Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Thank Ya JEE-sus!!

I feel I need to get some religion. I am feeling like the sheep that has strayed—a bit naughty, deaf to the Lord, caught up in my own self.

I have not been to church in four months. There. I said it. And, like the diet that never starts tomorrow, next Sunday will not be the Sunday I start planting my butt again in the pew. I am headed out of town with a friend. We are returning to her hometown, which is in a state I have never visited. She is helping me reach a goal. After our little trip, I will only have four states left to explore. Instead of mouthing hymns, breaking bread, and bowing my head in prayer, I will be nurturing a relationship, soaking in the beauty around me, and spending a moment on the open road in quiet reflection. I’m going to count that as church.

Every day I pray, thank you for the gifts you have given me, please put in front of me opportunities to use those gifts to do your work. Every day I pray this. Every day. And yet, I am thinking now about that woman crouched and huddled together with her daughter inside the bridge, seeking shelter from Chicago’s not-quite-yet-bone-chilling winter. I wouldn’t let my dog sleep on the nasty blanket that covered them, let alone throw it over myself. And yet, I walked right by. I am still thinking about that, still wishing I had given her a bit of change or perhaps my coat, even. I could have given her my coat. It would have been easy enough to duck into Macy’s on the next corner and pick up a new one. But I passed her by.

I am reminded of the story of the man who prays to God for help in the midst of a flood. The man stands on his rooftop waiting for God’s help. Various rescuers pass, asking to give him a hand, but he refuses saying that he is waiting for God and certain that God will help him. When the waters become unbearable, he prays again and asks why God has deserted him. God replies that He sent a boat and a helicopter and all those other rescuers, but the help was turned away. I am not unlike this man. I pray for these opportunities to do good work, to use the gifts that are inside of me, to throw the blessings in my life back at others so that they, in turn, might throw them out again. I pray. And everyday the opportunities are all around me and yet I fail to see or, in my selfishness, I refuse the opportunity. Like the woman.

I have been given much in my life. There’s a quote that goes something like this, to whom much has been given much will be expected. Much has been given. I’m not talking position or salary here. I have those things, yes, but mostly I am talking sustenance. I have known hunger and poverty. I have been cold when others were warm. I have known the humiliation of that look from others, that look that says with no words, you are disgusting to me and not worthy of my time. I have felt the anger at living a life that was not of my choosing, the life of a child born into the likes of joblessness, a long series of decrepit homes, teenage pregnancy, drinking and drugs and dropping out of school. I am not in that life anymore. Much has been given. I never have to think, how will I feed my children? I never have to pack in the middle of the night to leave a house because I am too far behind on the rent and have no money still to pay. I never worry about keeping my family warm in winter, splitting wood to build the fire to heat the house because the electric has long ago been shut off. A man I have never met paid for much of my college education. I can only say thank you by giving to others, returning the gift, as he is no longer living. Much has been given.

Some of my more Christian friends—Is that a term? More Christian? I feel it is. Not that I think so, but I believe others think so. And I’m just not versed enough on the Bible to find the spot that says I go to the right church, the Lord’s church, and I spout off about God every minute of every day and I suck up to the Lord every chance I get and I am certain to let others know when they are sinning, sinning being defined as any action deemed unacceptable by me or any of my fellow church members, and I am of the right color and of the right ethnicity and of the right socioeconomic status and I would never, under any circumstance, consider intimate relations with ANYONE who is of my same gender, so therefore, yes, I am more Christian than you—anyway, some of my more Christian friends will be horrified that I have spoken as I have in this essay. I’ve been a bit blasphemous (especially that last part, whew!, THAT’S gonna get me into some trouble). The truth is, I am not unlike anyone else. We all have inside us much to offer. Much has been given from the start. Even the things in my life I saw as painful and unfair, even those things I know now, were gifts. I have food and clothing and shelter now to spare and others have none. I know what having none feels like. I know the difference a coat or a blanket can make. I know the difference a simple piece of bread can make. I have been blessed, too, with love and compassion and kindness where others know only hatred or sorrow. Much has been given. I see now that it’s my turn to be the one doing that giving.

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