If only

In the last few weeks, Pittsburgh paid last respects to two of its great leaders and philanthropists, Steeler’s Chairman Dan Rooney, and businessman Henry Hillman. Both men were wealthy, yet unassuming. They were men of stature and grace who used their gifts to make a difference in the community.

This week we paid last respects to Ryan Cenk, someone a bit less well known, but who used his gifts to make a difference as well. Ryan lost a long battle to cancer last Saturday. On Tuesday, while Ryan’s family and friends lined up around the funeral home and down the street for the first of three viewings, the people Ryan served and volunteered with prayed and sang and ate a meal together in our church. Just the week before, Ryan was serving them himself.

We sometimes make the mistake of dreaming of the things we could do “if only” we had this or that advantage. Ryan was small and looked younger than his 22 years. Even on good days, he needed help to walk; cancer at age 10 months had taken some of his mobility and sight.

But Ryan had the advantage of being wealthy in Spirit. He was certain of his stature as a child of God. He had the gift of a loving family and friends who, instead of keeping Ryan for themselves, helped him use his gifts out in the world. Ryan became an Eagle Scout, an advocate for the physically challenged, and a volunteer for many causes that mattered to him. He served food to the homeless for the last two years in our church.

Think of the difference we could make “if only….”

But wait a minute.

Have we not all been gifted, just as Ryan was? Aren’t we all children of the Living God?

What other advantage do we really need?

The good china

Years ago, when our boys were in preschool and first grade, my in-laws came from Kentucky to visit us in Nebraska for Thanksgiving dinner. My mother-in-law pitched in to help, setting the table in our formal dining room. At the boy’s places, she used plastic plates instead of the good china. She put towels over the chairs in case the boys spilled something.

Let me just say, I didn’t handle this as well as I should have.

We hardly ever used the dining room. We had 12 place settings of good china that we received for wedding presents. After 42 years, some of the plates have never been out of the box they came in.

What do you save the good china for?

My in-laws’ faith had a strong impact on the lives of everyone in our family. They worked hard and cared for the gifts God gave them. Like us, they had nice dining room furniture and good china that rarely got used.

At my parents’ house when I was growing up, things were a little different. The telephone sat on the dining room table, usually in the mess of bills and other stuff. My brother and sister and I played hide and seek under that table. Forty years later you could still see the scars where we had done our homework without putting a paper underneath. But over the years those scars become more precious to our parents than the furniture itself.

When my parents died and we went to dispose of their things, there wasn’t much we could keep. Their stuff was all used up.

What do we do with the gifts God has given us? During Lent, we always need to keep the costly love of Jesus in mind when we ask ourselves that question.

When we serve the hurting people who come to our church, we ought to use real china.