. May they also bless you, cause you to think, and perhaps help you to look for signs of God's presence in unexpected places this day.

           Good morning.  My name is Julie.  For those of you that attend Mt. Vernon Place on a regular basis, you may have noticed I am a somewhat newer face here over the past year.  For those of you that I have gotten to know, you might also know that I lost my husband almost a year ago.  Doug and I attended Mt. Vernon Place on an infrequent basis – we weren’t even Christmas and Easter people, we were Easter and Mother’s Day people, because if mother was in town, we had to go to church.  (My mom is here with me today, and mom you’ll be happy to know I am attending church a little more frequently these days.)
            Doug was diagnosed with a very rare form of lymphoma in June 2014. His diagnosis and thus his potential treatment plan was difficult because he didn’t even exhibit the typical symptoms of this type of lymphoma.  In fact, if you knew Doug, there were some days when you would not have known he was sick at all.
Ultimately, it was decided that Doug needed a bone marrow transplant.  The plan was to give him two rounds of chemo to knock out any sign of the lymphoma, and then go to transplant.  He had his first round of chemo mid-March of last year, and for a couple of weeks, everything was fine—he started to loose some hair, but his attitude was “let’s get this over with so we can start living our lives again.”  We had even planned a trip in September of last year to go to Scotland, a celebratory trip of getting through the transplant.  “Lindsay,” as you might guess, is Scottish, and Doug had always wanted “to go back to the homeland,” as he would say. 
            Unfortunately, it was Easter weekend of last year when things took a turn for the worse, and it never got better. We checked into Johns Hopkins on a Friday, as they were going to try another type of chemo. On the following Sunday morning, the doctors came in and told Doug and I that the lymphoma had taken control and there was nothing more they could do, and we just needed to focus on keeping Doug comfortable.  I asked how long we had, and they said a week to 3 weeks.  When they left the room, of course I was sobbing, and I said “Doug, you can’t leave me.  What am I going to do without you?”  He said “Julie, I will never leave you.  I will always be with you, and I am going to come back and thump those kitties between the ears.”
            Now, before you think there was animal cruelty involved here, Doug and I didn’t have children—but we have two cats who were our children.  Doug was in sales, so he traveled a lot, and he would often call me on his way home on a Friday and say “I’m comin’ home, and I am going to thump those kitties between the ears!”  He played with them all the time, or “terrorized” them as he would say.  So, that was on Sunday morning and by Monday afternoon, May 4th, Doug was gone.
            Billl Hilligeist is an active member of MVP and lives in our building.  When he found out Doug had passed, he let Donna know, since Doug and I had come here a few times.  Donna reached out to me, and we got together shortly thereafter.  My first questions to Donna—and my first questions generally—were “Is there really eternal life?  How do I know Doug is ok, and he is not just dead?”  Donna said that there were many things that she had questioned about her faith, but she had never questioned eternal life—God is so incredibly good and loves us so much, and life can be so incredibly hard, that this can’t be all that there is.  There has to be more.  I was like “ok”—I was raised in the Methodist church and this was all consistent with what I had learned, but I will be honest – I had always questioned it, and particularly when it was the love of my life that was no longer with me.
            A week or so later, a work colleague was going to take me out for lunch.  I was getting ready in the bathroom, drying my hair.  One of our cats, Max, came into the bathroom and just sat there watching me.  I looked at him and said “Max, do you miss daddy?”  (Yes, we called each other mommy and daddy.) I said “I miss daddy, I miss daddy very much. But daddy said he was never going to leave us, that he would always be with us.”  And just then, Max’s little ear goes {twitch, twitch}.  I turned off the hair dryer, and point blank looked him and said “Max, is that daddy?”  And his little ear goes {twitch}.  Tears welled up in my eyes, but the biggest smile came over my face and I can’t tell you the sense of comfort I felt.  I saw Donna again shortly after that, and she said “You know, I was thinking more about your questions about eternal life,” and I said “Nope, I got it.  All good.”
I ended up taking that trip to Scotland last fall, and I took some of Doug’s ashes with me.  I had identified a place where I wanted to spread his ashes—in Loch Coruisk which is in the Black Cuillin Hills on the Isle of Skye.  The morning my tour group was supposed to go there, the weather was not good, and our guides were told the ferries would not be going that day.  About an hour before we were supposed to leave, the sun came out, and we were able to make the trip.  It was a beautiful day and I was able to spread his ashes in the Loch.  After I spread the ashes, as I was sitting there, a little fish came swimming up—it was the only fish I saw in the Loch the entire time I was there.  I thought “Oh great, I am literally going to watch Doug become fish food.”  But it didn’t do anything—it just hovered there for about an hour, and as I got up to leave, it swam away.
I tell you all this as I firmly believe that Doug, through the Holy Spirit, is letting me know he is ok, and that I am going to be ok, as he really is still with me.  One thing I have learned is that, as much as we might like, there aren’t burning bushes, or clouds parting with voices thundering from above, as evidence of God or eternal life.  For me, it’s been as simple as a cat’s ear flip, an unexpected beautiful day or a little fish.

MVP has been incredibly supportive of my journey, and I am so thankful to be part of this community.  I joined the Tuesday night small group and we recently completed a study on the Gospel of John, including Christ’s death, resurrection and eternal life.  Two passages from our study materials really struck me, and I wanted to share them with you today. The first is “Easter transforms our sorrow into joy and hope, our fear into peace and courage.”  The second is “…the Resurrection declares that the worst thing is never the last thing.”  Before I watched my husband take his last breath, I was scared to die.  Now I realize that death is by no means the last thing.  On this Easter Sunday, while I still miss Doug terribly, I can honestly say I know he is still with me, and I will get to see him again. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Easter Shame

There were times when I would literally sit and count the number of people in the photos friends were posting of their church on Easter.

There were times when I completely forgot all that did happen on Easter morning because all I could think about is how I felt on Easter evening.

There were times when I dreaded having to hear colleagues talk about how many people came to church on Easter.

There were other times when I was fully aware of how many more people we had in our pews this year than we did the year before. But I would still see emptiness when I looked at the pictures of our space.

There was never enough. No matter how many people were in our pews, it was not enough.

But something changed yesterday. There was enough. There was more than enough people, more than enough food, more than enough passion, more than enough joy. When I looked out from my seat up front, I saw more people gathered in our sanctuary for worship than I had ever seen before. There were even people in the balcony, something that typically only happens when someone is wearing strong perfume below. 

Brene' Brown has powerfully named my standard Easter emotion. She calls it the shame-based fear of being ordinary, a fear that may be more powerful in my life than any other fear I know. It's what she describes as the "fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose" (Daring Greatly, page 22).

While I have always known that I am a beloved person with a powerful sense of purpose, I've regularly feared that I am not extraordinary enough. This fear pushes me to often compare myself to others which regularly only helps me see my own sense of inadequacy. And there is nothing faithful about such feelings.

Brene' has helped me see that scarcity is a great lie. It is even more so for people of faith who believe we worship a God of abundance - a God who says there is always more than enough, and that we are more than enough just as we are.

I'm trying hard to live wholeheartedly. Wholehearted living, according to Brene', includes ten things. I offer my five favorites below:

1. Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What People Think
2. Cultivating Self-Compassion: Letting Go of Perfectionism
4. Cultivating Gratitude and Joy: Letting Go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark
6. Cultivating Creativity: Letting Go of Comparison
9. Cultivating Meaningful Work: Letting Go of Self-Doubt and "Supposed To"

Imagine how different the week after Easter would be if we sought to do the hard work of cultivating these gifts within us. Imagine how different we would feel about the gifts God brought on Easter if we refused to compare our church with any other church, our sermon with any other sermon, our music with any other music, our size with any other size.

I've come a long way.

I still have a way to go.

I'm going to try again.

What about you?

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Not a Rolled-Away Stone, but a Carried-Away Church

I was getting ready to leave the church today when I crossed over the glass bridge that connects the office suite with the sanctuary. I heard music as soon as I opened the office door which puzzled me as I thought I was the only one still in the church part of the building. I then looked down and saw someone sweeping. Michelle, a first-year seminary student who lives upstairs, was sweeping the floor that was earlier covered with tables overflowing with food from our community potluck.

"Michelle, what are you doing?" I asked.

"I'm sweeping," she responded.

"But the floor will be swept in the morning," I said.

"I know. But I went upstairs and I couldn't stop thinking about the mess that was made. I didn't want our Easter joy to be someone else's burden," she explained.

Leadership comes in many forms. Michelle showed me an extraordinary form of it today. I was nearly rendered speechless, humbled to my core when I heard her words about the remnants of our joy possibly becoming someone else's burden. We had just celebrated the resurrected Jesus but Michelle was a powerful picture of Jesus to me today - Jesus who serves, Jesus who remembers that someone else may have to carry the burden we create, Jesus who quietly cares for others when no one else is watching. I'm still utterly amazed by her actions.

I later noticed this quote from Clarence Jordan posted on Facebook, "The proof that God raised Jesus from the dead is not the empty tomb, but the full hearts of his transformed disciples. The crowning evidence that he lives is not a vacant grave, but a spirit-filled fellowship. Not a rolled-away stone, but a carried-away church."

At the end of this Easter day, I realize again that I have the extraordinary privilege of being part of such a place. Our Holy Week has been powerful and transformational because countless people in our spirit-filled fellowship have gone the extra mile to share their gifts. A colleague at Duke used to refer to a group of gifted people as "an embarrassment of riches." I've seen an embarrassment of riches at work this week in so many ways from a person who memorized a script for Palm Sunday to a woman who vulnerably shared her heart today through a powerful testimony, from people who sang incredible music to an individual who created the worship slides, from people who opened the doors of the shower ministry this morning to those who picked up trash in the front lawn yesterday, from those who came early to greet to those who carefully ensured there would be just enough food at the potluck, from those who created prayer stations on Good Friday to the one who preached on Maundy Thursday, from those who counted every single person in worship today to those who were willing to miss worship to care for our children, from those who took down every table and chair following lunch to those who have created a communications team and posted all kinds of clever things this week, from those who did not get to sit in their normal pew today to those who scooted over to sit closer to someone who was moved to tears, from those who hid eggs for our children to find to those who took the trash out after lunch, and from every person who showed up and said "hello" to someone else, making them feel welcome but also becoming the answer to our prayer that no one show up without being noticed in some way.

It's been an extraordinary Easter because of the sacrifices of many people. My heart is overflowing. May Christ continue to transform our hearts, fill our fellowship with the Spirit, and carry us away in powerful ways.

Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Where is God?

I'm normally one of the first people to arrive at the abbey. I want to get here when there are still spaces available for spiritual direction with one of the monks since there are typically only 6 sessions available for a dozen or so retreat guests. For years I'd come to meet with Brother Mark who started to recognize me the moment I walked into the small room. I would settle down in my chair, and he would begin the conversation.

How can I help you?

It would take a maximum of two seconds before I started to respond. I cannot find God. I try hard but I cannot seem to get close to God. Where is God?

Brother Mark would then usually ask, Is this not the same question you asked last year?

Yes, it's me again. I'm working so hard. The congregation I serve is growing. But my relationship with God has dwindled. I have purchased dozens of devotional books. Some feed me for a few weeks and then I'm back where I started. I cannot seem to stay close to God.

But something is different this time.

I didn't feel compelled to be one of the first people to arrive. I didn't sign up for a session with one of the monks. In fact, the more I've been at the abbey this week, the more I realize how different my relationship is with God than it has been in years past. While I'm not sure I can put my figure on it, I know things have changed.

I'd not been here half an hour when I noticed God at work in the field outside my window. I saw the cow and her baby the moment I opened the blinds. I then realized that the calf was newly born and just learning to use her legs for the first time. She would stand up and then fall and then stand up only to fall over once more. But the mama cow never left her side. Instead she kept licking her, nursing her and nudging her. And the closer the mama stayed, the more it seemed that the calf had the courage to try to stand once more.

The view completely seduced me. I could not stop watching the action outside. I also could not stop thinking about how God does the same in our lives. God cleans us up, nudges us, seeks to nourish us, and then stays close when we have fallen and are trying to stand again. We have no idea just how much God loves us and cheers for us. If only we could hear the voice of God!

The cow and her baby have not been seen again since that first day. I don't believe we are puppets on a string, our every move controlled by God. But I believe the cow and calf were a gift given to me upon my arrival. 

With God's presence so tangibly close, I turned to the task at hand and started to choose from the dozen or so books in my bag. I first read a beautiful book of a woman's journey through grief. I'd recommend Comfort to you - as long as you have a box of tissues at hand. I then continued to sift through books on leadership, the church's current reality, and mission. And then I found a book that helped me see why God may be so close in this season of my life.

While the cover may likely not win an award for design, the treasure inside Samuel Wells' book, A Nazareth Manifesto, is not to be missed. It's not often that I pick up a theology book that I cannot put down, but Wells has achieved such an end with this masterpiece. 

The argument for the book is found near its beginning, "...while there is a place for working for, working with, and being for, it is being with that is the most faithful form of Christian witness and mission, because being with is both incarnationally faithful to the manifestation of God in Christ and eschatologically anticipatory of the destiny of all things in God" (p. 23). Wells sets out to demonstrate how much ministry is done for other people - something I've experienced often.

I went to a meeting last week designed to ignite a movement to make sure life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are realities for all people in this nation by 2026, the year we'll celebrate the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. But I quickly realized that the people we wanted to do something for - the people we were talking about - were not in the room. They had not been invited to be part of the conversation.

We feel good when we show up to serve dinner to people or write a check to our favorite charity, or even take a load of clothing to Goodwill. We are doing something for others! But Wells has helped me see ministry in a different light. He's helped me discover why I am journeying through this current season with a lens of abundance instead of scarcity.

As I look back upon my annual pilgrimage to the abbey, I see how often I have come here with a feeling of there not being enough. There are not enough people in the pews, not enough members, not  enough leaders, not enough resources, not enough money, and not enough time. Furthermore, I was not a good enough pastor, a good enough leader, a good enough preacher, a good enough wife, a good enough friend. I was never fully satisfied with the here and the now (and perhaps I never will be - which is not an entirely bad thing). 

But I realize now how much of my life includes abundance. I also know why I often show up for our Tuesday morning Hope 4 All group that is seeking to journey with people from homelessness into housing. It might be easy to see scarcity in such a group. Our city does not seem to have enough housing for everyone who needs it. But I have yet to show up at 7:00am on a Tuesday without seeing abundance in ways you might not expect.

Wells quotes John McKnight and Peter Block who write, "Gifts are inborn and not subject to management. Gifts don't need to be trained into us; they are inherent. They are who we are and they cannot be taken away. They are also nearby, though often unseen. Since we cannot manipulate the gifts of another, they are not subject to external management, and therefore they are an antidote to system life" (253).

We all have gifts. They are inherent within us. They simply need to be nurtured and named. Wells writes, "Well-being is about overcoming isolation and finding ways to make material limitation a source of mutual interdependence" (254).

There are not only gifts at the table on Tuesday morning, but there is an embarrassment of riches. And the riches have been uncovered as we have sought to provide space where isolation can be overcome and mutual interdependence can be shared.

Lorne has taught me about the power of not giving up. We nearly offended him on his first day when a facilitator of the group shared how his first place may be "a crappy room somewhere." But he kept coming. He signed a lease on a room that was not ideal. And he's showing us how to smile in the midst of adversity.

Greg could complain about a million things. He spent more than 23 years in federal prison. He's learned that the halfway house was an easier place to live than the streets of Washington. He regularly makes me think about the Shawshank Redemption film. He's working hard to get a commercial driver's license. I've rarely heard him complain. He seizes the abundance that he has and keeps moving forward one step at a time.

Richard has been coming to worship every Sunday in recent weeks. His face is overflowing with joy as the smile seems rather permanent. He first couldn't wait to tell me about his room in a group house. He now cannot stop talking about how he has his own place. I HAVE MY OWN PLACE!!!!

Wells writes, "Generosity is the virtue of abundance. Unlike charity, which assumes scarcity and 'is really an unstable and false generosity because it is oriented around the needs and deficiencies of just one party in the transaction' and is thus demeaning, generosity assumes abundance by investing in the still-not-fully disclosed gifts of the other" (255).

I've come to realize how often I'm the poor one, especially when my eyes are only capable of seeing scarcity - in myself, in others and in our community - instead of the abundance that is always at hand whenever we sit down and see another person, hear another person, and then give them an opportunity to see and hear us in such a way that we all walk away with a keen awareness of our abundance.

Wells quotes Albert Schweitzer who used to say that when we ask God, "'Where are you staying?' God's answer is, 'I'm staying with you'" (259).

I'm so incredibly grateful that God has chosen to take up residence in me and in you. And the more I see you, the more I realize how much abundance there is all around - particularly when we refuse to accept isolation as the norm instead of the exception.

Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place. Thanks be. Thanks be. Thanks be.