Today was Commitment Sunday at our fellowship. Like many religious organizations, my church collects pledges from its members in order to fund the church's operation for the coming year, and in the past few years, we've taken one of our Sunday services to celebrate the gifts we give and receive from the community and to commit ourselves to supporting the church for the coming year.
I don't generally get emotional at Sunday services, but I was a teary mess by the end of the sermon, which was given by a friend of mine. She described her grandparents as people who were "master givers," people who actively looked for ways to make a difference, who always knew exactly how to intervene or contribute, who were beyond generous. They were the people who would show up your door to do the laundry and feed your cats and cook meals when you were sick, the people who would shower you with leftovers and the fresh produce from their gardens, the people who would take care of people they never even met.
She described herself as a "practicing giver," someone who was more able to give when it was easy, but harder when giftees were not exactly good, or patient, receivers. She also described herself as a "practicing receiver," someone who is getting better at appreciating the gifts, even when they don't really fit, or when they don't exactly seem like gifts at all (the unexpected honest criticism, the cast-offs), both because she recognizes that people need to give in order to feel in control of the uncontrollable, and because sometimes those gifts really do end up being useful in the end.
It so happens that I see my friend, as I do many of the other people in my fellowship, closer to a "master" giver than a "practicing" one, unless we're talking about "practice" in the yoga sense of the word. She's the kind of person who wouldn't think twice about offering to watch my children if I suddenly found myself in need of help. She's the kind of person who would drop by with a casserole without being asked, who asks after the things you think everyone's forgotten about, who looks after other people, listening carefully and fully, sometimes between the lines of what's actually being said. She radiates beauty, inside and out. As she spoke, I thought about the gifts she's given me over the years, and felt, as I've often felt, humbled. I've often said that when I want to grow up, I want to be more like her; it's completely true.
The truth is, the fellowship is full of people who give, and who love, with abandon. They give selflessly of their time, their talents, their money. They commit hours to the nonprofit that works to reduce poverty in our area, donating food and outreach time and mentoring time. They commit hours to the nonprofit that shelters homeless families in church congregations. They commit hours to Habitat for Humanity, or countless other social justice programs and initiatives. They teach our religious education program, run church committees, bake every Sunday for coffee hour, do major construction and renovation on the church and grounds, tend to the spiritual needs of the membership. They listen and act seemingly without boundaries. I have more role models for giving than I've ever wanted, all sitting in one building every Sunday morning.
As I sat there and took stock of my own contributions, I was feeling like I just don't give enough. And not in financial terms; actually, I was completely fine with our pledge. That's the easy part. But I was feeling like I could never measure up to givers (and gracious receivers) who were gathered around me. It's true, I give time on the school board now. I give time to my library board. I give time to the church, on the committee that looks out for short-term concrete needs of our members, but I can count those hours on one hand, and even often on one finger, each week. And on the other hand, I was feeling like I've been so focused on me these past almost-two years; it's not exactly, as my friend suggested in the "receiving" part of her sermon, that I feel I don't deserve gifts (of time, of people's attention and concern), but more that I feel others need and deserve more than I do.
Of course, this begs the question: would I ever be able to give "enough" by my own definition? Do I feel this way because my standards for myself are too impossibly perfect? Or because we can all always give more (As Dorothy Day put it: "No one has the right to sit down and feel hopeless. There's too much work to be done.")? Do I just need more practice at being a good receiver? Or is the problem that I'm measuring any of this at all, and the solution to simply stop measuring, to both give and receive to the depths of my ability, without reservation or self-judgement?
Who are the givers in your life? How do you give? Do you consider yourself a "practicing reciever"?
Yukon Gold Potato Soup
This is the sort of soup you can make on a moment's notice to bring to a friend who needs a meal, or to serve for a weeknight dinner. It's simple, unfussy. Enough in its uncomplicatedness.
8-12 cloves garlic, peeled
2 t. extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled, 1/2" slices
1 rib celery, 1/2" slices
3 1/2 c. vegetable or chicken stock
1 1/2 lbs.Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed and rinsed, not peeled, cut into 1/2" cubes
1/2 t. thyme
1/2 t. rosemary
1/8 t. dried lavender
5 oz. container evaporated milk
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375. Toss cloves of garlic with 2 t. olive oil, place in the center of a 12" square of foil, wrap and seal. Roast about 1 hour or until tender.
Heat remaining olive oil in a medium stockpot on medium heat. Add onion, carrots, and celery. Cover, reduce heat to medium low, and cook 8-10 minutes or until soft but not brown.
Add stock, potatoes, thyme, rosemary, lavender, and roasted garlic and partially cover; bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low and simmer until potatotes are tender, about 20 minutes. Blend soup together until smooth, add milk, and blend again. Salt and pepper to taste. Add more water for a thinner soup, or boil a bit more for thicker soup.