Tag Archives: christianity

Lemongrass and Music

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You’ve got to do things that make you happy, Cath. It’s okay to take care of yourself.

So I brew lemongrass-ginger tea in my little brown teapot.

I curl up on the couch and knit a blue sweater with white whales on it.

I ask for book suggestions on the sovereignty of God, on the unknown. I start to read Brother Lawrence’s Practicing the Presence of God, Tim Keller’s Every Good Endeavor, A. W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy. There is comfort in these words.

I journal in haphazard ways, round and around with no goal. I think about making sure I burn all my journals before I die.

I sit beside my roommate as she sings me this song. I sit and look out the window while she plays the guitar.

I buy a few too many dresses for the weddings and other occasions this summer. I wear the mint-green one to work.

I drive with the top down and feel the sun on my winter-skin.

I listen to all the music I love: The Lone Bellow, Ivan and Alyosha, Ray LaMontagne, Josh Garrells.

I sit at the piano and play hymns. We used to sing them with my great-grandmother in the living room, and now they are as much a balm to my soul as they are an offering to the Lord.

I preoccupy myself with apartment searching. I go a little crazy, a little manic. I apologize to my friends profusely, but it pays off. September first will find us moving into a city-apartment that I never thought we’d find.

I re-read old poems, old blog entries. My past self speaks to my present self, and I try to believe her and not feel like I’ve let her down.

I sit by the lake and sip a Dunkin iced coffee. My feet dangle like I am happy, but really it’s just because I’m short.

I imagine teaching my new courses next year. I make a list of books to read, activities to do. And then I stop when this feels overwhelming.

I think about our annual trip to the Cape and the ocean and the fact that the ocean is still there.

It’s been there all along.

So I do these things that make me happy, and I practice patience and trust. Risk involves not knowing what will happen, I know this. Time will tell, they say, and it will.

Give thanks in all circumstances. Like I wrote almost a year-and-a-half ago, we do not know how to praise God because we do not know all that he has spared us from.

Henri Nouwen and a Broken Lent

I begin the Lenten season with gusto. Perhaps gusto is not the right word, because it’s more like a settling in – a settling into the rhythms of 5:30AM and Henri Nouwen and prayer. I am not so good at this getting up and reading. My eyes cross. The words bleed together and I struggle to read through again, hoping this time to catch the nuance, the challenge, the peace.

I attempt to bring some of this contemplation, this observation, to my 8th grade homeroom. They get better at listening and at least looking at me as I try to spin words that reach them. Prayer requests usually revolve around upcoming tests, but once in awhile, I am struck by their depth of care for this hurting world.

We drive home from Maine and the sun is bright pink and as I catch it between the metal arms of the bridge, I feel sadness. Sunday is over, the next week spreads before me, and I focus more on the setting of the sun than the the brilliance of it against the gray sky.

I take a picture.

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It doesn’t even begin to capture the beauty, and I wish for once I could bask in glory instead of mourn an ending.

I hear stories of birth – moments that should be joy and laughter – but instead end in deep pain. But Miss Hawkins, I didn’t think that happened anymore. I didn’t think mothers died. But they do and they leave behind babies and husbands and mourners on multiple continents.

I try to navigate being a Christ-follower and being a student-leader and the sometimes waking in the middle of the night with the secret voice that says Just run. Nobody needs you anyway. Italy still looks good, and think of the writing you could do. You’ll never save all of them, so run away and stop trying.

Then I wake up at 5:30. I grind the coffee beans, put the tea kettle on, settle in under my nine-patch quilt.

I read Henri Nouwen, a passage from the Bible, a prayer. I tell God in full honesty that I do not know how anyone gets through this life without Him.

I drive to work in the sunlight across the marsh. I pour another cup of coffee from a co-worker’s ever-full coffeepot. I ask for prayer. I smile at everyone.

This, I guess, is the place I should be. This place of “What would I do without you, Lord?” I know that it is in this place that good work is done.

 

So many terrible things happen every day that we start wondering whether the few things we do ourselves make any sense…Here the word “call” becomes important. We are not called to save the world, solve all problems, and help all people. But we each have our own unique call, in our families, in our work, in our world. We have to keep asking God to help us see clearly what our call is and to give us the strength to live out that call with trust. Then we will discover that our faithfulness to a small task is the most healing response to the illnesses of our time.

– Henri Nouwen

 

2015 Revelations Thus Far

DSC_0104 2I was sitting in a coffee shop (the one I frequented every Thursday last winter). I held a baby that was not mine; her eyes were wide and she was rocking her all-encompassing winter zip-up with hoody.

I just kept looking at her and I couldn’t figure out what to do first. I wanted to talk to her mother because I hadn’t seen her in months. It was one of those surprise encounters in public when you embrace too tightly and everyone rolls their eyes. You just have to swallow your pride in moments like that.

I wanted to talk to her mother, but I also wanted to take it all in – this six-month-old person who had changed in innumerable ways since I’d last seen her three-day-old self. It still shocks me how change slows to such tortoise-like steps as we get older.

So there were two things I wanted to do and not really enough time to do either of them.

I left sadly because my grad class was calling and even the allure of beautiful babies doesn’t count as an excuse for skipping.

~     ~     ~

Now it’s last Tuesday and I’m back at the same coffee shop. Picture this: I’ve walked in, ready to order a delicious steamy beverage and perhaps read a good book (most likely catch up on the current state of demise my world finds itself in). I go to order. The barista – the same man who took my order all last year – smiles at me and asks,

“How’ve you been? How’s the baby?”

I look quizzically at first.

“I’m sorry, what?” I say.

And because he has a thick accent, he thinks I have not understood his actual words.

“How. Is. The. Baby?” he asks again.

Suddenly I realize the confusion and begin to stammer.

“Oh, no, no! She wasn’t mine – she was my friend’s! And, I mean, she’s doing very well!”

He smiles again and takes my money and I can’t understand why I feel so uncomfortable.

How could you think I had a baby?!

Oh, wait.

And I realize in that week following my 26th birthday, that it would not be at all outrageous for me to be a mother.

It would not shock the social structures.

Heck, if I were my own mother, I’d be healthily on the way to three children by now.

My friend, the baby’s mother, is indeed younger than I am.

Just another fact that took too long for me to reckon with.

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A friend shared this poem the other day. I read it over and over. Not many poems command my attention like this one did. There is a lot to wrestle in it, a lot to parse out into “agree” and “disagree” (although aren’t there so many better ways to read poetry than that?).

I read this poem and I wanted to embody this being-ness. This okayness with the being I am. My finiteness. Just as God brings people into our lives to sharpen us (in sometimes painful ways), He also seems to bring poetry into mine. I do not think everyone needs to like poetry the way that I do, not at all. But I wonder what is that thing God uses to condense life down for them into the worthwhile.

Let the Joyful Speak
by John Holmes

If you were born calm, then keep on calmly,
Every room you come into, come in slowly with a smile,
Calmly. L i n g e r. Speak of the others who will be there
Next time, or in a little while…

…Be old if you are old, your age your own.
If you are tired in the world, or lost, or cold,
HOWL til you are found and warm and fed
Or dead. A man said,

Live life near the bone.

If you were born full of joy, if you love walking,
If you talk midnight down and bring in the dawn with music,
Branching day by day in the love of good companions,
Then go so.

If you breathe your own house, hear your books,
Wear time like the sun’s brown on the back of your own hand,
If you think alone like the wind across your age,
Or see your country from ten thousand feet up in summer air,
Then go so. Be your joy.

[Only a snippet and formatting is my own.]

~     ~     ~

2015 dawns cold and bright. A new semester, a new age, and all that comes with it. Sometimes I would rather up and run to Salzburg where I felt the freedom of graduation and untetheredness. It’s hard not to romanticize such a romantic time, such a beautiful place.

And then I remember that staying put can bring growth, too. That relationships are worth cultivating. That students are worth supporting. That change doesn’t always mean better. I remember that 26 isn’t too young to be married or have a baby and that I am, indeed, getting older, but that doesn’t mean I’m on the “wrong” trajectory, either.

Be your joy.

Wherever you are.

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Who Am I?

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We play this game in class with the last few minutes on Fridays. I call it “Who Am I?” but really it’s just “20 Questions,” and only sometimes do I make them choose Greek and Roman mythological characters. One student leaves the room while the rest of us decide which person he or she is.

They love making boys goddesses and girls gods.

And so we’ll choose a character and call the exile in. He or she will commence asking yes-or-no questions until eventually it becomes clear who he or she is supposed to embody.

The thing I keep noticing is this response from the rest of the students.

Let’s say it’s a girl, and she only knows that she’s from mythology, she’s male, and she’s not a god. Her next question might be:

“Did I defeat a lion?”

Every time, the rest of the class guffaws in disbelief.

How could you ask that question?

OBVIOUSLY NOT.

Oh my gosh…!

I didn’t quite understand what was happening until this week.

While one student stands ignorant in front of her classmates, the rest of them can only function with their knowledge. They’ve forgotten (in the span of about .65 minutes) that not everyone has the same information they have. This student asks “Did I defeat a lion?” with less knowledge than they have, but with enough to wonder, hmmmm…maybe I’m Hercules…

Student: “Did I get punished by the gods?”

Chorus: “HAHAHAHA!”

Student: “Did I become an animal?”

Chorus: “WHAT?!”

After a few rounds of this teeheeing and finger-pointing, finally I stood up.

“Listen, guys,” I said, “you have to remember that she doesn’t know what you know. Her questions make complete sense because she doesn’t know already that she’s Theseus. The question only sounds crazy to you because you already know.”

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I have this vision of something big and grand that would open high schooler’s eyes to the great wonderful world. I have this idea that our faith is too small, too cultural, and that to get these kids out where Christianity looks different but transforms just the same is part of my job.

I look at my students, and I want to dump every ounce of experience and wisdom I’ve gained through trial and error into their beings so that they don’t have to do it themselves.

I wonder how parents do it. How do you watch these little half-yous-but-not-at-all-yous walk the earth and not suffocate them? How do you let them function in their ignorance? And it isn’t ignorance in the negative way, so much as it is a stage.

You can’t force experience.

RIght, you can’t, but what is experience if not created?

How do you not expect your children, your students, to be in the same place you are?

I am constantly reminding myself that I function at a different level than these young minds and souls I teach.

They don’t know who they are.

They walk into the room, and they don’t know who they are, so their questions, the way they interact, might seem strange to me, the one who has just a bit more knowledge.

The one who progressed smoothly (and not so smoothly) through the stages of growth to arrive at a non-arrival where things are still being worked-out.

Even people all the same age are not in the same place. Whether it be actually (some are married, some are single, some have children, some travel the world) or just internally (some feel confident, some love their jobs, some long for more, some have faith that pumps life), we are all spinning on different trajectories.

And that’s okay.

I will never have the calmness of my high school friend, who, when I asked her, “What do we have to look forward to?”, said:

“Well, I’m a pretty content person. So I don’t know what to say.”

That will never be me.

We’re spinning different stories, but we’re both playing our own games of “Who Am I?”.

When I Was Your Age…

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In principio erat Verbum, et Verbum erat apud Deum, et Deus erat Verbum.

I had the idea to translate the beginning of John because it’s been a long week of testing. I knew that with mornings crammed full of tests the afternoon classes would be, well, slightly less productive. With the hopes of trucking through more of Lingua Latina dashed against the rocks of middle school boredom, I decided to try something totally new.

So I copied John I from the Vulgate. I introduced the ideas of Bible translations, the “language of the common people,” and I tried to make translating a few verses fun.

“Magistra, we already memorized this,” someone says unenthusiastically.

Shoot.

So I think on my feet.

“I know that,” I say, even though I don’t. “That’s why we’ll be doing a literal translation.”

[Cue a lesson on the ACTUAL definition of literal not the colloquial one; “I was literally floored” is almost never an acceptable sentence.]

I walk them through the first sentence, we pick it apart, we talk about what a literal translation would look like:

In beginning was Word, and Word was with God, and God was Word.

They like this, this hideous English that I’m finally allowing them to use. No longer will I demand: “But make it good English!” No longer will I say, “Listen, I know there is no sentence subject in the Latin, but there has to be one in English…”

They were finally free.

And free they were, as they concocted sentence after sentence. We filled the board at the end of class, and we talked about what the translators would have had to do to manipulate the language.

What was more important? To make it as much like Latin as possible? Or to make it mean as close to the same thing in English?

We talked about Greek and Hebrew and how translations get tainted the further away you get from the original.

And as I stood in front of the class, I was transported to a little room. I was sixteen again, and we were discovering Bible translating and the Vulgate for the first time. It was a much smaller class than I was now teaching, but I remember how it felt, that first picking apart of language.

This time it was language that mattered.

This time it wasn’t about Sextus falling into the ditch.

This time, it was about the Word.

And granted, I knew the New Testament wasn’t originally written in Latin. That didn’t make my translation of it any less cool.

It also made me wonder what moments my students will remember.

John I on the board?

My inability to keep a straight face when one of them is hilarious?

The first time they could verbalize what an ablative of agent was and how it differed from an ablative of means?

There are days when I feel defeated. There was a day this week when a loving eighth grader said to me:

“Magistra, I think teaching is aging you.”

Wow.

She went on to say how young I had seemed last summer when she saw me (shopping at the mall, making unwise but beautiful purchases).

Well, I thought, of course I looked younger! I was tan! And free! And reading books by the shelf-loads! And most importantly, I wasn’t getting up at 5:45 every morning!

But instead, I just smiled and promised to wear more makeup the next day.

Teaching might be aging me, but we translated John 1:1-11, and it was beautiful.

[P.S. Did anyone notice what one of the students deemed worthy of homework?]

Shutting Up

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I’ve thought of many books and inspirations that I’d like to pump into your veins to inoculate you from the traumas of living on this planet in a human body, but in the grand scheme of things I really, truly know that you will find all the wisdom you need at the moment you need it.

This is what I opened last week, slipped out of a little brown envelope and held in my hands. The card was perfect for me, complete with the stamp of a chicken and Rumi quote about birds flying and falling and flying again.

At first, I thought:

What?! Please, please, inoculate me! Send me every quote, every book, every shard of wisdom you have because right now I’m feeling so incredibly overwhelmed by being who I am and not who I am supposed to be.

But then, after a few moments of feigned irritation, I realized she was right.

I wasn’t ready.

And just as I have been suffocated by genocide in Iraq, Ebola in Sudan, the anger of supermarket workers and strikes, the racism and fear and riots, the brokenness of my students, the brokenness of everyone I love, the brokenness of me, I wonder if I would be equally as suffocated by bits of wisdom that I’m not yet ready to digest.

~     ~     ~

This was where the rest of my post was, the part where I write about learning to shut up and stop giving advice, stop giving wisdom. Where I stop myself from talking.

Then the irony caught up with me.

“You will find all the wisdom you need at the moment you need it.”

That was enough wisdom for that moment. And this one.

The World by Alexandria

When I first watched The Fall it was October of 2011 and I was sitting in an upstairs apartment in the dark. My friends had recommended it highly and they sat next to me, across from me, eyes glued to the television. It was beautiful – the red sharp against the desert sand, the ocean a deep tropical blue-green, the feeling of a huge block of ice melting on your tongue.

My reaction to this movie is visceral. I’d rather not try to paraphrase it here – a string of words that means nothing if you haven’t seen it for yourself – but every time I watch the six-year-old Alexandria discover (yet again) that life is not perfect, that evil happens, and that people make the wrong choices every day, I am thrown into a pair of worn-out mary-janes and shocked by the very same things Alexandria cannot accept. The tears pouring down the rounded contours of her cheeks dampen the navy sweatshirt I’m wearing every time.

I watched The Fall again last week. I should’ve warned my friend how I react because I think it was surprising. What strikes me is that I’m not even sure the director or writer intend for me to view their film the way I do. God wasn’t in the picture for them, most likely, but that is what I see.

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As Roy tells Alexandria the fantastical story of bandits and adventure, he manipulates. He twists the story for his needs. He shakes morphine pills out of a plot line and uses a little girl’s devotion to alleviate his suffering. In the end, as he’s realizing the futility of his own life, he begins to destroy the world he’s built, and as each of the beloved characters dies, Alexandria becomes more and more outraged. Deeply angry, deeply sad, she cries out to him in both the story and real-life,

“This is my story too!”

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She weeps for her friends in this false-reality, but I think she is also weeping for herself. For Roy and his brokenness. For her dead father. For all the things that happened but shouldn’t have, and for all the things that should’ve happened but never did.

All I can think as I am re-immersed in this story is that Alexandria is not alone in her sadness, her anger. When God watches what we’ve chosen, He feels something akin to it, I think.

This is not the way the world is supposed to be. I feel this way when I watch movies like The Fall, when I hear about typhoons in the Philippines, when I read about another gunman.

I feel this when I (yet again) choose comfort and ease over helping another. When I watch students I care about spiral down a path that can only lead to more wrong choices. When I try to love and can’t. When I remember the death of a boy I knew, a boy whose grin is still bright in my mind.

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I know that this might not be what the artists had in mind when they made The Fall. That’s the beauty of art, though, the grappling and insight that comes even when you don’t expect it. I’m grateful for the beauty they created, for the suffering they show, and for the reaction of a little girl who speaks for me in ways I’m not always able.

What Do You Want Your Story to Be?

I was addicted to stories. I devoured them, one after the other, bending and folding paperbacks with abandon, dog-earring corners, underlining words that were beautiful, words that were true. Young heroines like Emily of New Moon and Betsy from the Betsy-Tacy books taught me how to be spunky and creative. It wasn’t long before I was weaving plots for hours on a 1995 Gateway computer in my bedroom.

I remember wanting other kinds of stories, too. Sitting at the dinner table long after all the food was eaten, we’d beg my father to tell us stories about his childhood. (My mother’d always shake her head when we asked her, saying she didn’t have any stories. I still find this hard to believe.) Dad’s stories often involved fish, foolish things my dad had tried because he was “curious.” The time when he was three and took the goldfish out of the tank “to look at it” is a classic; I can still picture the poor thing gasping on the living room carpet, the victim of an over-active mind and not quite enough supervision.

My mother’s friend from college told us good stories, too. I remember most the one of her throwing cherry tomatoes over the railing and hitting guests. Oh, and the one with blood-engorged ticks (who could erase that memory?!). And the one when the dog ate rising bread dough and its stomach rose with it, waddling proof that dogs do not know what’s best for them.

I grew up on stories.

The voices brought people alive, my great-great-grandfather and his stern Maine-ness. My grandpa whom I’d known but only awhile, breathed again when we talked about his stories of growing up on a fox farm. As I listened and began to craft stories of my own, I realized that one day, I too would have stories to tell my children.

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What do you want your story to be?

[He asks from the pulpit, and I think, I’ve been thinking about this all along.]

When you write your story, think about how it affects others.

When you write your story, make it one you want to tell.

This is the one sentence that rang through the sanctuary, hanging in the air, making the skin on my arms prickle with its truth.

Even though I’ve discovered the repercussions of writing a life before living it, here I was reminded that sometimes we need to shape the life we’re given. Yes, things happen beyond our control, and yes, sometimes we ache from those uncontrollables. But more often than not, we have choice.

I get to choose what story I’m living, and I get to make it one I want to tell.

~     ~     ~

I will tell about early Christmas mornings, all four of us huddling in one bedroom because we wanted to share it that one day. The lights from the tree bouncing off the mirror in the hallway. About waiting for the cousins to come and longing for the day to never end. They will ask where our traditions come from, and I’ll smile and tell them the story.

I will tell about riding horses in the sun and feeling powerful.

I will tell about discovering Laura Ingalls for the first time, about raising chickens and gardening, the plethora of projects done in the name of sustainable living.

I will tell about late-night summer man-hunts when hormones ran rampant and we didn’t know what to do with them so we ran, too.

I will tell about choosing a college and not being sure but doing it anyway. I will tell about loneliness and fear, about trying hard and singing hard and learning. They will ask about friends and making friends, about trying to love. I’ll tell about walks around the pond where so much got twisted around and sorted out.

I will tell about graduating and reeling in my own mind. About disappointments and mis-steps that, while not destroying definitely left me feeling useless. About dark months in winter when I was learning to trust and hating every minute of it.

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And my most recent stories? They’ll include the discovery of joy. The summer we all lived at home again and spent our evenings on the back porch. Riding with the top down in my car, fearing the day when I’ll have to say goodbye to this lovely little bug that’s taken me so many places. Finding a church that allows me to be the silly, too-immature-for-small-group girl I sometimes am. Growing in friendships that have challenged me, shaped me, and made me think deeper than I ever could have thought on my own.

My story isn’t done, but I finally feel like I am choosing it.

Good Things #18: Rolling Out of Bed

There’s nothing better than coming home after a long day at work and realizing: I have nothing else I need to do. All I’m responsible for now is eating dinner, reading a good book, making sure my next day is fully planned, putting the chickens in for the night, and heading to bed sometime before 8:30. I’m kidding. Kind of.

Fall’s always had a melancholyness to it. I go from a sunny summer high to this immediate need for hibernation, and it often includes a good dose of “woe is me” and a tiny bit of anxiety. It doesn’t seem to matter that fall is one of the most beautiful seasons, and even as I walk through the crunchy red leaves in the afternoon sun, I feel a weight of the darkness coming earlier and earlier every day.

This past Monday, as I looked out the window and realized it was almost pitch black already, I forced myself to get back in my car and drive to small group.

It was 6:30 and I wasn’t sure if I would last till after 9:00. I told myself that somehow I’d find the energy, that somehow 6:15AM wouldn’t come as quickly as it seemed and it would all be worth it. There’s something about deep cushy couches after a certain hour that beg me to fall asleep. And warm beverages. And a cozy light against a warm living room wall. Even when roughly ten people surround me talking theology and life and purpose, I still manage to drift off quietly in a corner somewhere.

But I went and I sat and I did not fall asleep. I even engaged in the conversation, offering up my paltry musings and observations. We ended in prayer and I prayed aloud for two friends who sat by me, something I never would’ve done a few years ago.

That’s the thing. My bed is extremely comfortable. My beeswax candles smell like summer and the book I am reading about an uppity twenty-something in the 1940s is quite engaging.

But they aren’t people. They don’t breathe or think or speak. They don’t ask how I’m doing and actually care, and they certainly don’t pray for me.

I have to be careful as the months get colder and the sun gets further away. I have to fight my natural tendency to curl up and shut out the world. There’s a balance between “Oh my gosh I’ve had too much people time and I just need to be alone!” and “I’d be okay with never speaking to another human being again.” I hardly ever consider myself an introvert, but in the months between October and March, it’s hard to see me as anything else.

I wouldn’t say anything earth-shattering happened at small group Monday night. Community happened. Thought happened. Prayer happened.

And none of that would’ve been possible if I hadn’t rolled out of bed.

Don’t Touch My Stuff!

I hate sharing.

I hate it like I hate getting up at the crack of dawn.

I hate it like I hate cleaning.

The other day, my brother looked at me and said, “You’re really bad at sharing.”

And I said, “Huh, yeah I am.”

It’s totally true. When I was little, I used to sell sticks of gum to my siblings. “That’ll be 25 cents,” I’d say, and the little naive things would do it because they trusted me. The beginnings of my entrepreneurship stirred even as my parents swiftly ended my first venture.

When whoever I’m with orders something, I get excited because I expect to get a taste. When they assume the same, however, reaching over for my glass/mug/plate, I feel a bristling: Excuse me? Can you ask?, and I wonder where I get off.

~     ~     ~

I started making excuses for myself: It’s because my siblings broke everything when I was little! All my dolls were ruined! We had to fight for the yummiest of everything! I blame my childhood for my current state!

My mom even agreed with me, saying that’s probably where my penurious ways stem from. And I placate myself by saying that I give to my church, I even sponsor a child in India, for goodness sake!

But I have a hard time with the little things, like paying for someone’s coffee or ice cream or movie ticket. I never even THINK to offer these things, and I’m shocked when someone says to me, “Oh, I got this.” I wonder when they’ll expect me to pay them back, and I keep a tally in my head of how much I owe.

Generosity goes beyond money. Am I generous with my time? Yes, far more so than with my things. I am much more likely to make time in my week to see a friend than I am to buy someone a gift. You need help with something? I love helping. You want me to buy you gas? That one’s a little tougher.

I must be afraid of something. Afraid of being taken advantage of. Afraid of getting less than my share.

Maybe it’s about trust.

I want a generous spirit. I want to hold my hands open to those I love, as well as to my church and others in need. I’m sitting at a coffee shop right now, and I’m wondering why I didn’t offer to buy my friend’s coffee. Maybe that’s where it starts? Unsolicited moments of generosity.

Maybe you can train yourself to being generous?

Has someone ever taught you something about yourself? If it was a flaw, how are you working to grow?