Saturday, August 28, 2010

Lost Things

I finally confessed to Keith today that I had managed to lose a number of his socks. Somehow, before we married and when he was still doing his own laundry, his socks always matched up perfectly. I've always had leftover socks. When all my sons were young, just matching socks was a huge weekly chore and I always kept a bag of mismatched ones which I would periodically pull out and try to make pairs from them. Eventually, the unpaired ones would be cut up and used for cleaning rags. Yes, lost socks.

Several months ago, I was driving on LBJ freeway in Dallas and saw the middle cushion to a sofa resting on the side of the freeway. Just the middle cushion. I immediately visualized some woman looking with disbelief at her husband/boyfriend who had transported their new sofa, "You what? You lost the cushion on the way home? Don't you realize I will NEVER be able to match the fabric on this couch and now it is ruined?" A lost cushion.

Periodically, I lose my debit card. I'm always just stuffing it in a pocket after using it, and than have a frantic search for it later. Earlier this summer, the frantic search turned up nothing. Had to get a new one. I'm betting the lost card will appear someday, useless and dead.

I had a thriving cherry tomato plant in my garden, all ready to put out an abundance of blooms as soon as the weather cools, ensuring me a good supply of those sweet tiny tomatoes. But in my necessary neglect of the garden recently, some of those gorgeous butterflies that have graced us for some time now did what butterflies do: laid eggs, which hatched into voracious caterpillars. Within days, that huge plant was stripped. That tomato plant is now lost.

And now I'm losing my mother. Her stroke was 15 to 16 days ago. Actually, strokes, for there were several. This independent, brilliant woman initially gave us hope of recovery. But my own hope is fading. She seems to me to be declining mentally more each day, and while some movement has returned to her left arm, she is unable to do even the most basics of self-care tasks. She can't call for a nurse if she needs it. She can't feed herself, toilet herself, bathe herself, dress herself, or express herself with more than just a few words, often impossible to hear. She can no longer read--and she was an extraordinary well-read woman. She did try to write yesterday a bit--she seems to think we are making a movie about rehab, but I couldn't make out more. Fascinating way to integrate what is going on with her.

I am now back to the questions I asked at the very beginning of this crisis: How does one go about dying in our society? Why can't we embrace this natural act fearlessly?

I think about the neurologist in the hospital and realize that I never heard from her a full picture of the damage to my mother's brain. I never asked to see the results of the scan; I never asked to have them explained to me; and this was also never offered to me. All I heard was, "multiple stokes, both sides of the brain, but right side mostly gone." I also know that brains can heal, but in an 88 year old women who has lived a sedentary life, who has had untreated high blood pressure for years, who is clearly worn out now and was very much wearing out before this happened? Her skin is beginning to break down, she has completely lost her cough reflex, so can't clear her lungs, has no feeling in her left hand, and goodness only knows what else. So we have her in a $1000/day facility where the cost is currently being covered by Medicare and for what? 

I've expressed this before and will say it again. I love my mother. She gave life and gave it generously. Full of hospitable graciousness, long suffering with my father, intellectually curious, sociable and gregarious, kind to all and especially to her grandchildren, fiscally careful and wise--all these phrases describe her. 

Now, I ask this: am I loving her well at this point? I know this is not the way I want to be treated when I get to this point. I want to be taken home, gently nursed, generously medicated to ensure I have no pain, and left to drift off.

But there is always the "what if . . ." What if I am premature? I do not want to hurry the process. But I also do not want to unnecessarily delay it if the delay causes any distress for her. 

We really don't know how to die, do we?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Excuse Number Two

Several weeks ago, I watched this year's induction into the Football Hall of Fame.  In almost every case, these exceptional athletes first gave honor to discipline of practicing their faith as a key factor in their athletic success. Clearly, church life had permeated their hearts and minds. Football was their occupation; excellence their goal; but the development of their souls through worship was not discarded or put aside in the process.

I was reminded then of a story Jesus told to his followers about a man who decided to have a big dinner party.  He told people about it ahead of time, and when all the preparations were complete, invited his guests to show up.  In response, they started making excuses for non-attendance:  property, animals, family obligations.  Now, the man who decided to have the party got pretty upset that these people chose not to keep their commitments.  He sent out messengers to bring in others to the party.  And then the story ends with the line, "no one originally invited will get a place at my table."

I've been pondering that story as I agonize over Excuse Number Two for not being in worship. "I can't be there because my children have a sport event, sport practice, birthday party, band practice, stock show, etc."  

Everybody needs to develop body, mind and soul in order to prepare for healthy adulthood. Extra-curricular activities serve a vital role in this process.  The activity of being part of a team, and of developing a talent, whether it be athletic, musical, intellectual, vocational or artistic, help form the foundation of a person.  Friendships form, and great memories are developed. That's not the problem.

Where I wrestle, and I wrestle greatly with this, is that these activities have replaced God.  Mind and body development alone cannot stand healthily without the third leg of soul development.

I implore parents to start saying "no" to extra-currucular activities that insist on routine Sunday morning practices, games and events.  Yes, special events do take place.  Yes, there are occasional tournaments that mean weekends gone.  But children and youth who grow up with no knowledge of God and have seen their faith development given no priority will not return later to figure it out.  They've seen from their parents that it is unimportant, and rarely change that pattern.  

Those who have no understanding of the Bible are severely hampered when studying literature. References to biblical stories abound in great literature, and ignorance is not bliss.  More and more scholars are recognizing that biblically and religiously ignorant people cannot comprehend properly much of what is happening in the world.  

Those are just academic and political facts.  It gets worse. Societies that intentionally refuse to acknowledge that there is an external authority, namely God, who does have a claim on our lives, ultimately degrade into wanton evil. We're not that far from it. 

We put our eternal souls in peril when we decide to worship something besides God. 

Adults must be adults here and stop this process.  I know it is easier to go along and give into the pressure that says, "But Mom, Dad, if I don't play or practice on Sunday, I'll get kicked out." 

I understand the pressure.  No one wants their children to suffer this way.  But all will pay a huge price for this.  Individually, societally, morally, politically:  we will pay.  Going along to get along ends up costing everything.  

I return to the story Jesus told:  Those who were invited to the party and made their excuses, "But my child has a team practice" may not get another invitation.  Those are hard words and I personally don't like them.  I want lots of lots of invitations and tons of tolerance for my excuses.  But apparently God does run out of patience at some point.   

I just continue to pray, "May God have mercy on us and our misplaced priorities."  We need it.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Loss of a Generation

Why is this situation with my mother hitting me so hard?  For what reason do I find myself in inconsolable tears so much of the time?

I am beginning to think that the loss I see happening with her represents to me the loss of a whole generation.  A generation of people who actively pursued right; who suffered deprivation, who gave up so much to fight a war overseas, who lived up to their civic duties, who practiced their Christianity.

Yes, we had many quibbles with them.  Their boring box houses, their conventionalities, their fear of debt, their willingness to stay married no matter what. We baby boomers would do it better.  But we didn't.  We have contributed to a decline that we may not be able to pull out of.  We are selfish and we have raised selfishness to an art form and those following us are taking it to even higher levels. The idea of sacrifice for the greater good cannot penetrate our hedonistic brains.

My mother's generation faced pain and learned from it. We avoid pain and learn nothing in the process.  Comfort is our god; our own puny minds sit enthroned as ultimate power--we will not acknowledge that God is God and actually has a claim on our lives.  No, we will create our own tiny and tinny little gods that we can control.  And we will think there are no consequences from such actions.  But there are.  Oh yes, there are.

My mothers generation practiced discipline and service of others.  We practice self-indulgence and gratification of our own desires.  If it feels good, do it.  That was our mantra and it is now so thoroughly engrained in the current generation of youth and children that 12 year olds are actively engaged in sex.  After all, it does feel good.  The ideas of restraint and self-control strike them as hopelessly out of date. 

In my current exhaustion, I sense a overwhelming sadness taking hold. My awareness grows that there is little I can do to fix this, except be faithful and in that faithfulness, quit telling God how I want my life to go and start being much more willing to say, "Not my will, but Thine." 

I see my struggle with what is right transferring to the life of the church.  We too want what we want, not necessarily what God wants.  I look at myself:  I want to build a successful church, be known as the pastor who made it happen.  Yes, I do indeed want to be god. 

What if God is calling me into that place of death as well?  The place, where, like Jonah in that nasty fish belly, all pretensions are stripped away? The place where I fully acknowledge my own finiteness, my own tendency to make questionable decisions and to run away from the challenging call of God, the place where I look myself squarely in the face and say, "Christy, you really do need a Savior." 

What if God is calling me to be a failure?  Jonah, after all, was ultimately a failure--and his story is so much our story. 

Lots of questions.  So few answers. 

As for my mother . . . sometime in the next 24-48 hours, a "PEG line" a semi-permanent feeding tube, will be inserted into her stomach.  This is the best thing we can do to ensure that she gets adequate nutrients and a chance to recover.  When I spoke with the physician who evaluated her for the procedure, she didn't pull any punches.  The chances of another stroke are very high.  But . . . this appears to be the best of all options, so we are going forward. 

She appears to be much more alert today.  The mild sedation needed for the insertion of the tube will probably affect that alertness negatively, but we hope that will be a minor step backward and one accompanied by steps forward soon after.  Even with the beginnings of her swallowing reflex showing up, there is no way to start regular mouth feeding safely.

A feeding tube . . . I hate the idea.  I hear horror stories of elderly people with no mental life left being kept alive for years with Ensure and a feeding tube.  I hope they are apocryphal. But we are doing what we must at this point to give her the best support available for recovery.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Brief Respite In the Garden and With Family

It has been eight days now since my mother was found with her massive and multiple strokes.  I spent the first six days with her, although I did start going home at nights.

Yesterday, Friday, I just couldn't go.  I needed to get back to work, to get the message ready for Sunday, to meet with my staff who have been at a vital seminar all week that I had to miss, and to start facing the challenges here.

I also needed to give the parsonage a swift pick up as my son and daughter-in-law who live in London decided to fly over and see me.

Yes, they came to see me.  They came out of love for their grandma, but more out of concern for me and my own agonies with this situation with my mother. What kindness!

So, Keith, my sweet husband, who himself has been battling what seems like a never ending storm of kidney stones, went grocery shopping.  I invited my brother, who is here from California, and my sister and her husband to join us for dinner.

Keith put on a royal feast for us.  I had been eating hospital food off paper and plastic all week, so decided to get out the good china.  As I set the table, I realized I didn't have a centerpiece, so dashed to the very neglected garden and found some lovely celosia and zinnia blooms from plants that had managed to stay alive in the burning heat and packed them together in a crystal bowl. 

We feasted on marvelous appetizers, a combination of sushi, sashimi, and shrimp.  Keith had purchased a tenderloin, and took orders as to the way we wanted it fixed.  Multiple salads preceded the perfectly cooked meat, accompanied by grilled vegetables.  A choice of desserts (Crème brûlée or chocolate mouse) followed.  We relaxed, satiated.  My son and daughter in law, exhausted from their travels (they had been vacationing in Abu Dhabi, so flew from there, dropped their children off in London, and then came here), went to sleep, and my brother, sister and I continued our conversation about our mother.

We're doing all the right things.  Actively researching rehab centers, looking into the complexities of medicare reimbursement policies, making contingency plans.  We are intentionally doing all we can to delay her release from the hospital to give her more time to regain some strength so she can actually respond to the therapists at the rehab center.  Otherwise, we waste precious and limited rehab days because she can't do the work necessary to progress.

When we are in the hospital room with her, we intentionally stand or sit on her left side to force her to start using that side of her body again.  We put swabs in her mouth to encourage her to start to swallow.  When the therapists come in to work with her we . . . well, we try to keep her awake.  And this is the problem:  she doesn't want to wake up.  The coma-like sleep continues and does not seem to be lessening.  Her heart stays in a-fib unless on a constant drip of some regulating medication.  From that moment of unusual clarity on Monday, her confusion seems to be growing, not decreasing.

But when the therapists come, they say loudly, "Mrs. Thomas, wake up!" We join in, "Mother, wake up.  Work with the therapist!"  I was out in the hall a couple of days ago when the speech therapist was there.  I heard my sister shout in what sounds like such an angry tone, "WAKE UP, MOMMA."  Yes, wake up.

But she doesn't want to. She just wants to sleep.  She's tired.  She worn out.  She's ready to go.  She passively submits to whatever is being done in her half wake state and then drifts back to sleep.  This is not my mother.

And I know this is not what she wants.  We had talked too much about this.  This is not what she wants.  Catheters, feeding tubes, medication drips, strangers all over her body, trampling the privacy of a private woman. 

This morning, I spent a couple of hours in my neglected garden, knowing it was alive at all only because Krum was one of the places that saw some rain this week.  I rummaged around and found two full-grown eggplants, dozens of okra pods, most too mature to cook, but still enough for a good pot of heavenly fried okra, and, much to my surprise, two ripe cherry tomatoes, which I immediately picked and gave to my daughter-in-law for a special treat.  I found enough sweet peppers for my son to put in the frittata he was fixing for breakfast (how my three sons all turned into such good cooks after growing up in my household will forever remain a mystery--perhaps it was just a survival mechanism), and noted that while the basil has gone to seed, there is still plenty to enjoy.  But much needs to be pulled and placed in the compost bins.  Time for them to decompose and give life to the next generation of plants. 

Death comes.  There are times to fight it with every piece of medical genius available.  And there is a time to welcome it as a good friend, and start looking for the angels to take us to the next place. 

I want to do the right thing.  But I know very well how disappointed she'd be in me to know about these decisions.  Thousands and thousands of dollars being spent in what are clearly the last weeks or maybe months of her life, imprisoned in her body in an impersonal hospital room, when what she wanted was comfort care and her own home. 

Health care is a limited resource.  We're she adequately cognizant, the first thing she would say is, "That money should be spent on saving the lives of children, or younger people suffering these debilitating strokes, not prolonging mine when it is time for me to go." 

Why can't we cooperate with nature?  What are we missing here?  The last thing I want is to see the elderly routinely dispatched into hastened deaths.  Those elderly are our national treasure.  They are the repositories of wisdom.  They embody our history.  They are our important link with the past so perhaps we might create a more adequate future.  They are our beloved parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. They deserve love, care and utmost respect.  And they deserve to be treated better than this at the end.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hospitals and other Thoughts, August 18, 2010

In the few hours of sleep I had last night, I kept having dreams that I was facing multiple impossible tasks.  There was also some sort of poisonous snake or lizard that infiltrated the bookcases.  It would be in plain sight and then hide away again.  I woke this morning in despair.  I have this sense that by going ahead and arranging for her to be fed that I am condemning my mother to a life consisting of a slow descent to hell.  We'll keep her alive, and her heart pumping, and she will never get out of bed again.  

My brother flew in last night and I filled him in on everything.  It is good to have him here.  I have this feeling that the hospital folks want her out of here as soon as possible and she will only qualify for skilled nursing at this point.  If she is not at a place that has an incentive to get her from skilled nursing to rehab, then my worst fears will be realized.

When I got to the hospital today, my sister and brother were already here. They had found her as has been the case extremely unresponsive again. Not able to awaken.  She was taken for a CT scan then and that did wake her up.  

We talked with her for a while.  She moves in and out of awareness of what is going on, but clearly does not understand the severity of her stroke.  One of her Sunday School class members came by.  For a number of years (I don't know how many and when I asked her, she said she started writing it in 1940--but I think it was closer to 1970), she has written a weekly article for her church paper about her Sunday School class.  Week in, week out, she has managed to condense the lesson into its main point, recognize visitors, celebrate marriages (of grandchildren and great grandchildren!), mention those who were ill, and mourn the passing of long term members.  Mother said to her visitor, "I'll be there on Sunday and will write the column on Monday as I always go."  I so wish . . . 

She just mentioned that she wanted to take me and Keith to dinner and to send some food home with us so I'd have something to eat.  Her incredible kindness and concern for others continues to shine through.  What sweetness.  When she's awake, she thanks everyone who does something for her.  The habit of courtesy will not leave her.  

She wants to get up.  I'm using her walker as a chair since there are not enough chairs in here.  She keeps asking for it.  We're just delaying, not really speaking truth to her.  Is this helpful?  

We are still waiting for the neurologist to appear and give us today's assessment.  We must be patient. I know that.  I also know I'm near total exhaustion and this is not good.  So, the day continues.  And we wait.  And we wait.  And we wait.  

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Hospitals and other Thoughts, August 17, 2010

For the fifth day now, I am sitting in my mother's hospital room at Medical City Hospital in Dallas.  After a really massive stroke sometime Thursday night, my sister found her Friday afternoon and she was brought here.

Roller coaster ride--first it looked like she'd recover, then her heart headed back to the state that caused the stroke to begin with and they insisted that she be moved to the cardiology floor.  On the neurology floor, she was getting good attention for her neurological issues.  On the cardiology floor, we spent a long weekend trying to get some information and seeing her physical functioning issues being ignored.

Yesterday, we were sure she had bought the farm when a CT scan showed further bleeding into her brain and she started having seizures.  I called my brother in California, told him what was going on and asked him to come and be here so we could make some very hard decisions together.

And then, last night, she woke up.  And I do mean woke up.  She, my sister and I talked for a good hour together.  She was coherent, alert and aware of what had happened.  She agreed to a feeding tube through her nose ("wow, that sounds really uncomfortable!" was her initial response to it) in order to get some nutrition into her since she still couldn't pass the "swallow test."  She agreed that she'll go to rehab and work hard and get back on her feet.  Her speech was clear--she didn't even sound as though she had experienced the stoke. A sense of humor that had never been seen before just popped up and she cracked some jokes. Magical, mysterious time.

And now, Tuesday morning--I'm here with her, and she keeps opening her eyes and doesn't seem to know that I am here.  

I am so torn.  None of us want for ourselves what she is experiencing.  I keep writing my sons with updates and reminding them, "Just put me on the ice flow" when I get to this point.  I had spent some time with them this summer wrestling with whether to purchase long-term care insurance for myself.  The cost is prohibitive.  By purchasing on it, I dramatically lower my already limited available funds just in case I need it later.  By not purchasing it, I gamble with the financial future of my children in case I need to be warehoused somewhere.  

We have made a mess of the dying process.  I just don't know how else to put it.  

I want my mother to have every chance to return to the life she has so enjoyed.  The life of her books, her radio, her friends, her family, her church, her solitude, her fun with the stock market, her crossword puzzles.  Yesterday, she asked for her crossword puzzle.  Jill brought the paper up, and we put on her glasses and set her up so she could work on it.  She said, "I don't have my red pen!"  She always does them in red pen.  Fortunately, the really kind nurse (and we have had all male nurses since we've been here--which I find fascinating), found her one.  Of course, she couldn't do it, although she did manage to write the date down as she is trying to reorient herself.  I showed that to the occupational therapist today when she came in and found mother so out of it again.  "Look," I said.  "She wrote the date down.  Don't write her off--her brain is still there."  I don't think I convinced her but she agreed to come later in the day when there seem to be more chance of Mother being more alert.

Yes, this is what I want for her.  But as I see her getting more and more sucked into the medicalized world of the end of life process, I wonder what I am doing. 

I also wonder if she is being starved to death. She has had nothing but sugar water for five days now and she had eaten very little for a couple of days before the stroke because she had a stomach upset.  A phone call I just received from an old friend whose wife had suffered a devastating stroke pushed this question into high gear.  He just insisted that a central line be put in for nutrition several days after her stoke when she too, was going into this terrible lethargy.  Within two hours, she perked up and her recovery, long and complicated, actually began.  I think it is time for me to do something about this.

Just after I wrote these words, a physical therapist came in wanting to get her up.  We can't wake her.  I told him what I wanted and he said he'd try to get the ball rolling.  

If you read this, please pray for us.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Reason Number Three

From the beginning of this series on why people avoid worship, I’ve defined worship as a time when unrelated people gather together to acknowledge God and intentionally move beyond our humanness into an understanding of the Holy. An integral part of transformational worship lies in the connection we make with others think differently than we do.

Connection between humans requires vulnerability where we expose who we are, what life forces have shaped us, and what we value most. Think about it: the ones whom we love most richly are also the ones about whom we know the most. Interestingly, the ones about whom we know the most are also the ones who tend to be most challenging in our lives. Communal worship glues us together in both our love and this challenge.

However, the process of opening ourselves to others may take us on such a treacherous path of betrayal and judgment that the hermit’s hut or some place of superficial engagement seems more desirable than a worship gathering where we may become known by others. 

Ultimately this fear of exposure brings up Excuse Number Three, “I’m not good enough to go to church. I’ll show up when I get my act together.”

This excuse cripples the process of personal transformation.

The Christian journey is not one of getting better and sinning less each day, but is one of growing awareness of the everlasting human tendency to substitute anything, just anything, for God. All activities, possessions, emotions, relationships, habits, occupations, times, families, illnesses, sport . . . every one can and is turned into something to worship that takes the place of the often scary encounter with a Holy God. 

Our abilities to deceive ourselves over our idolatry are so well-honed that they make Superman’s ability to run faster than a speeding train look like he’s doing a clumsy version of the Hokey Pokey in comparison. Communal worship, study, and accountability are the tools that expose our blindness. When those scales fall off, the sort of repentance that pushes open grace-doors to their widest point blows through us. Then we can say, “My Lord and my God! Have mercy on me” and know that we have indeed received it.

Churches have always been for the broken, not the put-together. Jesus made it clear that he didn’t come for those who already had it all together, but for the sinner, the distraught, the suffering, the oppressed, the poor in spirit, the hungry, the naked, the ashamed. 

The process of healing, the walk to wholeness, the journey to salvation--however you want to term it--takes place in community. Slowly, we lay plank after plank on the bridge of trust, both in God and in one another. Joyfully and painfully, we open ourselves for examination and freedom from our idol worship. 

We talk, sing, pray, work and serve together. We teach the children, mentor the teens, comfort the ill, feed the hungry and clothe the naked. We celebrate births and death, weddings and divorces, heart breaks and heart bursts together. We praise God and pray through tears with one another. We wrestle with sacred texts and hone our interpretative skills in a mutual sharing of knowledge and wisdom.

But we do it together, with all our flaws and our flatulence, our posings and our posturings, our hopes and our helplessness. This is corporate worship--and no one who is willing to engage in this practice, no matter how broken, sin-ridden, troubled, lost, angry, full of hate and doubt, tortured by anguish, bled by addictions--no one should be turned away by a place that calls itself a place where the grace of God may be found. This is the nature of true worship.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Reason Number Four

At our church, we often have a "stump the pastor" time during part of the morning service. Members of the congregation are free to pose any questions on their mind concerning the Christian faith and see how quickly I can come up with an articulate and biblically accurate response. One Sunday, a younger member who had been reading some work by Shane Claiborne asked, "In order to be fully Christian, do I have to give away everything I have?" Good question. Complicated answer.

How much are we to give? How do we balance giving to God with caring for family and other financial obligations?

This question leads to Excuse Number Four for avoiding worship: "Churches ask for money and I don't have any to give."

Most of us know the story of the rich young man who came to Jesus and wanted eternal life. After Jesus learned that the young man already practiced following the commandments, he told him, "Give away everything you have and follow me." The young man walked sadly away. He couldn't do it.

Is that a universal request? I don't think so. But I do know that the story makes a vital point: we can serve God or we can serve money. We can't serve both.

I have personally made two important discoveries after many years of wrestling with this: First, giving away a minimum of 10% of what I bring in has become one of the most freeing disciplines I have ever practiced. It teaches me deep gratefulness for what I do have, and I find I have little or no yearning for what I don't have. Second, money and possessions are demanding and ultimately ugly taskmasters. I, as did the rich young man, had to learn that if I possess something I can't give away, it actually owns me. I don't own it. This doesn't mean I must give everything away. It does mean I might need to someday, and it is good to be ready.

Ultimately, I am a steward of my possessions, not their owner. As a steward, I have an obligation to care well for them, to handle my finances with integrity, and to be prepared to hand them over to the real owner at any time. Such a mindset releases joy. It sets me free from the of golden handcuffs of thinking money or possessions are mine. They are not.

Yes, churches do ask for money. They do so because learning to give is an important spiritual discipline. Generous giving teaches us to trust in God, to learn that God's economy operates very differently from human economy, and to acknowledge that God's economy ultimately does win. 

A church should handle its finances with watchful holiness. That means transparent financial books, including clergy compensation figures, with this information freely available to anyone who asks. If this is not the case, beware. 

But a church of people who practice the discipline of giving is able to effectively use those funds for a transformation of the world. The leadership board, instead of sitting around glumly wondering how to get more money out of people, now spends time asking, "God, who would you have us feed today? Who needs clothing? Who needs medical care? Who can we send that would be particularly effective in bringing the good news of Your grace and love to the oppressed, the suffering, the imprisoned? What children can we help? Who needs to be set free and how can we do this?"

This is the mission of the church and the church is remarkably effective at both personal and societal transformation. But its effectiveness depends on people learning the freedom of generosity. It sounds paradoxical, but those who practice it know this: the one who gives freely ends up with far more riches than the one who says, "I have nothing to give." I have never figured out how it works. But I know it does.