Looking a Little Closer

When our children were much smaller, they enjoyed reading I Spy books with us.  You know, the colorful pictures with accompanying riddles where one may spend an inordinate amount of time looking for three green plastic army men but only coming up with two…right before bedtime?  As my eyes would glaze over and begin to close, one of the kids would shake the bed and startle me and the search would begin again until every last item had been found and we could call it a night.  While I would much have preferred to read Dr. Seuss’ Fox in Socks or a chapter of Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White at bedtime, I would not trade those memories for the world nor the lessons this tired parent gleaned in the process.

I Spy forced us to look a little deeper.  Things are not always as they appear.  Not everything is right out on the surface.  Sometimes a second or even third search is necessary, and often teamwork is involved.  Couldn’t the same be true of our daily encounters with one another in this crazy thing called life?  If I am going to truly see you as the beloved child of God who you are, it’s going to take a little effort on my part.  I must begin to wonder what you find important, what is sacred to you rather than using my own parameters.

With each thrift store customer, Jane Knuth discovers the sacred amidst the ordinary.  Isn’t that how God moments are?  I pray that you and I will encounter the person of Jesus today through our interactions with friends as well as strangers.  Let’s look a little deeper, listen a little closer, and love a little bit more, friends.


Life has a funny way

“It’s like rain on your wedding day

It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid

It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take

Who would’ve thought…it figures

Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you

Life has a funny, funny way of helping you out

Helping you out…”

Alanis Morissette, Ironic

 We’re three weeks into the Lenten season and this week’s chapter selections from Thrift Store Saints turn our attention to how asking a simple question like “Is there anything else I can do for you today?” can be transformative for the service provider as well as the one requesting services.  When I think about Jane’s ordinary, everyday encounters with people at the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store, the lyrics to Ironic by Alanis Morissette creep into my head, especially the line about life having a funny way of helping you out.

How so, you may ask?  I think of it this way.  Jane comes to work at St. Vincent de Paul kind of through the back door, not really knowing what she is getting into, but each experience of serving another brother or sister in Christ teaches her about love and life and second chances.  Jane is being transformed while at the same time transforming others.  A cynic might ask, “How can working a few days a week in a thrift store with some assorted religious items transform the world?”  Fair enough.  One person at a time, one situation at a time, one family at a time, people receive a little kindness or some assistance and they are raised up in the process.  Instead of being overlooked or turned away, someone takes the time to really LISTEN. Author Jane Knuth says, “I am beginning to understand that charity is not something I do in my spare time under controlled conditions.  And it is not even something that I do particularly well.”

 By my own admission, this blogger is not always the poster child for letting Lent truly transform me.  I’m ashamed to say that you may even hear me whining on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday about being hungry in between those meager meals, but I’m working on that…I do have to say, though, that reading Thrift Store Saints this Lent is really stirring something up inside, a feeling that awakened a few years back when I read God in the Alley:  Being and Seeing Jesus in a Broken World (Greg Paul).  I know we’re called to do more, one person at a time.  Not exactly sure what future encounters still await me, but I am truly excited by the prospect of living a life more deeply rooted in service.  Speak LORD, your servant is listening. 




I thought I was just reading a book for Lent, something I do most years.  You know, you read a few chapters, answer some discussion questions, perhaps even pray on it or participate in a facilitated discussion over coffee, and then go on with life as we know it.  Pretty straight-forward, right?

Well, this year, not so much.  And I have author Jane Knuth to blame (or thank for that).  I’m having a hard time “un-seeing” Anita as she receives the gift of a bed, her very first bed in her entire life.  That chapter, entitled Home Visits, really made me think about how often, in our call to serve others, we get much more than we bargained for.  We’re forced to step out of our carefully crafted comfort zones in order to help another person.  Recently at church a hymn contained a verse with the lyrics “…one foot in Paradise and one foot in the waste…” that I really believe speak of our life journey.  Until we go out and truly meet people where they are, we cannot fully encounter Christ.  At Mass each Sunday we are sent forth to love and serve God and others.  And when we start to feel a little stretched, that’s when growth occurs.

This Lent, I’m becoming painfully aware of just how “uneven” things are in life.  Why do some people have only a flat piece of cardboard and a blanket on the street to sleep on while most of us go home to warm houses and comfy beds?  How can I complain about being “full” after a hot meal while our brothers and sisters wait in line at a soup kitchen, or even worse, go without some days?  These thoughts turn my world upside down at times and prompt me to question what I currently do and how can I stretch a little outside of the comfort zone to be of service to others?

So thanks, Jane, for the little discomfort I am feeling this morning as I reflect on the book.  There’s always a feeling of struggle, a wrestling with the truth, before growth occurs.  Here’s to a Lenten “growth spurt!”

“And will you pray for me?”

The phrase “people of encounter” kind of became a catch-phrase for me last year after reading The Church of Mercy by Pope Francis.  That’s probably because our current pope reminds us that being a Catholic Christian is not some spectator sport but rather a full immersion of body, mind, and soul.  Living a life of mercy cannot be done by staying in the pews, all neat and tidy and scheduled.   We are called to get out of our comfort zones, to meet people where are they are and to ask them what they need.  And that mission begins when we are sent forth at the end of each liturgy.

I think it’s safe to wager that when Jane Knuth first agreed to attend a meeting for volunteers at the St. Vincent de Paul thrift shop in Kalamazoo, Michigan, she had no idea where this journey would take her.  In fact, Jane went to the meeting, as perhaps many of us have attended meetings, with the intention of not getting that involved, not taking notes, and not committing to anything just yet. Jane was just going to show up but not really be fully present to what was “in store” for her (sorry for the shameless pun!)

When Jane encounters A Street Theologian in Chapter Three of Thrift Store Saints, we witness a transformative moment when Jane realizes she is not just helping a woman find a few pairs of pants for her job, but rather listening to a beloved daughter of Christ tell her story without the risk of judgement or mockery.  In the process, we as readers are left asking, “Have I ever acted like the church the woman describes?  Do I need to make amends?  Am I able to ask God to forgive those who have hurt me?  Do I remember to ask others to pray for me, too?”

 This Lent, what’s your “Thrift Store Moment?”  Where can you step out of your comfort zone today or this week or sometime during the next forty days?