Faith Story: Generosity

Shared in worship by Tud Steene, Executive Director of Carpenter’s Shelter

Good morning, my name is Tud Steene and I’m here to share my faith story on the theme of generosity. As the Executive Director of the Carpenter’s Shelter, I feel blessed by my vantage point.  It lets me see generosity on a daily basis.

I didn’t start out intending to be a “professional do-gooder” (to borrow a tag from my friends). Over the years, I’ve worked with people that are struggling or disadvantaged. That has included working with people that have intellectual and developmental disabilities, mental illness, helping families in crisis navigate back to stability, helping the homeless and a stint on staff at Lutheran Services in America, which is one of the largest human service networks in our country that serves 1 in 50 Americans. Amid all of those experiences, here are three lessons that I’ve gleaned about generosity.

  • It’s a two way street
  • Fit matters
  • The more you do, the more you see

First, being generous is not simply about giving. That is half of the equation. I most easily see generosity when I am the overt giver. I am better and feel most comfortable in that role. But, when I give, I invariably receive more, coming in forms I didn’t recognize or expect initially. It takes humility and vulnerability to open myself up and receive.   Recently I watched a short video that demonstrates this perfectly. It is of a young man named Malek. He approaches a person that is homeless and sitting on the sidewalk. Malek gives the man money and the man asks Malek to wait.  The man disappears. Malek is confused but he waits as requested. The man reappears and is carrying a plastic bag. It includes two takeout dinners, one for Malek and one for himself.  What ensues is Malek realizing that his gift to the man wasn’t really in the form of money – it was the attention and companionship that would come from eating and talking together as human beings. The gift was really a human connection.

I see this regularly at Carpenter’s Shelter. If you talk to our regular volunteers, they relay a similar reality. The Carpenter’s residents just want to be seen and acknowledged as people. All new residents get orientation and tour of the building. As they walk past my office door, many attempt to avert eye contact. I intentionally look them in the eye and welcome them. That simple word of welcome usually helps bring down a barrier and they often times give me a relieved and wholehearted grin. I feel better seeing their level of comfort being raised.  Generosity is a two-way street.

Second, fit is key – and finding that fit is important. It isn’t as easy as simply finding an opportunity that looks good and assuming you are done. Try it out; try out lots of different things. Some will seem better than others. Have you ever grabbed something off of a clothing rack that is your size, the right color and style, and you head into the dressing room to put it on? As you look in the mirror you realize it is fine – – but it isn’t HELLO! or that look that you wanted. Find what really works for you. I spent two years on staff at Lutheran Services in America. Most everyone I knew (including me!) was excited that I was in a position so tailored to my background. When introducing myself I would say “I’m a Norwegian Lutheran from Minnesota”…and if there was still any look of hesitation, I would follow with “and I graduated from St. Olaf College.” Boom! Slam dunk. Drop the mike and walk away. There wasn’t one box on the This Should Be Awesome checklist that I couldn’t fill. And yet despite loving some aspects of the position and admiring the work of our members, it didn’t feed my spirit. I missed working deeply within a local community. It wasn’t the right fit, and learning that led me to Carpenter’s Shelter where I was closer to seeing a mission in action.

Third, the more you do, the more you see. I’m blessed to have known Joyce and Sue, who came in and made grilled cheese sandwiches to feed the homeless every Thursday for 25 years. That is tens of thousands of grilled cheese sandwiches. And when they recently hung up their spatulas and retired, what did they do?  They thanked me! Their hands were busy with bread and cheese, but their hearts were open to those being fed – Joyce and Sue were being fed in a different way. A consistent refrain from volunteers is that the more you get involved, the more inspired you are to do and give more.

These are all things that I have learned about generosity over the years. Every day I see a mission in action, and work hard to engage others in serving people in need. My personal motto is to “make doing good fun”. That motivates and feeds me. Doing that work allows me to be generous and to receive generously.

And, as a shameless plug, the November 8th Adult Forum is on the topic of homeless and I’m happy to share more about the need in our community, including Carpenter’s Shelter to that need, including ways that you can get involved.  I hope you will join me for it.

As I close, let me recap the three things I’ve learned about generosity:

  • It’s a two way street
  • Fit matters
  • The more you do, the more you see

Thank you.

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