Day Three – More on Community

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I grow weary of hearing people say, “All organized religion is nonsense created by humans, for profit and control”.

First, I hate generalizations.  It’s funny because I can remember a time growing up when that’s all my father used to say to me, “Stop generalizing”.  At the time, I didn’t really understand what he meant, but he was right.  I used to make statements like, “You always find fault in anything I say”; “This person is always wrong.”; “You never listen to a word I say.” etc… At fifty, I finally understand what my Dad meant.

I admit for a time, when I was being lazy in my faith and wallowing in self pity, I used to say things about organized religion too. I would tell myself that I didn’t need to go to church because God lives in me, etc.  “Church is a building”; “Faith is what’s in my heart.”; “God lives everywhere, I don’t have to go there to talk to God.”, etc.”

I was right (on some level), until I landed in the finance office of a church that isn’t of my own religion. (I laugh these days, because God absolutely does know what He’s doing at any given time.) I started there as an account temp because they lost their finance secretary to a full time job. I thought this job would be pretty clear cut: I’d do their finances and leave each day. NOT.

I never expected that as the finance secretary of a church, I would be the only person who got to see what good “a church” actually does in a community. As a lifelong Catholic, my only experience with church was going to Mass on Sundays, receiving the Sacraments and tithing each week or month.  I never stopped to think or find out just where my tithes went.  I thought they were supporting the church building and the school, period.  I never went beyond this in my thinking. Why would I? I just showed up on Sundays, gave what I could, and left.

Until I landed at my current work place.

Yes, it is true that tithes do go to the upkeep of the building and the staff. Church’s are non profit organizations, which means that they do depend on weekly/monthly tithing and gifts from estates and outside entities.  Without the kindness and faith of others, they don’t get to exist.

I worked for about six months just trying to find my way in the finance office. No one could help me because the business of the finance office of a church is completely confidential. Thankfully, my life long accounting background afforded me the experience and knowledge to be able to create the statements etc.

What I did not expect, however, was learning just what it means to be a church.  What I get to experience every single day is happiness and love.  While we do have a small number of staff, who are paid, the place where I work is largely governed and staffed by volunteers who give of their time freely and willfully day in and day out.  This doesn’t mean that they just write checks to the church.  It means that they come into the office to answer phones, they write thank you notes when we receive memorial donations, they go out to visit the shut-ins and those who are hospitalized, they organize visits to the home-bound, they plan picnics for new members, they create ministries for the elderly and the youth and the children, they buy beds and clothes for people new in the country, they walk in parades, the list is endless.  In short, wherever there is a need, they are there.

My “ah-ha” moment came one day the first year of my employment, when a random envelope of cash was received and on the outside it simply said, “Please give to the church”. It was a substantial amount of cash and we worked hard to find out where it had come from so I could give tax credit. In the end, a random person had given this envelope to a congregant who was leaving Sunday services…he didn’t care about “credit”.

The day we finally figured this out, my heart just opened and I cried. Not knowing the story, I envisioned some stranger saving his pennies until he felt he had enough and then he gave it to the first person he saw coming out of services. The person who received this money and turned it in could only say that this was a foreign person who offered the envelope.

My workplace caters to foreigners and refugees and I love it.  Several times I’ve gotten to use my Spanish to help visitors looking for the “English as a Second Language” classes, which are hosted by the church. (I have a degree in Spanish yet have never gotten to use it for any reason until now.) (PS-Thanks God!)

The Minsters of this place work 24/7.  If a person has a medical emergency in the middle of the night, they jump up and go. Often times during the day, I witness the Minsters going on countless “appointments” to pray with the sick, the lonely, the depressed or those who are trying to figure out “God”, period. They go when they are called, period, and it doesn’t matter how many times per day they are called…they GO.

In short, I’ve been at this place for three years part-time. I’d be there full-time in a heart beat because I’ve finally learned what a church really is. It’s LOVE actualized.

Yes, you can love and pray and worship God all on your own and HE IS there, but a church is a community of people all working together to help others.  At least, this is MY experience.

Lots of times I’m the only person who gets to read beautiful letters attached to checks that talk about what this church has meant and why “this donation” is being made and I feel so honored.  I look at it as God entrusting me as the go-between.  I make sure the donation gets where it’s supposed to, I get to write the thank you note and I get to keep the secret of who gave it.  (That’s between God and me and the donor and it’s so fun!)

So.  Yeah, I’m weary of hearing that organized religion sucks because it doesn’t.  I didn’t even mention all of the money that my workplace donates to local charities OR what it does to take care of refugees from other countries. We receive calls daily from people wanting help on their rent or utility bills and we work in conjunction with other area charities to help as much as possible. I’ve seen our Ministers (and members)buy clothes and shoes for children  (sometimes out of their own pockets), buy a bus ticket to get a stranded traveler home, deliver food to those who need it; I’ve even seen them invite a person in to sit in our church parlor to eat a meal and just chat with a fellow human. I could go on and on.

If you think, for one moment, that organized religion sucks.  I hope you will do some more research.  We give away most of what comes in and what we don’t have to give away, we make up with our own money, time and effort.

I’m so Blessed.

Those who used to know me on Myspace have to KNOW that God led me here to this place and that I’m happy as a clam.  I don’t make much money, but my heart is FULL times infinity.  I haven’t even scratched the surface here.

I think it’s time for all of us to either re-discover or discover for the first time, what it’s like to be a real member of a real community.  Church might just be the first stop.  No. I’m certain it should be.

Praise God. (I do.)

 

Day Two – Resurrecting Kindness.

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I remember when I was growing up it was customary for a neighborhood to welcome a new family with gifts of food. Sometime during the first week of getting unpacked and settled, the front doorbell would ring; and behind it would be standing, a family of smiling faces, bearing a basket of homemade cookies or a pie or a casserole; ready to say, “Hi, we’re the William’s family and we live across the street, in that house over there.  We just wanted to say welcome to the neighborhood and if you need anything, here’s our number.”

I was a little kid when we moved a few times, but I never forgot how nice those little gifts of food were. It wasn’t the food really, it was the kindness that even a wee kid like me, recognized.  Somehow it made me feel “official”, like the move was complete and I was now a “real” part of my new neighborhood.

Fast forward to high school carpool. The year had just started and we had a new person added to our pick-up list.  Their family had moved in over the summer -but on a street not very close to ours. First day in the car, someone asked Clara George (name changed to protect the innocent) how she liked her new house and the neighborhood.  She exclaimed, “Oh I like the house just fine, but this is the most stuck up neighborhood in the world! Do you know not ONE person has come to the door with cookies or ANYTHING!”.  I laughed my head off.

Thirty two years later, I still remember that moment and even where I was sitting in the car and how loudly I snorted. Everyone giggled and told her that she was right, in our neighborhood, this wasn’t a tradition any more. Sad reality. (Even though when we moved in, I do recall neighbors coming by and also a lady from “The Welcome Wagon” who had a whole basket of assorted treats.) What a difference a few years had made.  When we moved in, I was in the 5th grade and when Clara moved in, it was six years later and there was no more “Welcome Wagon”. I wonder why?

When I moved into my first condo it was a snowy January day. We were on the second floor of our building and I was so excited about being on my own. I envisioned being great friends with all of my neighbors and feeling secure having people near by. The second night one of my best friends and I were in the kitchen lining the cabinets when the doorbell rang. I exclaimed to her, “It’s my first neighbor come to welcome me!!”.  Sure enough when I opened the door, there he stood. Nervously, but cheerfully, I introduced myself and he said, “I’m Eric and I live beneath you. I don’t know what you are doing- but you are being too loud.” I explained that I had just moved in and I was only lining my kitchen cabinets. (We weren’t even using a hammer! ha!) I apologized and shut the door feeling utterly deflated. (Thanks for the lovely welcome, Eric.) Sad to say that most of the people in that complex were of similar nature. I didn’t last there long. It hurt my soul.

Three moves later and a little over a year ago, my husband, Charlie, and I moved into our town house. The tradition of neighbors bearing gifts and smiles long forgotten and no longer expected, we introduced ourselves to neighbors in passing. One day there was a knock at the door and there stood our next door neighbor with a beautiful plate of Indian food. (She was from India). I almost cried. She didn’t really say it was to welcome us, but rather she said, “I hope you enjoy.”

It didn’t matter. It was kindness (and it was delicious!)

Sadly, they moved away and not too very long ago, two lovely 24 year old girls moved in.  Charlie and I decided to welcome them with a lasagna dinner, complete with salad and desert. They were floored, but very grateful! They told us that they both teach autistic children and neither of them cook, so a home-cooked meal meant a lot. I floated back into my home so happy! (There is no high so great as the feeling one gets in doing something nice for another.)  So now, we make a habit of sharing our meals with them whenever we make something especially yummy. I like to think that they will always remember this and that perhaps one day, they will do the same for a new neighbor in their next dwelling place. I wonder how many people their age do not even remember a time when this was a tradition?

I know that these days, not everyone can afford to gifts of food for new neighbors. (Honestly, did I just write that statement? Is that really a true statement? Who cannot afford just one cupcake or cookie or even just a card with your phone number in it?) Kindness doesn’t cost much and it goes such a very long way. I know there are people out there who will use the argument that it’s not safe to knock on doors any more or that people won’t trust food made by strangers. I say that is just an excuse based in fear.

We are a people so stuck behind computer screens, immersed in cell phones, attached to video games, etc. that we’ve lost our sense of community. (For the record, Facebook doesn’t count as community!) I think if it’s out of our comfort zone, we don’t make the effort any more and that’s just wrong. I would love to see the tradition of welcoming and caring for one’s neighbors resurrected.

I have so much fun packing up dinner for the girls next door. This morning one of them stopped Charlie and I in the driveway and just went on and on profusely thanking us. She said, “We are 24 and if we are going to eat pasta -it’s coming out of a can or it’s frozen! You have no idea how much we love the food!” She’s told Charlie before that they work crazy hours for little money and that often they are so tired when they get home. So yes, I will continue to feed them when the opportunities present themselves because it makes my heart smile and they are starting to feel like family.

That’s exactly what kindness does. It is so true that in giving we DO receive, OH and also, FOOD IS LOVE!  😉

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020 <—Bobbe’s Lasagna & garlic bread.

Day one. THIS-THAT-JOY

Bobbe

As a creative person, I often feel a knocking inside my heart that says, “Let it out!  It’s time!” So this morning while I have a few hours and no set schedule, I decided my fingers should try to take dictation from my heart. The fact that my computer screen just started flashing the moment I finished that sentence, is good indication that the Universe concurs. The fact that it flashed on and off again in the exact same spot just after I read this aloud to myself -really seals the deal. It’s been too long.

Most people know me from another blog I write, entitled: Bobbe’s Trinity Angels“.  This isn’t that. So often I feel like writing about random happenings in my life.  I sign on to that site and what I want to write doesn’t seem appropriate, so I keep it bottled inside. So here is where I will post those items that do not always fit into the “inspirational musings” category. I can weave inspiration into most anything, but in my real life, sometimes I do feel pain, sadness,  sorrow, silliness, weirdness and yes, even outrage. So because I’m a person who feels better when things are in the “proper” place, this will be the space for all that.

Yesterday I had a delightful visit from a lady I barely know, who walked into my office, unannounced, unfolded a chair and sat down. We’d been talking on the phone fairly often about a position I’m trying to secure. She felt it was time to put a face with my voice and go deeper into who I really am. She announced it wasn’t an interview, but rather just a visit to find out, “Who ARE you?”

I don’t think I’ve been asked this question before.

It forced me to sit still a minute and to reflect on what to say in response. It’s easy to talk about what I do for a living, where I live, who my friends are, what I know,etc… but who AM I? That question forced me go right to where my reality lives. Instantly, I found myself talking about my life and what has shaped me; which opened the floor for more questions. It was a joyful, wonderful, heart-filled conversation (my favorite).  At one point she looked around my office and seeing my paintings and hearing my stories she asked, “If you could do it all over again, where would you be?  What would you do?”.  I laughed and said I’d probably be exactly where I am today except I’d have more power, I’d have all ready published a few books and I’d have the official title, “Reverend” in front of my name. (Yeah that’s right, you read it here first!) Additionally, I’d like to get back into motivational speaking.

“Yes, the speaking is definitely on my bucket list for later!”, I said with total glee.

She gave me a supreme compliment at this point when she said, “Well you are an excellent story teller. You should be out there sharing.”

Can you imagine a heart smiling?  Mine was.

When I got home I reflected further on who I am at my core and I can only come up with one word, Love. Sounds trite doesn’t it?

In thinking about who I am, I have to go inside and ask myself what are the things that are most important to me; what are my values; what do I stand for in this life; why am I here? When I come up from this deep thought, I see myself only as a child of the Most High and as long as I’m connected to Him, I have love flowing through my veins. THIS makes me want to work in service of others and when I get to do THAT in even the tiniest form,  JOY arrives.

Yesterday I had a joyful conversation with a new friend. While I may not have the new position secure, I’m grateful that God sent me a message through this lady.  I needed to stop and reflect on who I AM and really ask the question, is my life on course with what’s in my heart.  Gratefully, with a few exceptions, it is.

Who are you?  

Have you ever been asked this question?

 What would you say?

 

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