Thursday, April 24, 2014

Love Over Pity

 2011 Building 429 Zeway (42)
When I was a kid, my mom and dad and I would take a yearly trip to Mexico.  We'd pile in our old pick up truck, me riding in the back, huddled in a nest I'd made from blankets and pillows under an old truck cap that whistled when the air blew threw it.

We'd go to some of the poorest parts of Mexico; places where indoor plumbing and electricity were unheard of, places where the roads were nearly impossible to navigate, where there was very little access to medical care if needed, places where all sorts of human and animal smells scorched under the Mexican sun and wafted into the air like a putrid perfume.

The people there lived in poverty and often times in hopelessness.  But we weren't there as missionaries although we did bring the word of God.  We were there as family.  This was where my dad's family lived,  in the middle of that dusty old town, each of his many siblings spread out, living in their own tiny, dirt houses.  We'd often bring food, clothes and money.  We didn't have much but despite being poor by American standards, we were practically millionaires compared to what his family endured in Mexico.

We weren't blind to the poverty.  It was hard to ignore.  But it was different being submersed in it, sharing blood with it.  The biggest difference was that even though I watched my cousins run around in torn, dirty clothes, many times without shoes, I never once felt sorry for them.

That was because there was no them and me. It was us...WE.  We ran down the street together in our naked feet, the sweat running down our faces and caking mud into our pores. We played ball in my grandma's courtyard.  We tormented her donkey.  We played jokes on each other when one of us were in the outhouse.  Our mothers bathed us together in large metal tubs filled with river water that was warmed over a fire.

It's impossible to feel pity when all you feel is love.

I felt this way again today when Food For the Hungry posted a story about Ethiopia.  It's a reminder that we are all called to love the poor.

As I looked at the beautiful faces of those children, I had no sense of pity.  That's because I've been there.  I've walked on their soil, I've held their hands and kissed their beautiful faces.  I made it personal by being there and by sponsoring two children of my own.  And just like my cousins in Mexico, there is no them and me anymore.  It's now us, in it together.

When I came home from Ethiopia someone asked me when I was going to "get back to my life."  They asked me this because I couldn't stop talking about the trip, about the people, about the need.  I likened it to when the news reports that a child has been abducted.  News like this usually pains the heart and we might even send up a prayer for the family.  We ask God to help them.  But then we get on with our lives and forget. 

But what if it was your child?  Would you be able to forget them?  What if it were your friend's child? Your brother's child?  Would you be able to walk away?  I doubt it.

That's the difference!  When you make a connection with a child around the world who is suffering they no longer become forgettable.  They are now your child!  And you don't tell their stories for shock value or to garner pity.  You tell them for one simple reason: you love them.  You care about them and you want others to care about them as well.

It's time we stop looking at the suffering of the world with pity and look at it with love.  Pity shuts us down, it leaves us unsure of how to act or what to do.  It leaves us with doubts and fears and paralyzes us. But love, it a powerful thing.  It can move mountains.   It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

So the question is, will you choose to love a child today?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

"All In"

About a month ago I was invited to join the Z (Zondervan) Blog Squad and given the opportunity to review a few books.  They mailed me some titles (for free) and I've been spending some time reading and highlighting and re-reading and writing in the margins.

One of the books I picked was called "All In" (Student Edition) by Mark and Parker Batterson, author of "The Circle Maker". 

"It was great...but I didn't always like what it had to say," said my twelve year old.  I read the book first and then passed it along to her, to challenge her and also to get a second opinion.

The book is aimed at young adults but the material transcends age.  It's a call to go "All In" as the book says, to strip down to our humblest and die to ourselves, to take up or crosses and be completely surrendered to Christ.  It asks a simple question: You are one decision away from a totally different life.  Are you all in for God or not?

 It's not an easy thing to read.  I found myself being uncomfortable in many sections because I, like many Christians like to think of myself as a disciple but when it comes to really living it out, I get scared. This way of living makes so logical sense.  It flies in the face of everything the world tells us and so it requires that we walk a slippery plank in order to step out in faith...while having people throw rotten food at us.

The book was amazing.  It's full of zingy one liners that leave you feeling like you're getting a pep talk from your coach during half time.  Things like:

"We've cheapened the gospel by allowing people to buy in without selling out."  "If Jesus is not your Lord of all, then Jesus is not your Lord at all."  Yikes, right?  You mean I can't just show up to church on Sunday and put a little money in the collection basket, say my night time prayers and call it good between me and God?  This book dares us to consider that our lives, every second of them should be lived solely to glorify God. 

But..but...that means I can't live for stuff that makes ME happy!  That's a lot to ask!  Yes.  It is.  And that is exactly why so many people can't manage it.  They weigh the sacrifice and decide that it's just too much.

Batterson talks about God's grace and how it costs nothing but demands everything.  "Everything?" I say?  Yes...everything.  And everything is a tough pill to swallow. This book reminds me a lot of Francis Chan's "Crazy Love."  It's a message that many people love to hear but hate to live out.

This book challenges all of Christ's followers to quit playing around, to stop standing on the sidelines and to jump; jump in the scariest of scenarios without any worldly sort of parachute.  It's exactly how I want to live my life even though I often feel like I'm crawling towards my goal and so it was a reminder and a motivator to keep the course.

If you are a Christian who lives their lives on the fence, this book might infuriate you.  This is not your "God is love, just accept him and everything will turn up roses" kind of message.  This is a "God died for you, he loves you more than anything and is asking for you to hand your entire life over to him" kind of message. 

The great thing about this book is that it doesn't tell you that you should do "something" and then leave you to decide what that might be.  It gives a simple plan for starting out and encourages readers to make decisions, stand strong through failures, rely on God for everything and stop wasting their gifts.

My daughter and I had some great conversations about what this kind of living means for both of us.  It encouraged us to talk about our gifts, our failures and our successes and to support one another in striving to give our all to God. We remind ourselves that "God doesn't call the qualified, he qualifies the called!" 

I highly recommend it for teenagers but I recommend it for adults as well.  I found a lot of insight that bridged the generation gap.  This would be a great study to do together with your teen or young adult.  There are endless conversation starters!

I don't believe in coincidences.  I know I was supposed to read this book, to push the boundaries of what this world might consider sane in order to live crazy for Christ.  It's a call I think all of us should answer.  It's up to you.  Are you all in?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Potential Of Blind Faith

You've all heard about the placebo effect, right?  It's a term mostly used in the medical community to describe what happens when a patient has a positive response to an inert treatment.  In other words, patients have reported having improved symptoms, less pain and even healing of their ailments in response to taking a pill with absolutely no medicine in it.

It proves that our perception is what is important.  How faith, something physically intangible, can have dramatic physical effects.

I read another recent study that suggests that our bodies respond to food based on our beliefs and feelings about that food.  These results are preliminary but based on the findings, one can deduce that there is a high likelihood that we've been missing a huge link between brain and body when it comes to our physical functioning.

Just like in the placebo effect, people are effected more by what they believe than what is actually happening.  It's not the pill that cures them, it's the faith that heals them.  Our beliefs are powerful, faith is powerful.  Our thoughts are formidable and they can work either for us or against us...more than we realize. 

So many of us are walking around blindly.  We don't see the truth and realize the full potential of our faith.  When the blind man came to Jesus,  Jesus asked him "What do you want me to do for you?"

"I want to see," he said.

I'm taking a creative liberty here but in my mind Jesus smiles.  He knows that this man believes that anything is possible and so he heals him. He does the impossible. Afterwards, he doesn't say, "I've healed you, now go on with your life."

He said, "Your FAITH has healed you."  There is no doubt that the man would not have been healed if he didn't believe it was possible.

We often expect it to be the other way around, that God  should heal us first and then we throw our faith into the equation.  "Prove yourself God!  And then we'll believe!"  Our prayers are often less powerful because our belief is less powerful.  Jesus said, "All things are possible to him that believes."  All things.  Not some things.  Not most things except for the really hard stuff. 

No, all things, even that which we didn't even know was possible!

Next to this guarantee, our dreams and prayers are woefully small.  I know that I often put boundaries around my prayers.  I say, "God...please heal my Aunt Doris...if you can."  I start to forget that the creator of all things can do literally anything and I say, "Yeah, but we've got to have some logic about this.  It's not like he can make me leap tall buildings in a single bound."  And that is my problem.

While many things seem impossible and unreasonable, God is asking us, begging us to come to him with the perspective of the blind man, knowing with all of our hearts that nothing is without possibility or out of his boundaries.  I can't ask God to perform miracles and the then try to handcuff him with my disbelief and restrictions. 

Can you imagine what we could all accomplish, what miracles would transpire, to what heights we could reach if we really did believe that through him all things are possible.  Literally?

It's ironic that I can see yet I am so blind to the what God has to offer me.  

I don't like to admit it but when I pray and God doesn't answer my prayer in the way that I would have hoped, there is a small part of me that assumes it's because he can't.  That's a huge mistake.  Indeed, he could make someone return from the dead if he wanted!  I just have to accept that he didn't answer on purpose because there is a reason that I can't quite wrap my head around right now.  His not answering a prayer does not disprove his power.

Yesterday I went to see the doctor.  My ear was painfully inflamed.  The doctor took one look and said, "You've got an outer ear infection."  "An OUTER ear infection?" I said.   "I mean, I've had plenty of experience with inner ear infections.  I didn't know you could get one on the outside!?"  "Oh yes," she said.

I shrugged my shoulders as she wrote my prescriptions.  It seemed I had somehow contracted something that I didn't even know I could get.  And isn't it like that with God as well?  There are so many things that he could do, so many possibilities that I can't even fathom.  Just because I don't know they are possible doesn't mean they aren't!

So, perhaps I need a prescription for faith.  I need to swallow that pill every single morning and believe with all of my mind, body and soul that anything is possible, that if he wanted me to, I could jump over a tall building.  This is where the magic happens, when we throw all reason out the window and look past the laws of physics and peer into the possibilities of Christ.  There is a place where we have boundless potential.  It's the birthplace of miracles and that place is one step away from where we are right now.  It's lives in the second we let go and jump, falling, falling, falling into the deep and endless competence of God.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Hope and Cope

When my mom died it took me about a year to fully recover.  For the first few months I wandered around aimlessly, present in body but completely lost in the grief, drowning in it.  It took every ounce of energy just to keep my head above water, to breathe, to put one foot in front of the other.Every moment was filled with immeasurable anguish.

It was different when my dad passed.  Perhaps it was because I expected it. His death was hard but bearable, there was a peace about it.  I knew it was coming and could brace myself for impact whereas my mother's death sneaked up on me.

When I look back at all of the people I've lost; grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, friends, I can say that the grief associated with each of  their deaths was as unique as each of them. They each felt so differently in my heart.  Mostly, the deeper the relationship I had with each individual, the deeper the pain, the longer the grief.

This week I lost a friend, one of those special people with whom months can go by without speaking and when you do again, you pick up exactly where you left off.  He was funny and beautiful and I loved him, like I love all of the special people in my life.

This past winter, after months of freezing temps I developed somewhat of a bad attitude. Being someone who was always perky, he'd try to cheer me up, mostly to no avail.  "Still snowing?" he'd ask.  I always answered "yes" because it was always snowing.  And always freezing cold.

And then one day the sun came out brilliantly and I stood outside and let it shine on my face.  It felt like life, full of warmth that seemed to soak through my skin and down inside every nook and cranny of my body.

I said sarcastically, "there is this bright, warm ball of light in the sky...I can't remember what it's called."  "It's me," he said, "I'm smiling."  He did have a killer smile, an irresistible one that reflexively made me smile back.  And that bright smile has been extinguished.

The news of his passing felt like someone kicked me in the stomach.  My heart raced, my mind couldn't keep up with my emotions.  I woke up crying in my sleep.

Losing someone hurts and I absolutely hate that I've had so much experience with it.  Still, I've learned that with each passing, despite the grief, I have more and more hope.  I know that despite the pain, things do get better.  The pain does abate and there is light at the end of the tunnel, a light that beckons and says, "you will get through this and there is joy and happiness over here on the other side."

It's just- I have to walk through this mucky, painful, horrible place to get there.  I can't skip a step, I can't take a short cut.  The only way to heal is to keep going and holding on to faith and hope.

I do believe that we have the capacity to get over the loss of our loved ones.  Of course we never forget and it takes a different amount of time for all of us, but we do get there...eventually.  I think the hope lies in knowing that there will come a time when it won't hurt so much.

It's hard to imagine death being good in any way but with each loss, we learn.  And while there is always an emptiness, we gain a strength over death.  It starts to lose it's sting. We learn how to cope and we learn how to hope and that makes all the difference.

It's an appropriately gloomy day, this day that he is laid to rest.  The sky is weeping a bit.  Little tears are running my windows and my face.  But tomorrow the sun will shine again and I will be reminded of his smile and someday soon, I will be able to smile back.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Your Kids Can Learn and Feed The Hungry With One Click

As a homeschooler, I'm always on the look out for cool websites where my kiddos can learn and have fun.  We're also big on making sure that our kids understand that they are part of a global world. We want them to understand that this big rock does not revolve around them and they have responsibilities, they are called to be the change.  The only way to do this is to give them opportunities to do so, to get them involved.

I was discussing this with a friend and neighbor recently who is also a teacher.  She told me about an awesome website that her school uses which encourages children to learn facts while at the same time donating rice to people around the world who are hungry.

The concept is simple, for every correct answer the child gets on the site, they donate 10 grains of rice to help end world hunger.  I was so excited to get home and read all about it and the more I did, the more excited I got.

Freerice is a website which is owned by and benefits the United Nations World Food Program. They are the largest humanitarian organization out there right now which is helping fight world hunger.  Their goals are to help educate and feed people around the world.  They make money on the site by generating advertising revenue and then they use that money to help serve the needs of people globally.  It doesn't cost anything to sign up.  You just play, it's that easy.

Kids (and adults) can practice subjects like math, English, geography, foreign language, chemistry, SAT test prep and more.  It's fun and a great way to get children involved in helping with world issues such as hunger.  Plus, I find that it's very easy to motivate my kids to practice their facts because they know that they are doing something to help someone else.

It's free to register and it takes less than a minute to sign up and start playing!  So, would you please consider signing up? Would you tell your children that there are others less fortunate and that they can do their part by learning and clicking?  What do you have to lose?