Blog: October 2020
Not every day a son gets to buy his mother lunch on her 88th birthday. So I was all in—especially after traveling 3,000 miles to be there—-even making sure my credit card hadn’t exceeded its limit. After all, she might pick the Four Seasons. Maybe Ruth’s Chris Steak House. No worries. I was ready to splurge.
“Could we get a cheeseburger,” she demurred softly. “McDonalds okay?”
At this stage I’ve learned not to argue with my mother about issues that make no rational sense—this was one of those moments. No attempt would be made to upgrade to Olive Garden or even Denny’s. If mom wanted a cheeseburger at McDonalds....it’s the Golden Arches.
Noticing the “dining room” closed due to COVID-19, I pulled into the drive thru lane. Rats! No plastic seats and sticky tables this year. “Can I take your order?” crackled the voice through the loud speaker. Words almost out of my mouth, I felt a tug on my sleeve.
“Could I get a vanilla shake as well?” she giggled with childlike excitement.
At that moment I would have “super sized” her meal for an extra 59 cents. But I didn’t want her eating warmed over French fries the rest the week—she would insist on taking leftovers home. A small cheeseburger, a milkshake, and a Hertz rental car would be the ambianic ingredients for this celebratory meal. We drove off to find a quiet space.
“Tell me about a memorable birthday?” I queried with curiosity as we nibbled on fries and watched the seagulls scavenge across the parking lot for their noonday meal. And Mom, being Mom, reminded me about growing up in the shadows of the Great Depression, the scarcity of resources and the fond memory that a really good birthday meant getting a bottle of Fanta and a nickel to buy some penny candy at the local Five and Dime. Something beautifully simple about it all—a reminder Chucky Cheese-themed parties aren’t really needed to create rich and lasting memories.
This past week our staff discussed the theme of healthy life foundations. After watching horrific images of people losing their homes on the Gulf Coast, and feeling the turbulent winds of our current reality relentlessly beating against the retaining walls of our daily norms, a conversation around foundations seemed like a relevant topic. Many feel their foundations are being shaken.
A question surfaced: what kind of foundation does a person really need to weather the storms of life and flourish as human beings made in the image of God? A second: And how do we create these foundations for ourselves and the children we serve?
As a community we talked about our parents’ contribution to our foundations—a powerful conversation revealing the connection between what our parents modeled and its lasting impact on our faith, our sense of family, our desire to serve and our desire to leave the world a better place. I’m grateful for my mother’s faith and frugality (my wife not so grateful for the second f-word)—a frugality allowing her to share generously with those in need.
And for those in our community who’ve spent years healing from dysfunctional and broken families, they shared their challenges rebuilding life foundations, how following God has helped and how they’re living differently for their own children.
Of course Jesus was mentioned in our conversations. After his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus shares a timeless parable about wise and foolish builders. Wise builders, he argues, “hear my words” and “put them into practice.” Conversely, foolish builders hear the words but never take the time to do the hard work of implementation. Foolish builders take shortcuts. Foundation building always involves intentionality and the practice of behaviors the public seldom sees.
So what are these “words” that Jesus wants us to hear and practice for foundation building? Let me share “a few good bricks” from Matthew’s gospel: “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy...” (6:19) Essentially invest in things that matter—things possessing eternal value. “Do not worry about tomorrow...each day has enough trouble of its own.”(6:34) Be present to the moment. Don’t dwell in the past, don’t fear the future. Be attentive to the now. “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you...”. (7:12) No explanation really needed. Think of 100 ways you can implement the Golden Rule each day.
Add these good bricks to your life foundation and let the winds howl. When the storm passes you’ll still be standing and have a testimony to share.
Founder and President
“Do you have a minute?”
I was in full stride to my next meeting, focused and completely oblivious to the woman quickly approaching me on the right and trying to get my attention.
A few feet from colliding, I noticed a blurred movement in my peripheral, and turned my head to see a familiar smiling face.
“Hey Dolores,” I called. “How you doing?”
“I just want to thank you,” she gushed. “For giving me the best Thanksgiving ever.”
“But I haven’t seen you since the break?” I volleyed. “I don’t think I can take any credit for your Thanksgiving.”
“Sure you can,” she replied “You and your team have given me a chance to share what I love to do—teach piano to children. For that I’m eternally thankful.”
And teach she did. Week in. Week out. Dolores set up shop in the only unused space on campus during the 3pm-6pm hours—the busy hallway outside our afterschool program area. We’d roll out the piano from storage every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon and our children lined up for their 20-minute private lesson with Ms Dolores.
A beautiful image. Pandemonium and noise swirling around the makeshift studio—Dolores and her eager student focused and oblivious to anything but the black and white keys in front of them. Notes and chords were taught, finger-work modeled, and rudimentary forms of sight reading introduced. Humble teaching conditions didn’t matter. Dolores just loved to share her gift. And that made her 2019 Thanksgiving “the best.”
Sadly that was Dolores’ last Thanksgiving. She passed away a few months ago from an unexpected and swift battle with cancer. One of Dolores’ last conscious acts was listening to a recording of our April all-staff meeting. Collectively our community prayed and thanked her for the joy she brought so many of our children. It makes me smile to think she slipped out of consciousness and into eternity being praised for her generous spirit.
These are the heroes who drift through our campus each week. They ask for nothing, don’t desire headlines and would be embarrassed to be publicly recognized. They pay for their own gas, ask for no reimbursements and sacrifice their most precious commodity: time. Sharing what they have to give—their hearts, their talents and their love to children—with kids they don’t really know. Humble, sincere, authentic and selfless are words that come to my mind.
Their volunteerism is often an extension of their faith—faith in God, faith in the potential of children, faith in the power of love. I’m convinced it’s the Doloreses of the world who make our country great. They’re the glue who hold us together. As the barkers bark, the dividers divide and the hurters hurt, the Doloreses quietly move beneath the tumultuous surface of our society mending hurts, calming fears and sowing seeds of peace and beauty. These are the true patriots who live and breathe “liberty and justice for all” through their words and deeds.
We find these characters in scripture as well. They are the unsung heroes who show up when everyone else has moved on. They are the people who keep the God story moving in the right direction, despite the overwhelming odds. Like Mary at the tomb—grief stricken because the body of her friend has vanished—she ends up transforming a moment of despair into the greatest message of hope the world has ever heard. “I have seen the Lord,” becomes Mary’s first sermon as the first preacher of the Christian movement—and she’s still quoted today.
“When all the other disciples are fleeing, Mary Magdalene stands firm,” notices theologian Cynthia Bourgeault. “She does not run; she does not betray or lie about her commitment; she witnesses. Hers is clearly a demonstration of either the deepest human love or the highest spiritual understanding of what Jesus was teaching, perhaps both.”
“We must also keep our eyes open for the saints of our own culture,” adds the Episcopalian priest Charles Hoffacker. “Their witness will be close enough to our concerns, or what should be our concerns, to leave us uncomfortable with our spiritual compromises.” And that’s why we must notice the Doloreses who float in and out of our lives. They call us to become our better selves.
So rest in peace my friend. Thanks for being a living reminder of what it means to serve with joy. May your heavenly music studio have a well-tuned Steinway and be filled with the laughter of children discovering their first sonata.