Thursday, February 28, 2013

thousand words thursday

I missed "Wordless Wednesday" and today is significant and so is tomorrow and I must mark this occasion in some way. So "Thousand Words" Thursday it is. And tomorrow, the story behind the significance...

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

losing (paper)weight

I've thought of a thousand things to post in these past couple of weeks, but technigrations (my word for technology aggravations) plus time focused on more pressing areas but some deep soul searching leaves little time for blogging. There is a post forthcoming on the recap of the urban mission trip God led me on, but that's a  weightier post worthy of  more mental capacity than I have right now.

Instead, I'm sharing a weight-loss story this week so you can celebrate with me. Because this past week Dave and I lost a ton - possibly two - of weight in paper.

ready for the curb - yipee!
It's part of our campaign to downsize and get rid of all the excess stuff in our lives.

Sure I didn't have to look at it, but just knowing it was there, hanging out in the basement, tucked away in file weighed me down.

Did you know you can experience great joy in shredding paper? If you haven't tried it, I greatly encourage you to give it a whirl.

Just don't shred the stuff you really need. Like those tax papers from the past seven years. Or any warranties or titles that go with the possessions God gave you. If you aren't sure what to keep and what to shred/recycle, here's a link to a helpful guideline. And you can always check with your accountant and/or lawyer to be sure.

bye bye paper, hello to lighter living .
And if you like, when you've shed the weight, take a picture and come back here with the link to it to let me know and we can celebrate the weight loss together.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Jesus was a refugee

 {Continuing with the "relative foreigner" series this week as I gear up for my urban mission trip this weekend.}

Twenty (!) years ago we moved to England. So I know what it's like to be an "alien in a foreign land."

Despite the fact that I cried for the first month of moving there because change challenges me, it wasn't exactly a hardship. After all, we already knew the language (grin), were familiar with some of the traditional foods (my grandmother was a British war bride) and I attended an American Community School which minimized the differences in my high school education. Enhanced it, in fact. (See the bottom of this post for some fun differences we experienced across the pond.)

My mom saw it as a 2.5 year vacation. I think coming back and readjusting to life state-side proved the bigger challenge.

But what if that move was not really our desire and to a country where the language, customs, people, everything, were completely foreign to us? I think I might have cried longer than one month.

So the plight of the refugee is especially close to my heart. And knowing God chose this status for His Son in His tender years makes it all the more dear.

Because it's hard to imagine leaving a country you love, mostly like displaced because of war. Or trying to navigate multiple airports without a guide. Or arriving in your new country where the language barrier makes every. day. harder. And receiving a whirlwind tour of your new home and encountering a stove, a fridge, a light switch for the first time.

And over the course of the next few months, trying to learn English, get a job, find childcare, get around without a car, decipher the piles of paperwork arriving at your door and try to navigate the establishments that are just part of the American scenery...schools, grocery stores, banks, post offices, libraries, restaurants, not to mention the laws and customs spoken and unspoken.

It's exhausting and overwhelming just typing it.

But there is hope for these families because of refugee mentor training programs. Dave and I are signed up to attend one later this month. We're hoping to join the other couples in our church who mentor refugee families, helping them to transition to North American life. And a quick online search or inquiry at your local city government could reveal a similar program available in your area if you have a refugee population settling there.

Jesus was a refugee. He still is. And the good news is that He's in my own backyard.

Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt. (Exodus 23:9 NIV 1984)

Life in England: A Snapshot of Differences
  • The door handles are placed much higher on the door, perhaps to prevent children from opening the ones they should not touch? (my theory)
  • I don't know if this still is true, but twenty years ago, the stores closed by 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. - planning required!
  • The fridges were smaller requiring frequent trips to the store - the focus was on fresh
  • If we desired it, we could have had our milk delivered in bottles daily
  • The parking spaces were much narrower, but the cars were smaller too
  • They served ice cream in the movie theater
  • Cadbury (chocolate) vending machines were in the tube (subway) stations.
  • "Mind the gap" was not an advertisement for the chain store - it was a caution for tube travelers to mind the space between the platform and the tube
  • Ploughman's lunches are standard offerings in pubs - usually consisting of bread, cheese and fruit
  • I miss, miss, miss the roundabouts - they make so much more sense than stop signs!
  • You couldn't turn left on red (equivalent to us turning right on red. the whole driving on the other side of the road thing)
  • Peanut butter was not such a big deal there (gasp!). Marmite (yeast extract) was. What would I do now without the PBJ standby for the kid's lunches?
  • They had unique flavors for their crisps (chips) like prawn cocktail.
  • To my delight, most black candy was flavored black currant, not black licorice

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Jesus was homeless

{Continuing with the "relative foreigner" series this week as I gear up for my urban mission trip this weekend.}

It's a thought that brings me up short. Jesus was homeless. God again choosing the absurd things of this world to shame all that would appear to make sense.


Yet there must be some lesson in this for us comfort-loving creations of His. Perhaps along the lines of what it means to really live by faith? Day in day out trusting Him for the daily bread He promises if we seek His kingdom first.

So far, my relationship with the homeless has been one of distance. I see them on a city street corner and I see evidence of their "shelters" in run down parts of the city. Never in suburbia, mind you, because when we have, we don't want the have-nots reminding us what we are all a few steps away from.

I pass them by at highway on-ramps and off-ramps conveniently designed to keep our interactions brief, impersonal, unless we step out of the car...

I'm tired of this distance, these walls that keep us from knowing poverty and homelessness personally. From knowing the faces and the stories and deep thirsts and hunger of the hurting among us.

So what I am to do?

I don't know exactly. At this point, the best ideas I've had so far are striking up a conversation with a beggar on a street corner, even if it means parking somewhere and getting out of my car. Or driving around the city on a Sunday morning with a huge pot of oatmeal in our car, looking for the hungry, sharing a meal before we head off to the place we called church. Somehow that feels right. Being the church, not just visiting it.

Any other wacky, Jesus-loving ideas out there for loving the homeless, Jesus-in-disguise? I'd love to hear what you've dared to do or want to dare to try.

If you're looking for additional reading material, here are two books I can recommend. The first I've read, the other is on my list (but I've heard from a friend it's really good):
Under the Overpass by Mike Yankoski
How to Hug a Smelly Guy by Jeff Johnson

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

for Bob

It started with Bob. 

I first "met" him in a parking lot when the weather was dancing between warm one day and cold the next. He sat in his wheelchair holding a sign stating his need for help followed by the kicker "God bless."

Often advised against handing out money, I decided to help by purchasing food in the store which brought me to that parking lot in the first place. With my assortment in hand, I drove over to Bob (although we hadn't met formally yet), got out of the car and told him I had a few things for him. I asked him his name, exchanged benign pleasantries and went about my day, glad to have "helped" someone.

I saw him several times after that and would often buy something for him from the store, each time bringing him my purchases, giving a quick smile and hurrying about my day, glad to be done with this mortifying "good deed" of the day. I'd rather give without anyone knowing, least of all the intended recipient. Maybe it's because this felt more like bringing treats to a dog, rather than authentically loving a complete stranger as I love myself. 

Anyway... I soon began to wonder if he might like to be asked what kind of food was his favorite. Since there is a pizza place in the same plaza as the food store, I decided to ask him, expecting he would be pleased with an inquiry about his personal food preferences.

Instead, I received a lashing about his need for money not food because someone had ripped him off and all he wanted to do was buy his sons something electronic for Christmas. (Please do not judge him for this...I learned at the poverty seminar this past Saturday, that these types of diversions provide a means of temporary escape for people dealing with tough circumstances daily. Kind of like those week long vacations and cruises people with money enjoy taking now and then.)        

Crushed, I started back to my car. Contrite, he called me back, apologized and gave me an order for the pizza he'd like.

For a long time after that, I told God I just couldn't give to this guy anymore. I knew it wasn't really helping him with the things he really needed help with. And I felt helpless for not knowing how to help him. Interestingly, I never saw him in the parking lot after that - though I did see him in another part of town, but as usual, I was driving and was "too busy" to stop. Typical.

Ever since then I've been praying for God to show me how to make a lasting difference in the life of the poor. Because donating money, clothes, food, whatever stuff I no longer need or am just plain bored with, it doesn't change a thing. Yes, it helps. For a moment.    

But it doesn't really change the situation that brought a person to poverty in the first place. Because I'm assuming that most people in poverty did not choose it as a way of life. If you know different, please tell me.

However, I believe Jesus did. After all He chose to be born into poverty. Got right down in the dirt with us. But I don't get the sense it bothered Him. After all He was the one who told us not to worry about things like what we would eat or wear. And I will gladly give the clothes, food, money, stuff to people who chose to live by faith, like Jesus, trusting God will bring them what they need when they need it.

But for the downtrodden, the oppressed, the impoverished, giving stuff just isn't enough.

I recently finished The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne Don't read it unless you're ready to take off those rose-colored glasses of who the church is now and see who she is meant to be. The Way brought to life. Here. Now. A living way to help the poor among us.

And the poverty seminar clarified why I've had this holy dissatisfaction with handout giving lately. It's because it lacks the one thing people in poverty value - relationships. And relationships are where authentic living and transformation begin to bloom.

It started with Bob, it continues with the mission trip and only God knows where He will take me from there. But I trust it will be to the deeper places of His heart and the deeper places where He hurts for His children and so if it's down in the dirt with the poor than there's no better place I could be, because He got there first.  

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

do you have 30 seconds?


If you have less than a minute, forget about the rest of this post, just click here to visit the International Justice Mission's campaign to ask President Obama to help make freeing modern day slaves a priority.

If you have more than 30 seconds, then please feel free to continue reading... :)

As I mentioned yesterday, I'm dedicating this week to information about and ways to help fight poverty and homelessness and learn more about refugees.

One of the quickest, easiest ways I've found (so far) is by signing up for emails from the International Justice Mission. They help me stay informed on issues that must be bring God to tears (and so I must cry out too) AND provide quick ways to make a difference just by signing my name to a petition. Because one of the causes of poverty and social injustice starts with legislation.

Really, it's hard to come up with an excuse not to get involved when all I need to do is fill out a few fields to add my name to a petition.

But they also have ways to delve more deeply into helping unravel the knotty issues of earthly living. Here's a link to their "Getting Involved" page if the Lord is tugging on your heart strings to learn more and do more. 

And if you know of other resources which provide simple, clear strategies for fighting poverty, homelessness and modern-day slavery, please comment with the information.

Monday, February 4, 2013

relative foreigner

On Friday, I dip my toe into the mission field for the first time. I won't be going far from home. Just a few miles, but it will be a world apart from mine.

It's an urban mission trip. One designed to open the eyes of the insulated to urban poverty, the homeless and refugees - the world at our doorstep.

Really, I couldn't say no. I've wanted to do a mission for years - ever since my parents began leading teams to the Dominican Republic on construction missions. So a mission trip in my own backyard, for one weekend, at a very affordable price...well, any excuse for not doing would just be an excuse.

This week, to gear myself up for the trip, I'll be sharing information and resources related to the issues of urban poverty, homelessness and the plight of refugees. Think of it as a mini-mini-series.

I hope you'll join me on this venture and begin to see your neck of the woods with new eyes as I already am experiencing. And I'll post about my experience sometime next week.

Part of the requirements for this trip was to attend an urban poverty seminar which I did this past Saturday. It was amazing and intense.

If, like me, you are a relative foreigner to these issues, here is some information I learned this weekend that may open your eyes as wide as it did mine:
  • The currency of poverty is relationships, it's what people in poverty value and center many of their choices around. The middle-class? All about achievement and it's probably no surprise that money drives this circle and our decisions.
  • There are many answers to the question, "What causes poverty?" I can sum it all up in two words: WE do. We, all of us, cause poverty. It's a mix of personal choices, unfortunate and unforeseen circumstances (does anyone ask for mental illness or a debilitating injury?), legislation & politics and structures we, the "haves," put in place to protect us from the "have nots."
  • Scary thought: like many of our institutions, the church largely emulates middle-class values and structures. This isn't necessarily a bad thing as many of these values keeps things from descending into chaos. But it becomes a problem when the church is meant to be a body cohesive and inclusive and if one part of the body (the poor) feels it doesn't belong because these structures are intimidating, then we have some walls to tear down.
  • In poverty, power and respect cannot be separated, but they are separated in the middle class. For example, an impoverished person will leave a job if they do not feel respected by their boss. Someone in the middle class would stick that job out, especially if it's a stepping stone to the next rung of the ladder.