Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Stewardship, Service & the Sacrifice of Giving

We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give. - Winston Churchill

Yesterday was Veteran's Day. In all honesty, I can't say that Veteran's Day ever feels like much of a "holiday" for me, as it's a normal workday for those of us in the retail biz. And yesterday definitely didn't feel like a holiday since I had a very long, hard day at work. However, in the midst of my invoice reconciling & ad work the following thoughts started "percolating" in my over-caffeinated mind.

I remembered a conversation I had with my dad a few months back about the idea of stewardship. We were sitting in a funeral parlor following my great aunt Maggie's funeral, and our conversation turned to the eulogy he delivered during her service. My great aunt was an amazing woman...a devoted steward to her church, her community and her family. The eulogy (which was beautiful) centered around her stewardship and the grace with which she shared her gifts with everyone in her life.

The problem with stewardship is that it is often thought about in just a financial sense. In a religious setting it's usually used to refer to tithing or other financial gifts to the church -- and as a devoted & lifelong member of her church, Maggie was no stranger to this form of giving. However, true stewardship is more than just financial giving. True stewards are caretakers...servants giving of their resources, their time and their talents. This kind of giving is where Maggie and other true stewards like her shine.

Maggie was 84 when she passed away this August. She never married, never had children; yet on thing she didn't lack was family. Her 'family' reached far beyond her large extended family of her mother, aunt, sister/brother-in-law, nieces/nephews, great-nieces/ also included her friends (of which she had many), her church fellowship, her former students (she taught for years), and many more. To this large family, she gave so much. For years she volunteered at the church; she worked with literacy groups teaching adults to read; she sat on boards & sang in choirs. Every week (until about the last year of her life) she would even drive to her hairdresser's house to pick the hairdresser up and take her to the salon, where she would then get her hair set! Wherever -- however -- she was needed, she was there for her family.

Her stewardship was also evident in the grace with which she welcomed others -- family, strangers & otherwise -- into her home. It was evident in the way in which she cared for her home. She appreciated her blessings in life & took care of them & shared them with others. This grace and this sacrifice to others made her a true steward and one to be both admired & emulated.

So what does this have to do with Veteran's Day, you ask? In thinking about stewardship as "caring for" and therefore a form of service, I started to see the relationship to those serving in the military.

In a sort of "stream-of-consciousness move" my brain shifted from thinking about my great aunt to two other relatives who also passed in the last year. In June 2008 I lost my grandfather (or my "Papaw" as we say in eastern Kentucky), and this September I lost my great uncle, "Uncle Bob." Both men were of my great aunt Maggie's generation, and both men served in World War II. They both sacrificed family & the comforts of home to serve their country in a time of need. Papaw even earned four Bronze Stars for his service as a medical technician during the war.

So in making this arc between my relatives & their respective gifts of service, I started to see the parallels...or better yet the convergence of stewardship and service (in the military sense). Stewards take on the responsibility of caring for, protecting and serving that which is placed in their care (be it their church, family, home, community). At the same time, those in the military take on the same responsibilities for their country, their fellow soldiers, and those they are charged to defend/protect. Veterans become stewards of the country and/or our ideals; and stewards become defenders & protectors of the blessings they are given. They overlap, and the common area is the sacrifice of giving.

Maggie, Papaw, and Uncle Bob all made sacrifices in order to give. The two men made sacrifices in the war; Maggie made sacrifices at home. All served in their own ways, with their own gifts. And each should be remembered for those gifts they gave. So yesterday, I remembered not only the Veterans that have served our country, but I also remembered those that serve in so many other ways. It was also a good reminder of the need to do more myself. I need to be more gracious. I need to be more mindful of the blessings I have. I need to serve my community more. I have great role models in my family & in the greater community. I need to follow their lead. We all probably do.

To all who serve, thank you.

"Happiness lies more in giving than in receiving." Acts 20:35

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Passing Through Boston On The Way To Who-Knows-Where

"As the traveler who has lost his way, throws his reins on his horse’s neck, and trusts to the instinct of the animal to find his road, so must we do with the divine animal who carries us through this world." - Ralph Waldo Emerson from "The Poet"

As promised, I'm posting photos from my trip to Boston a couple weeks back. However, I've been staring at this computer screen for a good hour and a half figuring out what to write about my trip. I suppose I have a mild case of "writer's block."

I thought, well....I could sit here and run through all of the fun times that were had, like...
...sitting in a pub listening to an Irish band cover very non-Irish bands

...sipping milkshakes (on a wintry-cold day) while sitting in an oversized teacup

...eating lobster rolls & oysters at B&G Oyster House

...drinking bottles of really great wine (here & here)

...watching football in Boston's oldest bar

...traipsing through the North End on a rainy, windy night

...preventing food comas by following a huge meal with espresso & sambucca

Or maybe I could tell you about how we accidentally stumbled upon Obama's motorcade or the way to lunch.... (He happened to be in town for a fundraiser for Gov. Deval Patrick. His visit spurred some impromptu protests outside of the Westin.)

Or I could tell you about how I had always wanted to visit I almost transferred to Berklee College of Music my sophomore year of I almost moved to Boston or Providence after graduation. I could tell you that I was going to Boston to "see what I missed" see what things might have been like if I made other choices....

Or I could tell you how great it was to hang out with friends, with whom I can talk about anything...and laugh & eat & drink....and drink....with...

Or maybe I could talk about how great it was just to get away and have fun.

The thing is, I can't really pick any one of those things to write about because this trip didn't have "a purpose." It was planned on a whim, and it played out in a whirl. Friends & family asked why I was going, and I had little reason to tell them other than, "Why not?"

It's funny because I only found the reason(s) for the trip after I was there. As I mentioned in my last post, I have a lot of big questions to ponder right now. The trip was another reminder to just throw my reins on the horse's neck & listen to the cues of the universe. (Man, I've been having a lot of those reminders lately...)

So anyway, "that's all I got." Since I'm in the middle of my journey to wherever the heck I'm going, I can't tell you much more...other than the ride's been fun so far & I trust the universe -- this divine animal -- to carry me through. And as for Boston: "I Wuz There." See the photos for proof.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Silly Socrates: Excuses, Excuses

I realize I haven't posted here since August, but it's not from a lack of ideas or desire to do so. It's just that life has gotten in the way -- or perhaps, I let life get in the way of writing.

Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, I will say that I fully intend to post at least one new blog post in the near future. I want to post photos from my Boston trip last month (which I know you're all dying to see...). And who knows -- perhaps stating my intent publicly will motivate me not to be so lazy.

So what have I been up to that's kept me so busy, you ask? In notsomuch-of-a-nutshell: work stress, birthdays, anniversaries, baby showers, mother-in-law's wedding, concerts, more work stress, football games, more birthdays, a trip to Boston, and more work stress. On top of all of that, life keeps flinging big questions my way. So yeah...I'm sorting all that out, too.

In fact, I'm reminded of this quote:
"Bigger questions, questions with more than one answer, questions without an answer are harder to cope with in silence. Once asked they do not evaporate & leave the mind to its serener musings. Once asked they gain dimension & texture, trip you on the stairs, wake you at night-time....Better then to ask no questions? Better then to be a contented pig than an unhappy Socrates? Since factory farming is tougher on pigs than it is on philosophers, I'll take my chances."
-from Jeanette Winterson's 'Written on the Body'

Amid the crazy schedules, the daily stresses, and the big questions, I'm trying to keep my wits about me. I'm trying to find quiet moments (like my walk last Sunday, captured in the picture above). I'm trying to find those little spots of joy & calm to keep me sane. I'm trying to savor them, as fleeting as they may be. They mean the world to me. And believe it or not, they make this unhappy Socrates a lot more hopeful. (And yes...I realize I'm sounding very John Stewart Mills-ish here.)

So that being said, I do hope to write more here and to share some of these spots of joy. I actually found that sharing them with others helps open my eyes to seeing even more. The process of sharing makes them even more real. Just like the big questions (which can be scary and/or exciting) once they are shared or spoken, they gain dimension & texture. The moments of joy become real and show their purpose.

So that's where I am & where I have been...stuck in the realness -- the rawness -- between big questions & moments of joy. Shuffling through & occasionally getting tripped up. Pausing occasionally through the trips to dust off, pause, notice the surroundings, listening for answers and even bigger questions.