Ditching the Gospel of Blind Charity for the Pursuit of Wisdom

For each of my nearly 39 years of life, I have been deeply involved in the church, not just on Sundays, but Wednesdays and midweek events and other bible studies. I’ve endured studies like “The Treasure Principle” by Randy Alcorn and sat under the heavy conviction of Francis Chan’s amazing passion for the poor. I’ve read countless blogs, books and bible passages, all pleading with Christians to remember those in poverty and not build up treasures for ourselves on earth. I sob during the final scene in “Schindler’s list” where Nazi, Oscar Schindler, weeps before the 1,100 Jews his covert efforts saved during the Holocaust as he agonizes over how many more he could have saved had he given even more of himself. So compelling.

And I just want to sell everything. I feel so horrible about myself and my non-leaky, heated and air conditioned, “safe” and comfy home. I feel badly about my minivan with air bags and DVD player, our home theater room in the basement, my six flags season passes, and my travel plans. I want to get rid of it all and wallow in self-imposed poverty.

But then I’m reminded of where I part ways with those who preach that sort of lifestyle when I consider the faces of those I’ve seen on my many journeys into impoverished areas of the world. What I’ve seen time and time again are those who are dehumanized not by lack of charity from rich nations or neighbors, but from their inability to find work. They endure and then die from every form of undernourishment because there genuinely isn’t work to be found. Thanks largely to extensive histories of government oppression, there is no money circulating through their economy. There is no Six Flags or minivan dealership, best buy, roofing or air conditioning repair shops to work for so they can provide for their families.

If we all feel so compelled to sell everything, buy nothing but the basic necessities to stay alive, and give all that we have away, none of us would have anything left with which to help others. You see, my husband has been blessed not only with the skills and abilities to have a very successful career in the non-necessary, arguably frivolous, sector of our society, business software, but he has also been blessed to live in an economy that affords him the opportunity to use what he has been blessed with to provide not only for our family, but for countless other families who benefit from the money we spend. Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I find nothing more fulfilling than time spent in a developing world slum. . . Nothing, that is, except teaching my kids to celebrate the guy who came to clean our carpets by baking a plate of brownies, loading him up with gratitude, and promising to pray for him and his family. When my house is full of family guys and gals who are pumped to have our business so they can care for their own families, I think, “This is what those who judge me for living in a 3,500 square foot house with granite counter tops are missing. They are missing the granite counter-top guys daughter’s medical bills and the furniture gal’s college fund.”

This isn’t to say that we spend wildly without considering charity by any means. However, this is where my title gains meaning. Rather than viewing all money spent as purely capitalism, and all money given as pure charity, maybe we can permute (mix up) the two a bit by seeking wisdom in all that we spend and do. Thanks to large companies that purchase and provide wholly unnecessary software products to their users and clients, my husband makes a living where he and I are able give many times the national average away purely as charity to organizations that invest in the lives of the poor and disadvantaged. We also travel to impoverished (spiritually, economically, psychologically) areas of the world and this year even allowed our 12 year old daughter to travel to rural Kenya to minister in an AIDS orphanage. Our home has the proverbial open door for hundreds of visitors who have entered seeking a place to rest or even stay. We could live well above the means we live at now if we turned completely into ourselves, but during my own times of stressful financial hardships I sought the Lord for two things: First, that he would help us climb out of the financial pit we were in, and second, that I would be someone who could both hire people like the members of my family and give like those who so generously gave to me. God heard my prayers and he has graciously answered them.

Where I find balance is in surrender. If ever I’m tempted to seek more for myself out of selfishness, I surrender all that I have to the Lord. If he wants me to sell everything and live in poverty, I will. I also seek his wisdom and his prompting over my purchases. If I’m buying a new a pair of shoes for myself, I just might buy two. Buying two helps those in the store keep and excel at their jobs and the extra pair helps the size 7, single-mom I’m giving them to.

We need to be cautious of doing anything out of selfish pride, greed, or even safety. We must not seek comfort without great concern for the comfort of others. We must use our whole lives and all that we’ve been blessed with to bless others regardless of what that means to us personally. We must not cling to anything of this world as though it is our salvation. Our salvation is in Jesus alone. What Jesus does ask of us is to serve others as though we are serving him, that they might see him in us and be drawn to him as a result.

Let’s not forget to consider the fact that blind charity, however well-intentioned, is often awful for the poor. Helping the poor is way more than throwing money at a problem. It’s investment in lives. It’s a long-term commitment that involves assisting them to find all forms of health so that they can achieve financial stability. We can’t act on the emotional impulse we have after a convicting bible study or sermon. Much wisdom must be sought from the Lord and from those we trust before we act.

So when we read compelling proverbs like this version of Matthew 25 by Richard Stearns, “For I was hungry, while you had all you needed. I was thirsty, but you drank bottled water. I was a stranger, and you wanted me deported. I needed clothes, but you needed more clothes. I was sick, and you point out the behaviors that led to my sickness. I was in prison, and you said I was getting what I deserved,” we can also remember those who provide for their families with their work at the fancy restaurants, the water bottle plants, the government deportation offices, the strip mall boutiques, the mental health facilities and the nations prisons, judges and attorneys, who are able to turn around and help others with what they have been blessed with. I understand all of those institutions have intrinsic problems, but let’s also deal with those issues with wisdom, care and concern for all those who can be effected by blind charity or rash judgments.

I am open to thoughtful, sincere, kindhearted counterpoints to my thought process, being comfortable with the knowledge that I yet have much to learn.

Ditching the Gospel of Blind Charity for the Pursuit of Wisdom

For each of my nearly 39 years of life, I have been deeply involved in the church, not just on Sundays, but Wednesdays and midweek events and other bible studies. I’ve endured studies like “The Treasure Principle” by Randy Alcorn and sat under the heavy conviction of Francis Chan’s amazing passion for the poor. I’ve read countless blogs, books and bible passages, all pleading with Christians to remember those in poverty and not build up treasures for ourselves on earth. I sob during the final scene in “Schindler’s list” where Nazi, Oscar Schindler, weeps before the 1,100 Jews his covert efforts saved during the Holocaust as he agonizes over how many more he could have saved had he given even more of himself. So compelling.

And I just want to sell everything. I feel so horrible about myself and my non-leaky, heated and air conditioned, “safe” and comfy home. I feel badly about my minivan with air bags and DVD player, our home theater room in the basement, my six flags season passes, and my travel plans. I want to get rid of it all and wallow in self-imposed poverty.

But then I’m reminded of where I part ways with those who preach that sort of lifestyle when I consider the faces of those I’ve seen on my many journeys into impoverished areas of the world. What I’ve seen time and time again are those who are dehumanized not by lack of charity from rich nations or neighbors, but from their inability to find work. They endure and then die from every form of undernourishment because there genuinely isn’t work to be found. Thanks largely to extensive histories of government oppression, there is no money circulating through their economy. There is no Six Flags or minivan dealership, best buy, roofing or air conditioning repair shops to work for so they can provide for their families.

If we all feel so compelled to sell everything, buy nothing but the basic necessities to stay alive, and give all that we have away, none of us would have anything left with which to help others. You see, my husband has been blessed not only with the skills and abilities to have a very successful career in the non-necessary, arguably frivolous, sector of our society, business software, but he has also been blessed to live in an economy that affords him the opportunity to use what he has been blessed with to provide not only for our family, but for countless other families who benefit from the money we spend. Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I find nothing more fulfilling than time spent in a developing world slum. . . Nothing, that is, except teaching my kids to celebrate the guy who came to clean our carpets by baking a plate of brownies, loading him up with gratitude, and promising to pray for him and his family. When my house is full of family guys and gals who are pumped to have our business so they can care for their own families, I think, “This is what those who judge me for living in a 3,500 square foot house with granite counter tops are missing. They are missing the granite counter-top guys daughter’s medical bills and the furniture gal’s college fund.”

This isn’t to say that we spend wildly without considering charity by any means. However, this is where my title gains meaning. Rather than viewing all money spent as purely capitalism, and all money given as pure charity, maybe we can permute (mix up) the two a bit by seeking wisdom in all that we spend and do. Thanks to large companies that purchase and provide wholly unnecessary software products to their users and clients, my husband makes a living where he and I are able give many times the national average away purely as charity to organizations that invest in the lives of the poor and disadvantaged. We also travel to impoverished (spiritually, economically, psychologically) areas of the world and this year even allowed our 12 year old daughter to travel to rural Kenya to minister in an AIDS orphanage. Our home has the proverbial open door for hundreds of visitors who have entered seeking a place to rest or even stay. We could live well above the means we live at now if we turned completely into ourselves, but during my own times of stressful financial hardships I sought the Lord for two things: First, that he would help us climb out of the financial pit we were in, and second, that I would be someone who could both hire people like the members of my family and give like those who so generously gave to me. God heard my prayers and he has graciously answered them.

Where I find balance is in surrender. If ever I’m tempted to seek more for myself out of selfishness, I surrender all that I have to the Lord. If he wants me to sell everything and live in poverty, I will. I also seek his wisdom and his prompting over my purchases. If I’m buying a new a pair of shoes for myself, I just might buy two. Buying two helps those in the store keep and excel at their jobs and the extra pair helps the size 7, single-mom I’m giving them to.

We need to be cautious of doing anything out of selfish pride, greed, or even safety. We must not seek comfort without great concern for the comfort of others. We must use our whole lives and all that we’ve been blessed with to bless others regardless of what that means to us personally. We must not cling to anything of this world as though it is our salvation. Our salvation is in Jesus alone. What Jesus does ask of us is to serve others as though we are serving him, that they might see him in us and be drawn to him as a result.

Let’s not forget to consider the fact that blind charity, however well-intentioned, is often awful for the poor. Helping the poor is way more than throwing money at a problem. It’s investment in lives. It’s a long-term commitment that involves assisting them to find all forms of health so that they can achieve financial stability. We can’t act on the emotional impulse we have after a convicting bible study or sermon. Much wisdom must be sought from the Lord and from those we trust before we act.

So when we read compelling proverbs like this version of Matthew 25 by Richard Stearns, “For I was hungry, while you had all you needed. I was thirsty, but you drank bottled water. I was a stranger, and you wanted me deported. I needed clothes, but you needed more clothes. I was sick, and you point out the behaviors that led to my sickness. I was in prison, and you said I was getting what I deserved,” we can also remember those who provide for their families with their work at the fancy restaurants, the water bottle plants, the government deportation offices, the strip mall boutiques, the mental health facilities and the nations prisons, judges and attorneys, who are able to turn around and help others with what they have been blessed with. I understand all of those institutions have intrinsic problems, but let’s also deal with those issues with wisdom, care and concern for all those who can be effected by blind charity or rash judgments.

I am open to thoughtful, sincere, kindhearted counterpoints to my thought process, being comfortable with the knowledge that I yet have much to learn.

Friends, Zergdigs, Countrymen

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At some point when our kids were yet very small, the term “zergdig” was invented (by Stephen) and became a regular part of our family’s vocabulary. It was developed out of a need for a term to symbolize the middle ground between an acquaintance and a friend.

We each have loads of acquaintances; the “countrymen” in my title. Dictionary.com defines it as, “a state of being acquainted or casually familiar with someone or something.” It’s the wide circle of people we routinely come in contact with.  We may or may not notice if they were to move themselves out of our circles, and it certainly wouldn’t sting if they did.

Then we can consider ourselves blessed if we are able to use a term we reserve for a very specific type of relationship: our “friends”. The term “friend” in our home is used for a person who has our best interest at heart. Friends are patient with us, and kind to us. They are not self-seeking or jealous. They protect our hearts and want what is best for us. A true friendship is a mutually beneficial relationship in which neither party would intentionally ask or temp the other person into doing the wrong or unhealthy thing. These are the kinds of relationships that can turn into healthy marriages. Mistakes will be made in all relationships, of course, but the ultimate goal of these relationships is to encourage each other to be better, do better, and to take care of ourselves and each other.

But what about that middle ground? These are the people we really like or even love, but they don’t have our best interests at heart. They are making unhealthy choices and want us to join them in them. They are seeking their own happiness without regard for ours. These are people we may or may not not be able to cut from our lives. This could be a classmate at school, a person at church, a neighbor… This is a person we probably need to minister to, but also need to guard our hearts and minds against accepting them as a healthy authority or influence in our lives. Their influence is unhealthy, but we love them and often must pour into their lives on some level. These people are “zergdigs”.

Tears often sting our eyes as we discuss the difficulty of watching our zergdigs make bad choices or choose bad attitudes. We discuss how we are not being a true “friend” to them if we allow them to run over us or draw us into their issues. If we are to do the right things by them, we must set up healthy boundaries about what is acceptable behavior and what isn’t and then let that guide our interactions, even if it means telling them they must go until they are ready to get the help they need. We are always there for zergdigs when they are ready, but we are not going to make it easy on them to make bad choices either. That doesn’t help anyone! And let’s not marry these people, please.

Then we pray that we would be true friends rather than zergdigs to everyone God puts into our lives. We are all just a few bad decisions or one unhealthy relationship away from not being a friend to others. Without opening our hearts to the beautiful, life-giving benefit of true, not always pain-free, honest friendships, we are all vulnerable to becoming the person we should be guarding our hearts from.

My kids now come home with the ability to articulate things like, “I totally thought so-and-so was my friend, but now I know they are a zergdig.” I always encourage them to be kind and encourage their zergdigs to do better and be better. However they must protect their hearts from considering it a true friendship lest they end up in their pit with them.

I think I have some great kids who are great (though, admittedly not perfect) friends to others. And now that they are in a hybrid/blended school two days a week I get to hear the neatest things about their character from others. However, my oldest is only 13. None of them have enough independence to have been truly tested quite yet. We are only in the stages of hoping and praying our discussion and preplanning for any potential unhealthy relationships will help them avoid those pitfalls. Ultimately this will be up to them. I do happen to know that if they continue to learn about what healthy relationships look like and can identify when they are beginning to fall into unhealthy ones, they are exponentially more likely avoid some of the dangerous pitfalls many of us have fallen into when we ignorantly accepted bad company into our lives.

Blessings on you and all of your friends, zergdigs, and countrymen.

Julia’s Journey – Birthday Gift

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I knew a girl when I was growing up who was kind to everyone. From my perspective, there was no friend group she couldn’t move in an around that didn’t love to have her around. She was and still is both popular and inclusive, which is a rare combination indeed. I have always admired her greatly.

Alas, I gave birth to such a girl. She loves everyone and is beloved. Usually I don’t post anything about her birthday parties so no one gets their feelings hurt. I sincerely hope this blog doesn’t hurt feelings. I have to cap the head count at her parties or she would invite 50 girls that she loves with her whole heart. It’s an agonizing process for her. You’re girl was agonized over.

However, as I chronicle Julia’s journey to Kenya, I don’t want to forget how she celebrated her 12th birthday this year. One of the first things she said when she found out she had raised all of her money for Kenya was, “Now I can ask for things for myself for my birthday!!” So I was very surprised when she told me to tell the girls’ moms that she only wanted gifts she could bring to the orphans.

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The suitcase full of gifts the girls brought to Julia’s birthday party for the kids in Kenya.

Then this week as I made final plans and shopping lists for the party, I asked her what kinds of pizza and beverages she wanted. “PIZZA! MOM, NO! This is a Kenya birthday! We need to have rice and beans and water like the orphans!”  Julia was fine with leaving it at that, but I did some research and found out that Kenyans love watermelon and popcorn as well. I was relieved to have something fun to offer that she was agreeable to.

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Rice, beans and water for her Kenyan birthday dinner. (Watermelon and popcorn seemed like an acceptable birthday splurge.)

We always do a practical craft that can be used again. Last year the girls made beach towels. This year she chose 20 pairs of flip flops that could be bedazzled: one for each girl who came to the party and one for an orphan.

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Their dazzling flip flop creation. You can’t tell from the picture, but they are also sparkly.

I have to say, to the credit of the amazing girls who came to the party, they looked confused when I told them the menu, but they all jumped on board and had great attitudes. The flip flops took two hours to complete, but they all worked hard and then helped the others as they got done. I thought for sure I would be scrambling to find something they would eat and be left completing a bunch of flip flops while they ran off to play. However, they hung in there like champs while we visited and sang all kinds of worship songs.  It was a delightful evening with a sincere and generous group of girls who loved an opportunity to serve kids they will probably never meet on the other side of the world.

The future looks so bright, I have to wear shades.

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Working away at their flip flop creations

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Julia’s invention: Unicorn Popcorn. Homemade popcorn coated in white chocolate and pink sprinkles. Surprisingly delicious.

 

Julia’s Journey: When Giants Fall

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

If you’ve ever spent any amount of time with my Julia, you’ll quickly learn several things. She has a heart of pure gold, never ending compassion, and a faith that can move mountains. She is hard working, has straight A’s in her new school, and talents in the arts that don’t end. She is incredibly articulate, and just feisty enough to stand up for and stick to her convictions no matter what that means to her personally.

Left: Julia at just 5 years old, taking over the care of a crying toddler whose mother wouldn’t get out of her nearby car to help her. Right: Julia and Evan knitting dozens of hats for Kenyan newborns 2 years ago.

One thing you’d probably never guess is that she has a severe form of Dyslexia. At the age of 8 there were 11 letters of the alphabet she could not distinguish to save her life, and to this day vowels remain a complete loss. It is the reason I am chronicling her journey to Kenya rather than leaving it to her. This is my gift to her, not because she is exactly illiterate. She simply has to approach reading and writing in her own, very labored, way as she learns to navigate and find ways to compensate for what her brain will thus far not process. She remains grade level in every subject because of her astounding ability to process what she hears and apply it to tests and work (that I read to her, or translate her unique style of written phonics into something her teachers can read). She lets nothing stop her from doing what she sets her mind to doing.

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Oh, and she’s only 11. Her beauty inside and out is a jewel in the crown that I must daily lay at the feet of the One who blessed me with her. This is exactly the reason that when she came to me last fall as we admired the majesty of the Grand Canyon, slipped her hand in mine and told me that she thought God was calling her to care for AIDS orphans in rural Kenya, I knew this was going to require me to lay my “crown” down at His feet once again.

I told her that if she was to be sure God was telling her to go to Kenya, he would confirm it in a few ways.

  1. Her daddy would be on board.
  2. My parents, who would be responsible for taking her there, would have to agree to it.
  3. Since Stephen and I already fund our own trips to Gambell, Alaska each summer, she would have to work hard and seek the Lord for her own funding.
  4. She would have to be willing to undergo all of the vaccinations required for such a trip.

One by one, those confirmations began rolling in. Stephen was on board as long as my parents were. Amazingly enough, my parents reported that God had already put her on their hearts for this trip and weren’t surprised to hear from her. However, coming up with $3,000 at 11 years old seemed like a daunting task. We made an effort to encourage each other not to put anything past a Lord who is always faithful to equip us for whatever He calls us to.

In December, she asked me to help her think of things she could do to begin the sacrifice of time, energy and personal desires in order to answer her calling. She told me that all she wanted for Christmas and her birthday was money toward her trip and ministry. She made a personal commitment to not purchase anything for herself until all of her funds were in. A flier would be made with work she could do for people willing to contribute to her trip and ministry expenses. Soon after, my mom approached with the idea of selling a Christmas coffee cake called Jolly Breakfast Rings to get the ball rolling with a couple hundred dollars toward her goal.

A few generous people hired her help with cleaning or childcare. But the Jolly Breakfast Ring fundraiser blew us away. We thought we would be doing stellar if 15 or 20 people ordered them before Christmas, but within 24 hours, 45 rings were sold. Julia and my mom baked for 2 straight days and raised over $800.

We soon learned that over $800 from coffee cakes wasn’t even to be the amazing part. The last couple of years my parents bought tickets to Kenya for $1400. We were excited to have such a big chunk of it in and were trusting God for the rest when my mom called to say she had decided to check ticket prices that day. Miraculously, they were just $800. Julia’s fundraiser raised just the amount she needed to completely cover the airfare portion of her trip. Tears and hugs all over the place as we praise the Lord for so graciously showing his hand to our family once again.

After that, Julia is walking the halls of church or the streets of our neighborhood and people are handing her money as she goes. Checks are coming in the mail or turning up in her account at church. People are reporting that God has put her so heavily on their hearts they could not ignore what he was telling them to give. We really never asked for a dime that she didn’t work to earn. I wanted her to sacrifice personally for this and see God do what only he can do through people he brought into her life. We’ve read of many missionaries who have lived a life of trust without asking for money, but to experience it for ourselves. . . More tears of gratitude every day.

I never want to forget the day I went to her favorite store, 5 Below, with a list of items I needed to buy for school. I found her a few minutes later in the checkout isle with a few items she had been wanting for several months and no longer seemed to have the will-power to resist. I didn’t say a word because I could see the internal struggle as she waited in line. When her turn came to walk up to the counter, she walked right past it and back out into the store to place everything in her basket back on the shelves. When she came back to me, (of course, I couldn’t see her for the tears in my eyes) but I heard her say, “Mom, I want to be with those orphans more than I want any of that stuff.” OH, HOW I WANTED to go back and buy all of that stuff for her. It was just as much of a sacrifice for me to put my arm around her, walk out of that store and let God work in both of us in that moment.

I did a fundraiser where I roasted coffee that was grown by a coop of Rwandan genocide widows. I raised a couple of hundred dollars that got us so close to her $3000 goal we could smell it. I ran to her room to report that within just 2 1/2 months, we had only $300 to go and 3 months left for God to work. We were excited about THAT when I got word from the accountant at church. The rest of the money was put into her account by a donor that afternoon. Stephen stopped me from telling her the amazing news to say, “Let me go with you. Something even more amazing has happened.”

More amazing? How can it be? I sat down on the bed beside Julia as Stephen read a beautiful letter from a precious, young missionary couple we have grown to love over the past year. The letter told of how God had placed missions on their hearts when they were very young and wanted to do what they could to encourage Julia in her heart for missions as well. The gift bumped Julia’s orphan care ministry budget to nearly $4000. Here we wonder how God will provide $3000 to an 11 year old, not realizing that $3000 was just the beginning.

And money keeps rolling in. I will make a final tally closer to when she leaves, but we keep day dreaming about what can be done with whatever comes in. The orphans are in desperate need of a new school, supplies and teachers. Presently they go to a local public school in which no teachers are present for 1/3 of the school year. School supplies are nonexistent. The local pastor is building homes for local widows, and funds are needed for the effort.

Left: The orphans’ public school class room. Right: A home for a homeless widow.

In a bit of a side note, Julia told me that as Stephen and I walked in to tell her that all her funds were raised and then some, the song “Giants Fall”, written about an 11 year old girl who began a ministry to orphans in Uganda, was playing on her radio. She said, “Mom, that $3,000 was my giant and it just fell.”  https://mystar933.com/giants-fall-francesca-battistelli/

So as long as funds keep rolling in, we will be putting them toward the needs in that village and praising God for his faithful provision. He used so many of you to bless Julia and our whole family as well as people he deeply cares for in a rural African village; deeply enough to ask us to send our precious, only daughter, in order to demonstrate a love that would send His one and only son, for her and for them.

Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27)

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Julia washes our walls for hours to earn her way to Kenya.

 

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Smiley Julia is trying to look as serious as possible for her passport photo.

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YAY! Getting to smile after her successful Jolly Breakfast Ring fundraiser.

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Hurting and a bit ill after getting her first four of MANY vaccines.

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Waiting and waiting in line to apply for her passport. This face was after I informed her that long lines get her sufficiently ready for international travel.

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Julia gets to meet the directors of the Hope Center orphanage right here in Atlanta.

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Getting there!

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Julia’s cat, Panda Herkimer Beans, congratulates Julia on the speedy arrival of her passport.

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Julia raised more funds by baking 50 cupcakes for a teacher friend’s classroom lesson on the water table.

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The chart and her face the day all of her funds came in and exploded out the top!

A Cell Phone and Social Media Contract With My Son

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To begin with, many can testify that my children know how to play. They have bedrooms full of well used toys, are experts in many card, board and high activity games, run wild in an amazing backyard with neighbor friends and tell stories from a long history of exploring cities, national parks and museums around the nation. Their time with technology has always been contained and closely monitored in order to allow them to develop as well-rounded individuals who can function well in as many environments as are required of them. This has not been a perfect process as I am far from the perfect parent, but the desire to nurture well-rounded children has always been a primary paradigm through which I evaluate my own parenting.

That being said, my oldest son is truly passionate about technology and all that it can do, and that does come with a potential for danger.  People these days can escape the “real world” and replaced it with a virtual reality that causes many to lose their humanity and deadens their emotions and desires for relational, physical, or spiritual health. So when at 11 years old he began hinting at a desire for a cell phone of his own for his 13th birthday, I began residing in a state of uncomfortable dread. At least on our home systems and tablets I can filter out a lot of junk, and he is restricted to playing games in family spaces rather than with any privacy, but a cell phone opens the door of unrestricted access to a world that no 13 year old is ready for.

Here’s the thing I keep going back to. I know a cell phone is in his future, even if I don’t allow him one for his entire childhood. This is something I can allow for now while Stephen and I are still the most influential and prevalent figures in his life and have a ton of say over when and how it is used, or I can force him to wait until I have progressively less and less say. I sat down with him 2 months before his 13th birthday and together we worked on a list of the reasons he wanted to have a cell phone that included being able to text or call Stephen or me when we are apart, the ability to text and communicate with his friends and family, have the handy camera, learn responsibility by paying his own monthly bill, and lastly as reward for being a good, trustworthy kid, which he is. I wouldn’t be considering this if he was not an honest and sincere kid. Together we began researching and discussing the pitfalls and dangers before making an extensive lists of rules and guidelines that will hopefully mature in habits that become the healthiest possible relationship with cell phones and similar technologies. A healthy relationship with technology that is well-rounded with other healthy activities and relationships is, of course, well worth the effort.

I’ve thrown into this blog the rules of our contract for social media involvement as well. On his 13th birthday, he wanted to sign up for Facebook and Instagram to daily check the flow of information coming out of our very active church and its youth group. He also wants to keep up with our much beloved, but spread-out family across the country and even the world, many of whom are very active on social media.

I can’t say I will agree to this for my other children. Thirteen is not a magical cell phone and social media age. Each child must be evaluated as an individual. I also can’t say that my oldest son will always have this privilege. This is in its probationary phase until he moves out of my home in 5 or more years. I just want to use these years to hopefully form in my children healthy relationships with all the aspect of life that are available to kids like mine, and to teach them to use what they have been blessed with to pour into the lives of those who need a hand from someone with their unique resources and knowledge. Every day I pray that my kids not turn inward or escape their realities or the realities of others whose lives they can reach into. Rather, with a head full of faith, I pray they chose to face all aspects of life head-on with all that God has blessed them with.

Because I didn’t see any examples of rules or contracts online when we were creating ours outside of blogs or articles with general guidelines for teens with phones, I talked with my son about sharing our contracts on my blog for anyone else to use or get ideas from. He thought it would be a great idea, which is just another reason why he’s a great kid who has, thus far, earned my respect for this newest endeavor in our lives.      cell-phone-rules-and-contractsocial-media-contract

 

A Regular Mom’s Response to Terrorists and Extremists and Jihadists, Oh My.

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Considering that the vast majority of us aren’t even close to being trained soldiers, cops, military leaders or government policy makers, what is our response or role in a world where the mentally ill son of a fellow church member or maybe the otherwise hip and friendly Muslim neighbor turns out to be a mass-shooting, bomb-toting terrorist wannabe, plotting my demise at a bus stop or at the local grocery mart?

We could live with anger, in fear and mistrust, with our fingers ever hovering over the triggers of our concealed weapons. But speaking for myself on this idea, remembering that I am in no way a trained military personnel, open firing with trembling hands at the local food mart or crowded theater is mostly likely a recipe for further disaster. So, no guns for me. Then what?

That’s not even to imagine the state of mind of someone who lives in constant anger, fear and mistrust. If you haven’t seen a show like “Doomsday Preppers”, with people who have spent lifetimes cultivating that paranoia and sense of entitlement to their ideals and/or safety at all costs, then you should take a few moments to do so. They have allowed that state of mind to rob them of their sanity and humanity. They see the world as everyone against one and have lost their ability to be taken seriously or contribute in any tangible way to the overall good of their communities. So, no doomsday prepping for me. Then what?

Oh, and what do we suppose drives the mass-shooting or bombing lunatics so many are angry, fearful and mistrusting of, to perform these heinous acts of terrorism in otherwise peaceful atmospheres? Oh, yeah. It’s anger, fear and mistrust that has been cultivated until it destroyed their sanity and humanity. So no anger, fear, or unchecked mistrust for me. Then what?

Am I going to allow a depraved terrorist, who violently drove (and even followed) refugees from the family, friends, and country of their birth, to terrorize me into not helping a Muslim man or woman who happens to have had their car break down in front of a government building? I mean, there could be a bomb in there, right? I say this because, with my kids in the car, I was faced with this decision a few weeks ago, and I decided I would not lay down my desire to see all Americans practice their religion without fear, or deny my heart to reach out to all others without discrimination for any amount of ensured safety, and I wasn’t about to teach a fearful mindset to my children either. All we did was pull over to ask if they needed help, and we were rewarded with the most touching gratitude I’ve received in recent memory.

Here’s the thing the people who live their lives fighting terrorism with paranoia don’t consider about those of us who chose not to. We don’t live in denial with rose colored glasses. We know we could be bombed, shot, burned, or abused. It’s just that we chose not to let terrorist rob us of the right to do the right thing no matter what. We let those called to make policy, make policy and those in the police force and military do what they were trained to do. Then the rest of us can carry out our lives according to the ideals and principles our country was founded upon, with huddled masses yearning to be free from the religious and economic tyranny our ancestors worked so hard to establish.

Do those of us who profess to be Christians remember that America was colonized by immigrants and refugees who escaped tyrannical governments and oppressors in Europe that used the bible as the platform for their violence? Do many Americans know that our military and civilian operations abroad would be a total dead end without the help of many Muslims who are also fighting against extremists?

I am not ignorant. I know that peaceful immigrants can give birth to radicalized children who mow down dance clubs, but does that mean I put myself on a pedestal above those problems and turn my backs on those my kindness could even mean the difference between choosing a radical path or a healthy one? The answer to the “Then what?” for me, someone who has no formal training or policy leadership what-so-ever, is to live as it was intended by those who founded our nation. I will makes space for all religions, even though we will have to agree to disagree on our understanding of God, and heap kindness on anyone who may be teetering on the brink of a decision to angrily become radicalized or live in peace. In this land founded on refugees and immigrants, where we allow space for all kinds of potentially violent ideologies (Hello, KKK and Neo-Nazis, or weird cultist compounds dotting the landscape) let’s not lose sight of the fact that we have a rule of law that has withstood and contained the vast majority of intended violence or government coups and continues to search for ways to maintain the relative stability without trampling our freedoms.

One last thing on a personal level that I want to add. Even if all of that fails, and a secret society of Muslim jihadists rises up to take over the nation, establish sharia law and takes my life because of my faith in Jesus as the son of God who gave his life for me, the words of Jesus ever echo in my mind.

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.” Mathew 16:24-27

Loaves and Fishes: How the Heck Does a Georgian Homeschool Mom and a Software Consultant Keep Ending Up in Arctic Alaska?

There are so, very many stories I could share from our time in the village of Gambell, Alaska on the remote island of St. Lawrence (nearer to Russia) this past year, but most of them are not mine to share publically. They belong to the precious people we went there to love up on. In person I would be happy to share more, but I am extremely careful to only air things publically that provide hope and encouragement to the native people.

Because this is my last installment I want to say that we had an amazing time again this year, but it’s not an easy trip and there were hardships. There was even an hour of sheer terror in which God faithfully reached down and revealed himself in a mighty way by turning my paralyzing fear into courage in the face of danger. He brought in other amazing locals to provide protection and selfless support. I want those beautiful faces to be the face of Siberian Yupiks the world sees. None of us should be defined by our weakest counterparts, and those weakest counterparts need to feel safe reaching out to us too. That’s why we are there, and why we plan to go back this summer.

In Part one of this three part series, I wrote a wee smidge about my roll on our team this year. We decided that rather than hire a local missions organization to fly in all of the food for us again, we could more cheaply fly in our own food from home. Because of Stephen’s diamond status with Delta, we all flew in on his itinerary giving us 3 checked bags each. Then we required everyone on our team to fly with one small bag so we could fill their larger carry-ons with supplies as well.

Even with the ability to fly with dozens of bags, coolers and tubs, Stephen and I still had to strategically calculate to the absolute weight limits, how much food we should buy and how to pack it without adding weight. Sandwiches were planned with precise detail, even measuring out the exact amount of mayo we could ration for each slice. Then we weighed and multiplied for the exact number of sandwiches we could ration out to each person. Serving sizes for dinner were calculated to allow for adequate portions after a hard day’s work, but there would be no space for serving more than what was sufficient. In fact, I had to deliberately seek God for rest from anxiety that I had not packed nearly enough food for our hard working team members to feel satisfied. 14 people had to get by on 4 tubs and 4 coolers worth of food for 6 days. It was a tremendous responsibility that I took incredibly seriously. Despite it all we came in way, way under budget on all of our food spending.

I would like to pause for a moment to thank Lindsay Mullinax, Dena Starnes, Sharon Carmichael, Lynn Tynes and Joan Gull for making dinners in their homes that could be frozen into gallon sized, Ziploc bags and slid vertically into the coolers like file folders. That helped me fit 6 dinners for 14 people into two, airline-appeasing sized and weighted coolers and leave the other coolers for breakfasts, lunches and other essentials.

Hunting and fishing has changed up there for what is believed to be climate change related reasons. There aren’t the walrus and seal populations there once were, and the people are hungry. Day one, hungry people begin showing up at the church and a well-meaning team member invites them to dinner.

I panicked. “Wait, wait, wait. I didn’t plan food for extra people. You can give them my dinner, but I can’t give away dinner for everyone else on the team. They paid for this trip and this food. It’s not mine to give away.” Stephen turns up in the kitchen to witness my panic. He assures me not to worry and promises me that we will hold a team meeting to decide what to do.

That night I made sure each person remembered that we have just enough food for our team. If we give away food, we will run out and go hungry. I was completely OK with that. People have survived longer periods of time without food, but I needed to hear everyone else’s thoughts on it. To a team member, each person said without reservation, “If these people are hungry, they can have the food.” We all decided to feed all those who came our way.

OK, then. Dinner on night one was 4 chicken pot pies (thanks Sharon Carmichael). 16 people were at my table for dinner. I had rationed 2 pieces of pie per person, including 10 grown men who had worked very hard that day out in the cold. Everyone could have one biscuit and 2 large scoops of black-eyed peas. People were eating and eating and then visiting when they were filled up. I went around to pick up empty pans, but found pie left in every pan. When I combined them to put them away I realized there was a complete pot pie left. 16 people ate to their fill on just three of the four, nine inch pot pies, and there’s biscuits and peas left too?

I’m slow, so this baffles me. I repeatedly tell people to not deprive themselves. “Eat more!” But they all claim to be too full.

The next day was Sunday so we had our church service. Then several locals stayed for lunch. They brought their own native food, which isn’t quite the kind of stuff our pallets were accustomed to, and I set out our pot pies, biscuits and peas. They ate until they were satisfied and we ate up our planned meal of sandwiches. Dinner is Cajun stir fry (thanks to Lindsay Mullinax) and there was so much left I could barely fit it back in the fridge.

The next day we eat our planned breakfast of egg sandwiches (Lindsay again!) and at lunch I set out carefully rationed sandwich ingredients. But there is plenty left to share with the native men who were helping us around town. I check and re-check to make sure no one is hungry. Everyone claims to be stuffed. Dinner is Chicken King Ranch (Thanks, Mrs. Joan Gull) with some kind of bread and a vegetable. Everyone, including native guests, ate a hardy dinner, and now I couldn’t even close the fridge door without pulling everything out and re-arranging. We’ve been here 3 days, and I’m in a bind for space for all this food.

Day 4. Breakfast with much left. Lunch, much left. Dinner: “I get it, God.” I open a cooler I haven’t even opened yet and it’s bursting with chili (thanks Dena Starnes) and chicken vegetable soup (Thanks, Lynn Tynes) and Lasagna (YAY again, Lindsay!)

Day 5 and 6 and I’m giving out food with reckless abandon. Who cares? Packs of bacon, bags of roast beef for sandwiches, pans of soup, shredded cheeses, pounds of butter and breads are going out to needy moms and grandmas with empty fridges who stop by the church. I’m giving out fresh frozen vegetables and fruits to locals who blessed us in any number of ways. If for some reason we ran out of food then, we only had a short time to go before we left, but we never did. In fact, there was an overlap between our team and the next team that came in, and I had to give instructions to them on my wishes for distributing the food we never got to!

Does anyone still remember that we came in under our food budget?

Are you crying right now, because I can’t tell this story without crying. I’m not worthy to witness this kind of miracle. This is provision and faithfulness that many only read about, but we were living and witnessing with our own eyes.

When I am following the Lord onto the mission field, I’m never sure who he really sent me for. I’m sure it’s for the local people, but it’s equally, if not more-so, for me. He reveals himself in such a real way when we are in a situation that is bigger than us. It’s in those times that we have no choice but to surrender our fears and put our trust in him that we see his heart and his hands.

We have not forgotten them during the year. Coats have gone out and will go out again. More food for the food pantry will be shipped out this month to the local church we are based out of. We keep in touch with many of them on Facebook and via text messages. Prayer. Oh, is there prayer for them to endure the incredible winters and draw closer to the Lord. Our work isn’t done just because we live in Georgia. It truly feels like we get a break from our homework when we actually get to be there with them, and satisfy the longings of our hearts.

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Here in the Nome airport terminal you can see some of our luggage and the 4 coolers we took with us.

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What our dinners looked like. Two guys who live in Gambell are in this picture and two more who ate with us aren’t in the picture. One is taking it.

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This fruit is part of a tradition we call the “Fruit Parade”. A few people from the team walk around town and give out fresh fruit to children and other locals. Fresh fruit is a real treat for them and the fruit parade is always a major hit.

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The Fruit Parade. Kelly is being pulled in this cart behind a 4-wheeler.

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Bob and Kelly set out on the second fruit parade of the week. This is their favorite part of our time there. LOVE them!

 

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Kids around town clamoring for fruit. You can tell from their gear that it’s very cold so far north, even in July.

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Carefully rationed sandwiches are met with great attitudes by the team.

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Take a break for lunch in the living room of the church we are based out of.

Part 2 of “How the Heck Does a Georgian Homeschool Mom and a Software Consultant Keep Ending Up in Arctic Alaska?”

It was for a while, but now it’s now no secret that I abhor flying. This raw hatred of mine toward flying began when I was pregnant with my oldest child and the turbulence that I would normally snooze through … Continue reading

The Craziest Thing. . .

Maybe I wrote this blog for my future self? I stumbled on it looking for something else today, and I have no recollection of writing it at all. It appears I wrote it over a year ago, and then I forgot about it … Continue reading