The burning desire

“But if I say, ‘I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” – Jeremiah 20:9

 “‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’” – Matthew 25:35-36

This desire in my soul is eating me up. It pulls at the muscles in my stomach, and roils there aching to be filled. It swims through my brain, bringing words, stories, statistics, images coursing there like schools of thoughts with fins. It taps me on the shoulder every week when I sing in church on Sunday morning, sing in my room on a weeknight, sing in my car on the interstate. It washes over my spirit as surely as streams from the shower head. It shakes me by the shoulders when I read the news.

It is the call of the Almighty on this little light of mine.

And I am straining at the gate with my eagerness to say yes. Urgency is a magnet in my gut pulled toward the North of the call.

“Make a material difference in the life of someone in the shadows.”

Iv’e been restless for years, but the past six months have intensified this “holy discontent” (as author Bill Hybels calls it) to a breaking point.

I’m not circumstantially free to pursue this call full-time, but I will do what I can, where I can.

So this week I pulled myself out of all my church volunteer roles and reached out to a friend who works with a local refugee resettlement agency. I’ve been volunteering there myself, minimally, for a few months, and even the drudge work of filing papers in the office provides at least a tiny scratch for this itch.

But it’s time for more. And since my volunteer hours are limited (I’m a stay-at-homeschool Mom), they have to count.

Playing keyboard in the band at church is awesome, and needed, and a ministry. Writing for the church curriculum writing team is awesome, and needed, and a ministry. I’m good at those things, and more or less well trained for them, and thoroughly enjoy them.

But they’re done. At least for this season (and probably quite a while).

This week I start mentoring a refugee woman from the Congo (which will be interesting since she speaks very little English and I speak even less Swahili!). I’m also looking at becoming an English conversation partner with another refugee.

The adjustment to the bizarre culture that is the Southern American suburbs can be a rocky road, especially coming out of living in a refugee camp for usually 4+ years, and who knows what was seen or experienced there, much less the conditions that led to their leaving their home.

Or maybe I’ll teach a cultural orientation class to some new refugees who are clueless about how to navigate the public school system, or the bus system (especially in this mass transit unfriendly city), or Wal-Mart, or cultural issues of personal space, time orientation, hygiene, child-rearing, or how to relate to authority or elders.

I know all the appropriate clichés about blooming where you’re planted, and concentric circles of influence you can’t even see rippling out from your life, and how raising up the next generation might just be how you change the world. I get it. It’s all good. I don’t discount or downplay any of those truths.

But right now, for me, it simply isn’t enough.

I’m viscerally, palpably, gut-wrenchingly bursting to do more. It is my holy discontent, my sanctified dissatisfaction.

I can’t read Not for Sale or The Slave Next Door or When Helping Hurts or Toxic Charity and not do something active.

I can’t read the news, get outraged or heartbroken for five minutes, and then go about my comfortable suburban life as if the sale at Kohl’s is actually worth getting psyched about.

I can’t read the blogs and the magazines and the online tidbits, the letters home from missionary friends, the memes and statistics and charts, and not do something active.

I can’t be satisfied with a “slacktivist” response – hitting “like” or changing my dumb Facebook profile picture or even participating in some convenient, easy, enlightened consumerism (“Buy this $30 t-shirt to show your support for sexual assault survivors!”).

It’s not enough to pray, though I pray every day for the issues that burn me and I 100% acknowledge and believe in the supernatural power of prayer to change the world.

I’m desperate to do more.

I’m dreaming of a life that materially, visibly, truly blesses somebody besides me and mine (and the people like me). Somebody most of the world chooses not to see: the refugee, the immigrant, the bonded, the enslaved, the neglected, the marginalized, the set-aside, the sidelined, those without a voice in the cold halls of power.

I’m also keenly aware this isn’t ultimately about me. This is my Father’s world, beginning to end, glory to agony, and I’m a bit player he’s especially fond of (you know, like everybody else). This is about his will, his dreams, his burning desire to bring those in the shadows into the glorious light of his Kingdom. I just get to play a role.

The Coach is putting me in.

It is the call of the Almighty upon me; it is a fire in my bones: “Make a material difference in the life of someone in the shadows.”

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Published in: on August 20, 2017 at 6:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

Post-trip ponderings on Rwanda

I had suspected I’d call Daniel from the Kigali airport to tell him to pack the bags and bring the kids, I wasn’t coming home from Rwanda.

Well, it wasn’t quite like that – after all, there’s no bed and bathroom like your own, so I was ready to be in my own now-too-huge house. And I don’t even know if the Lord is calling me to go back to Rwanda with the team next year – too soon to say.

And it’s not so much that I miss Rwanda, though the weather is infinitely preferable to here (it’s not for no reason Columbia’s nickname is “the armpit of South Carolina”). The country is beautiful, with lovely green rolling hills and banana and coffee trees everywhere you turn. I have heard they have quite a tourist attraction in mountain gorillas, too, but at 700 American dollars per person that wasn’t exactly on our agenda.

Nope, what I miss is the friends I made.20170626_170229

And this seems like a mature thing. There are lovely places all over the world; I’ve been to more than my fair share of them. There are interesting cultures and fascinating wildlife all over the world, too. Rwanda is not the only country with a genocide in its history, nor is it the only country to rise from ashes into beauty. Rwanda is unique in the sense every country is unique. There are things about it that speak to both the evil and the good in every human heart, in every culture, in every society.

So it’s not that I fell in love with Rwanda, though I loved being there.

I fell in love with my new friends. Unlike nation states, cultures, societies, systems, and even geography, people are eternal. It’s the people I keep thinking of when I’m singing to Jesus, unloading my dishwasher, watching my children swim at the pool, drinking Diet Coke, brushing my teeth with water from the tap, sitting by the Congaree River, talking with my friends. I’m thinking of Joseph, and Jacques, and Nimi, and Wellars, and Vestine, and Bosco, and Father Emmanuel, and Manu, and the weathered faces and dancing bodies and broken, eager eyes of the women coffee farmers at Kivu.

John, missions pastor extraordinaire, practically wagging his finger in our faces: “We are going to build relationships. Whatever else we do or don’t do, accomplish or utterly fail at, our goal is always relationship. Expectations are our enemy, flexibility is our friend, and relationship is our goal. Because Jesus brought us into relationship.”

So I guess it was a successful mission trip. I know it was for me, because I have friendships now with Rwandans. I have served them in ways they’ve requested and need; they have served me in ways I could not have foreseen. I taught English writing to some high school students; the teachers and administrators taught me about compassion, hard work, humility, and Rwandan culture. Our team provided a good job for a week to our translators, but Joseph, Jacques, Eric, and Nimi taught us about perseverance, compassion, and how to love Rwandans and be loved by them. Rwandans taught me that community is priceless, that forgiveness is incalculably powerful, that patient work bestows dignity, that interdependence is rich.

Invaluable lessons all.

And you know what? This is what lasts. The transatlantic flight that feels interminable will actually end. The systems of nation states – politics, economics, even culture – they’ll all end, too. Geography, climate, plant and animal life? The earth itself will be reborn, remade.

But Joseph and I are eternal. Manu and Nimi and John are eternal. Scott and Genia and Jacques are eternal. The friendships among us, because we are brothers and sisters in Jesus, those will last forever.

Beyond the borders even of time.

Hallelujah. I might be learning something.20170625_093943

Published in: on July 10, 2017 at 1:31 am  Leave a Comment  

Pre-trip ponderings on Rwanda

“Mrs. Carolyn, can I maybe have that poster?” I gestured at the poster-size map of Africa, each country stamped with the number of Southern Baptist missionaries serving Jesus there.

I’d been eyeing that poster for a couple of weeks at my church’s weekly girls’ missions education class. The church I attended was small & rural & I was almost always the only girl in my class. Heck, I was likely the only girl there on Wednesday night for missions education at all.

So I knew the chances of my getting to take that poster home were pretty good. I left the church and marched proudly home (all the way across the street) with it tucked under one scrawny bare arm, my Prize.

The poster went on the wall of my room. (Confession: it was bordered on one side by magazine cutouts of Duran Duran, on the other by equally cringe-worthy cutouts of George Michael. Can I help it was the 80s??)

And every night, for the better part of two years, I gazed at that map, took in the borders, the exotic-sounding names, the numbers…and prayed. God bless the missionaries. God bless their work. (In those days Southern Baptists still included good stuff like hospitals & schools & orphanages & seminaries.) God bless the people they’re ministering to.

Now, 31 years later, in a small and temporary way, Jesus is sending me as an answer to my prayers.

When I imagine landing in Kigali, Rwanda, walking off the jet way or onto the tarmac, I visualize my heart. It collapses face first on the African ground. It lies there weeping. It is stunned.

Because this journey has been 31 years in the traveling.political-map-of-Rwanda

From 8th grade to middle-age.

From naïve idealism to…well, plain old unvarnished idealism.

I go because I love helping others in the name of Jesus. I go hoping I will serve in the manner of Jesus. I go not as a savior or a superior or an inferior or an expert or even as a leader. I go as a student, holding out the few things I know to some teachers in a remote, electricity-free school, and saying to them, “Would you like to hear a native English speaker? Can we talk? Can we teach one another?”

I go already weeping at every thought of being there. I suspect Rwanda will utterly ruin me – in every good way. I suspect I’ll come back weeping even more.

But that’s okay. All the Lord does is good.

Tomorrow morning, Lord willing, I get on a plane in the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

And yes, “Africa” by Toto is on my phone. (Did I mention I’m a child of the 80s? Don’t be jealous.)

Published in: on June 15, 2017 at 9:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

A letter to Not Enough

Dear Not Enough,

I am done with you.

Consider this your “dear John” letter, and don’t hold your breath for any niceties. “It’s not you, it’s me”? Nope, that won’t cross my lips.

Because it is TOTALLY you.

And I am done with you.

You have stolen my Mother’s peace of mind for years – no, decades. You have dripped worry into her mind, like Chinese water torture, night upon night upon night. You have spawned countless evil offspring of fear and doubt and anxiety, and they grip her ankles like shackles. And she has fought you with a calculator held in clinched fists, fought you with her own iron will and inner strength.

And still you have stolen from her.

Not content to torment just one woman in the family, you’ve slithered into me and my sister, your kudzu tendrils of fear and worry encroaching into our plans, into our dreams, into our speech. Like weeds, you have choked our growth – we sprout hope and risk, only to wither from lack of Light.

Well no more.

It stops here, you. It stops here.

I will not fight you with a calculator. I will not fight you with my own strong will, much as that is a good gift from my father. I will not fight you with busyness, as if skittering from one task to another could keep you at bay. I will not fight you with countless hours of pipe dreaming, fantasizing about the if onlys.

In fact, this is the last conversation I ever wish to have with you at all. And no, you get no chance for rebuttal, no chance to rationalize with me or defend yourself.

I am done with you.

I know who I am, and I know Whose I am.

And let me tell you this, for the last freaking time – with the Great I Am in my corner, there is no room for you.

That’s what’s scarce – room for you, Not Enough.

Because here’s how I am fighting you: with Truth. It sets me free, and it wins. (Read the book.)

Here’s the truth I wield against you: My Jesus is always more than enough. There is no scarcity with him, and I am with him.

He is more than enough for my finances. He is more than enough for my loneliness. He is more than enough for my marriage. He is more than enough for my children and every need, every vacuum, every season of their lives. He is more than enough for my dear restless husband. He is more than enough for my little brother, for my wounded friends, for my bitter friends.

He is even more than enough for my Great Desires. In fact, he expands them in ways that make my breath come fast with anticipation, my heartbeat pulse like high tide upon rocks. Oh, yes. He gives me dreams, and he grows them like grass in an Alaska summer.

You tell me there’s never enough.

But you lie.

He tells me he is the Great I Am.

And his words – oh, the Truth of him – they ring out clarion in the night. His promises blur the pretentious finality of the bottom line, smearing those figures until all I see is an expanse of hillsides covered with my Father’s cattle.

His brilliant beauty casts your doom into the shadows, where you belong. He is bright blessed day; you are a dank cellar full of scurrying scavengers.

So I’m done with you, Not Enough. You are a liar from the father of lies.

All around me people submit to you. They build their bank accounts like the rich fool in Jesus’s parable. They hedge every bet and make every contingency plan. They play it safe even when you call them to risk.

They worry. They calculate. They fret. They press their palms into their foreheads and sigh deeply. They quiet their dreams and relegate them to the endearing but naïve realm of childhood.

And I have done it all, too. I thought there wasn’t enough – not enough money, not enough time, not enough energy, not enough intelligence or friends or connections. Most of all, I thought I wasn’t enough.

But I belong to the Great I Am, who is always more than enough.

Pack your bag of tricks, and hit the road, Jack. Take your low-grade fear – it’s just a dog who only looks big because all you show is its shadow. Take your niggling anxieties, those flitting biting insects at my ears. Take your gnawing worries and their destructive little mice teeth. Take your dirty currents of doubt.

I’m done with you.

I’m on Team Great I Am.

And he always wins.

Most assuredly not yours,

Amanda

Published in: on April 5, 2017 at 12:01 am  Leave a Comment  

Bad Biblical Dads

Why were so many of God’s chosen men such terrible fathers?

Abraham, earthly father of three world faiths, banished his firstborn out into the desert with the unwanted concubine (Genesis 21:14).

Isaac, long-awaited & much-favored child of promise, couldn’t tell the difference between his own sons (Genesis 27:21-40).

Jacob, whose very name (Israel) represents God’s chosen nation, totally played favorites with Joseph (Genesis 37:3-4); he also let his trigger-happy sons annihilate an entire town for revenge (Genesis 34).

Moses, extraordinary leader of the most defining event of the Jewish people (the exodus) apparently didn’t circumcise his son, the most basic act of declaring who he was as a Hebrew (Exodus 4:24-25).

Eli, who raised the amazing last prophet Samuel, also raised sons so corrupt as priests that the Lord killed them (1 Samuel 2:12, 27-36).

Saul, Israel’s very first king, hated his son Jonathan’s excellent choice of friend (David) (1 Samuel 20:30-33); he also raised a snooty daughter (Michal) (2 Samuel 6:20).

David, the much-vaunted “man after God’s heart” and greatest king of Israel ever – oh, man, where do you even start??? With how he favored the child of adultery (2 Samuel 12:15-23)? With one of his children raping another (2 Samuel 13:1-21)? With turning a blind eye to sin upon rebellion upon sin on the part of his son Absalom (2 Samuel 14-18)?

Geez Louise. What gives?

On the one hand, it makes me scratch my head. These were God’s chosen men of Old Testament times, these losers? You could give a TED talk: “Don’t parent like an Old Testament Dad.”

On the other hand, I find I’m relieved. These were God’s chosen people? Aw, man, apparently I’m in good company, with my legion of sins and flaws and stupid moves. Apparently the point here is not how great God’s people are, but how amazing God himself is, that he can work in, through, and in spite of them…& us.

I am also grateful for holy Scriptures that are unvarnished, honest about the greatness and the depravity of even the chosen leaders. Such stories remind me first that there is only One worthy of worship, and second that he loves even we frail and fallen children of his.

Though I do hope to be a better parent than these guys. Please Jesus.

Published in: on February 23, 2017 at 3:13 am  Leave a Comment  

Fantasies worth having

“Break my heart for what breaks yours. Everything I am for your Kingdom’s cause.” – “Hosanna,” by Hillsong

Today I fantasized at some length about that amazing unique gorgeous huge beautiful house we walked through in January, down between USC and Rosewood. So lovely, so much character and beauty and potential and spaciousness. And probably $1.2 million once the extensive renovations are complete.

$1.2 million. For a house in, to me, one of the most unappealing cities to call home. $1.2 million. And you’d still have swarms of pesky mosquitoes from May to November, 20-plus consecutive days of triple digit heat in July and/or August, a culture of fanatical devotion to all things football, a state that went handily to Donald Trump in the last presidential election, and let’s not even get started on the prevailing acceptance of obesity, racism, and violence that pervade the Palmetto State.

Really? Is this what I want to spend time fantasizing about? A “really nice” house here?

Help me, Jesus: the American dream threatens to overtake my zeal for your Kingdom.

So no.

This is what I don’t want, I told Daniel on our afternoon-long “strategy” date. I don’t want the majority of my time, energy, effort, or even thinking devoted to such temporal meaningless things. I live in the American Southern suburban evangelical subculture. (God help me.) But I do not want to pursue what that culture urges me to chase.

Fulfillment will not be found in the next vacation…the next party…the next (newer, bigger, fancier) house…the next (higher-paying, more prestigious) job…the next vehicle…the next (coolest, fastest, trendiest) gadget.

Oh and we all say this, don’t we? We pay generous lip service to the notion that what really matters most to us is our family, our faith, our friends. And in times of crisis this generally proves to be the case: introduce cancer into our circumstance and we’ll quickly coalesce around the truly important.

I’d like to live out Matthew 6:33 a little more in my daydreams.

That is, I’d like to daydream a little more about the things I suspect God dreams of. (Does God dream? Hm.) I suspect he dreams of things related to his kingdom, his people, his glory. The sale at Kohl’s or what kind of car we rent on vacation or whether or not the Gamecocks won yesterday – I doubt he gives a rat’s behind about those things, really.

Here are the things I suspect God actually cares about, that I would like to devote a little more time, energy, thought, and effort towards:

  • who I prayed for today (or if I prayed for anyone besides myself and my own peeps)
  • my children’s knowledge and love of Scripture
  • the fate of all those Syrian children forced and wandering from their ruined homes
  • the souls of the death row inmates
  • the lost dignity of the embarrassed woman ahead of me at Bi-Lo paying with government-issued checks
  • my friends whose hearts are broken by others, and/or by their own poor decisions
  • the millions who have never heard the true gospel
  • the hungry children (nearly 2 in 5) in the five public schools within two miles of my house
  • my missionary friends and those they’re sharing Jesus with
  • whether or not I am taking good care of the one body the Lord has given me
  • my relationships with my co-workers
  • whether I am harboring unforgiveness or walking in the light grace of forgiveness such as I have received thanks to Jesus
  • my level of honesty with myself, & my teachability
  • my stewardship of every gift he’s given me (time, money, network, talent, education, experience, influence)

What are these things? Well duh: they are “the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” and they are what I’d like to seek a great deal more.

So sure, I can take advantage of Amazon Prime, get the window treatment that makes me smile, practice due diligence when putting together my vacation (but please recognize I’m not entitled to a vacation; it’s a luxurious gift), watch the YouTube episode on how to install a water fountain in my yard, troll Facebook and comment on the Star Wars movie or the Sherlock episode.

Just don’t live there.

I don’t want to live there, anyway. We have to work, pay the bills, get the groceries, take the kids to the dentist, get new tires for the car, meet with the teacher, manage our money and home and calendar and daily schedule. But can my mind not be consumed with those things? Can I just do them, and move on to what matters?

Can I get the grocery shopping done, with good stewardship of my time and my budget and care of my one body, and then look forward to story time and prayer time with my children? ‘Cuz I’m pretty confident which of those activities has the most eternal impact.

Can I approach my conversations with co-workers with more of an eye to hearing and caring for their heart, and less of an eye toward grousing about whatever or making sure I get the proper credit (“annual review,” anyone?)?

Can I daydream about restored relationships – mine, and my friends’? Can I sit in the car line or in the DMV waiting area and find that my mind imagines my friend, who is new to faith, taking a major step of obedience?

Can I read the news with my Bible glasses on instead of my own opinions, fears, or desires? Can I read with a view to how Scripture says to think and respond? Oh I hope so.

I dunno, friends. This is hard. Nothing – nothing – in this world encourages this line of fantasy life. We live on Madison Avenue, next door to Walter Mitty, broadcasting our personal highlight reels on social media.

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTYBut Matthew 6 tells me I’m not the hero, not the Author, not the Finisher, but only the seeker…and the only thing worth seeking, the only thing worth fantasizing about, imagining, daydreaming, longing to see fulfilled – is the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. People, not things. (And not just the people I know & love. All people.)

Or as Switchfoot put it, “I want out of this machine. It doesn’t feel like freedom. This ain’t my American dream. I want to live and die for bigger things. I’m tired of fighting for just me. This ain’t my American dream.”

Published in: on February 2, 2017 at 1:56 am  Leave a Comment  

Hurricanes & pots of anxiety

There’s a pot of anxiety on the front burner of my heart, and it seems to simmer 24/7 lately. Three times now I’ve started to list its ingredients, but it’s too dispiriting. I would rather focus on what will effectively turn down the heat.

Music that lifts up, exalts, pleads with, cries out to, & holds on to Jesus – those songs serve to turn the burner down a notch. I turn the volume up so I can sing loud, close the door so my enraptured face and body language don’t embarrass me or anybody else.

Sitting with my journal, even if the pen spends half its time poised on my lower lip while I think – that turns it down another notch.

Turning the parchment-thin pages of my Bible to Psalm 62 – this clinches the cooling of that pot of anxiety. I read, “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him…he is my fortress, I will never be shaken….my hope comes from him…he is my mighty rock, my refuge.”

hurricane-matthewA monster hurricane may rage in the Atlantic – it serves partially to remind us we are not the One in control. Gungor says, “Trees clap their hands for You; oceans bow down to You.” Yes, oceans bow – and writhe, and rage, and roil, and none of it can we control, not with our little pea brains. We watch the video clips with dawnings of understanding: that we are not as strong as we think we are, that there are greater issues beyond our small circles of life, and that we humans are connected to one another.

There may be – there is – a hurricane raging in American politics, too…but there, too, the Lord is sovereign. The affairs of nation-states (all of whom are man-made) are tangential, at best, to his purposes and plans. His primary concern is for his own Kingdom, its expansion and strengthening under its rightful Ruler. That Kingdom has no earthly borders, only one path to citizenship (the all-sufficient work of his Son), no rights (all are servants to all), no walls (all are welcome), no debts but the debt of love, and no end. And, least we forget, his word has little good to say about empires.

There are hurricanes in my larger culture – raging storms of racism, fear, resentment, bitterness, violence, and so much anger. They churn division, distrust, and even death as they spin. These storms cry out for words of peace, of rest, of healing, of faith. So I sit longer with Jesus and ask him to help me be that calm, that truth, that power, that healing agent; I ask him to help me stand up in the bow of the vessel, like he did with his terrified disciples, and say to the violent wind and waves in my world, “Quiet. Be still. Have faith. Obey.”

And there are little hurricanes in my little world, too: in my marriage, in my wallet, with my kids, in my church, among dear friends and faintly friends and former friends. They swirl in irritating eddies. So I pray. I take walks, drink hot Earl Grey tea, eat popcorn, read novels, cook soup, sit on the patio and soak up the full autumn sun, hug Hannah 88 times every day, explore NASA videos with Samuel, take half-hour naps, worship with zest on Sunday morning, text my friends with love and Scripture and pictures of my children.

And in it all, the goodness of Jesus stands. It permeates. It oozes into my anxious soul and soothes it like a perfect dab of Vicks vapo-rub. It lifts my spirit like a deep inhalation of peppermint tea. It is a poultice of blessing, an elixir of hopefulness, a spiritual drug cocktail, if I may, that sets all the hormones and enzymes and blood cells in balanced, harmonious order, that gets the spiritual synapses firing in formation.

Tomorrow I’ll come back to this place – to the music, the journal, the Word – and maybe that simmering pot of anxiety won’t be there, or won’t need to be adjusted. Or maybe it will be boiling. Or maybe the Lord won’t touch it, but will let me stew in it a while while I seek him, walk through it. I don’t know. But I come anyway, because I know this one thing: my Deliverer will come, even if the stars should break faith with the sky.

Published in: on October 9, 2016 at 2:04 am  Leave a Comment  

On Body Kindness

A Krispy Kreme doughnut is a sweet reward for good behavior (a run, a workout, finishing a writing assignment or meeting a tough deadline).

Four Krispy Kreme doughnuts do not constitute a treat. That’s a punishment. For my body.

Some bacon and eggs and toast and fruit for breakfast? Fine, as a reward for pushing myself out the door for a run when it’s 28 degrees. Fine, if I’m going to hike six or seven mountain miles later today.

That kind of breakfast because I woke up grumpy or am stressed about a work meeting later today?

Unkind. Because it’s unhealthy, unhelpful, and even stupid.

This hot tea latte in front of me right now? Okay, I suppose, because it’s the only one I’ve had in a month. (Hear the rationalizing? I can hardly turn it off.) An occasional indulgence? Okay.

But another tomorrow night? Accompanied by a double chocolate brownie? Not a good call.

The problem is (and this isn’t news), I can always rationalize indulgence. These sound familiar?

  • I had a rough day. (So I’m medicating with food/drink.)
  • I had an awesome day. (I need rich food/drink to properly celebrate.)
  • I’m stressed. (See “I had a rough day” explanation above.)
  • It’s a special day because….
    • I’m with old friends.
    • I’m with a new friend.
    • I’m on a date.
    • I’m happily – or unhappily – not on a date.
    • I’m working.
    • I’m not working.
    • It’s Friday.
    • It’s Monday.
    • It’s a holiday.
    • It’s sunny.
    • It’s so dreary out.

And what’s behind all those rationalizations?

An assumption that these indulgences are a reward.

The rich food/drink/new toys/shoes/jewelry/you-name-it is a way to give myself a treat, make myself feel special.

And, in moderation, that’s true.

But there’s that kicker phrase none of us likes: “in moderation.”

(Of course Oscar Wilde weighs in here: “Moderation in all things. Including moderation.”)

Underlying the rationalizations is the thought: This indulgence is good for me.

I fight this all the time. I fall into the trap of equating more doughnuts with better treatment. Equating a bigger meal with a bigger reward.

When the truth is, it’s not true.

I’m being so unkind to my body, actually.

As a follower of Jesus, my body is not my own. It is the temple of the Most High God, and he purchased me with the lifeblood of his only son. How on earth could I think that more indulgence is good stewardship of this temple?

So no. No to the indulgences that only harm me.

One of those yummy hot-now doughnuts.

One delicious sugary latte a month. (Maybe less – maybe none – whatever is good for your health.)

steak

A gorgonzola-butter-draped steak? Sure. On my wedding anniversary. Maybe my birthday too. But not because it’s a Saturday and I had a long week. That describes too many of my weeks!

I like my body. So I want to treat her really well.

Jesus died for her, and one day she will be fully redeemed. This body is his earthly temple right now, and I’m the caretaker, and I really don’t want weeds in the front yard and potholes in the back and trash all through the rooms.

Also, this is the only body I get for this life – there are no do-overs. (Cue the line about 30-year-olds coming to this realization and wanting another bod.)

I want to love this body the way Jesus loves her – with grace, kindness, and tender care.

Now for the hard part….

 

Published in: on March 5, 2016 at 10:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

Cotton for the ears

“He who shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will himself cry out and not be answered” (Proverbs 21:13).

What does it mean to “hear” the cries of the poor?

(Full disclosure: God help me, I’m a middle-class white suburban homeschool mom – so, yes, I’m looking at this verse from this perspective.)

I think it means we pay attention.

I think it means we actually look at the homeless person standing with the cardboard sign at the intersection. It is a person, after all, not a droid.

I think it means we notice the woman with a stroller walking down the six-lane, sidewalk-free suburban shopping boulevard. Would she walk her baby along such a road if she had a reliable car?

I think it means we watch the hard movies – Selma, Hotel Rwanda, Schindler’s List, Life is Beautiful, The Pursuit of Happyness, etc. Yes, they’re heartbreaking. Yes, they are difficult because they show our cruelty and callousness towards one another. But if they call out our latent courage and compassion, if they inflame our hearts toward advocacy and justice, they have worthwhile, redemptive value.

I think it means we pay attention to the news. (And by “news” I certainly don’t mean our Facebook or Twitter “news” feeds.) It means we stay educated about the lives of the poor in our own community (not just the local homeless shelter but also access to fresh food and quality schools and decent healthcare). And stay educated about the lives of the poor around the globe. Who speaks up for child labor laws, for poor farmers, for residents of slums in world cities, and rural residents with little to no access to education, healthcare, or a justice system that actually honors rule of law? This requires watching and reading beyond the Sports and Lifestyle pages or channels.

I think it means listening to those who work with them day in and day out. The employees and volunteers at the shelters, the Salvation Army, the Department of Social Services, the state-run nursing homes, the emergency room – what do they see, do, and say? They’re in the trenches – we need to give extra credence to their input.

It means my ears should be open. That is, I can’t go ostrich and stick my head in the sand. I can’t live in my safe (gated?) community, stay behind my 8-foot privacy fence, only be friends with people who think and shop and value and vote and raise their kids like me.

suburban poverty

I’ve got to be outside my own comfort zone – not for the length of a church-sponsored activity (mission trip, anyone?) or the forced confines of hopefully brief jury duty obligation.

How can I hear the poor if I’ve surrounded myself – even unintentionally – with the non-poor?

The answer is, I can’t. If I have any expectation of hearing the voice of the poor, I will have to intentionally get out of my middle-class bubble.

And how can I hear the poor if I am too busy? If I’m piddling from this store and that errand and this meeting and that event, consumed with myself and my family, I can’t. There has to be some margin – i.e., quiet – in my life so that the tired voices of the poor can reach my distracted, selfish ears.

And then, heaven help us, I can’t claim ignorance, and I’m responsible to respond in some Christ-like manner.

Which is a good pressure to be under.

Also – I want my cries to be heard, too. Don’t you?

Crucial Note: I have SO SO far to go in this. I mean, SO far.

Published in: on January 27, 2016 at 9:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

About that zero balanced budget

Despite his handful of not-entirely-Biblical concepts, I do much admire the teachings of His Financial Highness Dave Ramsey. And most of his ilk, in fact. They teach some really good stuff – much needed – make that, desperately needed. By a sobering number of us.

So we signed up a couple of years ago for the much-vaunted and highly worthwhile “Financial Peace University,” offered at our church. And those who’ve been through this iteration of the course are familiar with the terms “nerd” and “free spirit.” Basically, in any given two-adult household, you have one of each: the one who thinks budgets are exciting & necessary, and the one who thinks they are, well, nice suggestions for other families.

Well I’m the nerd in our family. Surprise, surprise. I skimmed ahead in the book (told you!) and saw the exciting part where we get to fill out a budget.

A “zero balanced” one.

You know, so your monthly income minus your monthly expenses (and savings) leaves you with zero.

It simply means every dime is accounted for – it’s just tracking. As Ramsey says, “Don’t wonder where your money went. You tell it where to go!”

And this was fun, filling in all those blanks, adding things up, adjusting this, adjusting that, adjusting again…and again…and again…until the line item marked “gifts” said zero and the line item marked “vacation” also said zero and the line item marked “entertainment” also said zero.

Because, you know, I was trying to get to ZERO on the very bottom line.

I massaged those numbers till I was cross-eyed. But I could not get that last line to zero. However I cut, however I sliced or diced or chopped or erased, that line was always in the negative.

I sat there, motionless, pencil eraser worn down to a nub, and stared at that bottom line. For minutes, not seconds. Pondering.

And I had two very different thoughts.

First: “Geez Louise this is depressing.”

Second: “Dear Jesus, you really are our provider.”

Because, on paper, our financial lives looked, okay, honestly, pathetic. The numbers simply didn’t add up.

But in real life – at home and at the grocery store and in the car and at the (online) bank – our days added up to unbelievable richness.

Not just the “oh well I’m glad we have our health and a loving family” – though those are rare enough and worth the term “wealthy” themselves.

But even in ways that, again, simply didn’t add up.

Food in the pantry and fridge. Good food.

Cars (note the plural!) that run. Comfortably.

Date nights (note the plural there too). Fun ones.

The absolute joy of tithing. Yes, joy. Tithes…and offerings too.

And a million other financial blessings – dance for our daughter, Scouts for our son, camping trips as a family, gifts under the Christmas tree, a gym membership, and enough new music and books to satisfy my soul. budget

Okay, well, maybe not enough books, because there really isn’t any such thing. (See “nerd” comment above.)

What would Dave Ramsey & Co. say to my “terrible” bottom line?

Don’t know. Don’t too much care, actually.

Because Jehovah Jireh. “The Lord Will Provide.”

Published in: on September 30, 2015 at 2:36 am  Leave a Comment