by Dale Sorenson
October 27, 2019
As the years have gone on, there has been a growing realization of the giftedness of life. When I journeyed off to college, it was on a wing and a prayer, for I certainly was unprepared for the rigors of it. But my high school principal wrote that I had potential, and my home town pastor, Morris Wee, had stature in the Lutheran Church, so St. Olaf took a chance and admitted me, despite my poor High School grades (but that’s another story). It was a struggle, but in the process a world of opportunity opened up for me, and St. Olaf also nurtured my growing faith.
But here’s the thing: Members of my family footed the bill for my full tuition and many expenses for college and Grad school. And as the years have past I can’t seem to get over the magnitude of their generosity.
When we’re young we carry only a smidgen of appreciation. We say, “Gee, thanks,” not comprehending what we’ve really been given. But for that deed alone I consider my whole life to have been a gift.
Maya Angelou kept repeating, “We’ve all been bought and paid for…” by those who have gone before, and it’s all grace.
Now listen to this: Years ago, I go into a hamburger joint in Hollywood to get dinner to go. A man inside softly asks me for change and I ignore him. I walk past, pretending I don’t hear him, weary from being constantly hit up on the street. But as I wait for my order, I gather myself and I realize I have to do something. On the way out I place a $5 bill on the table before him, and it being the season, I whisper, “Merry Christmas.” The man looks down at the bill, then whirls around grabs my upper arm with both hands and says, “Ooohhh, thaaank you,” the look on his face of one who had just been granted salvation.
Well, I made it outside and into my car before I broke down, then wept, sobbed, all the way home. And for years afterward I tried to understand the meaning of that event, what I now see as a holy moment. When you look into the soul of another person, you often see yourself. I suppose for me to be moved so much by that display of raw need and naked vulnerability could only happen because I see the same stuff in myself. And were it not for the giftedness of my life and all its trappings, I could be just as destitute. His gratitude to me felt undeserved, maybe even have brought me shame, considering all that I have. Would that I were as grateful for my whole life as he was for a paltry 5-spot.
And so, I have tried to grow in becoming a more generous person, knowing that I have also been given the ultimate gift of Faith, a Faith which daily sustains me and brings me my deepest joy in life, and given membership in the motley but august body of Christ. My tithe has become a gesture which helps me to remember my central commitment in life. And I try to emulate my old teacher, who still lives somewhere on the streets of Hollywood no doubt, and whose memory to this day urges me on, and maybe you as well, to live with generosity and gratitude, as though to say, “Oooohh, thank you.”