As I write these words, I’m sitting on the third-floor balcony of a multi-million dollar vacation house in the warmth of a radiant sun. I see palm trees and blooming roses, pansies, and camellias. I hear the coo of a mourning dove and the gentle bubbling of a hot tub overflowing into a swimming pool. Earlier, I felt the white sand between my toes and watched the sun sparkle so brightly on the rolling waves of the Gulf of Mexico that my eyes could barely take it. It is my sixtieth birthday and I am torn between feeling blessed beyond belief and horrified beyond measure.
Blessed because I don’t deserve to be here—it’s only by God’s grace that I could make such a trip. That I could spend five straight days learning from seasoned professional writers how to plot a novel, how to create fully developed characters, how to help those characters heal their deepest wounds and face their biggest fears. That I should enjoy the privilege of rubbing shoulders with others who can spend an entire day working on these projects without tiring of it. That together we can help one another plan and plot and, more importantly, learn how to do it on our own when we return to our various homes. That our shared faith could provide a bond of trust and understanding not experienced in our regular workaday worlds.
The horror? It’s in the fact that this blessing is delivered on a silver platter called opulence. This grand house stands among hundreds—maybe thousands—of others that go on and on, lot after lot, each one pristine and fitted with every modern convenience. Pools, hot tubs, outdoor kitchens, perfectly groomed gardens. Every sidewalk clean. Every vehicle looking like it just drove off the lot. No trash on the beach. Happy music coming from backyards. Delicious aromas of meat on the grill. More food than anyone could or should ever eat.
The atmosphere of entitlement sickens my stomach and yet I know it resides in my own heart as much as in anyone else’s. Many of the stories we write are based on hardship, because without hardship, we have no story. The irony is not lost on me.
How can there be so much wealth in the whole world, let alone in these few square miles that surround me right now? How is all this possible as long as hunger and homelessness still exist, not just on the other side of the planet, but in this country and my own? What would the Compassion children whose photos appear on my fridge think if they could see me now?
When a rich young man asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, Jesus offered an intriguing answer. “Sell all you own and give it to the poor and come, follow me.” The young man walked away sad, for he had great wealth.
I’ll return home feeling extremely blessed, hopefully a bit wiser, but also a little sad. It’s my sixtieth birthday and I still have so very much to learn.